When I left Vancouver in 2011 after a blissful few festival months in this intriguing Canadian city, I always hoped I would be back sometime for the Vancouver Writers Festival
. This year I did it! It was another excellent festival year with exciting authors from Canada, the US, the UK, Australia, Ireland and a few other countries. I was on the “Walk a Writer” team, which was a great experience. One or two of us would meet with the authors and moderator of a particular event at the hotel, take them over to their venue, help out with book signings and then help them find their way back if required.
My first event was already a real highlight. The topic was “Writing back to the Self” and the pieces read by each of the writers as well as the discussion led by moderator Andreas Schroeder were fascinating and moving. Do look all of them up, each of the books sounded truly fabulous: Eve Joseph
, Alison Pick
, Kathleen Winter
and Michael Pond
The following day I got to meet two of my favourite historical fiction authors, Sarah Waters
and Emma Donoghue
. It was also good to hear that Irish director Lenny Abrahamson is currently filming “Room” (based on Emma’s previous novel) in Toronto and will be working on a film adaptation of Sarah’s “Little Stranger” next. The group of writers I looked after later was equally fascinating. Christos Tsiolkas
, Dionne Brand
, Thomas King
and Lee Maracle
discussed cultural belonging or a lack thereof and its implications.
On the last festival day I worked on one more event, “The Life and Times” with Emma Donoghue
, David Homel
and Jane Smiley
. It was another intriguing session, this time revolving around the intersection of history and fiction. After a scrumptious lunch at the Granville island market, I went to one more event, “The Tie That Binds” in the Improv Theatre. Writers Angie Abdou
, Nancy Lee
, Richard Wagemese
and Rudy Wiebe
each read excerpts from their latest work, which all centred around more or less tricky family relationships.
To describe my festival experience as mind-blowing might seem a bit far-fetched, but thanks to the clever questions of the moderators and the willingness of pretty much all the festival guests to share some very personal thoughts and stories, it did leave me extremely impressed; most of all by the amazing resilience of human beings and the ability of the festival writers to capture the many facets of the human experience in such a captivating way. You could do much worse than picking up any book by any of the above authors.
I had been looking forward to VIWF for quite some time, having volunteered with their regular reading events throughout the year. Between 18 and 23 October 2011 I was scheduled for some book selling shifts at various readings. In return we got a volunteer festival pass that allowed standby entry to events that were not sold out. I even made it into a few sold out ones, like Ian Rankin and Peter Robinson in conversation, two top international crime fiction writers who were as witty and entertaining as usual.
The festival was held in various venues on Granville Island, which made it easy to move from one event to another by foot. During the daytime there were a number of reading events for young people, which gave me an interesting insight into what books are popular with each age group. I was very impressed by the spoken word event Word! with some really amazing performances that even kept a house full of teenagers from playing with their cell phones.
The Vancouver 125 Poetry Cabaret was another event I loved. It was presented in partnership with the Vancouver 125 Poetry Conference and featured well known poets as well as some promising newcomers. I had also been lucky in the volunteer ticket lottery and won a ticket to the always sold out Sunday Brunch. A morning of croissants, coffee and some Canadian and international authors reading excerpts from their books – perfect. The last person to read was also my festival favourite: Cate Kennedy from Australia. The stories she read were really moving and well observed, just brilliant.