Many of us are gearing up for our annual trip across the water from Victoria to the Vancouver International Writers’ Festival in late October. Six days with some 80 events and over 100 national and international writers is word glut for the literary consumer. It is a costly venture when you add up ferry, hotel, food, tickets, books, and let’s not forget the wine they sell at some of the venues.
Lat year’s reinstated Victoria Writers’ Festival, as well as the ones on Denman Island and in Campbell River, come around once a year, but for Sharon Hope and Wendy Picken this just isn’t enough, and they took up the idea of bringing back a literary festival to Sidney, BC.
‘There hadn’t been a festival in Sidney for seven years and readings at the Red Brick Café ceased about three years ago, despite the events always being well attended,’ Sharon says. ‘We wanted a grassroots movement that would involve avid readers, librarians, teachers, writers, supporters of literacy, and business people. We also wanted to feature youth and reach out to educators.’
Sharon is a retired forest ecologist with publications in major scientific journals and two non-fiction publications, and Wendy brings her talents as an artist to the design of posters and other promotional material, but where to start to convince the local literati to participate. Sidney has given itself the moniker Book Town, but there have been no recent opportunities to celebrate local authors while at the same time benefiting local merchants. With no seed money in the initial stages, one of the other challenges was to anticipate how much they could potentially raise and how to tailor the scope of the festival accordingly.
Every author she spoke to immediately said yes. (Although that is not a complete surprise, as there are few opportunities here for writers to present their work.) The festival has received grants from the Town of Sidney and the Capital Regional District. Local businesses donated items for silent auction, offered venues and promotions, as well as website design, and they also received support as members of the Peninsula Community Arts Council. Each of the fundraisers, since the first on April 26 with Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane, sold out, and to their surprise, the silent auction and fundraisers have raised enough money to cover all of their costs.
‘Creating the magic synergy of readers and audience is really what the festival is about. Budding writers and avid readers always grasp opportunities to meet their favorite authors who may have inspired or moved them through their work. We wanted to create an intimate atmosphere with a number of smaller venues, the opportunities for individuals to talk to the authors one to one in quieter settings, and to ask questions.’
Authors will also have the opportunity to talk to each other through a potluck dinner, which the festival hopes will nurture a comfortable easy relationship of authors to the audience.
It is too soon to project the economic benefits that this festival may generate through participants taking in restaurants and shops or by buying books, or if Sidney will enlarge its image as Book Town. The impact on the cultural community and the social benefits of inclusion, supporting youth, pride of participation and accomplishment by way of the written word are not easily measurable. More obvious is that readers gain insight and perspective on writers, their personalities, and how they write. Writers get to mingle with their peers, show their appreciation to readers, and of course sell their books. And, as anyone who has gone to Granville Island for the week’s festivities will tell you, it’s just a lot of fun.
I suppose Sharon and Wendy hope that fans of Arthur Black, Mark Zuehlke, Sylvia Olsen, and Patrick Lane, to name a few, will cross the waters from the Mainland to take in the Sidney Literary Festival, stroll the streets of this quiet little town, and leave a few dollars on this side of Georgia Strait. Their theme, ‘Authors at Home,’ proposes something for everyone, and as the Vancouver International Writers’ Festival has done for years, brings authors, youth, and educators together in workshops and contests.
For now they are happy to report that tickets are selling well and their eight-member board is already tossing around ideas for next year’s event. Not bad for two women who set about to create a writers’ festival in their hometown.