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Literary week ends another chapter
Northwords Writers Festival came to a close Sunday night after four days of events

Dana Bowen
Northern News Services
Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Northwords Writers Festival came to a close Sunday evening, but after a week of workshops, panel discussions, readings and a gala, for me it was like walking through a writer's dream.

NNSL photo/graphic

Garry Gottfriedson, author of Anskohk Aboriginal Award finalist Whiskey Bullets, reads at Northwords' Blush event Saturday night, causing ripples of laughter throughout the crowd. The visiting writer is a member of Secwepemc First Nation in British Columbia. - Dana Bowen/NNSL photo

This year rang in the festival's 10th anniversary, bringing in about 1,000 people to Baker Community Centre and the Explorer Hotel over four days of literary experiences.

Although I unfortunately missed Thursday's opening night, executive director Ruth Bowen explained the evening was packed with a book launch, readings and a free BBQ.

"The Thursday event had an increased turnout," she told me. "It helps that it was a lovely day. This year the BBQ actually ran out of food."

I made it to the DeBeers 10th Anniversary Northwords Gala, where presenters thanked Northwords and looked back at its history through photos.

Each of the approximately 10 writers read from some of their previous literary works.

However, for me, the fun began Saturday and Sunday when I attended panel discussions, a creative writing workshop and the anticipated event, Blush.

"If you're going to go to anything, go to Blush," Fort Smith author Richard Van Camp had advised me the week before.

He wasn't the only one who had praised the open mic erotica night.

Friends who had attended in previous years informed me that it's always the best part of the festival.

That became apparent when I walked into the hotel, seeing nearly every seat in the room taken.

I spent the night laughing or cringing at the stories told on stage.

One of the first to step up was Shari-Rodney Manyika, whom my friend Nicole Garbutt had told me about the month before.

Manyika has taken part in Blush in previous years and pokes fun of what it is like being intimate with someone as a plus-size woman.

She also explained her perils of dealing with diabetes and the moment her doctor had informed her of it.

"But obesity runs in my family," she pleaded with the doctor. "He said, 'No, the problem is that nobody runs in your family.'"

Just like in the Oscars, music began to play in the background and got louder when the speaker's time ran out.

So there were a few awkward moments when some speakers didn't get the hint and continued on even when the music had drowned them out completely.

Or in other cases, speakers would rush through their words just to finish before the piano's volume amped up.

However as promised, Blush was full of humorous erotica, sending ripples of laughter throughout the crowd.

As a writer, I found Sunday's events interesting and eye-opening.

The morning began with a panel discussion on why writers need editors and included three panelists, Kathleen Winter, author of Annabel, Me Artsy's author Drew Hayden Taylor and Yellowknife writer Laurie Sarkadi.

Hearing stories of those authors' experiences made me look at the writing process in a new light and helped me understand common issues both writers and editors face.

Sarkadi explained the issues she encounters most often relate to the struggle to create segues from one idea to the next and maintaining a structure throughout the story.

Sarkadi and Winter agreed the only place to start is by getting words out on the paper.

Winter talked about the struggle she went through writing her 2010 novel, Annabel.

Although the book faced success after being shortlisted for the 2010 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and the Governor General's Awards, it took a long time to get there.

She had to rewrite the novel six times because the editor insisted it needed to be changed, but did not specify how.

What helped her get through was a piece of advice passed on to her and it's something I will certainly use in the future.

She advised the audience to read a good book, first for pleasure and again to see how they did it.

Winter followed this advice and rewrote the second half of her book within three weeks.

That talk, combined with the character- and plot-writing workshop, left me buzzing with the possibilities of how I can apply my newfound lessons to my own creative work.

The two-hour workshop, led by Alexander MacLeod, discussed how character and plot relate to one another and the ways to develop both ideas.

He gave a list of six traits writers should know about their characters, including financial status, sexuality, family history, ideology and family structure.

"You don't have to include all of this in your story, but you should know everything about your character," he said.

Participants applied that principle to a piece of fiction in which the class came out with a story line about a16-year-old girl living in Fort Smith and has an affair with a 32-year-old married teacher.

Each student had 10 minutes to write about what happens when the man catches the teenager buying a pregnancy test at the pharmacy, which would then be read to the class.

"These characters did not exist 10 minutes ago," MacLeod reminded the class.

This workshop brought me back to my own book I wrote three years ago, but have since abandoned because of all the gaping holes I couldn't figure out how to fill.

The class helped me realize exactly what points need to be fixed.

After assurance from him that my story idea does have potential, I felt so encouraged and wanted to do nothing more than just sit down with my story and plug in each hole.

"All in all it was pretty successful," said Bowen. "So there are lots of considerations for going forward into the next 10 years.

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