The Writers at Woody Point literary festival celebrated its 10th anniversary last week, and The Indy was on hand for two days of the annual celebration of literature and music from Canada and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Early Friday evening, inside the quaint and colourfully decorated Galliott Studios on Water Street, Newfoundland’s matriarch songstress and Figgy Duff alumna Pamela Morgan and Writers at Woody Point ‘Musician-in-Residence’ Sandy Morris performed a selection of songs from Morgan’s recently released solo album Play On. They were joined on stage by celebrated Newfoundland folk singer Anita Best for a few numbers, and when Best wasn’t on stage she was seen dancing with author and actor Greg Malone.
Later in the evening CBC Radio’s Weekend Arts Magazine host Angela Antle introduced Morgan and Morris to a bigger crowd seated inside the packed upstairs loft of the Merchant Warehouse where the pair offered musical interludes to eminent literary critic Doug Gibson’s Stories About Storytellers slideshow presentation. Gibson opened with a witty remark, “I have never met a Newfoundlander I didn’t like … but don’t take that as a challenge.” He told stories about R.D. Symons, Harold Horwood, Barry Broadfoot, Hugh MacLennan, Morley Callaghan, Robertson Davies, Jack Hodgins, James Houston, Pierre Trudeau, Mavis Gallant, Brian Mulroney, Alistair MacLeod, Peter Gzowski (whose daughter Alison serves as co-Artistic Director for the festival and was in attendance) and Alice Munro. Drawing from his new book by the same name – Stories About Storytellers – Gibson shared first-hand accounts and anecdotes about the authors.
On Saturday afternoon award-winning Newfoundland author Michael Winter shared stories of his own life, coupled with experiences and tips on writing fiction and historical fiction. Winter, who grew up in Corner Brook, began by talking about his fictional alter-ego Gabriel English, who is trying to write a book. Winter observed that, for a book about someone writing a book, the reader hardly ever sees English sitting and writing. Rather, this is implied by the exceptions, which are more interesting and bring something else to the story. Noting that his characters always want to have a cup of tea, the author needs to put them in different situations, which are more likely to move the plot around and engage the reader. Honest and humble about his progress as a writer, Winter admitted he is “still trying to figure it out”.
Winter was congenial and funny, speaking with his hands as much as his voice. Growing up, he said he watched his father tie flies and his sister Kathleen type out stories. Perhaps this patience and penchant for careful observation have played into his life as an author. “If I didn’t have friends, I would be a hermit painter … My instinct is to be alone in the woods and not articulate,” he said. Referring to foreshadowing as “putting a promise in the air,” Winter spoke of the importance of reconstructing the order that things are made known to the reader in a story, noting that even small changes affect how engaged the reader is. Technique, he told the crowd, is not natural. You have to train yourself, but the hard work is ultimately very rewarding.
Saturday evening at Woody Point’s Heritage Theatre, CBC broadcast journalist and festival host Sheilagh Rogers introduced writers Des Walsh, Russell Wangersky and Wayson Choy. Walsh, who wrote the screenplays for the miniseries’ The Boys of St. Vincent and Random Passage, and the feature film Love and Savagery, read some poems, the last of which he said was both inspired by and for a recently deceased friend. Wangersky, an award-winning author and editor at St. John’s daily newspaper The Telegram, read from his collection of short stories, The Hour of Bad Decisions.
Rogers introduced the evening’s musical act, St. John’s alt-country band Pilot to Bombardier. Front man Bryan Power engaged the crowd, sharing the stories behind many of the group’s songs.
Following a brief intermission Vancouver author Wayson Choy touched the audience with his openness about his life. A 74-year-old gay Chinese man who proclaimed “love has no rules,” Choy spoke passionately about the love affair between readers and writers, which he represented as a two-way exchange where each needs the other. “You may not think of yourself as a storyteller, but I feel it is your duty to find a way to tell your story. Every story matters.”
Pilot to Bombardier concluded the evening event with a second short set of material from its debut album Juliet on Fire Keep Clear.
Writers at Woody Point Photo Gallery – Aug. 15 & 16, 2013
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated Michael Winter spoke about historical non-fiction during his Aug. 16 presentation at the Discovery Centre in Gros Morne National Park. Winter in fact talked about historical fiction.