With the kind of anticipatory excitement that builds gradually and cannot easily be quelled, this past Saturday morning I made the short drive from Indian Brook to North River for the 3rd Annual Cabot Trail Writer’s Festival, held at the community hall next to Shape Shift Pottery. I have only been to a handful of similar events and did not really know what to expect, so I entered the hall eager for the first workshop to begin.
Since I am not a local the names of the writers were unfamiliar, though everyone else seemed to know them well. The first workshop I attended was with Alexander MacLeod, the author of the Giller Prize-nominated collection of short stories entitled Light Lifting and teacher at St. Mary’s University in Halifax. During that hour and a half we answered the questions who, what, when, where, why, and how for stories each of us had been working on and for a story we as a group crafted as we went. Our conversation progressed in a logical manner:
- Who is the story about?
- Who gets to tell the story?
- What is the story about?
- What are the scenes?
- When does the story take place?
- How important is time?
- When do I disclose important information to the reader?
- Where does the story take place?
- How important is setting?
- What are the motivations of the characters?
- What are the motivations of you, the writer?
As you can see, the questions addressed more than they initially suggested, and as we talked I began to realize my own story, one I’ve been working on for the past three weeks, with a new understanding. As we neared the end of the workshop, I’m sure this sentiment was felt by most people in the room, and it was interesting to follow the story we were crafting together. We ended with the most important question: how. How is the story delivered? As a way of answering this question, Alexander had us each write our own version of what we think the first three sentences of this story would be that we had created. We took about five minutes, and then we took turns reading our introductions. As we went around the room, it became clearly evident what the answer was–style. Everyone has their own style, their own voice, which delivers the story in a unique way. We all knew the plot elements of the same story in our head, but everyone in the room approached the first three sentences from a different angle, in a different light. This realization was felt throughout the room and I think we all left the workshop exuberant to continue our respective
After lunch I attended a workshop led by another local writer, Johanna Skibsrud, whose novel The Sentimentalists
recently won the Giller Prize.
In the workshop we participated in poetry exercises in which we would read a written poem and then write our own translation of it, in our own words but with an awareness for what we each thought the author of the original was trying to convey with images and symbolism. For example, we each received a haiku about a frog jumping into water, but with slightly different wording arrangements. Our task was to then create our own haikus in our own style and voice, while retaining the components of the original. This exercise helped us envision what we have in mind We also did some original prose as well, which we peer reviewed. In this delightfully personal workshop we were able to practice our poetry skills and get useful advice from others in the form of constructive criticism. I enjoyed it a lot, and came away from the workshop with a new found enjoyment for writing poems.
The third author was Shauntay Grant, a poet and spoken word performer from Halifax, whose workshops I unfortunately was unable to attend.
In both workshops I found the authors to be accessible, down to earth, insightful, and inspiring. I don’t think I’ll be around for next years festival, but I feel as though my creativity has been rejuvenated, and what a wonderful thing that is.