The Surrey International Writers' Conference was a blast. An absolute blast. I ate great food, rubbed shoulders with amazing people and, as hoped, learned a little somethin’ somethin’ about this business called writing. But, you know what bowled me over, what left me breathless and giddy at times and downright teary-eyed at others? The pervading spirit of generosity.
I should have known. The signs were there long before the conference began. New to Vancouver Island, I was perplexed by the public transportation system that would lead me to Surrey. Well, I optimistically hoped it might—after four or five transfers with suitcase and laptop in tow. My Twitter friend, Jenny, offered a ride. She connected me with other writers who might also be able to help out. Unfortunately, I was leaving a day earlier than everyone because I was taking a master class (Thank you, Laurie McLean. It was outstanding!) and I had to get there on my own steam, but it was not for lack of considerate offers to get me to the other shore on the Thursday. This was followed up at the end of the conference with a ride to the ferry by a writer I had previously “met” online. If not for Kathleen’s thoughtfulness, I would not have made it back so directly and quickly to DH, and for that I am grateful…because I sure missed DH.
The volunteers welcomed me when I signed in. They were energetic and enthusiastic and I immediately caught the buzz. The organizers checked in to see if all was well, if I knew where I was going, if I was happy with the conference. This didn’t just occur on day one, but each of the four. Kathy, in particular, was genuinely concerned that everyone felt comfortable and that all concerns were addressed. Not that I had any concerns. Well, except for the unventilated public washrooms, but that would be a Sheraton issue not a conference issue. Seriously, Sheraton, get some air moving in there!
The conference exploded with munificence. From the consideration of those giving up their seats in a crowded room to the presenters who gave due diligence to delivering intelligent, informative and, often, amusing workshops, to those attendees who were invitational in the elevator, in the dining room and at the bar.
Jasper Fforde joined our table one evening. He was witty and entertaining—I have ordered his books and can hardly wait for them to arrive. We talked about pitching and he said, “Hit me!” He was offering me the opportunity to practice my pitch. Not wanting to intrude upon his dinner, I refrained, but I did ask him for his pitch so that I might learn. He gave it and that is why I will now own Jasper Fforde books. J
I did do my pitch, nervous as a young girl at her first job interview. Quite frankly, it stunk. I’ve never been good at auditions, although I believe I have some talent to offer the stage. It is no different, apparently, in a live pitch. Patricia Nelson of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency was exceptionally gracious. She opened up the dialogue to explore my genre and confirmed what I have debated all along. Raven’s Path is historical fiction…with a strong romantic theme. Her explanation of marketing and how important it is to get this one right since I have sequels to consider, left me stammering, stumbling, and eternally thankful. Raven’s Path is historical fiction. I worked hard at my research to ensure that it reflected the political and cultural truths of the time. Thank you, Patricia, for naming it. I will now own it with pride.
The list of magnanimous moments is endless. Online writing companions became flesh and blood friends. Thank you Theresa and Kathleen for taking the reins and hosting an amazing Compuserve Forum party—and for stocking champagne! This same group of writers encouraged me to attend in the first place, celebrated the successes of one another (You go Ru, idol queen!), and are now reflecting and sharing notes with those who were unable to attend. Then there was Jack Whyte, who graciously whispered the opening paragraph from Raven’s Path with scotch-infused breath, giving life to the name Anabla Tarleton McGregor. Ah, the rumble of his burr will forever remain with me.
Generous moments. Too many to list. It was a waterfall of beneficence. But, within the splash and fall of such largesse, two moments stand out for me. The first came at my blue pencil. This is an opportunity to put three pages of your work in front of a published author for feedback. I was fortunate enough to have Susanna Kearsley. Now, I picked her because I love her novels and I thought, regardless of what she said about my writing, I would get to chat with someone I admire. She was so supportive and, truly, beyond generous. I’m not sure my feet touched the ground after our session.
The other poignant moment of thoughtfulness came with our final keynote speaker, Terry Fallis. It was a tough time slot and he had to follow some exceptional keynote speakers. He was witty and charming and caught my attention with his story of winning the Leacock Medal for Humour. I lived 30+ years near Orillia, where Leacock is very much featured and honoured, and I recognized the value of such an award. Terry moved beyond entertaining and touched the vulnerable hearts of all of us when he talked about our name tags. He had noticed that all tags had names along with the addition of agent, editor, publisher, volunteer and writer. But many just had the place the person came from. He told us to take off our tags and put writer beneath our names. Because that was what we were, published or not. My vision blurs and I sniffle at the memory.
Terry says I am a writer. Susanna concurs and says to keep on writing. Their voices shout, echo and then quietly mingle to become the chorus to my dreams. I am a writer. I will keep on writing. And, I consider myself privileged to belong to such a generous group of people.