Words on the Water Campbell River Writers’ Festival organizers Paul and Angel Murphy want to set something straight. Their event isn’t just for authors.
Simply put, “It’s a festival for readers,” Angel says.
“For anybody who likes books, likes reading and wants to see some new ideas, it’s a really good festival,” adds Paul.
Entering its 19th year, the early spring event, which takes place March 27-28, is chock-full of talent.
Among this year’s eight invited authors are Giller Prize winners and Governor General Award finalists. There’s an officer of the Order of Canada. They’re poets, playwrights, novelists and journalists.
So what brings Canadian authors back to Campbell River year after year?
“In terms of our nation-wide reputation among writers, we have a gold star,” says Angel. “In Campbell River, there’s many people that might still not know this festival happens. But amongst the writers of Canada, people are like, ‘Oh, you need to go. If you get asked, just go.’”
Another aspect for authors is how engaged audience members are. The event usually sells out at its Maritime Heritage Centre venue.
“Our writers again and again tell us how wonderful our audience is,” says Paul. “They’re super engaged.”
Paul and Angel have been working behind the scenes of the festival for more than 10 years. An English teacher and school librarian in the community, they were recruited by their former English teacher Trevor McMonagle to be part of the event.
Over the festival’s 19-year tenure, the format hasn’t changed much.
Friday night sets the scene for the remainder of the weekend’s sessions. The eight authors are paired before the event and will be interviewing each other on stage.
“What it does for the audience is it gives them … a little flavour of each writer so that they can find out who they really want to go see the next day,” says Paul.
On Saturday, sessions are divided into four 90-minute chunks with two writers assigned to each. Each person will do a reading and generally will leave time for questions.
Later on Saturday is what the festival calls a “Literary Cabaret.” The audience hears from four authors, gets a break and then the final four authors present.
“We usually have them read a source of inspiration, or often it’s something new they’re working on, which is really neat,” says Paul. “They’ll read something new that they haven’t read anywhere to try out.”
While it’s not mandatory to attend all the sessions, it’s likely to enrich your festival experience.
“Each event weaves together with the other ones, so that you get this whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts,” says Angel.
While not officially part of the festival program, an author will also take part in a school outreach session at Carihi and Timberline Secondary Schools.
During the sessions, the author generally does a presentation and then a workshop with students.
“It’s really meant to you know speak to literacy in the schools but also put in front of students someone who turned writing into something,” says Angel. “Many people have a hard time imagining where something that they might love to do fits into their ‘real life.’ And so we love to bring these writers into the schools to talk about their work, their path to where they are today and then the workshop with those students is just an unbelievable opportunity.”
Early bird tickets for the festival are on sale now until March 1, when the price goes up.
Friday night’s session was sold out in early December, but tickets for Saturday night’s session are available for $30 ahead of time at either Coho Books or online. Tickets for Saturday’s daytime sessions will be available at the door for $20. Weekend passes are also on sale right now for $80 and can also be purchased at Coho Books or online.
Paul says the festival usually sells out.
“It’s a very, very high calibre festival in this humble little town,” he says.
“It’s such a gift to the community,” adds Angel, “and it’s just a pleasure to be a part of it.”
Eight fresh faces will take the stage as guest authors at this year’s Words on the Water Campbell River Writers’ Festival.
The authors all have different writing styles. Some have awards to their name. They all call Canada home.
Where’s home? Victoria, B.C.
Their works: His writing experience spans across genres including poetry and plays. Blasphemer’s Wheel, won the Manitoba Book of the Year Prize in 1996; A Broken Bowl was a 1997 Governor-General’s Award finalist; in 2012, he received the ReLit Award for Poetry for Jumping in the Asylum.
Fun facts: Friesen tours on a regular basis. He gives readings and offers workshops across the country.
John MacLachlan Gray
Where’s home? Vancouver, B.C.
Their works:MacLachlan Gray has written across styles and genres. His acclaimed work includes Billy Bishop Goes to War, which won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama. His mystery-thriller series includes: A Gift For The Little Master, The Fiend in Human, White Stone Day and Not Quite Dead. His latest novel, The White Angel, was published in 2017.
Fun facts: An officer of the Order of Canada.
Where’s home? Nanaimo, B.C.
Their works: Sea Trial, published in 2019, is a memoir that marries Harvey’s circumnavigation of Vancouver Island by boat with details from his father’s malpractice suit. The book was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction. The End of the River was his first full-length book for a general audience and was released in 2008. Harvey has also written a handful of mystery novels including Beethoven’s Teeth and Tokyo Girl as well as the thriller Gone Grizzly.
Fun facts: It took Harvey two months to circumnavigate Vancouver Island by boat. He never saw Cape Scott – it was too foggy.
Naomi K. Lewis
Where’s home? Calgary, Alta., sometimes Kelowna, B.C.
Their works: Lewis retraces the journey of her grandfather’s escape from Nazi-occupied Netherlands in her memoir, Tiny Lights for Travellers. The book was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction. She co-edited the anthology Shy with Rona Altrows. Lewis’ first book under her name (she’s also an accomplished ghost-writer) was Cricket in a Fist. I Know Who You Remind Me Of is a collection of her short stories. Lewis’ journalistic work has appeared in Canadian publications including Swerve and Alberta Views.
Fun facts: Her website lists Breakdown; One Heart, Five Habits; Dysfunction: Canada After KXL; and In Case of Fire as titles she has ghost-written.
Where’s home? Vancouver, B.C., but she was born in Sechelt, B.C.
Their works: Newman explores Canadian cuisine in her first book, Speaking in Cod Tongues: A Canadian Culinary Journey. Her second book, Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food was released in 2019.
Fun facts: Newman has authored more than 40 academic papers and reports within her area of research. She holds a Canada Research Chair in Food Security and Environment at the University of the Fraser Valley.
Where’s home? Kitimat, B.C.
Their works: Robinson’s first novel, Monkey Beach, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Literacy Award for fiction in 2000. Robinson recently released the second book in her Trickster trilogy, Trickster Drift.
Fun facts: Monkey Beach is being adapted into a film and a TV series based off her Trickster trilogy is in the works. Robinson is also this year’s Haig-Brown Writer in Residence, so you’ll be seeing more of her around town.
Where’s home? Winnipeg, Man.
Their works: Thomas’ latest novel, Five Wives, won the 2019 Governor General’s Award for Fiction. Her other three works: Reading by Lightning, Curiousity and Opening Sky, are all award-winners as well.
Fun facts: She will visit your book club in-person or over Skype.
Where’s home? Langley, B.C.
Their works: Weir’s first full-length play, The Idler, premiered in Vancouver is 1987 and won a Jessie Award for Best New Play. He went on the write more than a dozen plays. In the world of TV, he created and was executive producer for the CBC series Arctic Air. He’s also been involved with Dragon Boys and Edgemont and has written more than 150 episodes for other Canadian and American series. Weir’s novels include Daniel O’Thunder, Will Starling and The Death and Life of Strother Purcell.
Fun facts: In the world of the CFL, Weir is a BC lions fan, however when it comes to hockey, you’ll find him rooting for the Toronto Maple Leafs.