by Diane Mueller
Ami McKay, author of The Birth House and The Virgin Cure, walked on stage in the wooded open-air pavilion at the Sunshine Coast Festival of Written Arts and looked out onto a lecture hall filled with mostly 50 and up female readers and writers, instantly connecting with us as soon as she smiled and began to share the story of her beginnings as a writer.
She shared how she came to writing late in life after a career as a music teacher, previously writing in secret, hiding the results under her bed and letting no one into her confidence. She embodied the secret aspirations of everyone in the room, every reader that ever thought she too had a novel hidden within waiting to escape. If only we had the time, the means of support, the chutzpah to change our lives and birth it.
The Festival is one of the most wonderful cultural treasures of the Sunshine Coast, nestled in the Rockwood heritage site behind St Hilda’s by the Sea and just walking distance to the shops and beaches of Sechelt BC. Each year, Festival Executive Director Jane Davidson manages to bring a superstar line up of Canadian literati. Ami’s session was just one of the many I enjoyed over the 5 day festival.
McKay’s lecture offered insights into her research process for her two historical novels and into what it takes to find enough meaning behind the facts to put flesh and bones onto a novel. She joyfully described finding letters, archival materials and photographs, and interviewing living descendants of participants in the events that she writes about. She revealed the depths and lengths to which she dove into the sometimes dark and disturbing times for years on end to find and tie together the stories of the people and times she brought to life.
Listening to an author in their own voice at times wavering with emotion is a luxury not to be missed. Another writer, Anne Michaels, opened her talk by thanking her readers for letting her into their heads and sharing that very personal space with her. Here at the Festival when the authors read aloud from their works with the shared intimacy of the moment in a room full of fellow readers – hearing snorts of laughter, hushed silences, a even a few wows escaping from the usual silence enriches and deepens the experience of the stories.
The Festival of the Written Arts, now in its 30th year, gives so many wonderful opportunities to hear and see the authors discussing and reading from their own works in a beautiful setting by the sea and is an opportunity not to be missed.
I can’t wait to find out next year’s line up and I am grateful for all the new authors & books I discovered at this year’s festival, which will make the wait a bit easier.
Talewind Books Sechelt
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