Wednesday, May 02, 2018

The magic of small town literary festivals

Barbara here. This past weekend I was a guest author at the 1000 Islands Writers Festival, set in the picturesque town on Gananoque on the St. Lawrence River, in the heart of the 1000 islands. There are actually more than 1000, but it's too hard to count!

This was a special treat because there were nine invited authors from a range of genres, in addition to the Festival patron author Terry Fallis, who was charming, relaxed, and funny as the MC. There were YA authors, crime authors, non-fiction, and literary. At many literary festivals, crime writers and authors of fantasy, science fiction, etc, are regarded as merely "commercial" as opposed to "real" writers and we are sidelined or left out entirely. But it's always very enriching to meet authors who write different material. We are all writers; we all work hard at our craft and strive to tell the best stories we can, and when we get together, we discover we have a lot to learn from each other. We share, we laugh, we drink...

Terry Fallis MC'ing the opening evening

The 1000 Islands Writers Festival is like the town itself - warm, welcoming, informal, and intimate. The whole town participated, and although most of the events were at the stunning Thousand Island Playhouse overlooking the river, there were also events at the public library, the Heather Haynes Art Gallery, the Boat Museum, and the charming Victorian B&Bs scattered throughout the town. The author dinner was at the Stonewater Pub and final breakfast at Ye Olde English Pub. The wonderful independent bookstore Beggars Banquet Books supplied all the books for sale. All the venues were an easy, energizing stroll away from each other through the downtown or over the Gananoque River (where Maureen Jennings and I both pictured drowning our victim; such is the mind of a crime writer).

Besides offering variety in genres, the festival also offered different types of events, some of them unique. In addition to readings and writing workshops, there were "living room" sessions which were held in the living rooms of the B&Bs and offered a chance to talk with and listen to authors in the intimacy of a small group. My two sessions were at the beautiful Sleepy Hollow B&B where I was staying.

Sleepy Hollow, where I stayed in the Camelot Room

There was also a lunch session where Maureen Jennings and I were given free rein to chat about all things mysterious. And one great bonus, musical interludes which illustrated the connection between art forms.

There is an intimacy to small town festivals that sets them apart from big city ones. In addition to the whole town participating, the audience comes from all over and stays in town for the weekend so that they can attend numerous sessions. There were also a number of gatherings like the opening reception, the readings and music at the boat museum, and the Sunday author breakfast, all of which gave both readers and writers a chance to chat, share a drink, and become friends. I am notoriously bad at estimating numbers but I think there were at least 200 attendees.

I am reading at the opening evening

Anyone who's every been involved in running a festival knows how much hard work goes into it, and when things run as smoothly as they did, it is because every detail has been planned. But there is no replacing the enthusiasm and warmth of the festival organizers in creating the atmosphere that makes the festival a success. A huge congratulations to Alison Dunn, Liz Austin, Pam Hudson, Deidre, and all those involved, and heartfelt thank you for all that you do for book lovers!


Sybil Johnson said...

Sounds wonderful. Sleepy Hollow is a beautiful house.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Sounds lovely, Barbara, and the speakers were certainly outstanding