Over the years, I have attended writers’ festivals, usually showcasing a large number of authors at booths where the literary minded can visit. There are so many, admittedly good, writers that the tendency is for people to sample each one for a few minutes and then move on. Some even bring folding stools or shooting sticks for a brief rest during their trek.
Sixteen years ago, I saw an advertisement for the Elora Writers’ Festival, offering six writers to be introduced three before and three after an interval for light refreshments, conversation and buying books. Those attending were expected to listen to all six. I liked this idea, but asked myself. “Is six too few?” Like Goldilocks, I found the Elora Writers’ Festival to be not too big, not too small, but just the right size, and have had the opportunity to develop some good friendships among others attending.
The annual Festival has been held since 1994, the excellent writers present themselves well in a relaxed setting that has to be one of the prettiest possible. This year’s event is on Sunday, May 25th, 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm at the Wellington County Museum, with a varied line-up of award winning authors, all from southwestern Ontario: Scott Chantler, Susanna Kearsley, Andrew Pyper, Brad Smith, Anita Stewart and Mary Swan. The popular event is usually sold out. Tickets are available for $20 at Roxanne’s Reflections (519) 843-4391.
Last year’s Festival organizers changed the previous approach of an evening dinner with authors, to a party after the Festival, with finger food and wine included in the ticket price. There, attendees could mingle with each other and the writers, and ask questions at a Q and A period. The gathering was a smash hit ending to the Festival, and will be repeated this year. A prime mover has been Roxanne Beale, owner of a successful Fergus book and cards store from which she runs other activities for local residents. (www.roxannesreflections.ca). Roxanne was a lively presenter of the authors, giving a friendly welcome to those at the subsequent social event.
The 2013 writers came from a variety of backgrounds from gardening, comedy and mystery to animal concerns. A most welcome aspect was the inclusion of two local writers. Ailsa Kay, who helped start the Festival and has returned to live in Fergus, and Carrie Snyder of Waterloo. I bought both of their books.
After a career oriented to short fiction appearing in leading journals such as The New Quarterly, Ailsa Kay has written a first novel, Under Budapest. This is an intricately plotted, riveting tale set in the extensive underground tunnels, and criminal world, of Budapest before and after the lifting of the Iron Curtain. Carrie Snyder has written two books so far and will bring out a third one later this year. For company, she has four children twelve and under, a dog, and husband. I am so impressed by Carrie Snyder’s exceptional talent, that I have written reviews of her books, which follow:
Hair Hat by Carrie Snyder
I finally found a copy of this wonderful book in the University of Toronto’s Robarts library. Sadly the publisher, Penguin, has allowed it to go out of print.
People don’t have to read very far into this gem, with its eerie recurring image of the hair hat, to realize they are witnessing the debut of a major new talent. The minutely observed scenes and stories, some of which overlap, reveal an author who deeply understands the central emotions of her characters’ lives.
Provided she keeps her own steady focus: is not distracted by trends, or a short term desire to please, Carrie Snyder will very likely be our next generation’s Alice Munro.
The Juliet Stories by Carrie Snyder
Only two or three sentences into this remarkable book, and the reader knows this writer has produced a piece that is easily as good as her first. Carrie Snyder is developing in a marvellous way.
In Book One, Juliet tells the story of her sojourn in Nicaragua, where her Canadian/American parents are protesting the involvement of the United States in that country’s internal affairs. The child’s voice and perspective of Juliet who is “almost eleven” comes through clearly, and in the perceptive detail that is typical of this writer. While relating the family’s poignant story, Carries Snyder does a wonderful job of communicating to readers a picture of the heat, dust, dirt and poverty of capital city Managua. She also clearly conveys the endless destruction, tragedy and futility of war.
In Book Two, the story continues mainly in Canada and in a more episodic way, as Juliet grapples with the illness and death from cancer of her brother Keith, and also with her own march to maturity. Like all those who have had an unusual childhood, Juliet carries at the back of her mind the memory of Nicaragua, something she cannot explain to others who have lived all their lives in one place.
One of the many revolving acquaintances in Nicaragua is Heinrich whose wife is there with the Red Cross. It is masterly, the way in which Carrie Snyder slips the reader forward through time to infer the shocking manner of Heinrich’s death several pages before it actually comes up for discussion in the story.
Equal to or even surpassing the plot, is the writing. Just look at the second sentence in the following quotation from page five where their initial host Renate is talking through her bedroom window to Juliet’s mother, Gloria, below: “’There is a park down the street.’ Renate drops each word down onto Gloria’s head.” Such extraordinary sentences are abundant in this book. For the writing alone, The Juliet Stories should be slowly savoured, the sentences rolled around on the tongue.
Please come to this wonderful Festival. You are sure to enjoy it and meet interesting people.