WORKING HARD AT LAKEFIELD

  Three years ago I was the Lakefield Festival’s host/interviewer at an evening celebrating Michael Crummey’s Galore and Linden MacIntyre’s The Bishop’s Man. With those two fine writers and performers crooning their readings at the entranced audience, how could it go any way other than very well indeed?

  But the Lakefield Festival organisers (this means you, Stephanie) remembered me with affection, and this year presented me with an offer I could not refuse. I would give my solo Stories About Storytellers Show at 2.30 on Saturday afternoon, then act as host/interviewer for the evening session at 8.00, with three authors — count them, three. Then, presumably, I would collapse off-stage, but the show would be over by then.

   Ruthless people, those Lakefield folks.

   On the Friday evening we had dinner with Orme Mitchell (W.O.’s son) , his wife Barb, and  Norman Jewison and his wife, our dinner enlivened by Norman’s tales of his Caledon neighbour , Robertson Davies, and his Hollywood friend Sean Connery, whom I can imitate shupremely well.

  Saturday was spent roaming around Lakefield, before we went to the superb theatre at Lakefield School. After many careful sound checks the lapel mike was working really well… until, after a kind introduction by Lewis MacLeod (son of you know who), I went on stage, to find that squeaking feedback was now, mysteriously, a constant enemy.

   In the end Jane (urged by the sound man) strode on to the stage, demanding the slide-changing “clicker”, which she handled off-stage, and we soldiered on, to good effect. There was even a standing ovation, which is a surprisingly humbling experience (“You really liked it that much?”). Then Lewis conducted a kindly Question and Answer session, and I went off to sign books.

  So many books were sold, and signed, that the local bookseller ran out, and we were able to replenish her supplies with extra copies from the car. Ah, the glamorous life of a touring author.

  The evening session featured three very fine novelists, reading from their recent books, then chatting about them with me. The final part of the evening allowed the audience to throw questions at any of the authors.

  The books in question were very different: Annabel  by Katherine Winter tells the story of a hermaphrodite baby raised as a boy in Labrador in the 1970s:  The Empty Room by Lauren B. Davis tells the modern story of a day in a middle-aged Toronto woman’s life when her alcoholism catches up with her: The Purchase by Linda Spalding is set on the violent Virgina frontier around 1800 when an abolitionist Quaker finds himself the owner of a slave.

  All very different, all very good. I recommend each one of them whole-heartedly, and am proud that our discussion centred exclusively on the books, as opposed to the prizes won, or the brothers or husbands (including Ron Davis, an excellent photographer) who might have earned a mention. Our main problem was that we ran out of time before all the audience’s questions could be answered. But the books are there to be read.

And I did not collapse, on-stage or off, and even attended a post-show party, before sleeping very soundly that night.

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Sunshine Sketches of a Little Coast

For 30 years they have held a literary festival at Sechelt. That very first year I was glad to send Jack Hodgins (from his Lantzville home on Vancouver Island, right across the Strait of Georgia from the Sunshine Coast ) as one of the five authors attending. He had a wonderful time, and reported back with great enthusiasm.

Over the years, as the little festival grew into the established “Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts,” in my role as Publisher I was pleased to send a steady stream of authors to this festival, assuring them that they would “have a great time.” They always did.

This year, in my new role of author, I got to see for myself. The hard-working Jane Davidson had secretly attended my performance at the Vancouver Writers’ Festival last October, and followed up with an invitation to attend the Sunshine Coast Festival that she runs.

So August saw Jane and me flying in to Vancouver, then dashing off to catch a seaplane that skimmed up the coast to land us at Sechelt. There we were met by Sally Quinn, a welcoming volunteer who identified herself brilliantly by displaying a copy of my book . . . always visible to an author’s eye at 100 paces. A quick tour of Sechelt took us to the Festival site, where we met Jane D. (astonishingly calm, given that over the next three days she would be receiving more than 20 performing authors from across the country, yea, even unto Michael Crummey’s Newfoundland, and Linden MacIntyre, fresh from Edinburgh). I also got to see the hall where all of the readings/performances take place. It is an all-wood open structure, the ceiling held up with tall pine poles, lending the air of a West-coast longhouse (crossed with a Cathedral, as one admirer put it). Ten seconds on the empty stage were enough to show me that this was a very special space, open yet intimate.

Since one of the strengths of this fine festival is that all events take place there, with no competing events at different venues, Jane and I were to spend many happy hours in the audience at that theatre over the weekend, enjoying the varied readings, Q and As., conversations, and performances. I’m happy to report that my own tightly scripted but apparently informal Stories About Storytellers show was reviewed by the local paper as “polished ramblings.” Aha!

Most of the time we sat with our host and hostess, the authors Sharon Brown and Andreas Schroeder, who live just outside Sechelt as “Roberts Creekers.” (Over time, we warned them, “Roberts Creakies” may apply.) We had the great good fortune to stay at the cabin down by the shore that Sharon and Andreas (whom I have published with great pleasure over the years) provide for lucky friends. And the blackberries! Words fail.

One of the high points of the festival is that at the end of each session, the great Hall is cleared, and everyone files out to drink, chat, or (usually) line up for the next session starting in 30 minutes. As a result, the placid queues along the Rhododendron-lined paths are a great place to meet old and new friends, and to chat about books and authors.

The local support for the festival is all you would hope for, and people are proud of what they have built up over the years. One retired man who sought me out to sign his copy of my book said it best. When I commented on what a great thing for the community this festival must be, he said, “This is why we moved here.”

A footnote: on Sunday Andreas took us for a quick tour of Gibsons, just to the south. For someone with my name, the place is a goldmine for delusions of grandeur. A quick tour reveals “Gibson’s Cinema,” “Gibson’s Curling Club,” “Gibson’s Swimming Pool” and so on and on. At the waterfront (near where The Beachcombers was filmed) is a statue of Captain George Gibson, who founded the town in the 1880s, rowing his produce down the coast to Vancouver. I posed proudly with my arm around his oilskin-clad shoulders, and felt right at home.