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.”