Festival nurtures the writing arts

Campbell River is well-known for turning out talented residents Rod Brind’Amour, Roderick Haig-Brown and Sybil Andrews but it’s also home to a wealth of talent that often goes unrecognized.

Ruth and Trevor McMonagle have been an integral part of the Words on the Water writers festival from day one. The festival celebrates its 10th anniversary when it opens March 11.

Campbell River is well-known for turning out talented residents Rod Brind’Amour, Roderick Haig-Brown and Sybil Andrews but it’s also home to a wealth of talent that often goes unrecognized.

These people, who you probably wouldn’t even give a second glance if you passed on the street, are writers.

To name a few – Jocelyn Reekie, a children’s and young adult fiction writer, Mary Ellen Lang Collura, a well-published young adult author whose works have been translated into eight different languages and Lawrence Foort, a self-publishing novelist, all call Campbell River home.

The annual Words on the Water Festival which takes place March 11 and 12 this year, helps shed some light on this local talent.

“We wanted to promote local writing,” said Ruth McMonagle, co-founder of the festival. “There are some wonderful writing and publishing groups here and many people don’t realize we have so many published authors living here. Every year we try to give it a face.”

McMonagle had no idea how big the festival would become when she and husband, Trevor, were inspired by the Sechelt Festival of Written Arts to start a literacy celebration in Campbell River.

Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, Words on the Water will host eight Canadian authors from the West Coast. One of those is Patricia Robertson, Campbell River’s writer in residence. Robertson is slated to read from the young adult fantasy novel she is currently working on.

McMonagle says the festival is all about fun and having a good time. On the Friday night, the writers will interview each other on contemporary issues in writing and what they enjoy about their work.

“They laugh, sometimes they argue. But it’s quite dynamic,” says McMonagle.

The following day features sessions with the writers reading from their own literature. Once evening falls, everyone lets their hair down for a raucous Literary Cabaret, with the musical talents of Nathan Krell and Leenie Bennett on display. McMonagle says the tone of the evening is humourous and light-hearted with authors always up for a good joke and poking fun at one another.

Visitors to the festival this year are in for a treat. To mark Words on the Water’s tenth year, a small anthology of the poems commissioned by poets specially for each of the festival’s past 10 years will be given as free gift to those who purchase a weekend pass. Otherwise, it retails for $5. The books are hand-made, “a treasure to keep” describes McMonagle.

The festival was borne out of a desire to promote a higher level of community literacy and reading in the community and to offer workshops for local students and adult writers.

McMonagle, who is a former remedial reading teacher, said in 2001 when the festival got off the ground, the literacy level in Campbell River was really low and she, along with a festival committee, believed Words on the Water could help.

The committee, which has grown from six to nine members, is young, motivated and energetic and the festival would not be possible without them each year, says McMonagle.

This year’s festival takes place at the Maritime Heritage Centre and begins 7:30 p.m. Fri., March 11 at p.m. and picks up on Sat., March 12 with readings beginning at 9 a.m.

The Saturday night Literary Cabaret begins at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $65 for an all-weekend pass if purchased before March 1 at the Tidemark Theatre, otherwise cost is $85. The Friday night session alone is $20; Saturday sessions are $20 each and the Saturday night session is $20.

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