- 2012 Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, Oct. 12-14, Whistler, B.C. For more information and a full schedule of events visit theviciouscircle.ca.
Stella Harvey spoke to the North Shore News about the history of The Vicious Circle and what to expect at next weekend's Whistler Readers and Writers Festival.
North Shore News: How did The Vicious Circle get started in Whistler?
Stella Harvey: I've always written stuff here and there but I had another career and I was working in Europe for three years. When we decided to come back I sort of thought this might be a good time. I started to do short fiction and I had some of it published in literary magazines and then from there wrote the novel that is coming out.
In terms of the writers group and the festival, when we came back to Canada we settled in Whistler in August of 2000 so I thought if I'm going to do this writing thing it would be nice to have some support. I went to the library and they said they didn't think there was a writing group. I put an ad in the local papers, in the Pique and the Question, and asked if there was anyone interested in getting together to talk about writing, critiquing that kind of stuff, and 26 people showed up at my door for the first meeting.
North Shore News: How does The Vicious Circle operate as a group?
Stella Harvey: I've experimented with a bunch of different formats but really what I was trying to do is spend some time forming critique groups and there are now three critique groups in Whistler, Squamish and Pemberton. After starting the group I thought it would be nice to have developmental types of workshops and reading events in Whistler as opposed to having to go somewhere else for that sort of stuff and in 2001 we had our first festival which really was a fancy word for 20 people in my living room on Friday night.
We had a master workshop. The first person who came as our guest author was Andreas Schroeder who teaches at UBC. He also came last year because 2011 was our tenth anniversary and I thought it would be kind of neat for him to come and participate in the festival and see how it's grown from 20 people to last year we had just under 300.
We've expanded with a bunch of different things - we've had weeklong sessions and we've had master classes we've experimented with. In the last five years we've developed a formula that really works - we have a writer in residence program that runs for a couple of months in the fall for up to 12 writers working one-on-one with a guest author. This year our guest author is Fred Stenson from Alberta and in addition to that we have the festival in October.
The festival has master workshops that are geared for every level of writer. They deal with different topics. We have something on writing for young adults, we have something on poetry. We also have workshops that are more specific to fiction writing, such as this year Zsuzsi Gartner will be teaching a workshop on point of view.
North Shore News: Do the writers you sign on for the festival determine what the workshops will be? Susan Juby will be in Whistler this year and she is recognized for her work in young adult fiction.
Stella Harvey: It's something that's there every year. One of the goals that I tried to achieve every year is try to make the festival inclusive to everyone. We try to target young writers, for example. Susan Juby this year and last year we had the same kind of thing where a writer does a workshop, whether it is in high school or in the library, because the library has a writing group going for young people under the age of 19. We partner with the library or the schools for young writers and then we also have something for adult writers.
One thing we do every year is an evaluation after every workshop and I ask 'What did you like, what didn't you like, what would you suggest?' Workshops that aren't very popular or people didn't find useful sort of fall by the wayside. I look at all the suggestions that people make and I try to, as much as possible, accommodate those suggestions. The workshops in particular are always changing although there is continuing interest in creative nonfiction, journalism, writing for young adults, poetry and different aspects of fiction.
And then we bring different authors every year. It really depends on the feedback I get every year and then I try to bring in the right others to make it happen.
North Shore News: Has a community of writers developed because of The Vicious Circle?
Stella Harvey: Yes, I think it's pretty interesting that 26 people would respond to an ad so I think people were writing but writing on their own. We have really built a community of writers in the Sea to Sky corridor. Everything we do is meant to be inclusive. We've provided grants for young writers, we've provided grants for First Nations writers, we've targeted the schools. We've experimented with spoken word events which attracts a younger demographic than your standard reading event.
This year we are doing something totally new, we're experimenting with music, the culinary arts and writing - on Saturday night in the first hour writers wil talk about what their favourite books are, or where their motivations lie, that sort of thing, and then the rest of the evening we have a jazz band coming in and the authors are going to be mingling among the crowd.
One of the things we get consistently back from our feedback is that we are a very intimate festival.
Last year we had just under 300 people. We really play up on the intimacy that you can talk to the different authors. It's very interactive which I think also builds that idea of community.
North Shore News: There are many kinds of local writers involved. You mentioned before The Vicious Circle started they were writing on their own. Is there anything that defines the Sea to Sky group and its connection to mountain culture?
Stella Harvey: That's one of the questions that we are going to be dealing with in the debate on Saturday. Is your writing impacted by the mountains? The community has been very open to the efforts of The Vicious Circle and I don't know if that's because it is a mountain community or if it's just the nature of a small community where people embrace activities and new and different programs.
For me as a writer I feel that it's the latter. I've been able to do what I do because I live in a small community where community members embrace each other and new ideas. I'm a city girl too having lived in Rome for two years. I don't know the answer to that question. I don't know how much I'm personally impacted by living in a mountain community. I have the time for quiet, I have the time to write and I have friends and colleagues and others who support what I do. North Shore News: You'll be introducing your debut novel at the festival.
Stella Harvey: Yes it's exciting, and scary, too. The title is Nicolai's Daughters and it mostly takes place in Greece. Nicolai, on his deathbed, confesses to his daughter that he has fathered another child and he wants her to find that child. It goes back and forth in time between the present time and Nicolai's father's past. It takes place in a village called Kalavryta where there was a World War Two tragedy.
I visited Kalavryta and it made quite an impact on me. Also a mountain culture by the way. The village is about 30 kilometres into the mountains. A beautiful place where a terrible thing happened. My premise is that when a tragedy like this happens it impacts the family even when the family moves and changes its name. It's only after the two daughters finally deal with the family secrets around the wartime tragedy that the family can move on.
- The launch party for Nicolai's Daughters, published by Signature Editions, takes place on Friday, Oct. 12 at 6: 30 p.m. at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre in Whistler. For more information visit theviciouscircle.ca.