The Victoria Festival of Authors is back for it’s eighth year
The rain was illuminated by the street lights as I walked the winding streets leading to the Langham Theatre. The eighth annual Victoria Festival of Authors (VFA) took place from Oct. 11–15, featuring over 11 different events and various authors and artists. On Oct. 14 I attended Dark Woods and Open Water, a panel of writers at the Langham Theatre.
I headed into the small foyer, shaking off the rain. I was one of the first to arrive. It was a small venue, with only a few couches and a bar at the end of the room.
Dark Woods and Open Waters featured three Canadian fiction authors, whose books portray life in small B.C. communities.
The authors that were interviewed were Jennifer Manuel, known for her debut novel, The Heaviness of Things That Float, which won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. Her newest book, The Morning Bell Brings the Broken Heart, portrays the remote Nuu-chah-nulth community and is an inside look on how the education system fails Indigenous children.
Cree author Darren J. McLeod was the second author featured. His book, A Season in Chezgh’un, is about a man who goes back to his roots and becomes a principal in the the Dakelth Community in remote Northern B.C., all while fighting his dark side.
Lastly, Alissa York is known for her book Effigy, which was shortlisted for a Scotiabank Giller Prize. Her newest book, Far Cry, is set in 1922 at Rivers Inlet, and it portrays a forbidden love and a hidden mystery waiting to be unraveled.
As the doors finally opened to the old theatre, I walked in and took my seat at the far right of the stage. A small crowd shuffled in, leaving the venue less than half-full by the time the stage lights turned on. UVic English Professor Dr. Nicholas Bradley, the moderator of the event, introduced the authors.
Manuel began with a passage from The Morning Bell Brings the Broken Heart. She painted a vivid picture through the narrator’s eyes. In the passage Molleigh Royston, the main character, took on her new role as a teacher in a remote Indigenous community. During this scene the protagonist is drawing her students as they play in the woods. Manuel beautifully describes the environment that this story takes place in, while giving us glimpses into the lives of these children.
Next, McLeod, known for his memoirs, read from his first work of fiction, A Season in Chezgh’un. His reading was a comedic shift compared to Manual. It started out with James, the main character and the new principal of a small community in Northern B.C, teaching a vivid and in-depth sex ed class where students have to put a condom on a banana. This scene was funny, but I was left wanting more of the details about the environment.
The last reading was from Far Cry by York. Set in the year 1922 in a remote fishing town, the excerpt painted a scene by describing each sense. The audience was teleported to the town. I could see the choppy water and smell the sulfur that comes with low tide. By reading two different passages we were able to get an understanding of both the characters and the setting.
Once York was finished, they moved into the Q&A portion of the evening, where Bradley took the lead. He asked the writers questions focusing on constructing environments and their research techniques.
During this interview portion of the night, McLeod explained his approach to writing fiction. His mentor first told him that he had to have everything down to the ending planned out before he could get to writing. However, McLeod explained, this stopped him from writing. Instead, he told us to trust the narrative and trust that the characters will tell you the story.
Seeing professional Canadian authors talking about and reading their works was inspiring. Each author beautifully took us to another place with their stories, and they captured all the unique rural environments that this province has to offer. As I exited the theatre, I was comforted by the knowledge that festivals like this exist to showcase writers such as the ones I just heard. It’s so important to celebrate local authors and to tell stories that aren’t always heard.
As I walked home, the street light, now illuminated by the damp mist, created an orange glow. I put on my hood and walked the now quiet, still winding roads.