One of the benefits of spending the summer months where I do now, in Southwestern Ontario near the eastern shore of Lake Huron (or, as it’s known locally, Ontario’s West Coast), is the close proximity to so much culture. Stratford and other seasonal playhouses and summer stock, music festivals – blues, jazz, even bagpipes! – concerts, art galleries and shows, and libraries, books, writers, bookstores (after all, this is Alice Munro Country, where the Nobel Prize-winning Canadian author was born and now lives). I’m like a kid in a candy store! Of course, this old Author Impresario can’t help but think about possibilities for promoting her own friends (not to mention her own work!) and is already in talks about the idea to bring established authors to the area and heighten awareness of writing and books in general.
I knew about the Bayfield Writers’ Festival (held on June 27th) from friends who visit the town on a regular basis. And Bayfield is only a 45-minute drive from the trailer. But this year, one of the featured authors was to be Marina Endicott – the only out-of-province participant … and the only author in the group I know personally. I just had to be there to say hello, buy her new book, and fly the Alberta flag of support. After all, I had been Marina’s Alberta sales rep for Good to a Fault, the first book published by Calgary’s Freehand Books, that then went on to be nominated for The Giller Award. Wow! What heady days those were! I’ve continued to follow Marina’s career (she taught a workshop at the Fernie Writers’ Conference one summer I attended) and so I wanted to be in Bayfield for this Festival, even if it was just to say hi, buy her new book and ask that she sign it for me.
I arrived about an hour ahead of time to pick up my ticket and check out the town, which reminded me of the touristyness of Banff, but without the mountains. The wide main street offers many shops, boutiques, galleries, restaurants, at least one hotel, a bookstore, and plenty of space to park and stroll. Unfortunately, it was raining that day, a Saturday afternoon. (So I didn’t take photos.) Still, there were many tourists visiting the town, dashing in and out of doors, shopping, eating, enjoying the seasonal atmosphere. I parked and had a quick look inside the book store, found out where the Town Hall, the Festival venue, was located, then trudged off through the drizzle.
Martha Beechie is the owner of The Village Bookshop, having bought the store last year. She had gathered together an interesting group of authors (and told us she listened to the advice of sales reps when making this year’s selection – nice to know!). First up was a group of fiction and non-fiction authors, all of whom had recently published new books. Peter Kavanagh, Peter Edwards, Elizabeth Abbott, Carrie Snyder and Marina Endicott each spoke about their books and read from them. After a break, editor and publisher Douglas Gibson spoke about his life working with some of the great authors in Canadian literary history. Fascinating! Especially as I began selling books in Calgary in 1978, not long after Mr. Gibson started working for MacMillan of Canada. While I had never met him previously, I certainly knew and had met many of the authors he’d edited over those years. I spoke with him after the festival ended and we reminisced about Morley Callaghan, Hugh MacLennan, Jack Hodgins and good old W.O. Mitchell, among others, as well as Bertha Hanson, Catherine McKay, Stanton & MacDougall and others in Canadian publishing and bookselling. Definitely a bonus for me!
Before the Festival began, two women asked if they might sit next to me. We struck up a conversation and Chetna and Marilyn told me they were from London, ON (about an hour’s drive away), and had attended the event every one of the 16 years it has been running. They said they enjoyed the mix of authors and the opportunity to meet and talk with people they might not otherwise have a chance to see or be exposed to in London. They were both great readers and visited The Village Bookshop on a regular basis to “stock up” on reading material.
A bonus was that a woman I didn’t recognize came in too late for the presentations, but I overheard her say she was Alison Wearing. I immediately introduced myself, because we had a mutual friend in Anna Landry. I had previously read both of Alison’s books on Anna’s recommendation and, since the Festival, I have featured Alison on Reading Recommendations.
For me, it was a great day, and well worth the drive there and back. I had a chance to catch up with Marina and I learned about four new-to-me authors and reminisced with a fifth. Plus I discovered a lovely independent bookstore that truly cares about books, authors and, more importantly, readers, by sponsoring the annual Bayfield Writers’ Festival. Martha Beechie told me she wants to encourage more events, especially those that promote local authors within the Southwestern Ontario community. Hmmmm, I thought to myself. Another possible venue for this old Author Impresario to organize gigs for author-friends …
And now I’m going back to Bayfield again this afternoon, because a group of poets I know (Frank Beltrano has been featured on Reading Recommendations) from London, ON, have been attending their annual self-directed writing retreat in the town this week and they’ll be holding a public reading on the sidewalk in front of Patina Studios. (More on this event later!)
*Once I receive their completed questionnaires, I’ll be featuring Marina Endicott and Peter Edwards on Reading Recommendations.