Alison M. York – A Serendipitous Book Launch

By Stacey Lupky

Warm, inviting energy greeted the standing-room-only crowd gathered for the book launch of Alison York’s novel, Tartan Threads: Serendipity In Scotland. Throughout the event, hosted by the Manitoba Writer’s Guild, of which Alison is a member, Scotland played a welcoming role in bringing the crowd together. Scottish-themed dainties such as shortbread, scones and jam were on offer, while Scottish music gently lilted in the background. At the front of the room at Artspace, the Scottish flag draped over a table filled with memorabilia from ancestors whose lives played a pivotal role in the shaping of the novel.

MWG volunteer Jessica Smithies welcomed all with the land acknowledgement and housekeeping. Our attention was then drawn to Aiden, a videographer, who captured the event for posterity online. We were introduced to Alison’s husband, Roger York, who was an immense help to her writing and with his Toastmaster-trained voice, provided a reading from the novel.

Among the many thanks in Alison’s opening speech, she spoke of the close relationship she developed with her editor, Jenny Yates. Jenny spoke to the attendees briefly and brought up the important point of the trust relationship between an author and their editor. Authors must be open to suggestions and they must be courageous enough to take a germ of an idea and develop it.

Admitting she is a “pantser,” meaning she doesn’t strictly follow an outline, Alison said the story was borne out of a grade seven English Language Arts class assignment. Her student needed encouragement, so Allison wrote a short story alongside him. Gradually expanding her story into a novel, she wanted to see her book in print. Allison was told the market was swamped with new writers seeking publication, and that the process would take two years or more. Being eight years in since she began, the author decided to publish independently.

Alison’s reading introduced us to the character of Clare Wood, a young woman in 1978, who decides she “needs to go somewhere and some place that stretches her as a person”. That place is the Highlands of Scotland and Alison’s sense of humour and wit shine through the dialogue between Clare and her mother as Clare decides she needs to learn more about her extended family.

Roger York then took the podium and delivered a lively reading as the character Jim Bernie, complete with Scottish brogue. The novel involves aspects of time travel via a special geode, and in one of the readings, Jim considers an offer from his distant cousin to immigrate to America. The dialogue is sensitive and dramatic, conveying tender emotions.

There were few questions for Alison York in the Q & A portion, but someone did ask about the framed black and white photo of a gentleman on the display table. This was Alison’s great, great grandfather on her maternal side. The family is from the Isle of Lewis and while there are no real-life resemblances to the family in her fictional novel, some of the family names were used. The memorabilia on the table also featured a photo of her grandparents in the early 20th century gathered for a photo of the Gaelic Society of Winnipeg.

Another question came from someone asking about an inevitable sequel. Alison, a fan of MWG critique circles, said the novel originated from two separate stories that were combined into one on advice from the critique group. She is already hard at work on the next part of the saga. We may just see her again next year for that sequel launch!

The afternoon capped off with a prize being rewarded to people who had green tape on their chairs which led everyone scrambling to see if they had the lucky chair. Attendees who did were gifted a pin.

It was a marvelous launch which showcased the community of beta readers and editors, as well as family and friends it takes to commit oneself to the craft of writing. Attendees lingered to chat and meet the author who graciously signed copies of her book. How serendipitous that my first attendance of a book launch would be such an overwhelming delight.

Hungering

By barb janes

This is the last time, I promise. Maybe you’ve heard those words, heard them with hope, heard them with cynicism. Maybe you’ve spoken those words aloud, or in your head full of self-recrimination, meaning it, knowing you are lying. These prose words spoken and heard by many, were turned into poetry by Spenser Smith.

A glorious spring afternoon found twenty-some folks gathered in Art Space in Winnipeg’s Exchange to listen to well-chosen words at a poetry reading featuring Spenser Smith’s A Brief Relief From Hunger, ably supported by two other poets, Sarah Ens and Hannah Green.

The event opened with the thoughtful and thought-provoking Manitoba Writers Guild land acknowledgement, a content warning, and the offer of quiet space outside the room for those who might need it, and the commitment that someone would check on you if you were that person in need. I appreciate the care on offer.

Sarah Ens opened with “The Sacredness of Sleepovers,” producing some giggles and fond memories at her mention of “candy-fuzzed tongues.” Another offering, “Orbit,” captured adolescent angst and wisdom with the phrase “we diagnosed each other astrologically.” A third poem, from Flyway, explored the complexity of Ens’ heritage: “the fleeing, farming Mennonites” who escaped one Empire only to participate in the colonization of this country.

Imagine watching the same horror movie every night, was Hannah Green’s hook of an opener from her collection, Xanax Cowboy. With edgy energy, Hannah’s readings provided an appetizer for Spenser’s addiction-themed poems. Who but one who knows This is the last time, I promise could acknowledge “my ribs stick our like rows of excuses”? And wisely reading a room full of readers, Hannah read, “I think about becoming a Heather O’Neil character.” 

Two themes spiralled through Spenser Smith’s offerings: toxic masculinity and addiction. “‘Men’ is both a single word and a thousand cultures,” he states in “Hundreds of Men: A Case Study.” Several poems in A Brief Relief are assembled from Facebook comments: “Crime rate is dropping like junkies. Love it” and “ban the [naloxone] kits let mother nature take its course”. Another poem in the collection, “Comment Section” repeats the word “comment” in a long, overwhelming column, ensuring we know the source of those cruel comments. Reflecting on those who offer unconditional love, “Daydreaming” offers: “Some of us have grandmas who drop ice cubes in our soup. Some of us live with burned tongues….Let me be a man who cools to that which is too hot to slurp.” 

“Write about what matters most,” was Spenser’s response during the Q&A. The Manitoba Writers Guild launch events expose us to what matters most, not only in the offerings of featured writers, but in the care the Guild uses to shape these events. While the content of the poems at this event was provocative and daring, all three poets were young and White – and, as far as I could tell, the audience, while of various ages, was entirely White. I look forward to the day when a more diverse mix of writers and a more diverse audience is found at Guild events.

Contest Winners Celebrated at The Dave

By Steve Oetting

The annual Dave Williamson National Short Story Competition reception, fondly known as “The Dave,” was held on May 9 at ArtSpace. This reception is hosted by the Guild as a way to honour the short story contributors who were creative and intrepid enough to provide submissions, the judges who spent weeks carefully assessing those stories and enduring the delicate task of selecting the winners, and of course Dave Williamson, the honorary patron of this popular contest.

The night began with a hearty welcome and introduction by Sharon Hamilton. Her opening statement was as poignant as it was inspiring, reminding me of one of the things I love most about the Guild, the collective commitment to kindness, diversity, and inclusion shared by all of its members. Sharon added a new element to the Guild’s standard Land Acknowledgement statement as follows:

“Our land acknowledgement statement is not static; it is bound to adapt as we ourselves adapt and grow in our journey of understanding. We promise to dedicate ourselves as learners and to be open to information provided to us by our Indigenous relations. And as learners, I ask you to consider the impact of the creative synergy that is flowing through this room. I urge each of us to remain mindful of the salient differences among us that have the power to enhance that creative flow. The Manitoba Writers’ Guild is devoted to bridging the gaps in our community created by marginalization due to colonial and imperialistic practices and beliefs.” The entire Land Acknowledgement statement can be found here

Sharon then introduced Dave Williamson, although it felt as if he needed no introduction at all. Dave spent years as an instructor in advertising, communications and creative writing at Red River Community College (now known as RRC Polytech) where he founded the Creative Communications program in 1969. He was Dean of Applied Arts and Business from 1983 until his retirement in 2006. From 1986 to 1989 he was president of the Manitoba Writers’ Guild and chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada from 1992 to 1993. The Dave Williamson National Short Story Competition was launched in 2023 along with Beyond Boundaries, the compilation of stories submitted by the winners and runners-up. When asked by Sharon to raise their hands if they had ever worked with or been instructed by Dave, either at RRCC or through programs sponsored by McNally Robinson, it seemed that almost half of the attendees waved their hands fondly across the room.

Dave Williamson provided a humorous and delightful background on short stories, noting the disdain that some novel readers have for short story collections. He explained that this lack of enthusiasm for short stories was part of the motivation behind supporting the Dave Williamson National Short Story Competition, and that the appreciation of short stories for both writers and readers has improved of late, partly due to the enjoyment and gratification that can be achieved without the commitment of time required of full-length novels.

The reception then moved on to readings by the three top award winners. These began with Yvonne Kyle, a retired business person from Winnipeg who has spent much of her time writing since leaving full-time work and the third-place winner with her story, “A Good Day on Clothes.” Next up was Elle Qunmei Taylor, a graduate of the University of Winnipeg where she majored in English and Theatre & Film and a writer of poetry, creative nonfiction and short fiction with a special interest in the genre of surrealism. Elle read from her story, “Canadian Cougars,” which took second place. And lastly we heard from Lisa Pollock, a graduate in History from the University of Calgary who enjoys writing semi-biographical stories such as her submission, “The Promise,” that took first place. Each of these readings grasped the attention and imagination of the audience, leaving us yearning to get home with our copies of the 2024 edition of Beyond Boundaries and read the complete stories.

Sharon congratulated the three top winners while simultaneously explaining how difficult it is for the preliminary and lead judges to choose from over a hundred excellent submissions, an increase of more than ten percent over last year’s submissions. She introduced three of the runners-up, emphasizing that their stories, and in fact all of the stories submitted, equally deserved our appreciation and accolades. She described in articulate detail how the selection process worked, starting with each preliminary judge reading fifteen stories before passing their findings on to the lead judges. The lead judges had the most challenging task of reading so many of the submitted stories, discussing and scrutinizing through them in order to select the three winners and four runners-up.

The preliminary judges this year included Harry Hobbs, Pat Stefanchuk, Jennifer Tesoro, Glenda Walker Hobbs, Andrea von Wichert, Judy Williams and Barbara Graham. Our lead judges were Raye Anderson, Lauren Carter, Trevor Greyeyes, Zilla Jones and Lee Kvern. Sharon introduced Zilla Jones, who described the process used by the lead judges and congratulated everyone who participated in the contest. Having both judged and submitted to various literary contests, Zilla’s experience was that it is harder to judge than it is to submit, and she offered some excellent advice for writers about how to prepare and submit their stories to contests such as The Dave.

Zilla’s first suggestion to make the selection process easier for judges is to properly revise your submission, noting that the real magic of writing is in the editing process. One thing that the judges always consider is how much effort writers commit to ensuring their stories are “clean on the page” and that submissions which are not well edited are quickly eliminated. Another element that judges look for are stories that move the reader. The emotional impact of the work is always the foremost criterion that migrate submissions to the top of the list. And lastly you need to make sure you have something fresh, stories that feel like they have been heard “two or three or ten times” before are never selected. Zilla reiterated that the authors are never known to the judges, nor do the judges ever attempt to guess who they are written by because such presumptions are almost always wrong. Submissions are judged strictly on their quality and content, and the judges entertain no consideration for what might be the author’s age, race, or gender. Zilla’s final advice to writers was to not be shy about submitting to contests, that no matter how unsure you might be about a particular story, you can never be certain of the outcome. Accordingly, she recommended that writers should write often, search for fresh ideas, edit meticulously, and submit as often as you can.

Following the various speeches and readings, attendees spent a considerable time mingling, conversing and enjoying some treats and libations. Basking in the warmth, camaraderie and laughter that echoed off the walls of the room, I could not help feeling that every writer that submitted to this contest and every member of the Manitoba Writers’ Guild were winners, each of us in our own special way.

An Enchanting Book Launch

By Steve Oetting

The energy in the room was palpable. In spite of the bitter March wind that whistled through the streets of the Exchange District, the room reserved at ArtSpace on March 17 was well-populated by members of the Manitoba Writers’ Guild with a shared fondness for the book’s author. It was the book launch of Andy Dutfield’s Death at the Point.

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Raye Anderson Entertains and Inspires in a Lively Book Chat

By Amanda Le Rougetel

It was three o’clock in the morning about seven years ago when Gimli-based author Raye Anderson’s main character came to her out of the blue. She woke up suddenly with the name Roxanne Calloway in her mind: a tall skinny red-headed police officer from Saskatchewan. And that was that. Her main character was named. Today, Raye has written four books featuring Roxanne, and a fifth is in the early stages. 

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Writers Engage with a Difficult Subject

By Steve Oetting

Content Warning: Group discussion about memoir writing that includes childhood sexual abuse. This is a difficult topic of discussion, but one that some affected individuals choose to write about as a way to heal and move forward. MWG volunteers guided the conversation and made efforts to ensure everyone was both heard and comfortable.

Each Rants and Ramblings session is unique, with participants offering topics of interest for discussion. With a full slate of participants at the March 7 R&R, moderated by Susan Rocan, with Lori Gaudet and Katherine Westwood assisting, a serious topic dominated the steady flow of comments and perspectives.

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Shortlist – Dave Williamson Short Story Competition

Choosing the best among many good stories is not so straightforward a task as one might imagine. Our five lead judges, Raye Anderson, Lauren Carter, Trevor Greyeyes, Zilla Jones, and Lee Kvern engaged in energetic discussions focusing on the craft of writing and the elements of fiction, ultimately deciding on the following seven stories for our shortlist.

The finalists for “The Dave” 2024 are:

(in random order)

Homeward Bound by Rowan McCandless, Winnipeg, MB
Canadian Cougars by Elle Qunmei Taylor, Grande Pointe, MB
A Good Day for Clothes by Yvonne Kyle, Winnipeg, MB
Pies by Cheryl Parisien, Winnipeg, MB
Queen of the Railroad Bridge by Kathleen Vance, Gibson, BC
The Carnival of Bones by Margaret Spratt, Winnipeg, MB
The Promise by Lisa Pollock, Calgary, AB

By next week, we shall be able to announce our three winners and four honourable mentions from this short list.

The 2nd Annual Dave Williamson Short Story Competition Longlist

We are thrilled to announce the longlist for this year’s Dave Williamson National Short Story Competition (aka ‘The Dave”). We received 105 entries, an increase of 10% over last year, once again ranging from British Columbia to Nova Scotia. The judges have been busy reading this diverse range of stories and have made their selection.

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Robust Discussions at February Critique Circle

By Steve Oetting

Each Critique Circle is a unique opportunity to experience other members’ writing and respond to questions they have about their work. This Critique Circle session was no different. It provided a varied collection of material and a robust discussion of each piece that was presented.

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