Monday 26 October 2015

Surrey International Writer's Conference Review

A few years ago, my friends Katie and Richard and I had the opportunity to go to the pub with C.C. Humphreys, an historical fiction writer.  We had a great talk about all things writing and he highly recommended we attend the Surrey International Writer's Conference.  Living in Alberta, this seemed an impossible feat of money and travel, but in moving to the coast, it has been one of my goals.  I nearly put it off for another year, but my husband and mom urged me to take the plunge and I am grateful for their support.

Even though I am much closer, Surrey is still a bit of a trek, so for my first year, I decided to book only the Saturday at the conference.  So, this Saturday, I woke up at 5:45 a.m. and walked, in the dark, to the ferry.  I was very grateful for my phone's flashlight app!  After the 6:30 ferry, I took the city bus to Burrard Station in downtown Vancouver.  Here is the only photo I took, which is a lovely fountain across from the station.

Next was the skytrain, and finally a shuttle to the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel.  I registered and then joined the opening session in the Guildford Ballroom.  Beverly Jenkins was the Keynote speaker who encouraged us to keep writing.

Next, I attended a session called Collecting Seeds: How to use Images and Occasions to Create Story with Danika Dinsmore.  After an entertaining introduction of her work and passions, she began to lead us through a writing exercise focused on remembering a place from our past and all of the objects in it.  Unfortunately, I was not able to finish the exercise as it was time for my Blue Pencil meeting with author, Gigi Pandian.

It was a rare treat to meet with Gigi.  She read the first three pages of my latest novel project and gave me some great suggestions about revisions I could make.  She was very warm and encouraging (she told me I was a great writer!) and directly after our meeting, I went to the conference trade show to buy her book Artifact.

The next session I chose was called Rewriting with Anne Perry.  She had dozens of great ideas for making "good even better."  She recommended writing one or two sentences about your theme, and especially what made you write the story in the first place.  She also shared some of the major themes in her novels and I am now looking forward to delving into her books as well. 

Again, I needed to leave the session early to attend the Pitch session I had scheduled with agent Nephele Tempest.  I prepared for this session by checking out some blogs on how to pitch to an agent at a writing conference.  This was my favourite.  I also began reading her blog and wrote up a query letter to focus what I wanted to say.  I emailed it to my brilliant writing friend Katie to make sure it was okay and she gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up.

I waited with some other nervous writers on padded chairs in a ballroom lined with tables and chairs.  When our turn came, we walked to our agent and had ten minutes to pitch our ideas.  I was so glad I had been reading Nephele's blog because I was able to talk to her about a few things before launching into my pitch.  After sharing my idea, she asked one excellent question.  "What made you want to tell this story?"  After sharing my answer, she passed me her card and invited me to send her the first fifty pages of my book.  She recommended I complete revising my book before sending it and she urged me that there was no hurry and that her offer did not expire.  Hurrah! Thanks to my research, I remembered to ask her a question before skipping away in euphoria.  I've always been a bit confused by the number or new genres in fiction and asked her to recommend into which genre my book fits.

Following this, we had a Mystery Lunch in the main ballroom where each table sat with one of the conference presenters.  Our table had Jasper Fforde who was very entertaining and personable.  I am interested in reading his novel The Eyre Affair where he has Jane Eyre kidnapped from the novel Jane Eyre.  

Finally, I attended a session with C.C. Humphreys and Robert Dugoni called The Terror of the Second Draft.  Humphreys and Dugomi bantered about the writing process, prefacing that all authors need to find what works for them.  I liked their suggestion that a writer create an outline after the first draft.  I can see how this would focus my work and help me see the big picture.

I wanted to attend a fourth session, but by 3:45, I was tired and my brain was full.  I headed back out toward public transport, looking forward to meeting my family for supper.  It was an amazing first experience, well worth the money.  In meeting some of the other writers, I can see how staying for the full three days would be beneficial in the future.  For now; however, I have a lot of new inspiration and a large to do list ahead of me.  I hope I can attend again with a friend next time.  Maybe I can talk Katie into coming out next year:)


  1. What an amazing experience!!! I knew you would rock that agent meeting - you were prepared, your letter was amazing, and of course your writing is fantastic. Who wouldn't want to be your agent! So excited for you!!!

    Okay. I'm gonna start saving my extra pennies in hopes of going next year. It sounds just amazing. I think I'd be intimidated going alone (you are braver than me!!) but if we went together I think it'd be so much fun. I can see how your brain was full early, though, hah!