New West Word Fest a lit feast

People who love to write, which is a polite way of defining those impelled by their literary addictions, converged on New Westminster April 13-15 for the New West Festival of Words, and by all accounts, it was a hit.

The Federation of BC Writers (I am a director) teamed up with New West Fest organizers, holding their annual general meeting in the Inn at the Quay’s Hyack Room. Ann Graham-Walker will continue as President, with Jacqueline Carmichael as Vice President.  The list of elected and continuing Board members that was approved at the AGM is published on the Fed’s web site. “I’m looking forward to working with our exciting new board that we’ve just voted in for this year,” said Graham-Walker. “I’m looking forward to working with our new Vice President Jackie Carmichael, who’s really creative and has great ideas, and some of the other wonderful people that we’ve brought on board.”

Sharon McInnes, whose contributions as a director were vital, was awarded an Honorary Life Membership by the outgoing board in recognition of her ‘extraordinary service and dedication.’

A highlight of the three-day festival was the Friday night Gala, which featured readings and a panel discussion by: novelist Gail Anderson-Dargatz; author J.J. Lee; novelist Roberta Rich and poet Rob Taylor.

Emceed by New Westminster’s Poet Laureate Alan Hill, the event brought an enthralled audience up close and personal to four literary personalities, who shared humorous, serious and often various views on the whys and hows of the writing lifestyle.

Before the Gala got underway a Book Sales & Networking session brought writers, poets and publishers together for an hour of browsing, buying and yakking. Participants had lots to say about why they write and how organizations like the Fed can help them grow their talents.

Alas, I couldn’t stay the Lit Fest New West course – I had to leave after the AGM to catch a ferry home. But I did drop in on Heather Jessup’s energizing Write-In at the Network Hub Saturday morning, where a group of ten participants was engaged in some literary calisthenics not long after sunrise!

Their enthusiasm spoke volumes about the energy levels at what turned out to be an invigorating event.

EuroCan, Eh?

When I was a kid, if anybody asked who and what I was, I would likely have answered proudly: ‘I’m Craig and I’m Canadian.’

That answer doesn’t work anymore, at least not the second half of it.

The assumption I would have unthinkingly made back in, say the mid to late 60s when my definitions of citizenship and identity were taking ‘final’ shape, was that the label ‘Canadian’ referred to caucasians of European and predominantly British heritage, the racial and national grouping that dominated during the colonization of North America in general and north of the 49th Parallel in particular. My upbringing and education did nothing to disabuse me of those notions. The only First Nations people I ever saw were in subordinate roles on TV westerns produced in the States… most often they were portrayed as the enemy, attacking the innocent settlers who were appropriating their territories.

Five decades on those skewed assumptions, so entrenched that it couldn’t even be called smug to hold them back then, have been swept into the dustbin of history – and atrocious history at that. To the ‘victors’ went the spoils along with the paternalistic prerogative to write official texts. Half a century later, though, the ‘spoils’ have been declared a dispossession by those who want to be polite, theft by those more interested in accuracy. As for the predominance of caucasian Europeans in Canadian society, that status has long-since been challenged statistically, socially, economically and culturally.

So for me to label myself a ‘Canadian’ anywhere other than an airport security counter, or perhaps when I’m travelling in a foreign land, is meaningless – sort of like identifying as a hockey fan when the guy in the seat next to me wants to know, ‘Which team are you rooting for?’

To lay claim to the title Canadian, particularly while the national dialogue about reconciliation is ongoing, would be preemptive, to put it mildly. The meaning of the term Canadian has to be redefined in the coming years. But titles that are being stuck to me as substitutes in the meantime don’t work either. To say I’m ‘non-aboriginal’ doesn’t describe who and what I am; it’s an exclusive term. To say I’m a ‘settler’ or an ‘occupier’ doesn’t describe me either. I was born in Canada, have no other place to go or that I would want to go. Canada is my home.

So I choose to call myself a EuroCan – a Canadian of European descent.

Many, who (like myself) are justifiably sickened by colonial history, will want to label me otherwise, and I accept that. But it’s important to remember that, to succeed, reconciliation must approach wrenching issues from many points of view, in a spirit of respectful dialogue. Everyone has to accept responsibility for a sincere and just outcome. Ultimately, you have to be talking not only to a people, but to persons, to achieve reconciliation, and to talk to people with cultural and social sensitivity you need a name for them. EuroCan works for me.

Reconciliation: can we prove it’s not too late?

Fort Victoria depicted by Photographer/Artist Sarah Crease (1826-1922). An idyllic outpost of empire built – like most other settlements in Canada  –  on First Nations territory.

In preparation for writing Uphill From Here I have begun some deeper study into First Nations cultures and the deplorable colonial record of  attempted annihilation perpetrated against indigenous people’s in Canada. Most of us in this day-in-age condemn that disastrous effort and accept the need and mutual responsibility for reconciliation. But I don’t believe EuroCans by-and-large are at the place yet were we can comprehend the full scope of the tragedy.

My understanding about this blight on our history is probably average, perhaps a little better than, which is to say, I have much to learn. Even at this early stage, though, I see that the descendants of the colonists (and the colonists themselves) could have learned so much from the original inhabitants of this continent about living in community and harmony with the land, if only our ancestors had substituted for the motivating mindsets of greed and conquest perspectives of curiosity, open-mindedness and adaptation.

All is far from lost, however. The resilience of First Nations cultures, and their resurgence in modern modes, means there’s still a chance for EuroCans and other ethnic groupings in this country, to learn more harmonious, less barbaric approaches to community in nature than were imposed by the 17th Century settlers, who began arriving in numbers from Europe about two centuries after the so-called ‘discovery’ of North America.

A good starting point for me, I hope, is the University of Toronto online course Aboriginal World Views and Education.

Devlin’s need for reconciliation

The first turning point in Uphill From Here (see previous posts) will be Dev’s realization that he does need to achieve reconciliation, and that working toward it will be a lifelong preoccupation.

Despite the hardships he has faced and overcome, Dev still inhabits a zone of innocence He isn’t aware of inherited transgressions that have to be addressed if he is going to make his world right. Because of his lack of knowledge, he can proceed as if there is no need to distract himself with anything outside the line of sight between his present and imagined future.

But with understanding comes personal responsibility. First, he has to admit his adamant rejection of his mother, Debbie – his attempt to eradicate even her memory – has been a hateful and hurtful course. Then he has to learn that forgiveness is not his to give or withhold; it is up to Debbie to forgive or blame herself, his only choice being to either help or hinder her, to show compassion or vengefulness.

Then he gets to know Marie, and is drawn to her in his first sexually charged encounter. But through her and her brother Jason, he is forced to recognize more and more deeply the urgent, but dauntingly complex need for reconciliation between EuroCans and First Nations people. The perplexing irony is his love for Marie deepens the more he comes to understand her passion and resolve for her people; but at the same time he sees how difficult it might be for them to become friends, let alone lovers. Their struggle with this paradox lies at the heart of Uphill From Here.

Maria’s brother, Jason, who represents an even more hardline approach to the assertion of First Nations rights will, in a sense, express points of view Marie suppresses because she loves Devlin more than she is prepared to admit.

From my journal
April 3, 2018


Parked at Kin Beach the other day, I heard a buzzing, like a mosquito, but a long way off, and obviously of human origin. Stopped what I was doing, and stepped out onto the boat launch for a better view toward Old Town, following the tendrils of annoying sound….

Adopt a character – experience fiction from the inside

Part of my search for understanding is connection with real people, whose life experiences overlap with those of my characters. Writing at its best is a transformative process. Points of awakening, of brilliance, shine through when I as an author am amazed at what I’m discovering as I get to know my characters. Only then can I convey that sense of wonder to readers, passing along new and fascinating insights into the cultural and social milieus of my story.

I call the process of reaching out to develop characters ‘adoption’. By that I mean participants adopt characters, whose social and cultural responses they understand, and who can guide me as a write the story. Adopters will be in a very real sense co-writers.

Three characters in particular would benefit by having adopters work with me:

  • Devlin Smith, who is setting out to achieve his dreams of becoming a Paralympian and lawyer;
  • Marie Gilbert, who is defining herself as a First Nations activist, woman and artist in the 21st Century;
  • Debbie Smith, Devlin’s mother, who is grappling with her addictions, dysfunctional history, and terminal illness.

Devlin, as the protagonist, will be the focal point these various perspectives converge on. But the characters in his life have to be real, three-dimensional, imposing, and to achieve that presence, I need help to deeply appreciate their stories.

So what am I asking of the people I hope will adopt these characters? I envision ongoing dialogue as episodes are written, conversations about how or why a character might react the way he does to a given event; the emotions that would be triggered by an incident. Most of all, I am looking for descriptions of what ‘reconciliation’ looks like to them.

In other words, I want adopters to experience what’s happening in the novel and express their cultural and social reactions. I see them as collaborators and friends, who will feel safe opening up from their points of view so that I can represent my characters with depth and integrity.

A long climb up a steep hill in Ladysmith

A description of  the ‘inspiration’ and process for my  work in progress, Uphill From Here

For the most part we learn by experience. Events are analyzed, compared and absorbed as they happen, life’s meaning effervescing like the tantalizing flavours of a simmering stew.

But as a novelist that sequence, the acclimatizing passages of growing up and growing old, is frequently reversed, or inverted. In an ‘inspired flash’ I have been given Devlin Smith’s life-story in my current novel in progress, Uphill From Here. Now I have to examine the events in that skeletal outline, giving them breath, life, meaning, all the while asking: ‘ Why have I been given this responsibility?’

At the beginning of that process for this novel, I’m reaching into my communities to discover experiences and perspectives  that will make an inspiring story compelling, or what I like to call ‘real fiction’.

Join me on Devlin’s long, hard climb up a short, steep hill in Ladysmith. Let’s find out more about how he got to the foot of Symonds Street and his struggle to get to the top of that challenging grade. I’m looking for: ‘adopters’, ‘enactors’, ‘beta readers’… anyone interested in helping me tell Devlin’s story.

Read the outline to Uphill From Here, and find out how you can get into the story as it’s written.

FPTP – Our Political Soap Box Derby

1948 Soap box derby – Wikipedia

I have been reading up on a voting process called Local PR, one of the stakeholder submissions to BC’s electoral referendum process.

As a proponent of electoral reform, I have to confess it’s not easy to understand how the counting works under this model, and further, that I’m not sure how it works in any of the other models that have been considered since B.C. first started looking into PR in 2005.

But this time round, I am determined to work through the math, so I read the written Local PR submission. Result: It hasn’t been easy, but with due-diligence and a smidgen of determination, you can understand these systems, and even appreciate the elegance they would bring, when it comes to nuanced, fair representation in the B.C. Legislature.

I can feel the hair on PR opponents’ necks rising. “How many people are going to slog through the technical details of a complex voting system to gain an understanding of how their votes count?” they demand – which is another way of saying, “Keep it simple, stupid.”

A couple of things in response. One, voting simplistically isn’t the way to go in a world where democracies are confronted with complex issues – there are many of us voters out here, who want more flexible options when it comes to casting our ballots. Two, as citizens, if we want to understand the implications of any electoral system, we must take resonsibility, and study it thoroughly – and there’s nothing simple about the adverse implications of First Past The Post.

The argument used by those opposed to PR (and it’s used in the most perjorative sense of the word by some political hardheads) is that people will not understand or trust a voting system that has a more complex front end in the voters booth than FPTP. We have to stay locked in an electoral stone age because voter confidence, and perhaps even fair elections, won’t be possible under any less thuggish system. That, and the old saw about hung parliaments, as if government can’t keep functoning day-to-day while the vital process of determining who’s going to negotiate and implement change and leadership is worked out.

All this despite the fact that most progressive democracies in the 21st Century use some form of proportional representation to elect their governments. Are B.C. and Canadian voters not up to the mark; are we somehow less sophisticated or intelligent that voters elsewhere in the world?

By that reasoning, shouldn’t we all have our drivers’ licences revoked? After all, how can anyone get into the family car and drive to work, or shopping, or to drop the kids off at school with any degree of confidence, when they don’t really understand how the machine that’s getting them there functions? The modern automobile is a sophisticated piece of engineering most drivers know nothing more about than how to turn the key in the ignition and put into gear. Yet we drive them every day to destinations we could never get to any other way.

If complexity was the issue, electoral luddites should all be driving machines that are simple to operate and easily understood at a glance, like soap box cars.

Here’s the thing, though: Sure, soap box cars are simple and easy to figure out; they provide predictable and manipulable results; but they can only race in the direction gravity works, that is, downhill to the bottom. If we want to go uphill, and create a democracy best able to make nuanced, fair decisions, we need something with an engine in it, something that can take us as a real majority through eras of complex political change.

The engine should be popular will, and that can only be determined by a fair electoral system.


Freighters anchored in Stuart Channel.

So, today the latest Alberta oil patch bully to take to the podium started issuing threats about what he’s going to do to B.C. citizens who want to protect their coast from the unmitigated disasters that will ensue if we allow diluted bitumen to be exported in unsustainable quantities through Vancouver and the Strait of Juan de Fuca via a twinned Kinder Morgan pipeline.

In a CBC report, United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney says if he becomes premier, and B.C. doesn’t back down, he’ll stop permits for the shipment of Alberta oil to B.C. through the existing Trans Mountain pipeline and he’ll slap a toll on B.C.’s natural gas shipments through Alberta.

In an effort to outdo Alberta’s NDP Premier Rachel Notley in the tough-guy posturing, he gets down and personal in his threats to B.C.’s NDP Premier John Horgan, wrapping himself in the mantle of 80’s Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed, who went to war with Pierre Trudeau over the National Energy Program, and is a hero in the estimation of many Alberta fossil fuelists. (While we’re harkening back to that era, we may want to recall it was in 1989 the Exxon Valdez spilled 10 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound… imagine a disaster of that magnitude with diluted bitumen.)

Threatened Kenney, “My message to John Horgan is: I may very well be sitting across the table from you in 14 months. And if you’re unable to come to an understanding with your fellow New Democrat Rachel Notley, just wait until you’re sitting across the table from me,”

A base-player, in no uncertain terms, who must have read the Trump handbook on bare knuckle-headed politics, Kenney thinks a threat to cut off distribution of oil through the Trans-Mountain pipeline and a tax on fracked natural gas are threats that will play well in B.C. He’s right! Thousands of British Columbians, who understand the risk both sources of power pose to our environment, will be cheering him on. “Do it! Do it! Do it!” I can hear them chanting.

In case Horgan is thinking of blinking in the face of Kenney’s locker-room bluster, here’s a bit of advice from one B.C. voter: Allow diluted bitumen to be pumped through our mountains and down to our coast in the volumes demanded by Alberta and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and you’ll earn my unending opposition. Acceding to their shortsightedness and mongering will be a betrayal of British Columbian and global citizens of every species.

Provincial politicians are careful to stick to issues within their own jurisdiction; ordinary citizens don’t compartmentalize their concerns quite so neatly. Nor do we normal citizens need to know every arcane detail of political posturing to understand the fundamental truth. So let’s take a look at this standoff from the position of an ordinary citizen, who has children and grandchildren, whose lives are what he really cares about most – and cares holistically.

Kenney, Notley and Trudeau need to understand my resolve, and why I’m not prepared to budge when it comes to Alberta’s tar sands. Most of the oil that’s locked up in the third largest reserve in the world has to stay in the ground. Full stop. Alberta has to transition away from oil as the basis of its future economic growth, and start building a sustainable future. Twinning Kinder Morgan does not fit into that picture; it perpetuates and accelerates the environmental disaster that’s unfolding as we speak.

The sanctity of B.C.’s coastline and the urgency of preventing climate change trump Kenney’s threats. I’m more concerned we not risk the certain disasters posed by both those issues than I am with anything Kenney, Notley or Trudeau can advance as a provincial or national interest. Alberta has to come up with a Climate Leadership Plan that’s better than the ruse they’ve concocted. It’s that simple.


100 Sleeping Dandelions – by Diana Durrand

Did and interview and video for Diana Durrand, artist and life-partner. Her show, 100 Sleeping Dandelions, will be on at the Gage Gallery in Victoria from April 10 to 21. She’s been working on it for a year, through many trials and tribulations. It’s a great body of work that discovers the spectacular in a plant that’s not only considered common, but is ruthlessly rooted out as a weed! Artists and authors looking for coverage and trailers, get in touch. I offer special rates for creators in the arts.