Eden Mills is a picturesque town located near Guelph, Ontario and this past week I won tickets to attend the Eden Mills Writers Festival. After a long week away for work, I wasn’t sure if I was going to attend, but when I saw literary icon (and my former mentor at the Humber School for Writers) Alistair MacLeod on the lineup, I decided I had to go.
The festival was set up at various sites along the Eramosa river, places with quaint names like The Mill, The Chapel or The Common. I’m pretty sure the licensed Open Book Patio was just some deck chairs and tents set up in someone’s backyard. The afternoon was warm and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
Unfortunately, I missed Angie Abdou’s reading but I did manage to speak with her at the author signing afterwards and we discussed Leslie Anthony’s vicious review of The Canterbury Trail. Trevor Cole gave an amusing and enthusiastic reading from Practical Jean (which has been added to my TBR pile).
I saw Alistair MacLeod outside of the writer’s rest area (again, someone’s home) and thought I’d try to speak with him before the throngs of fans jammed the reading and signing. I hadn’t seen Alistair since the Sleeping Giant Writers Festival four years ago and it had been five years since he was my mentor at Humber College. I went to re-introduce myself and he said, “I remember exactly who you are. I have your letter sitting on my desk and I never wrote you back.” He said very kind things about my work and then shocked me by remembering details of the reading I gave at Humber 5 years ago (which was different from the piece I workshopped). “You wrote the piece about the Mexican farmer who didn’t understand why you spoke Spanish so poorly and thought that Canada was a part of Mexico.” (incidentally, this piece was published by Burner Magazine and starts on page 64)
After parting ways with Alistair, I made my way over to The Mill to watch the Guelph Slam Poetry team practice for an upcoming competition. The performers were solid but I find slam poetry something I can only tolerate in small doses.
Alistair read with Douglas Gibson in The Chapel, a tiny old church that was filled to capacity and overflow seating was set up in a back room where people could listen in on the discussion. Alistair read an excerpt from No Great Mischief and Douglas Gibson read from his memoir Stories About Storytellers. Then the two shared vastly different accounts of acquiring the final manuscript of No Great Mischief. Gibson recalls a cordial but firm visit to Alistair’s residence, bottle of scotch in hand, while Alistair described the encounter as a ‘home invasion.’
The sole complaint I had about the event was the scheduling. Even though the event area was small enough to traverse quickly, the timing of the events didn’t all follow the same schedule. Alistair and Douglas Gibson’s event ran late (as did the one before it) and that combined with a long signing line meant I couldn’t attend any readings in the next time slot.
Unfortunately, I had to leave early due to prior commitments and couldn’t attend Michael Ondatje’s closing reading. I also wished I had looked at the schedule a little closer as I walked around thinking ‘I think that was Carrie Snyder’ or ‘there goes Lynden Macintyre’ but I was glad to be able to say hello to some authors I had met before like Dani Couture, Evan Munday and Julie Wilson.
It was a great event and it was also inspiring to know that my work stood out to Alistair after all these years. I’ve returned to the final edits of my manuscripts with renewed vigour and hope that maybe next year I can read at places like the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. Special thanks to the 49th Shelf for providing me with passes to a wonderful event.
I can’t believe I didn’t get a picture of me with Alistair in Eden Mills. But this is us from Humber back in 2007.