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Attending Writers at Woody Point is something Sharon Bala has wanted to do for awhile

St. John’s author Sharon Bala is taking part in the Writers at Woody Point festival in Woody Point this week. - Photo by Nadra Ginting
St. John’s author Sharon Bala is taking part in the Writers at Woody Point festival in Woody Point this week. - Photo by Nadra Ginting - Contributed

It was a bit of a dreary morning in Woody Point on Thursday, but Sharon Bala’s mood certainly didn’t match the conditions.

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While the town was in the middle of a power outage, Bala was still able to find some coffee to get her day going.

Bala is in the Bonne Bay community for Writers at Woody Point.

The literary festival is one the St. John’s woman has wanted to attend as an audience member for some time now, and so is excited to be doing so as author.

Her first novel “The Boat People” was released on Jan. 2.

Bala has been writing since she was a child.

“But really didn’t think it was a realistic profession,” she said.

So, life led her in other directions as she spent time working in communications and public relations.

She moved to in St. John’s in 2010 with her husband, Tom Baird.

“In St. John’s everyone you walk into is a writer and they make it feel like it’s a totally rational or reasonable thing to want,” she said with a laugh.

In 2011, she took an evening class with author Jessica Grant, who she credits with teaching her how to write as an adult.

Around then the contract she’d been working on came to an end and she had to decide what she’d do — would she look for other work or start seriously writing to make it her profession.

She did another class with author Lisa Moore in 2012 and that is where she met the people who would come to form the writing group, The Port Authority, that she’s part of.

Together, she said they’ve learned to writer and taught each other so much. They are also the ones who’ve seen “The Boat People” through with her from idea, to draft to manuscript.

The story is based on the arrival of two ships off the shores of British Columbia in 2009-2010 carrying refugees fleeing the Sri Lankan civil war.  

A father and son seeking a new life are instead put in prison and must go through a refugee hearing in Vancouver.

Bala’s own family came to Canada from Sri Lanka in the 1980s, which she said was a good time to come as refugees and immigrants.

She could find very little about the actual people on the boats and so all the characters are invented, but the facts regarding refugee and immigration law are all accurate.

Even before it was released the unpublished manuscript drew some attention.

The “very first terrible draft” won the Percy Janes First Novel Award in May 2015 and the third or fourth draft was short-listed for the Fresh Fish Award in October 2015.

She signed with an agent at the end of 2015 and the by the beginning of 2016 the manuscript had been sold. Then she got seriously down to work and submitted the final version in early 2017.

To be at Writers at Woody Point now is a real thrill for her as she’ll get to meet with and talk with readers and other writers who she’s sure will be inspiring.

“It’s very nourishing,” she said of the event.

She said people come up on the streets and in cafes to tell you they love your book.

“What’s better than that,” she said and laughed. “For an author that’s wonderful. The trick is to not let your head get too big.”

Sharon Bala read from “The Boat People” at the Heritage Theatre on Thursday night.

Today, she’ll join Lawrence Hill for an Up Close and Personal conversation at the theatre at 2 p.m.

On Saturday, she’ll be doing a free reading at Galliott Studios at 9:30 a.m.

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www.writersatwoodypoint.com

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