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Cabot Trail Writers Festival continues to turn another page

Rebecca Silver Slayter is the artistic director of the Cabot Trail Writers Festival, now in its 12th year. CONTRIBUTED
Rebecca Silver Slayter is the artistic director of the Cabot Trail Writers Festival, now in its 12th year. CONTRIBUTED
SYDNEY, N.S. —

With the Cabot Trail Writers Festival now in full swing, artistic director Rebecca Silver Slayter has been understandably busy making things run smoothly and hosting events herself.

So, it came as a pleasant surprise earlier this week when one of the many items on her daily to-do list led to a peaceful walk in the woods.

Silver Slayter was listening to the first draft of Soundtrack for a Walk Where You Are, a 45-minute podcast of poetry by Shalan Joudry and Katherena Vermette, with music by flautist Mary Muise, that the festival is inviting people to download then venture outdoors for a jaunt in whatever corner of the world they are listening from.

And it immediately had the desired effect on Silver Slayter.

Shalan Joudry
Shalan Joudry
Katherena Vermette
Katherena Vermette

“Within a couple of minutes, I knew I just had to put on my shoes, step out the door and walk and listen to it the way it was intended. I will say, I think it was the most beautiful encounter with poetry I’ve ever had and also one of the most beautiful walks in the woods I’ve ever had. So I can’t wait to share that with our audience,” she said of the event, which takes place Saturday at 2 p.m.

“I think that’s going to be just a lovely thing to step away from our computers and each do it on our own while also having a sense of being connected by the listening.”

Due to COVID-19, the annual literary gathering, now in its 12th year, is almost exclusively being held digitally. While that’s essentially eliminated two of the key draws — the chance to experience the Cape Breton Highlands in its full fall glory and gather in intimate rural settings to share a love for literature — Silver Slayter said fans and authors alike have reacted positively to the changes.

“That’s been one of the most heartening and reassuring things in this whole process because I had been anxious about disappointing people with the adaptations and changes we had to make this year but on the whole, both our authors and our audience have really, and with open hearts, come along with us for this ride,” said Silver Slayter, an author from New Glasgow who now lives in St. Joseph du Moine with her husband and two young children.

“I think that is in such a large part thanks to the authors, who despite the extra logistical challenges for them and the loss of the wonderful experience of coming to Cape Breton, they really threw all their warmth and energy into their participation — and from across a screen that really communicates and that’s what’s been really happily surprising all of us.”

Normally a weekend event, this year’s festival has been expanded to run for a whole week — from Sept. 27 until Oct. 4 — and Silver Slayter said they jam-packed the final few days with readings, workshops and presentations.

And despite the current travel restrictions, they even managed to schedule one in-person event, Heard in the Highlands: Cape Breton Out Loud!, to help close things out.

Fans can register for the socially distanced outdoor event, which will feature readings by authors Morgan Murray, Mary Louise Bernard, Amy Spurway and Marjorie Simmin, followed by music from Morgan Toney and Mary Beth Carty. It will take place at the Lake-O-Law Provincial Park.

“It’s going to be really nice to get the chance to actually, on the last day of the festival, get out and celebrate some local artists with our local audience here in Cape Breton,” she said. “The view is beautiful and it’s also quite a wide-open expanse so people can stand comfortably apart and participate in the experience with a sense of security.”


Cabot Trail Writers Festival schedule:

Friday
9 a.m. — Daily writing prompt (festival website, Facebook and Twitter)
5 p.m. — Reading and interview with Marina Endicott and Ian Williams on CBC Radio’s “Mainstreet Cape Breton”
7 p.m. — Reading series, vol. 1. An evening of readings by our festival authors with a short yoga intermission by Susan Paddon. With guests Rebecca Thomas, Danny Ramadan, Amy Spurway, Marjorie Simmins, Afua Cooper, Joshua Whitehead, Souvankham Thammavongsa, Marina Endicott, Desmond Cole and host Jared Bland

Saturday
9 a.m. — Daily writing prompt (festival website, Facebook and Twitter)
10 a.m. — Now breathe, stretch and write: writing as contemplative practice. A 90-minute Zoom workshop for all levels ages 17 and up: “Isn’t all writing a contemplative practice? Well, yes and no." Workshop leader Sheree Fitch will offer guided exercises in a hands-on writing workshop, using poetry as prompts, using breath and silence as a way to uncover voices and vision. But don't let the soberness of the word ‘contemplation’ mislead you. This is a (word) play shop as well as workshop. Your only task will be to fill your page with first burst beginnings of things, take away something you may want to work on or use on a work in progress, whether prose or poetry. Time for questions at end — hopefully!
10 a.m. — Finding your Story: A Memoir Workshop. A two-hour Zoom workshop with Marjorie Simmins that explores the question “How do you find the memoir you were born to write, and how do we write the best, most original memoirs we can?  
2 p.m. — Soundtrack for a Walk Where You Are. A downloadable podcast of poetry and music that explores our relationship to the land. We invite participants to venture outside and listen to this recording while taking a walk in your own landscape, wherever you live, so we can enjoy a shared listening experience together from all our various corners of the world. (And if you like, send us a picture of what you see on your walk!)
7 p.m. — Reading series, vol. 2. An evening of readings by our festival authors with a short yoga intermission by Susan Paddon. With guests Mary Louise Bernard, Andre Fenton, Morgan Murray, Sheree Fitch, Anne Simpson, Megan Gail Coles, Katherena Vermette, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Ian Williams and host Jared Bland

Sunday
9 a.m. — Daily writing prompt (festival website, Facebook and Twitter)
9:30 a.m. — What Makes a Good Opening in Fiction? A 2.5-hour Zoom fiction workshop on what makes the opening of a story or novel vivid. How can characters come alive from the start? What is the question your story or novel poses — the reason it needs to be told? Anne Simpson will look at what can make your short story, or first chapter of a novel come to life. She’ll focus on what drives the characters into the developing story from the beginning.
10 a.m. — Introduction to playwriting. A two-hour character-driven playwriting workshop with Megan Gail Coles on Zoom focusing on dramatic voice, for participants who are already working on writing a play.
2 p.m. — Heard in the Highlands: Cape Breton Out Loud! This socially distanced outdoor, in-person reading will feature local writers sharing stories of the island. It will take place at the Lake-O-Law Provincial Park, at 4830 Cabot Trail Hwy 19. Authors Morgan Murray, Mary Louise Bernard, Amy Spurway, and Marjorie Simmins; musical guests Morgan Toney and Mary Beth Carty; host Rebecca Silver Slayter.
7 p.m. — Writing and Community. The closing festival event, this panel will discuss community among writers, with readers, one's home community, identity communities and all the ways these communities support, inspire, challenge, and inform the stories writers tell. With guests Ian Williams, Danny Ramadan, Megan Gail Coles and host Andrea Currie. 


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