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Crafting The Writer
by Laurel Boone

WHY DID DOUGLAS GLOVER return to the Maritime Writers' Workshop for a second stint as a fictionwriting instructor? Was it the money? (He laughs.) The fun? (He winces.) The Fredericton weather? (He could endure the same heat and humidity back home in Saratoga Springs, New York.) No, he says, he likes the polite and peaceful atmosphere of the Maritime Writers' Workshop. The individual workshops are not competitive, and, although people work hard, the oneweek length and the pleasant ambience keep the intensity from reaching the nervous? breakdown point. "Social intercourse here is well greased by good manners, too," he says. Once, at another workshop, a writer tracked him down in the bathroom, shouted questions about her manuscript through the door, and expected a critique on the spot. This sort of thing is not done in Fredericton. Ever since Nancy Bauer and Mary Lund organized the first Maritime Writers' Workshop 15 years ago, coordinators have resisted the financial temptation to increase the participant?instructor ratio. To make sure that instructors are not harassed and participants get what they pay for, workshops consist of no more than 10 people. This year, the 37 participants signed up for fiction workshops led by Susan Kerslake and Doug Glover, a poetry workshop taught by Erin Moure, a workshop in children's writing taught by Joan Clark, or a feature?writing workshop taught by Maureen Garvie. In Fredericton, writing has never been considered a weird or unworthy occupation, and maybe this intellectual climate inspires the good manners of MWW instructors and participants. Or maybe it's the spirit of Nancy Bauer infusing the proceedings. Nancy gave up the coordina tor's job after a few years, but she remains a member of the organizing committee, and every year she does this and that, here and there, at the workshop. Perhaps partly because of Nancy's gentle nature, there are no class distinctions between or within workshops; nobody is officially bet ter than anyone else. When 1990 partici pants claimed to have picked up clues telling them which of the two fiction workshops was more "advanced," Heather Browne Prince, the coordinator, told them, "We're all bluebirds here ?? there are no robins or starlings." Pat Good, a participant in Joan Clark's workshop, started writing many years ago but dropped it when the pressures of child rearing became too great. She felt very shy at first with her one unpublished manuscript in hand, especially when she discovered that three of the six others in her group had published at least one book. Pat soon learned that everyones work would receive equally respectful attention from the other participants as well as from the instructor, because everyone, including the instructor, had come to learn. Erin Moure explained how experienced and inexperienced writers can learn together without setting up a pecking order. Everyone who comes to a writers' workshop wants to move a little from his or her present spot, wherever that may be. Some know where they want to go, while others just feel they have to grow somehow. A workshop helps writers find out how and where they might move, and perhaps they can even take a step in that direction. But this movement is so personal and individual that competition is beside the point. Maureen Garvie found that, although six of her seven feature writers were novices, each had such a distinctive voice that mutual support came easily. The Maritime Writers' Workshop draws participants mainly from this end of the country, but few actually come from Fredericton, and each year up to a third of the participants are "from away." This year, Heather Browne Prince cajoled scholarship money from 13 businesses and institutions, and she and her committee gave scholarships varying from $40 to $405 (the full fee) to 26 of the 37 participants. For the first time, the committee considered the quality of the manuscript submitted as well as need and order of application when awarding scholarships of $100 or more, but this is the only test of preworkshop skill. All applicants must submit a manuscript to he used as workshop material; beyond that, applicants are accepted on a first?come?first?served basis. What do the participants do once they get here? First and last, they work. Gerry Dewberry, an accountant and management consultant from Toronto, said, "I expected to work, but I didn't expect to work this hard." Gerry loves to tell stories, and he wants to see people on the subway, in air?planes, and at the beach reading his books for entertainment. Not many view fiction writing from the market angle, though, and Joan Clark and Susan Kerslake find that, for most people, thinking about the market stops writing cold. They encourage workshoppers to explore their various selves, discover their own obsessions, recognize that the story may not be where they first think it is, and find "the secret life of the story." Once writers learn to tap their inner resources, they don't need to shop around for a plot; plots will find them. Apart from working, MWW participants take Wednesday afternoon off to enjoy the charms of Fredericton, they eat and sleep, and that's about it. Partying, if any, is so low?key as to go unnoticed by the casual observer. It's a stiff hike uphill to the adolescent ambience of the University of New Brunswick Social Club and a fair walk downhill to the nearest of Fredericton's lacklustre watering holes, and besides, the heat and hard work exhaust everyone. The eating and sleeping take place in the Lady Beaverbrook Residence, founded in 1928 as a decorous home for Beaverbrook Scholars. Usually, though not this year, the Maritime Writers' Workshop shares the Lady Beaverbrook Residence with Elderhostel. While this means some congestion in the showers, it also means lively discussions with open?minded people from all over North America. Some Elderhostelers find the idea that books are written by actual living people a novelty; some consider poetry that doesn't rhyme is ridiculous and want to argue the point; and most show tip faithfully to the evening readings and rehash them the next day at the table. Elderhostelers also like to take home autographed copies of the books by instructors arid participants that are always for sale at the readings. The ceremonies and readings are significant social events in Fredericton. Among the 65 or so regulars in the audience are the founders of Fiddlehead, Fred Cogswell, Alfred G. Bailey, and Don Gammon, and many of the people who have been involved in the past Maritime Writers' Workshops. The Fredericton media need no persuasion, either. The Daily Gleaner runs pictures and articles as well as press releases beforehand, and the Gleaner and CBC radio both feature daily interviews and reviews during the workshop. But no one comes to the Maritime Writers' Workshop for the media attention. Writers come to find out if they really are writers. Erin Moure put herself on trial when she attended the Banff workshop in 1973. There she learned that she could indeed write poetry, and now she teaches at workshops because she wants to 11 give something back." The one experienced writer in Maureen Garvie's featurewriting workshop, Lee Whitney, has con tributed a column to the weekly King's County Record for the past four years. He had reached the point where, if he didn't find a way to develop his writing, he would quit. Encouraged by Maureen and his fellow writers, he showed his columns to Nancy Bauer, who suggested that he group some of them into a book?length manuscript and look for a publisher. Pat Good has signed up for a creative writing course as part of her English MA program, knowing she can do what's required. Gerry Dewberry plans to retire completely from his business and plow full steam ahead into his new writing career. In the gentle and polite air of Fredericton, called on the monument in the middle of the UNB campus "the Poet's Corner of Canada," confidence flourishes with talent, and nervous scribblers become writers.

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