Thursday, October 3, 2013

Life at a Frith.

Cottage and deck at Kilmory Resort overlooking the Piper's Hole River

The sun shot up into a bright blue Newfoundland sky and when the sun shines in Newfoundland, which it often refuses to do, no place in the world is more beautiful. The river outside,  impossibly wide and blue, was sliding into Placentia Bay.

It was my first morning at the Piper's Frith Writing Week and I was nervous. I had set myself up and I knew it. I had volunteered to be the first  to get feedback on my work from the members of my fiction group and from our workshop leader, Joan Clark. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I wanted to get it over fast.

I had read the submitted work of the other five participants in the fiction group and  I knew they were all brilliant writers. Three of them had been published and had agents.  Yikes!  I was not sure I could measure up. Most of the group were literary writers and not genre types like me.  For a few minutes, I considered jumping into the rental and driving the two hours back to St. John's.

But you can't be nervous around Joan Clark. She is Ms. Low Key mixed with a dash of pleasant and an undertone of  soft spoken certainty.  As we went around the circle and I realized everyone liked my submission, the first five thousand words of my novel titled Vermillion House, I relaxed and let the experts - and many of the participants were experts - take over. In the afternoon I had a one-on-one with Joan Clark and I was so amazed by her comments that I have not touched the ground yet, a week later.

I spent the afternoon in my pleasant cabin at the Kilmory Resort which I shared with a new friend for-life room mate, Laurel Sproule, who was part of a second fiction group headed up by Jessica Grant, of Come Thou Tortoise fame.

Jessica Grant

After a walk along the rocky, muddy, seaweedy shore to watch the tide come in or, perhaps, go out, (tides and their ways are not familiar to Northern Ontarians), I returned to my  lap top to make some of the changes in my work suggested by Joan Clark.

At dinner the three groups of writers met and mingled, two sets of fiction scribblers and one of poetry.  Newfoundland food followed: the strange Jigg's dinner, created by boiling big chunks of veg with salt beef ( don't ask) and suspending a cloth covered pudding into the same pot. It was wonderfully tasty, perhaps because you covered the entire thing in gravy.(Not the pudding).  But Newfoundland has its own rules: you scratch your head and are delighted at the same time.

For example: What it a frith? It is actually a firth, i.e. a river that opens into the ocean. No one knows why the Newfoundlanders decided to mix up the letters but everyone knows how wonderful are the names of the villages that dot the island.

The week progressed and every day I learned more and more, not only in the workshop but by talking to my fellows and listening to them read at the evening get-togethers.  One evening, the three workshop leaders, Joan Clark, Jessica Grant and poet Don McKay read their work.  They made writing look laughably easy.

In the middle of the week it rained. It rained on the hike along the river and it rained on the bear that wandered into the resort, was trapped and taken away. It rained on the people standing by a special tree, the only place where you could get cell phone reception.  When it cleared, it partly rained, that Newfoundland mist  where you are not sure if it is raining  or just quite damp. 

Poet Don McKay
(He would not let me take a second photo. He said "This is as good as it gets.")
Some days of a person's life just linger around the back of your mind, lolling back there among the jumble of memories and ideas and thoughts, popping into consciousness every once in a while, a remembrance of good times and intense conversations all mixed in with good food and wine. Thanks Piper's Frith. 

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