Surrey International Writers’ Conference

It’s all about the people you’ll meet. That’s the power of the Surrey International Writers’ Conference.

I’ve been attending the event since 2011 and this still holds true.

Yes, in the end it will all be on my shoulders. As much as I don’t like this fact, it’s the truth. If I don’t write the book and put it out into the world then nothing will happen.

All the wishing and hoping and yes, even praying, are for naught unless you step up.

You must write it.  You must finish it.  You must pitch it to get a book published.

SiWC gives you that chance and can make the journey much easier… or at least make it feel possible.

I’ve learned more about my craft and even more about myself at the conference. I’ve begun to appreciate what I know and what I still need to learn. The process can feel relentless.

The weekend can feel magical.

Again this year, I got to have dinner with Anne Perry. We both tend to arrive at the hotel at the same time and sharing a meal and a good chat is a great way to start the weekend. I cherish her words and perspective.

The reason I had a new book to pitch this year is because I volunteered as the conference’s Sponsorship Coordinator. During one of my meetings with SiWC Board Member, kc dyer, she suggested I write something from a fitness professional perspective. That conversation led to an idea that has morphed into a book.

The next step was talking to Donald Maass. Only at a place like SiWC would you have the chance to pitch to someone of his caliber. (Or in my case, the opportunity to request an impromptu meeting.) His encouragement has given me the motivation to keep moving forward with this book. Priceless.

There were so many other moments that cemented my love of SiWC.

One fact still remains the same and the reason I will always return to Surrey each and every year.

Some people I’ve met there have become the best of friends.

And that is almost better than writing a bestseller.

Almost.

 

A Funny Moment

It’s the little moments. The time when something makes you smile, or laugh. Jasper Fforde’s workshop at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference was all about humour in writing. Over breakfast the next day, we chatted about how you can write about the most horrific event and still make the audience smile.

Writing humour wasn’t on my mind as I assisted with the Diana Gabaldon book signing later that day. Everyone was already smiling! My job was to help people by taking their picture with Diana. Capture the moment so they could hold it forever. This was fun!

No one was expecting a medical emergency.

As we were wrapping up one of the fans collapsed. Since I was the closest, my emergency/first aid training took over and I stepped in.

There’s no need to tell you the scary and grisly medical details of what happened over the next precious minutes as we waited for the paramedics to arrive. It’s one of the most intimate times you will ever spend with someone. The surrounding world disappears; it’s just you and them.

I start talking. I pray my voice will keep them with us. I pray that what I say and how I sound can focus their thoughts and keep them here.

Last time I was in this position the man later told me he zeroed in on that sound and it made him calm, gave him a beacon to hold on to.

When everything is going wrong calmness can help. A place far away from the fear of what is going on all around you.

I hoped the same would happen on that floor where just minutes before a crowd had been waiting for Diana to sign their books.

As the worst of the symptoms subsided and the wait for medical help dragged on I could see she was starting to become aware of what had happened.

I leaned in a little more and said, “I don’t know about you, but I hope one of the paramedics looks like Jamie.”  Jamie Fraser is the hero of Diana Gabaldon’s books and a stunning Scot.  The smallest smile appeared, just a faint movement of her lip. In the midst of the mayhem she heard my joke and reacted. In that second I knew she would be OK, I knew we would get through this mess.

The paramedics and firemen arrived and to be honest, I can’t tell you what they looked like. My relief that the professionals had swept in to save the day was too overwhelming.

People came to the conference to attend dozens of workshops and hone their craft.

My experience was different but in some respects the same.

We are people connecting with people.

Great writing has the ability to make that happen. Words can perform miracles.

A writer can conjure up a feeling that supersedes everything else.

Diana Gabaldon created Jamie Fraser and he can make someone smile in the most horrendous circumstances.

Jasper Fforde reminded us that during those darkest moments it’s OK to say something funny.

And sometimes that is the best medicine.

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Spending time with the amazing Diana Gabaldon

 

Step Up

I’ve always volunteered. It’s become part of my life. It’s also an easy way to meet interesting people and do different things.

Big jobs or little projects, it doesn’t matter.

Early on I was manning phones at the Variety Club Telethon. Then I did a stint at the Vancouver Triathlon. For a couple of years I helped serve Christmas dinners to the homeless at the Carnegie Centre. There have been lots of others in between.

Something catches my eye and I jump in.

A once in a lifetime experience was volunteering at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Nothing will beat that for pure joy and a sense that you are part of something huge. Working to help put on the opening and closing ceremonies was epic (and I rarely use that word!).

On May 14, 2007 I signed up to volunteer at the BC Highland Games. The night before that year’s event I helped put up tents. Who knew how much that “sure I can do that” would change my life?

Last night I stepped down as the President of the St. Andrew’s and Caledonian Society and handed in my medal.

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The end of an era for me.

The society is part of the Scottish Cultural Centre that runs the BC Highland Games. Over the years I’ve been VP of the Centre, Marketing Coordinator for the Games, and have been a Director for 8 years. I’ve met some amazing people. I would not have been there without Angus MacPherson and Rob MacNeil; two outstanding men that have the ability to inspire the people around them. This volunteer work led to my job with the SFU Centre for Scottish Studies, the Robbie Burns Marathon, and of course, the Haggis Hunt.

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It also immersed me into my Scottish roots.

Volunteering can change your life.

For me, it all comes down to the human element. That’s what makes the experience rich and makes it worth the time and effort. My best advice is to volunteer to work with good people that have integrity. It also helps if they’re fun and make you laugh.

It’s also the reason that these days my time has been filled with the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. The people running that show tick all the boxes.

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Step up and see where it takes you.

In the end we are all using up our precious time.

Choose well.

Can You Help Me?

Asking for help is tough. I feel like I’ve spent the entire summer doing just that. It’s been humbling, demoralizing and filled with some valuable lessons learned.

One task I’ve had over the last few months was to garner some sponsors for the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Once we won the matching grant from artsVest I thought the job would be easy. SiWC is a hugely successful and world renowned conference with so many sponsorship possibilities. I only needed to tell people about them and the money would follow.

Right?

No, I was wrong. Money didn’t just fall into our laps.

Luckily the artsVest grant included workshops on how to get sponsors.

One lesson came across loud and clear. Your best chance to raise funds for your organization was to mine all your “warm contacts.” Though it sounds simple I found this to be a tough one. In a nut shell, you have to ask all your friends for help. And if that doesn’t pan out, you have to ask all your friends to ask all their friends for help.

The workshop leader framed this in a much more positive and a not at all needy way, but it’s still asking people to help.

This is tough for me.

But, when you are competing with other arts groups, festivals, and conferences, asking for dollars can come down to who you know.

Isn’t that an all too familiar life lesson?

Last week I attended another artsVest workshop where we discussed a trend that seems to dominate our sponsorship quests.

We each had the chance to share our latest victory. For the majority this was not a group actually getting money, but it was a prospect returning a phone call or replying to an email.

Booking an actual meeting to discuss a sponsorship was considered a hallelujah moment!

The harsh reality of how tough it is to secure dollars was the common theme.

I got to share a couple of my best “warm contact” moments so far.

My financial advisor works at a huge company that only sponsors one major on-going event.  When he received my email asking for help he and his colleague both made personal donations to SiWC. No, not a sponsorship per se, but it gave me hope. People were willing to step up.

I also happen to know one of the most connected people in the advertising world. I bit the bullet and wrote him an email, told him all about the conference and asked if he know anyone that might be interested. He was on a holiday in Europe but within 5 hours got back to me. He said he would put on his thinking cap. Again, no sponsorship dollars but I was heartened that he even replied. It gave me hope and reminded me what a great man he is.

This has become the norm. When you are accustomed to silence any type of reply becomes a victory.

And finally…

As cancer kicked my butt I let many things slide. Post-surgery I pulled myself together to submit an application to a great potential sponsor and discovered I had missed their deadline for submissions. My heart broke. This company seemed like one of our best chances and I screwed up. I swear I sat staring at their website for an hour wondering how I could have been so stupid. Then I opted to fill out the application, go through the process, knock even though the door was closed. I also sent them an email explaining that my lapse was the reason SiWC had missed the deadline. The blame was mine alone. The submission was made because I felt an obligation to at least go through the process. I fell on the cancer sword. I apologized.

The next day they sent me an email to say they would accept our submission. They also wished me the best with my health issues and recovery.

In those few words that huge company became a warm contact.

And all it took was for me to ask for help and a bit of forgiveness.

Now who’s next on my list?

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This Day We Write / This Day I Sell

When you receive a rejection letter from an agent you’ve set your heart and hope on, it helps if you’ve been to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Not because they taught you all the ins and outs of getting published. Not because they’ve given you the tools to pitch again. Not because they showed you how to write a better book.

It’s because they understand what it is to be a writer and they have your back.

Yes, they have your back.

It was at a conference lunch three years ago when I bared my soul about a rejection I’d received that morning. The rallying embrace was enough to help me carry on. It made me carry on.

I still feel that embrace today.

I’ve met people at SiWC that have become my greatest friends.

During those days I’ve cried and laughed and been scared shitless.

I’ve also been inspired.

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So now it’s time to give back.

Once you arrive at the conference you’re given a brochure. It’s a map to everything that will happen. A guide to help you through the overwhelming maze of overwhelming moments.

My first year I don’t think I put it down once. It was my safety net and helped me decide what I should do next. I love looking back at the notes in the margins and stars beside the must attend workshops!

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This year I’ve been asked to assist in getting people to advertise in the 2016 brochure. OK, not the type of job I usually do, but when you think about it, I’m a person who knows how precious the pages are. And as I said, it’s a way for me to thank the SiWC Board for all the brochures that have shepherded me through the conference.

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Let’s be honest… I love to talk about things I love.

You can ignore my musings on penguins and Dairy Queen Blizzards… but if you’re a writer or want to be around writers you shouldn’t ignore my chatter about the Surrey Writers’ conference.

In fact, I bet you’ll be like so many others and thank me.

Just imagine you’re sitting across the table from Diana Gabaldon or Anne Perry or Jack Whyte. They’re about to read something you’ve written….

If you’re not brave enough for that, they always have time for a quiet little chat.

Everyone at SiWC is there to help you be a better writer.

And you will be.

Now I just wish they’d given a course in how to sell advertising in conference brochures?

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Finding Fraser, finding kc

Why is it so surprising when someone is kind and generous?

Back in January 2015 I got an email from kc dyer asking for my help to find a man in a kilt for a photo shoot. Well of course I know many men with kilts, but the one I thought would be most appropriate was Robert MacDonald. He even makes kilts.

Jump forward to kc self-publishing a book with a cover picture of a man in a kilt. (As you can see, Rob wears a kilt very well!)

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It’s called Finding Fraser and it’s a story about a young woman that reads the Outlander series and goes to Scotland to find her own Jamie.

I saw the book for the first time at the official launch party and was floored to see kc had thanked me for connecting her with Rob in the acknowledgments!

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Finding Fraser went on to become an Amazon bestseller.

If this story ended here it would still make for great reading. You would know how gracious and kind kc is.

But I need a longer blog post so I’ll add a little more to this story. And then tell you the best part…

kc is just one of the amazing people I’ve met at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference and my life is much richer for it. I’ve attended the conference for the last five years. When kc is leading a workshop I’m usually in the front row. Her “Beginner Intensive” master class not only gives you all the information you need to start your writing career but kc also inspires you with her enthusiasm, candor and hilarious attitude.

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Even more shocking… kc is surrounded by some pretty incredible people at the SiWC… Kathy Chung, Camille Netherton, Crystal Stanaghan, Eileen Cook, Jared Hunt, Jennifer Browne and Jennifer Striemer.

These people are the reason the Surrey International Writers’ Conference is famous for being so welcoming and generous. They make it happen.

And the reason I’m telling you this story today?

Yesterday kc announced that Finding Fraser will be published by Berkley (an imprint of Penguin Random House).

This is HUGE news! It’s rare for a self-published book to be picked up by a big publisher and kc and her agent, Laura Bradford made it happen.

I was thrilled to hear the great news as the tweets started bouncing around. Then I clicked on the link to find out the details.

And that’s when I started to cry.

kc has listed the names of the people that helped to make this happen. She included mine.

How can you not LOVE someone like that?