Day One of my Humber School for Writers summer workshop. Impressions will be brief, incoherent, and jagged because I will be writing this either late at night after classes or in the wee hours before I have to begin the long commute from the Eastern edge of the world all the way to the Western edge. (Translation: Humber is in the far west end of Toronto and I live in the far east end but you probably got that. It’s a haul.)
A word about the Humber School for Writers. They have an impressive list of past workshop mentors: Nino Ricci, Margaret Atwood just to name a couple because literally my brain is still asleep. The CEO for HarperCollins Canada spoke to us last yesterday and he said, without question, agents and publishers give writers who have been through Humber’s programs their due. Good to know.
Fun fact about the Humber College campus: this leafy green oasis on the shores of Lake Ontario, with its manicured lawns, brick pathways, and peaceful vibe used to be an insane asylum. When I heard that from our perky tour guide I couldn’t help think it the perfect place to be insane. I may yet find out…
The morning was full of introductions, tours, and housekeeping. I am one of half of the 80 or so writers that are not staying in residence. We all sat at big round tables and chatted fairly easily. When it came time for introductions, I failed to imprint the faces of those who would also be working with Alistair MacLeod. We all wear name badges that hang around our necks – because I don’t see very well, I find myself peering awkwardly at people’s midsections to see their names.
Lunch was a nightmare right out of Grade 4. I sat at a booth and no one sat with me. I begin to think that it might be because I don’t have a tattoo. Every other woman in the program has that artsy look – willowy thin, naturally curly hair and at least one tattoo. I am no longer willowy thin and I have no tatts. My hair is in desperate need of a trim – it doesn’t look artsy but rather just unkempt. I try to focus on my dry sandwich and equally uninspiring salad.
The morning session included a panel discussion from six writers who have “made” it. All progressed through the Humber program in one form or another – some did the Correspondence program, some did the workshop, and so on. To sum up their experiences going from rags to better rags, there were five slogs and one fairytale. For the most part, writing is hard and getting published is way harder (except for the one girl who was “discovered” on her blog via one of her book reviews).
Tired of feeling like a rejected fourth grader, I wolfed down the rest of my sandwich and fled outdoors. There are many places to bake or repose in the shade near our building – plenty of nice benches and big shady trees to sit under. I think I’m going to like this place. I’ll sit and write if no one wants to talk to me.
After lunch, we listened to the delightful Eva Stachniak describe her journey from Polish immigrant to best-seling author of The Winter Palace. After, the hilarious Richard Scrimger talked about writing for children and young adults – a more complex market than I’d realized. Richard is one of our mentors this year and his funny stories helped chase away the after- lunch doldrums.
On today’s agenda, we get to listen to editors from Knopf Random House and Penguin Canada slash and burn their way through volunteers’ writing samples. This was the session not for the thin-skinned or faint of heart. BTW, one attendee was carted away in an ambulance yesterday with an irregular heartbeat. I truly hope she wasn’t one of the volunteers…
Today I will meet Alistair MacLeod at the late afternoon wine and cheese function. No time to slim down or get a tattoo…I will try not to spill wine on the poor man…Monday, the real work begins.