Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Back from Banff

From Sunday, September 17, until Saturday, September 23, 2006, I was teaching science fiction and fantasy writing at the Banff Centre, in Banff, Alberta, as one of four streams in the "Writing with Style" program there. As always, I had a truly fabulous time -- Banff is gorgeous (a ski-resort town inside a national park in the Rocky Mountains), and the Banff Centre is an amazing place, a unique and varied facility devoted to arts education.

I had eight students this year, and they were a fabulous and diverse bunch, ranging from 18 years old to 60-something -- and one of them came all the way from Costa Rica. My students were:

Eileen Bell
Brendan Fowlston
Bev Geddes
Tyler Harding
Jordan Hemsley
Randy McCharles
Ryan McFadden
Kirstin Morrell

Note those names: I expect you to see them all in print.

(Randy, by the way, is the chair of the 2008 World Fantasy Convention in Calgary, and now holds the record for attending the most workshops I've run -- this one was his third. Kirstin is the managing editor of Red Deer Press, the company that publishes my Robert J. Sawyer Books imprint. They're both members of IFWA, the Calgary writers' group.)

We did roundtable critiquing sessions in the mornings, and the quality of the submitted work was extremely high. The students seemed to get a lot out of the critiques; indeed, I was deeply moved by how effusive some of them were with their praise ("life changing" was a term I heard more than once). In the afternoons, I had private sessions with students, and in the evenings we had student and faculty readings -- plus one night out at a terrific pub in Banff. I got a lovely tour of the virtual-reality studio at the Banff Centre on Friday, and the faculty all snuck off to the world-famous Banff Springs Hotel on Saturday for drinks.

I adore my time at Banff: the students are always fabulous, the all-you-can eat buffets are amazing, the mountain venue is invigorating and filled with wildlife, and the accommodations -- newly refurbished to modern hotel standards -- are extremely comfortable. Whenever I do run a session at Banff, it's one of the absolute highlights of my year.

I've set up a newsgroup for this year's Banff students (and I did the same thing for last year's crop), and they're planning to continue workshopping online, which delights me.

Concurrent with my SF/F section were sessions on travel writing, children's writing, and memoir writing. The children's section was run by Tim Wynne-Jones. As we both said, it was astonishing that we'd never met before -- he's cofounder of the Crime Writers of Canada, and I'm a member; he's won the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award and I've won the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's Nebula Award; we've both won Arthur Ellis Awards; and we're both on pretty much the same circuit of Canadian writing conferences. We hit it off fabulously; getting to know Tim was one of the highlights of the trip.

This was my fifth time teaching at Banff (my first was in 2000 -- and one of my students then was Caterina Fake, who went on to found the photo-sharing site Flikr). But I won't be back next year, sad to say. I can't really complain; I was the only instructor to return from last year's fall Writing with Style (there's also a spring session). Still, my students were very upset to hear that I won't be back next year; several of them had expressed interest in coming back for another year. (Next year, "Nature Writing" is being offered in place of my SF/F section.)

I also won't be teaching a summer workshop at the University of Toronto next year. U of T ask me back, but they want to put 12 students in a class, and I think that's too many (Banff caps classes at eight), plus my summer for next year is already shaping up as being quite busy. So, if I do run another writing workshop, it won't be until 2008 at the earliest. If you'd like to be on the mailing list for notification of my workshops, drop me a note at sawyer@sfwriter.com.

Last year, I left Banff on the Saturday afternoon, going down to Calgary and flying the 2,500 kilometers back to Toronto for the Word on the Street open-air book festival, which is held every year on the last Sunday of April; a bunch of SF writers take a couple of tables each year and sell our wares.

This year, I decided to stay for the final Saturday night party at Banff, and headed down to Calgary on Sunday morning -- and went to the Calgary version of Word on the Street. But it was tiny compared to the Toronto one, with just a handful of tables and only a few hundred people on site at any one time (the Toronto version attracts 100,000 people over the course of the day).

I did enjoy brief readings by Susan Forest, Marie Jakober, J. Brian Clarke, and saw Brian Hades and his wife Anita; Brian runs Calgary's Edge Press, which is Canada's largest SF/F publisher. Still, I missed being at Toronto's Word on the Street a lot, and the upside of not teaching at Banff next year is that I will be at the Toronto Word on the Street in 2007.


At September 27, 2006 11:36 AM , Blogger Lou_Sytsma said...

Hey Rob. What is on the schedule for next summer or is it hush-hush type of info?

At September 27, 2006 5:42 PM , Blogger RobertJSawyer said...

Not hush-hush, but not yet firm enough to go public with. :)

At September 27, 2006 8:23 PM , Blogger Lou_Sytsma said...

Understood, always in motion, the future is.

I'll be watching for future tidbits.

At September 27, 2006 10:41 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

We were in Banff last November or so. What a gorgeous place.

Unfortunately, our visit did not make me a better writer in any way whatsoever.

If only I had known...

We do, however, now know a lot more about the Canadian healthcare system. It's not as bad as Americans would have people believe.


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