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How five of Canada’s most well-known writers survive literary festival season

Novelist Lawrence Hill.

JENNIFER ROBERTS/The Globe and Mail

It's a well-known fact that writers are the only people on Earth who party harder than rock stars, but the closest most Canadian authors will ever come to embarking on an exhaustive, multi-city, drink-the-bar-dry tour is during literary festival season, which reaches its apex each fall.

The shrieking fans, the unspeakable debauchery, the exclusive parties – you haven't lived until you've witnessed Steven Galloway poppin' bottles in the VIP – Canada's literary festivals are a Caligula-like carnival of excess. Woody Point, Eden Mills – these might as well be the names of L.A.'s hottest clubs.

Still, completing "the circuit," as it's sometimes called, is a grind. So, as the fall season unofficially kicks off this weekend with Word on the Street, Kingston WritersFest, Word Vancouver and the conclusion of Winnipeg's Thin Air, we thought we'd preview the schedules of five of the country's best authors and ask them how they prepare for the road.

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Will Ferguson

If there's a Canadian writer who is built for life on the road, it's Will Ferguson. The winner of the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize for 419, and a three-time winner of the Leacock Medal for Humour, Ferguson is the author of a trio of travel memoirs, including Beyond Belfast: A 560-Mile Across Northern Ireland on Sore Feet and Hitching Rides with Buddha: A Journey Across Japan. He's about to publish a new travelogue, Road Trip Rwanda: A Journey into the New Heart of Africa, and he'll be criss-crossing the country to promote it. He'll be appearing at the Ottawa International Writers Festival on Oct. 7 and at his hometown festival, Calgary's Wordfest, on Oct. 17 for two events, including a star-studded 20th anniversary celebration also featuring Douglas Gibson, Lorna Crozier, Patrick Lane and Zsuzsi Gartner. He'll also be appearing at Edmonton's LitFest, the country's only non-fiction literary festival, on Oct. 24.

What's one item you have to pack when you go on tour?

Index cards. I like to have a list of key points written out on cards – which I always forget to consult. (My talks tend to ramble.)

Who's one author appearing at one of the festivals you're excited to meet or see again?

Kris Demeanor, poet laureate and performer extraordinaire, appearing at Wordfest.

What's the best part of attending a literary festival?

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Meeting readers. Realizing that they do exist out there in the real world, that they aren't simply a figment of my imagination.

Marina Endicott

Recently longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize for her fourth novel, Close to Hugh, Marina Endicott will appear at the Kingston WritersFest on Sept. 26 (alongside Lorna Crozier, Greg Hollingshead, Paula McLain, and fellow Giller Prize nominee Anakana Schofield) and Sept. 27 (with Schofield, Caroline Adderson, Joan Thomas, and The Globe and Mail's Arts editor Jared Bland). She'll be in Calgary for Wordfest on Oct. 17 (alongside Sara Blaedel, Elizabeth Hay and Sarah Winman) and at the Whistler Writers Festival on Oct. 18 (where she'll be in conversation with the CBC's Grant Lawrence). Endicott will also be featured at the Vancouver Writers Fest on Oct. 23 and Oct. 25 for "Afternoon Tea" with Trevor Cole, Bradley Somer, Bill Richardson, Hannah Kent and Laura van den Berg before making her way to Ontario for the International Festival of Authors; she has a reading in Parry Sound on Oct. 29 with Anne Enright, Nino Ricci and Deanna Young, as well as a roundtable with Enright, Patrick Gale and Catherine Bush in Toronto on Oct. 30.

What's one item you have to pack when you go on tour?

I never travel without the Pyrrha necklace my daughter Rachel gave me for Christmas: a little ship sailing along, with "Such Is Life" below it. A steadying reminder.

Who's one author appearing at one of the festivals you're excited to meet or see again?

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One? Don't be silly. In Kingston I'll be reunited with Caroline Adderson, my co-mentor from the Banff Wired Writing program – she's just been Russia researching her next novel, and I want to hear her tales from the steppes. At IFOA I get to read with the admirable Anne Enright, and talk to Kate Cayley, whose sharply observed stories just won the Trillium award. Maybe most of all, I'm looking forward to meeting Charlie Demers's little Old Stock daughter at Whistler.

What's the best part of attending a literary festival?

Meeting other writers you admire and discovering new ones is very good; talking to readers is delightful; the green room conversations are often hilarious. But best of all I love the backstage moment, the other writers quiet over their books and the moderator checking her notes once more, just before we begin.

Nino Ricci

Nino Ricci, who just published his sixth novel, Sleep, likely won't be getting much of it this fall. He'll be in conversation with Jared Bland at the Kingston WritersFest on Sept. 26 (and appear as part of the "Saturday Night Speakeasy" later that night) before returning to Toronto for Word on the Street on Sept. 27. He'll travel to Alberta for Calgary's Wordfest on Oct. 13 (for an event with John Vaillant and Don Gillmor) then return to Ontario for BookFest Windsor on Oct. 15 then all the way back to B.C. for the Whistler Writers Festival on Oct. 18 and the Vancouver Writers Fest for events on Oct. 23, 24 and 25, before coming back to Ontario for an event at the Ottawa International Writers Festival on Oct. 27, where he'll be appearing alongside the British short-story writer David Constantine and humourist Terry Fallis. Finally, he'll appear in Parry Sound (Oct. 29) and Markham (Oct. 30) as part of this year's International Festival of Authors.

What's one item you have to pack when you go on tour?

I've started packing my iPad whenever I go on the road with an e-copy of whatever novel I'm reading from downloaded onto it for all those venues where the bad lighting and my own deteriorating eyesight make it hard to read from the printed page.

Who's one author appearing at one of the festivals you're excited to meet or see again?

I'm looking forward to meeting up with Steven Hayward, who has a story collection out, an old friend I see too little of since he moved to the States to take up a teaching job. I'm also looking forward to running into old friends like Jane Urquhart and Guy Vanderhaeghe with whom I have crossed paths on the road many times over the years.

What's the best part of attending a literary festival?

The best part of attending a literary festival is the chance it gives to hear other writers read and to hang out with them in the hospitality suite. There are many writers I know almost solely from having met them on tour. Over the course of a given season you might run into them again and again across the country, so that by the end of tour you actually feel like you're part of this large literary community rather than just an isolated misfit toiling away in your lonely garret.

Camilla Gibb

The last time Camilla Gibb made the festival rounds, she had a newborn daughter in tow, a period of time she writes about in her new memoir, This Is Happy. She'll appear at the Kingston WritersFest on Sept. 27 for a conversation with the festival's former artistic director Merilyn Simonds. Gibb will be at the Whistler Writers Festival on Oct. 18, Vancouver Writers Fest on Oct. 23 and Oct. 25, and the Ottawa International Writers Festival on Oct. 26.

What's one item you have to pack when you go on tour?

Nicorettes. I'm addicted to them. And despite stereotypes about writers, no one smokes anymore.

Who's one author appearing at one of the festivals you're excited to meet or see again?

‎Nicole Brossard – I am huge fan and she is a delightful person.

What's the best part of attending a literary festival?

A great discussion – on the stage or off.

Lawrence Hill

It seems as if there isn't a city, town or village that Lawrence Hill isn't visiting this fall in support of his new novel, The Illegal. As far as festivals go, he'll be appearing at the Kingston WritersFest on Sept. 25, discussing censorship with Carol Off, Mark Bourrie and Marian Botsford Fraser, and will head to Nova Scotia for an Oct. 2 event at the Cabot Trail Writers Festival, which also features Kathleen Winter, Linden MacIntyre, Ian Hamilton and his wife, Miranda Hill. He'll be in Calgary for Wordfest on Oct. 13 and 14 and in B.C. for the Whistler Writers Festival on Oct. 17 and the Vancouver Writers Fest on Oct. 20, 22, and 24 (alongside Nino Ricci, Roxane Gay, and Shauna Singh Baldwin). Hill will also appear at the International Festival of Authors, in conversation with Richard Crouse on Oct. 29, interview Jane Urquhart about her latest novel, The Night Stages, on Oct. 31, and take part in 'Membering: A Celebration of Austin Clarke on Nov. 1. Finally, he'll be at BookFest Windsor on Nov. 18.

What's one item you have to pack when you go on tour?

My running shoes, for exercising in hotel gyms and for walking and jogging while on tour.

Who's one author appearing at one of the festivals you're excited to meet or see again?

There are so many writers I'm looking forward to seeing again, and whose books I am itching to devour! Some at the top of my list are Helen Humphreys (The Evening Chorus); John Vaillant (The Jaguar's Children); Patrick DeWitt (Undermajordomo Minor) and Elizabeth Hay (His Whole Life).

What's the best part of attending a literary festival?

There are two highlights: getting to know other writers and their works, and sneaking off with them to go hiking. A few years ago, Elizabeth Hay, Vincent Lam and I rented a car during a literary festival in Banff to go hiking in Lake Louise. Loved every minute of it.

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About the Author
Books Editor

Mark Medley is the Globe and Mail’s Books Editor. Prior to joining the paper he spent more than seven years at the National Post, where he served as an arts reporter and books editor. More

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