From Starbucks to stardom for Surrey International Writers’ Conference

The Surrey International Writers' Conference has aged gracefully into one of the top three writers' conferences in North America.

Vancouver author Michael Slade is now a regular SiWC presenter.

In 1993 writers slouched over a pedestal table in Cloverdale Starbucks hashing over the pros and cons of producing a writers’ conference.

Could we afford it? No.

Would anyone come? Well, we would!

Who would present the workshops and lone keynote? What would we charge?

Was Surrey ready for this? We laughed. You bet!

Spearheaded by indefatigable author Ed Griffin, we plotted a one-day Surrey Writers’ Conference backed by Surrey Continuing Education principal, Elisa Carlson.

A few Johnson Heights Secondary classroom-style workshops, chow in the school cafeteria, Vancouver Sun veteran journalist Denny Boyd as guest speaker in the gym. We thought that should fly. It was worth a shot.

Next month – 19 years later – over 500 writers, poets, playwrights, agents and publishers will flock to the Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel for four action-packed, inspiring days.

Reputed to be among the top three writers’ conferences in North America, Surrey’s own writers’ conference has aged gracefully.

Over the years Maeve Binchey, Wayson Choy and Jean Auel have delivered keynotes.

Best-selling authors Diana Gabaldon (Outlander series), Jack Whyte (Camulod Chronicles), Anne Perry (Victorian detective series) and New York literary agent Donald Maass are regular workshop presenters.

Local authors and agents are also regularly profiled. A Blue Pencil Café encourages writers to seek objective critiques from their peers. Editor and agent appointments offer chances to discuss work personally with those in writing markets.

This year the conference became a registered not-for profit society. The dedicated nine-person volunteer board is currently chaired by Carrie Higgins, while Kathy Chung continues in her second term as conference coordinator.

A comprehensive conference seeking to offer something for dreamers exploring writing options, to established scribes determined to expand their markets, Surrey’s reputation continues to grow.

Vancouver crime writer and lawyer, Michael Slade (aka Jay Clarke), once skeptically questioned why writers would come to Surrey. Now he knows. They come for the pleasure of working with dynamic, dedicated presenters – one of whom is now Slade.

This year Oct 16-23 will be designated Surrey International Writers’ Conference Week in the City of Surrey. The 2011 conference battle cry is “This day we write!”, Robert Dugoni’s closing 2010 keynote challenge that brought the cheering packed house to its feet.

Generous support from major sponsors such as the Arts Council of Surrey, the City of Surrey, Surrey Board of Trade, the Surrey-North Delta Leader, the Cloverdale Reporter and hundreds of enthusiastic volunteers have given the international literary community the right to say: “See you in Surrey!”

For conference information, or to volunteer, please call 778-322-6445. Registration forms are at www.SiWC.ca.

Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is former editor and publisher of the Cloverdale Reporter. Contact her at utravel@shaw.ca