SiWC 2009

Well, Surrey’s over for another year, and thanks to a husband kind enough to turn off my alarm this morning and handle the getting-child-to-school routine alone, I’m not quite as physically and mentally exhausted as I expected to be today. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still far from functioning normally, as the quality of this post will no doubt reveal, but at least I feel like driving to the grocery store isn’t actually too risky an activity for my current capacity. Good thing, too, since the cupboards are bare.

I don’t know if it’s even possible to convey what a whole weekend at the Surrey conference is like in one post, but I’ll give it a shot.

This was a really different year for me at SiWC. As the incoming conference coordinator for 2010, I was in a unique position. I was at once shadowing kc dyer (coordinator extraordinaire), getting a sense of things from her perspective, meeting presenters, spending time with the board and so on while still being an attendee, sitting in on workshops, having meals with friends I see once a year, sitting in the bar, and all else that comes from being on that side of the registration table. It was an interesting challenge to find the balance between both roles, but I enjoyed it.

I arrived at the hotel late Wednesday morning, having picked up my good friend Pam from the airport en route. The Sheraton’s quiet on the Wednesday before the conference. Only a few people have checked in, and the hub of activity seemed to be mostly in the coordinator’s room, where we helped tend to some last-minute details including one that involved cardboard, chocolate, and ribbon. Any task involving chocolate is okay by me. A little time in the lounge that evening with karen, Pam, Michael Slade and later Jack Whyte, and Wednesday was over already. Never do days go by quite as quickly as they do in Surrey, and the rest of time continued in the same appallingly speedy fashion.

The rest of the weekend went by in a blur of friends, workshops, board meetings, meals, keynote speeches, comfortable lounge chairs, and altogether too little sleep. But even in the midst of the busyness, there were moments where things seemed to slow down long enough for me to realize I was seeing or hearing or doing something pretty special in that instant, and those are the moments I’ll remember long after this year’s conference blends and blurs with those gone by and those still to come. Some of them are simply ‘you had to be there’ things that I’ll take out, look at, remember, and enjoy before tucking them away again for awhile, flashes and moments that wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else. But some of them weren’t just mine, or, if they were, still speak to the general experience of camaraderie and magic that is at the heart of Surrey. Here are some of those:

– seeing my friend Pam arrive at baggage claim at YVR and come toward me with a giant smile, arms spread wide, echoing my own excitement that Surrey time had come again;

– watching Mike Carson’s face when he found out he’d received an honourable mention in the storyteller’s category of the SiWC writing contest and had won the non-fiction category. Both had been kept as a surprise, with the help of his wife, until the announcement of the winners, and he had no idea until his name was called;

– listening to moving and stirring keynotes. I’ve never heard an Anne Perry speech I didn’t love, for example, that didn’t move me to write and to embrace joy, sorrow, and fear to make my fiction the best I can make it, and this year was no exception. It was a great year for keynotes all around;

– picking up tidbits from presenters including Jeff Arch, author of Sleepless in Seattle, who echoed beautifully what most presenters seemed to feel about why they write what they write: “Strip away all the details and it’s an idea that wouldn’t let go of me;”

– sitting in the ballroom for Michael Slade’s Shock Theatre, in which his version of War of the Worlds came alive through the vocal skills of an all-star cast that included Slade, kc dyer, Diana Gabaldon, Anne Perry, and Jack Whyte, the keyboard prowess of an amazing high-school student called Althea, and the pumpkin-smashing power of Sam Sykes;

– getting a little dressed up for Saturday dinner, a rarity in a mostly casual life;

– hearing the standard smattering of applause for a door prize winner swell when the attendees noticed the guy who won was a mountie in red serge;

– watching at least two writers get the sort of thrilling feedback they’d normally only dream of hearing and seeing them moved and changed by it;

– enjoying the conversation of like-minded people for hours on end in the lounge, the ballroom, and at a small private party a few of us arrange every year;

– joining in on the chorus of Saturday night’s traditional rendition of “Mud, Glorious Mud”, led by the inimitable Jack Whyte;

– goofing around with old friends and new;

– celebrating successes, including one friend’s three-book deal in five countries since last year’s conference;

– being introduced to all sorts of new people, presenters and attendees alike, and having conversations with random strangers in the elevators.

There are more, of course. I could go on listing little details for pages, but those are the first ones that came to mind when I started jotting them down. Like every year, I came away eager to write, reminded of the universality of storytelling and its importance and of the need for each of us to nurture that thing, whatever it is, that feeds our souls and isn’t for anyone else but us. (My friend Laura Bradbury addressed the latter brilliantly the other day in her post about her jardin secret at We all need one.) And I came away this year excited about the future, about the big job I’m taking on and eager to get going with it.

Were you at Surrey? What did you take away from it?

Next year’s conference is October 22-24, 2010, with master classes on the 21st. Mark your calendars!


  1. A Novel Woman
    Oct 27, 2009

    You summed up the experience better than anyone I know. And I say that with the utmost sincerity and not just because you picked me up at the airport.

    Michael Slade said it best, I think, when we doing the post mortem (pun intended) on Sunday afternoon. You either “get” the Surrey conference or you don’t.

    If you don’t – if you act above it all and don’t mingle and talk with participants and speakers alike – then you won’t understand what all the fuss is about. Like a great joke you didn’t hear because you were busy talking, it can’t be retold because you’ve missed the magic moment. You must be really and truly present, and also willing to throw yourself in to the crowd and be honest and open and true. You will find like-minded souls willing to do the same and suddenly, you’ve been transported to this new place. That’s when you nod and say aha, that’s what they meant when they said the SiWC was magic and unlike any other writers’ conference in the world.

    Another great year under our belts. I have already marked the dates for 2010!

    • Kathy
      Oct 27, 2009

      Thank you. :)

      Slade’s totally right. I also heard other presenters comment on the lack of ego and the lack of competition at Surrey. People there are genuinely supportive of everyone’s success, no matter what level. That’s rare, I think, and definitely part of the magic.

  2. Laura
    Oct 27, 2009

    Sniff sniff

    Now I’m extra sad to have missed yet another year. I think my heart just cracked a little.

    And I miss it for exactly the reasons you posted. Just being with people who ‘get it’ is an amazing experience in itself. I miss all of you, who now feel more like long-lost friends, but who I know will welcome me back as soon as I’m able to return. Hoping upon hope it will be next year. It’s been too long.

    But until then, I lurk on your blogs so I don’t lose touch. And I write. And I’m gonna start saving my pennies for next year’s conference!

    • Kathy
      Oct 27, 2009

      I’m sorry you missed it, too, Laura. Next year! And you’re right; we’ll welcome you back. :)

  3. Shari
    Oct 27, 2009

    Calendar is marked! Thanks for the recap — I missed going this year, and your post reminded me of so much of what I love about the Surrey conference. Now I’m already psyched up for next year! :)

    • Kathy
      Oct 27, 2009

      Thanks, Shari. See you next year!