Vancouver International Writers & Readers Festival

Performance Works, Granville Island, Vancouver BC

Thursday, 19 October 2000

In a room buzzing with teens, testosterone, and half a dozen foreign languages, in a program for schools, the Short Story Glory panel read exerts of their work. The panel's moderator, short story writer and playwright, Leon Rooke is a better writer than he is a public speaker. He sprinkled his introductory talk with repartitions as he ran his fingers through his shoulder length grey hair. In a monotonous and booming voice, Mr Rooke shouted into the microphone from one of his short stories about cars before introducing his first guest.

Bill Gaston, a former professional hockey player, has written fiction, poetry, plays, and a screenplay. He teaches creative writing at the University of Victoria. Before reading, he explained that his main character determines whether he writes a short story or a novel. Characters with only one major problem or who are unlikeable usually get written into a short story because "you don't want to hang out with them any longer."

"The party wasn't Sandy's idea," begins The Night He Put His Clothes on in Public, taken from Mr Gaston's latest collection of short stories, Sex is Red. The story is about a recently divorced man who is bitter and drinks too much at a party in his house. He puts on layers and layers and layers of clothing. Unable to get undress to relieve his bladder, the man wets himself and falls down the stairs. The language of the story was modified for the audience who seemed to enjoy its risqueness.

Elizabeth Hay's short story collection, Small Change, was nominated for The Governor General's Award, the Trillium Award, and the Rogers Communications Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. Stating that "story" is her favourite word, she read "A Clear Record" from her Small Change collection. These three stories in one were rich with detail. The expression of a middle aged Parisienne as "in control and glistening with experience" is one example of her fine writing.

Calum McCann, with a creamy Irish accent, explained how he had left his homeland at the age of 21 and roamed around Mexico and the United States for two years. Everywhere he travelled he found someone with a story to tell. He took these stories into his heart and felt responsible for passing them on so the original speakers could be kept alive. Mr McCann's story was the most appropriate for the audience. It was about a young teenage boy in Northern Ireland in 1981. The boy's uncle is dying on hunger strike in jail. While the boy is out kayaking with an old Lithuanian, his anger boils when thinking of his uncle and he wants to strike out and kill the seals basking in a bay. Mr McCann sees vividly through sharp images and the mind of the boy.

Questions and answers followed. There was no microphone for the questioners so the panel used some of their answering time to paraphrase before replying. The panel agreed that the short story required vitality, energy, conflict, destination, resolution, characters, and not one wasted word.

A comment heard from one of the students as he left Performance Works: "Wow! That was cool." This field trip was a great success.--June Heywood