Young writers shipped off to boot camp

Few of the 48 students taking part in this year's Young Authors' Conference will become professional writers, and that's perfectly alright, according to local playwright Patti Flather.

Few of the 48 students taking part in this year’s Young Authors’ Conference will become professional writers, and that’s perfectly alright, according to local playwright Patti Flather.

“It’s just a joy to be with other people who have a love of reading and writing,” she said.

“When people have a shared passion it’s wonderful, regardless of the age. It’s important to share that love with young people and celebrate what they’re trying to do.”

Flather is one of four guest authors invited to lead writing workshops over a two-day period at F.H. Collins this week. The others are poet Jacob Scheier, novelist and actor Chris Humphreys and local musician Graeme Peters.

It’s a boot camp for aspiring writers, an opportunity for like-minded students from Grade 8 to 12 to meet each other and work alongside professionals.

Now in its 35th year, the conference is part of the Yukon Writers’ Festival, a week-long event that kicked off on Monday with a reading by author Susan Musgrave in Carmacks.

Although participation in the conference is voluntary, not everyone gets to attend.

Students are selected based on the quality of a writing sample they submit to their school’s selection committee.

Groups set up in different parts of the high school and buckle down for writing exercises all day on Thursday and Friday.

Flather is taking part in the conference for a second time. The co-artistic director of Gwaandak Theatre also ran workshops back in 2000, shortly after finishing her master of fine arts in creative writing at UBC.

In that time she’s also taught dramatic and creative writing at Yukon College, written a short film and had her fiction published in several literary magazines.

Flather’s focus is on giving students individual feedback and also doing some playwriting exercises, although there aren’t any playwrights in her group.

“I think it’s a great chance to try a little bit of a different genre,” she said.

“Whenever I’m doing a new piece I’m always experimenting to see whether it’ll become a play, or a short story, or a film. Short stories need dialogue too so there’s a lot of crossover between the various genres.”

Based on the manuscripts she’s already seen, there’s a lot of young talent out there, she said.

And while someone can be talented, it’s also about putting in the effort and getting feedback from people you trust.

“I want to let them know that this can work (as a career), that you can make a life and include the creative arts in it. There’s a lot of support in the territory for artists, particularly in Whitehorse.

“There’s a general recognition of the value of the arts that you don’t find in a lot of places in the world.”

The first conference was held back in 1980, the brainchild of former F.H. Collins librarian Terry Burns, according to the festival’s website.

He started it so the territory could take part in the Canada-wide National Writers’ Festival, which began in 1979.

It had 33 students from five Yukon schools working with three visiting authors: Susan Musgrave, John Lazarus and David McFadden.

Musgrave will be at the Watson Lake library for a reading tomorrow evening at 7 p.m., and will visit the Teslin school library on Friday at 1 p.m.

Both events are free.

A reading and reception for the festival, featuring all five guest authors, is scheduled tonight at the Old Fire Hall for 7 p.m.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com