Community writing contest wins encourage new writers

All entrants shown incredible support from the community, says Sidney North Saanich library manager.

Debby Vollbrecht

Voices hushed, a captive audience sat together at the Sidney North Saanich library on Thursday evening, May 14, listening to the winning pieces that won in the second annual Saanich Peninsula Community Writing Contest.

Grown out of the efforts of the Sidney North Saanich Library Writers Group, the contest strove to encourage creativity from residents of the Saanich Peninsula, and hopefully bring some fledgling authors out of their shells.

It certainly inspired Neville Winters to enter his winning story Holly Croft Farm, a descriptive tale of a woman looking back over her memories on the family farm — and the win was an extra bonus.

“I’m not used to winning things,” he said as the awards event was wrapping up. “I was surprised when I first heard.”

Having written mostly poetry before, Winters had shown the story to his neighbourhood writing group and was encouraged to enter it.

“This was the first time I’d written a story for a competition,” he said. “It was gratifying that other people enjoyed the story.”

That feeling of validation was something non-fiction winner Debby Vollbrecht identified with as well.

“I used to try writing as a kid, and then I stopped,” she said. “I always said I would again when I retired. It certainly makes me feel a little more positive about the writing.”

For Vollbrecht’s piece, Staying In Touch, she took the audience on a journey back to 1970s Europe when she and a friend hitchhiked from country to country and experienced adventures both exciting and nervewracking.

With that kind of gumption, it was a little surprising to hear that Vollbrecht still got a case of nerves before stepping up to the podium to read.

“I was getting nervous before I went up, but once I was up there, I didn’t mind,” she said.

Judith Andrews took home the prize for her poem Lavender, rich in imagery and a poignant look at aging.

“Although I have been writing for most of my life, it is only in the last year or so that I have shared my work beyond my family,” said Andrews. “My friend Lynda … told me she relates very well to some of my poems. That was wonderful to hear, and it made me want to share more of my work. I saw the competition as a way to do that.”

“I felt very honoured and gratified when I learned that my poem had been chosen,” she added. “To know that someone else found meaning in this work is very special to me.”

A handful of others also made impressions on the judges in each category.

Honourable mention for fiction, judged by Barbara Smith and Susan Reece, was The Harsh Light of Truth by Alexis Thonger.

Winning both Honourable Mention and a Special Mention in poetry, judged by Jackie Rioux and Josh Rioux, was Garrett Williams with his pieces Sadie maybe and Think back.

And in non-fiction, judged by Steven Heywood and Jean Jordan, Muriel Jarvis Ackinclose won Honourable Mention with her piece When I Was A Kid, and Special Mention went to Ingrid Bjornsfelt with Memories of an Island Cottage.

Winners were awarded a $100 gift certificate from Tanner’s Books, and Honourable Mentions earned themselves a $50 certificate.

“We were so pleased with the response,” says library manager Sharon Walker.

“It was great to see that the writers have this great support from the audience. To write and share your story, your experiences, in a contest, and then with an audience, is such an act of courage.”

With a good response this year, the library writers group will likely bring the contest back again next year, says Walker, and she encourages anyone interested in getting involved to attend one of the group’s meetings.

The Sidney North Saanich Library Writers Group next meets from 6:30 to 8 p.m., June 11 at the library, 10091 Resthaven Drive, to plan the next year’s activities.

The group also meets the last Thursday of the month for a writers critique group.

Writers of all levels are welcome.

For more information, visit virl.bc.ca or call Sharon Walker at 250-656-0944.