2019 North Island Writers Conference

  • January 25 & 26, 2019
  • Hosts: Comox Valley Writers Society & North Island College
  • Sponsors: Peninsula Co-op Comox Valley, Island Blue Print Co Ltd
  • Location: North Island College – Comox Valley campus

Friday night – January 25, 2019     NIC campus    Stan Hagen Theatre

Featured Speaker: Terry Jordan, 2018 – 2019 Haig-Brown writer-in-residence

Terry JordanTerry Jordan is an award-winning fiction writer, essayist, musician and dramatist whose stage plays have been produced across the country, in the U.S and Ireland. His play A Million Words Unspoken will be produced at the Short Cuts Festival in Saskatoon this coming Feb. 2019. His book of stories It’s a Hard Cow won a Saskatchewan Book Award and was nominated for the Commonwealth Book Prize. His novel, Beneath That Starry Place was published internationally and the Toronto Globe & Mail called it “an achingly beautiful book.” Jordan taught Creative Writing at Concordia University, Montreal, and was the first Margaret Laurence Fellow at Trent University. His novel, Been in the Storm So Longwas published in 2016. He is the current fiction and non-fiction editor for Grain magazine.

Featured speaker: Alyssa Le Fort, winner of NIC 3-hr writing contest held Nov. 18

Alyssa Le FortAll her life, Alyssa Le Fort loved reading and cried over writing. While exploring intentional communities and becoming radicalized over the climate crisis, she journaled continually. The pressure of the Short Story contest helped force a story out through her mental stranglehold. She wants to use such avenues to articulate her grief for the world: She supports the Unist’ot’en. She feels distraught over the conflict minerals in cellphones. She experiences joyous relief when people express despair over the massive species extinctions.  She cares deeply about bicycling and busing. Writing seems essential for survival.

Saturday – January 26, 2019


  • Indigenous Voices – Wedlidi Speck
  • Humour in Writing: Dissecting the Frog – Jack Knox
  • The Gift of Gab: How to Craft Great Dialogue
  • Creating a Great Self Published Book
  • Graphic Novel: Setting Yourself Up for Success – Lisa Maas
  • Symbols, Imagery & Motif in Fiction – Marlet Ashley
  • Poetry & Sense of Place – Lynne Knight
  • Why I hate (and love) my editor – Trevor McMonagle
  • Scenes: Inject Life into Fiction & Nonfiction – Jeanette Taylor
  • Develop Good Character in Writing – Traci Skuce


  • Poetry Matters – Ed Varney, Lynne Knight, Natalie Nickerson
  • Jumping into Journalism – Judi Murakami, Elizabeth Young, Helena Zukowski

Workshop descriptions:

Title: Creating a Great Self Published Book               Presenter: Craig Shemilt
Description: Craig Shemilt has been involved in the printing industry for more than 40 years. His company, Island Blue Book Printing, represents more than 3000 authors and 200 publishers. Island Blue also has more than 14,000 book titles archived to their system. This presentation gives a wealth of information on what it takes to produce an excellent book and marketing strategies. He will discuss why authors are turning to self-publishing, giving his expertise on book publishing, printing, editing, design, formatting, e-books and the book market. Anyone writing a book does not want to miss this talk.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Title: Develop Good Character in Writing               Presenter: Traci Skuce
Description: It takes time getting to know someone–including our characters. In this workshop we’ll play with physical description, but we’ll also probe the inner lives of our characters, find out what motivates them, what they’ve lost, and why that’s important.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Title: Graphic Novel: Setting Yourself Up for Success       Presenter: Lisa Maas
Description: Creating a graphic novel is a long-term commitment. How do you keep the momentum going from the seed of an idea to the very end of your project? This workshop will focus on strategies to stay motivated, overcome resistances and to live a creative life. We will also do some exercises on generating ideas, character development and using comic techniques and devices to make your book the best it can be. Bring your favorite pencil!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Title: Humour in Writing: Dissecting the Frog                   Presenter: Jack Knox
Description: It is said that analyzing humour is like dissecting a frog: you understand it better but the frog dies in the process. This workshop aims to kill a few amphibians, delving into what makes writing funny (and what does not). We will look at a variety of forms of humour – satire, parody, whimsy, observational – and the literary devices that make them work. Those who feel particularly brave will be encouraged to bring samples of their work so their frogs may be torn open by the other workshop participants.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Title: Indigenous Voices                                             Presenter: Wedlidi Speck
Description: Wedlidi Speck will host workshop participants to explore indigenous stories and methods of transferring traditional knowledge. He will utilize the circle to create a safe and comfortable learning space, ‘creating a container’ as he says, ‘to hold our inquiry, learning and shared experience.’ Here, symbols, rituals, ceremony will be discussed as a way to understand the indigenous narrative that give life and breathe their indigenous worldview, indigenous relational practice and indigenous innovations.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Title: Poetry and Sense of Place                           Presenter: Lynne Knight
Description: How can poetry act like Dorothy’s red shoes and bring you home? What happens if you look at the land you call home in terms of its history? Where does wilderness begin and end for you? What voices can you use to speak for nature? What would a poetry practice informed by a sense of place look like for you?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Title: Scenes: Injecting Life into Fiction and Nonfiction
Presenter: Jeanette Taylor
Description: The emotional impact of a story, in both fiction and nonfiction, lies within scenes. In these dramatic passages of moment by moment action something is at stake for a central character, and as that scene unfolds things change, perhaps irrevocably. Applying scene dynamics requires imagination, attention to details, insightful knowledge of your characters, and a plan—either intuitive or charted—of where the story is headed.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Title: Symbols, Imagery and Motif in Fiction                 Presenter: Marlet Ashley
Description: Skillful use of symbols, imagery and motif can bring life to writing in surprising ways. Accomplished writers employ such elements without interrupting the fictional dream. However, their overuse or misuse can be distracting and damaging to our work. Learn how to use these devices expertly to enhance writing and avoid confusion: “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” (Sigmund Freud).

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Title: The Gift of Gab: How to Craft Great Dialogue          Presenter: Traci Skuce
Description: Dialogue is fun to read. Unless it isn’t. In this workshop we will discuss the pitfalls of writing dialogue and ways to steer clear of them. Moving through a series of exercises you will learn how to get your characters really talking. You will access voice, body language and gesture, and discover how underpinning most dialogue is a transaction of desires. Then you will learn how to hone what you hang between those quotation marks into something memorable and artful. So bring your pens and notepads and get ready to write!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Title: Why I hate (and love) my editor                  Presenter: Trevor McMonagle
Description: This workshop will examine the nature of the editor’s work: how it is expressed in relationship to the writer, what it looks like in practice, how the editor fits into the entire bookmaking process, what it all might cost.

As well, there will be an examination of some of the tricky stylistic choices writers face. For starters: one word or two? hyphen or no hyphen? a style sheet? Every participant should bring one burning question to the workshop.


Title: Poetry Matters
Presenters: Ed Varney, Natalie Nickerson, Derek Hanebury
Description: Poetry really does matter! It is a form of writing which allows us to describe what we perceive in life, relationships, nature and ourselves. The very art of writing poetry takes us on a journey of words and nuances not always accessible through prose. In short, it opens a whole new world in understanding the written language. Join our experts to learn some strategies for writing and appreciating poetry.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Title: Jumping into Journalism
Presenters: Elizabeth Young, Judi Murakami, Helena Zukowski
Description: Journalism is a varied field of informative writing which involves accuracy, concise writing, tight deadlines and flexibility over varied social media formats…print, video, radio and internet. For those who are interested in breaking into this field, you will learn about the different forms of journalism from our experts and find out what it takes to be a journalist in today’s environment of reporting. Bring your questions!

Introducing the Presenters:

Craig Shemilt:
Partner in Island Blue Print Companies. I have been in the print industry for more than 40 years. Married, 4 incredible adult children, 5 grandchildren. Love to play soccer, baseball, fishing and an avid garage sale shopper. Love meeting new writers.



Ed VarneyEdwin Varney:
Edwin Varney has a BA and MA in English Literature. His first book of poetry, Openings, appeared in the 1970s. Since then he has been a poet, an editor, a publisher, a book designer, a printer, a curator, an archivist, and a visual artist. He has published 19 books and chapbooks of poetry and 9 artist’s books.  He has published book reviews, essays on poetry and visual art, and is currently working on four new manuscripts.  He has presented his poetry around the North West and his art has appeared in over 300 exhibitions world wide. He lives in Royston, BC.

Elizabeth Young:
Elizabeth Young is a former journalist, radio news anchor and news director. She began her career reporting in Victoria for Village 900 and then moved to Courtenay to become the afternoon news reporter/anchor at 97.3 the Eagle. After 7 years as a community reporter, she returned to school to get her masters degree in Professional Communication. She returned to radio as News Director for Vista Radio’s North Island stations, guiding news coverage for stations in Courtenay, Campbell River, Powell River and Port Hardy. Along with her job as a writer/editor for NIC, she also works as a communications consultant for local governments, industry and non-profits.

Helena Zukowski with MorganHelena Zukowski:
In a lengthy writing career that began at 16 with “running copy” at The Vancouver Sun, Helena Zukowski edited a major monthly magazine in California, spent a number of years as a partner in a Toronto film and production unit, wrote scripts for the CBC, CTV and TV Ontario as well as a sitcom, the David Steinberg Show.  She also spent very happy years conceiving and writing dramatic and comedy radio scripts for the CBC.  As a freelance travel writer for 25 years, she syndicated photos and stories to newspapers and magazines all over the world.

Jack Knox:
Jack Knox is an award-losing columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist newspaper and the author of three books, two of which were long-listed for (but failed to win) the Leacock Medal for humour. In 40 years as a journalist Jack has met prime ministers, debated premiers and interviewed a murderer in his cell. He liked the murderer. Career highlights include being blasted with blowhole spray by Luna the whale (it tasted like fish), interviewing a porn movie star in the nude (her, not him) and getting a phone call from Barack Obama four days before he (Obama, not Jack) was elected president.

Jeanette Taylor: 
Jeanette Taylor has taught fiction and nonfiction courses and weekend intensives for over a decade, introducing all the elements of a writing project. She first presented her scenes workshop at a national nonfiction writing conference.

Jeanette is a historian and writer whose work in museums lead to four books, including the BC Bestseller Tidal Passages, A History of the Discovery Islands. Her current projects are creative nonfiction books, including a biography, and a regional history. She is also working on a novel for young adults. Jeanette is the co-ordinator of the cooperative The Scribes, Comprehensive Writing Services, providing manuscript reviews, and mentorship. She writes a monthly blog for the website, www.thescribes.ca.

Judi Murakami:
Judi became a volunteer reporter for Shaw TV in 2011 and interviewed people in areas she was passionate about – food and music, resulting in “Judi’s Foodies” and “No Strings Attached”.  She enjoyed meeting people who loved their work, such as author Kunio Yamagishi and filmmaker Shawn Pigott.

She credits her ease in front of the camera to being an actor on stage with Courtenay Little Theatre and speaker and teacher at Unity Churches in Canada and Washington.  She also ran for city council last year and found all-candidates meetings nerve wracking, but helped her to think on her feet.

Lisa Maas:
Lisa Maas is the author of the graphic novel Forward. She began drawing comics as a teenager. Her first complete work was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth for a grade 11 English assignment. She has been an office worker, a parking booth attendant, a restaurant worker, and a small business owner. She has survived a night in a snow cave and traveled by motorcycle to the Yukon and back. She does her best creative work in the study carrels of public libraries and while wandering through the neighbourhoods of Victoria. She is currently working on her next graphic novel.

Lynne Knight:
Lynne Knight is the author of six full-length poetry collections, three of them prize winners, and of five chapbooks, three of them also prize winners. Her work has appeared many journals, including Kenyon ReviewPoetry and Southern Review. Her other awards and honors include publication in Best American Poetry, the Prix de l’Alliance Française 2006, a PSA Lucille Medwick Memorial Award, the 2009 RATTLE Poetry Prize, and an NEA grant. I Know (Je sais), her translation with the author Ito Naga of his Je sais, appeared in 2013. She moved to Canada in 2018.

Marlet Ashley:
Marlet Ashley B.A., B.Ed., M.A. taught creative writing at the University of Windsor and was a tenured instructor of literature and composition at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Her first novel, The Right Kind of Crazy (2018) as well as the children’s books series Revelry on the Estuary are among her publications. She is the Canadian author of Literature and the Writing Process, Pearson Prentice Hall (2005). A finalist for the 2012 John Kenneth Galbraith Literary Awards, and a recipient of an honourable mention from the Lorian Hemmingway 2018 Awards, she lives and facilitates a fiction writing group in Comox, B.C.

Natalie Nickerson:
Comox Valley Poet Laureate, Natalie Nickerson juggles three jobs and writes poetry in the spaces between catches.  Poetry, in her experience, has the potential to unveil new perceptions, inspire deeper longings and evoke awe. In short, Natalie thinks good poems act as catalysts for shifts of consciousness. Natalie also enjoys speaking about the influence of poetry to stimulate aesthetic intelligence; to her mind, an important counter-balance to our ever-increasing reliance on artificial intelligence. Her fascination with theoretical physics exerts a strange and charming influence over her recent poetry, which has yet to be published.

Traci Skuce: 
Traci Skuce is a Cumberland writer. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Pacific University (Oregon). Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals, including The New Quarterly, New Ohio Review, Prairie Fire and GrainIn 2015 she was a finalist for the CBC Creative Non-Fiction prize, and in 2016 she won the Sheldon Currie prize for fiction. Traci has been teaching writing workshops to writers of all levels since 2000, and is deeply passionate about the craft of writing. Her short story collection, Hunger Moon, will be released by NeWest Press in 2020.

Trevor McMonagle:
A resident of Campbell River, Trevor McMonagle grew up in Manitoba, his literary sensibilities developed by the cadences of the King James Version of the Bible and the soul-nurturing heat and cold of the Prairies. Twenty years ago, he and his wife helped to establish Words on the Water and the Haig-Brown writer-in-residence program. Following his career in the high school English classroom, he created The Right Words Editing, a business in which he works on projects ranging from resumes and cover letters to full-length books. In 2018, five books that he edited were published.

His highest values in writing: clarity, honesty and economy.

Wedlidi Speck:
Wedlidi Speck is a member of the Namgis First Nation of Alert Bay. Culturally he is Kwaguł Gixsam, Island K’omoks and Namgis and Tlawitsis. He holds serval titles and responsibilities in the cultural system he belongs. He is a storyteller, artist and cultural historian. Currently, Wedlidi is employed by the Ministry of Children and Family Development as the Director of Indigenous Recruitment and Cultural Safety. He is happily married and has several children and grandchildren.