It will be a whole new chapter for the Cabot Trail Writers Festival when the annual literary gathering takes place this fall.
The travel restrictions and health concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic dealt organizers with an unexpected plot twist. So, the board has decided most events for its 12th year will be hosted online or broadcast on the radio for audience members with limited computer or internet access, with only outdoor events taking place in person.
Artistic director Rebecca Silver Slayter said presenting the festival this way has several positive aspects.
All events will be free and they have also expanded beyond the usual festival weekend to run from Sept. 27 until Oct. 4. Slayter said there will be 15-20 mainstage authors compared to the typical eight, allowing people to take part in more workshops and book clubs, as well as a number of new events.
“One of the lovely things about this format is that we can actually host more events and more writers because we aren’t limited in terms of our budget for travel costs and things,” she said. “The other factor is the weekend is usually a fairly dense block of programming and I don’t think people want to sit at their computers for eight to 10 hours at a time taking part, so we’re going to space most of the events out a little bit more widely.”
Slayter said they are coming up with creative new ways to connect audience members with writers and each other so the festival can continue to build friendship and community around the joy of reading.
“What’s special to me and what’s important to me about this festival is that it takes these otherwise very solitary activities of reading and writing, and it feels very much that it’s a community endeavour and it enables us to build that community together out of sharing stories and bridging different communities the way that books do,” she said, adding that they plan to use technology to give people an intimate peek into an author’s home.
“We thought it would be really fun to explore that with our authors, letting us see into the spaces where they work, and whether it’s a kitchen table or a studio, talk about that space and also about their writing process and how they work there.”
In addition to panel conversations on Zoom and live readings on Facebook, they will also encourage authors to be active by filming trail walks so people can experience landscape while sharing literary culture. The will also share writing prompts that people use as a jump start to their own writing routine and then share their work.
“It’s inspiring a different type of creativity for us and the innovation of it is really a thing of necessity but also creating some really beautiful possibilities, I think,” said Slayter, an author from New Glasgow who now lives in St. Joseph du Moine with her husband and two young children.
Her first novel, “In the Land of Birdfishes,” was published to critical acclaim in 2013 and she recently sent a final draft of her latest book to her editor for some fine-tuning.
Tentatively titled “The Second History,” it’s set about 50 years in the future and tells the story of a couple who spent their entire lives hiding in the wilderness without really ever understanding what they’re hiding from.
“The novel begins with them setting out to go on a bit of a journey to find out more about the story of the world and why they are where they are,” she said.
“In many ways, it’s about the relationship between the people themselves — the sort of radical situation of isolation they’re in, in my mind anyway, mirrors in some ways a marriage or a long-term relationship, the way two people can become a world unto themselves. It’s a very personal story and a love story between them.”
Slayter said they will announce more details about the festival in the coming weeks.