Poet/author Renée Sarojini Saklikar models a “This Day We Write” typewriter dress, among items sold on the writers’ conference’s website, via redbubble.com/people/SiWC/shop. (Photo: twitter.com/reneesarojini)

Poet/author Renée Sarojini Saklikar models a “This Day We Write” typewriter dress, among items sold on the writers’ conference’s website, via redbubble.com/people/SiWC/shop. (Photo: twitter.com/reneesarojini)

Bigger for 2020, online Surrey conference clicks with writers from around the world

Registrants from 17 countries for ‘SiWC At Home’ edition of the annual event

The online-only Surrey International Writers’ Conference powers up this week with more people signed up than in previous years.

The 28th annual event will run from Friday to Sunday (Oct. 23-25), as originally planned, but not at the usual venue of Sheraton Vancouver Guildford Hotel.

The re-imagined “SiWC at Home” conference was announced in April, a few weeks after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic.

Annually, the conference fills the Sheraton hotel with close to 700 delegates.

This week’s online edition will unite writers from 17 countries.

“With attendees, volunteers, staff, and presenters, we’re close to 750 (registrants),” conference co-ordinator Kathy Chung told the Now-Leader.

“It’s bigger than the regular conference, which is no doubt in part due to the fact that we consistently sell out the available space in the hotel very quickly. We had a bit more flexibility with virtual space and so were able to accommodate more people.”

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Mary Robinette Kowal, Susanna Kearsley and Diana Gabaldon are among the returning presenters, along with Sonali Dev, Erin Roberts, Daniel Heath Justice, Tetsuro Shigematsu, Helaine Becker, and Mahtab Narsimhan.

Event registration closed in early October, other than a 24-hour “bonus registration opening” on Oct. 16-17, for what event planners call “overwhelming demand for late registration.”

For $279, the full conference package includes three days of workshops, opening session, social opportunities, special events and more.

“Our price for this year, as ever, is set to cover our costs,” says a message on the conference website (siwc.ca). “It’s lower than you’re used to because some of our costs are lower, such as not having to pay for the hotel.”

On social media, the conference employs the hashtags #thisdaywewrite and #SiWC20.

“After years of daydreaming about having the cash to spare & time to attend (the conference in Surrey), #covid has afforded me the opportunity & my new employer gifted me the time,” writer Elizabeth Sande tweeted. “Life has a funny way of working out, exactly when we need it the most.”

Jenny Lang also tweeted her thoughts: “The SIWC Online Conference is going to rock. Everything is so organized, and there are so many options to socialize, it’s going to be just like being there. Thank you for all your hard work!”

The event is a workshop-based conference with a focus on development of skills and industry-based knowledge, the event website says.

“The biggest challenge with the online conference is creating the same collegial, welcoming atmosphere that is a hallmark of SiWC without the benefit of sharing meals and in-person conversation at the hotel,” Chung noted. “We’ve put a lot of effort into replicating that experience the best we can online, with virtual gathering spaces and fun night-owl events in addition to all the workshop content.”

Another challenge, she said, is that attendees are far-flung for this year’s conference instead of being together in a hotel. “It’s an excellent problem to have, but with attendees joining us from 17 different countries, accommodating different time zones and being mindful of the pressures and stresses people are facing with pandemic life were things we needed to consider.”

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