Singer-songwriter Stephen Fearing offers a course in lyric crafting at EMLF 2019. Photo submitted

Screen, song, and the power of words

Anne DeGrace on the delights of the upcoming Elephant Mountain Literary Festival

Nelson’s own Elephant Mountain Literary Festival has been enchanting word-lovers since 2012. A mid-summer readers’ and writers’ festival, EMLF brings us together to listen, engage, and be inspired through readings, panel discussions, and more.

This July 12 to 14, EMLF offers new opportunities for writers — screenwriting with Ian Weir, and song lyric writing with Stephen Fearing — which has us pretty excited, because these are exceptional artists who (lucky us) will also take the stage.

Ian sees things with a cinematographer’s eye, which makes sense for the award-winning screenwriter and novelist. Think: action, set, lighting. Imagine a long shot, then the zoom in for the twist of lip or bead of sweat.

That approach must be why his novels — Daniel O’Thunder, Will Starling, and The Death and Life of Strother Purcell — careen through your mind’s eye with such intensity, his characters served up in glorious Technicolor. Or why he’s won two Geminis, four Leos, and a mittful of other awards for his screenplays, which include Arctic Air and Dragon Boys.

Ian will teach Write for the Screen, a six-hour course offered over July 11 and 12. This workshop is great for those honing screenwriting skills, or for fiction writers who’d like to better shape storylines and character development.

“Craft-wise, there’s a lot that transfers easily between forms,” Ian explains in an interview on “Screenwriting is relentlessly structural, and a few years in a TV writers room (where you’re writing and analyzing and rewriting a lot of stories) is one terrific apprenticeship in narrative structure.”

At the Saturday Night Live! event, Ian appears as one of EMLF’s feature presenters, joined by writer-in-residence Marilyn Bowering (watch for a future column about this accomplished Canadian writer) and singer-songwriter Stephen Fearing (read on).

Like his worldwide fan base, anyone who heard Stephen at the Nelson at its Best concert in May knows the power of this singer-songwriter’s words. A consummate solo performer, Stephen is also one half of the duo Fearing and White and co-founder of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings (with Tom Wilson and Colin Linden).

He’s collaborated with Bruce Cockburn, Sarah McLachlan, Richard Thompson and many other masters of their craft. His list of awards includes Worldwide Album of the Year by Blues and Roots Radio, and Contemporary Singer of the Year at the Canadian Folk Music Awards. Maverick Magazine described Stephen as “a master of the finely-turned phrase and the perfectly-pitched line.”

Lyric-Crafting with Stephen Fearing — six hours of instruction over July 11 and 12 — comes with a bonus: students are invited to perform on Saturday afternoon at Finley’s Bar and Grill. This event is free, and a great way to cool off on a summer afternoon as these musical wordsmiths strut their stuff.

Both Ian’s and Stephen’s workshops are limited to 10 students — a more intimate experience — with morning sessions giving students time to go home and work with what they’ve learned between the classes. A few bursaries are still available to offset tuition for the workshops; email executive director Robyn Lamb at for information.

I once met Ian Weir in a London pub, where he described the research he was doing (about grave-robbing) for his second novel; no wonder I’ve been fascinated with his work since. As for Stephen Fearing, I first saw him when he was a student playing at the SubPub at Nelson’s David Thompson University Centre. His words haunted me — and they haunt me still.

You can experience these and other accomplished creators at the eighth annual Elephant Mountain Literary Festival, where all the literary luminaries — and those who love them — gather for this unforgettable mid-summer festival of words.

Festival Tales is a five-part series leading up to the Elephant Mountain Literary Festival, which runs July 11 to 14 in Nelson. Full schedule and ticket information can be found at

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