First class: Acclaimed writer Carmen Aguirre and Diana Gabaldon will present a master class at Word on the Lake.

First class: Acclaimed writer Carmen Aguirre and Diana Gabaldon will present a master class at Word on the Lake.

Writers Fest brings out the best

Acclaimed playwright Carmen Aguirre’s first book, Something Fierce, evolved in her head for 20 years before making it to print

Acclaimed playwright Carmen Aguirre’s first book, Something Fierce, evolved in her head for 20 years before making it to print.

But Aguirre promises participants in her master class at the Shuswap Writers’ Festival will walk away with the beginnings of a their own memoir.

In her workshop, Something Fierce; Memoir And Monologue, Aguirre will explore the art of memoir writing through voice, theme, structure, tone and character development.

In the second part of the session, Aguirre, an accomplished actor, will take students to another level by guiding them through the process of writing a monologue based on a personal story.

And Aguirre has a lot to draw on, having been introduced to the world of political activism as a very young child.

In September 1973, a violent coup replaced democratically elected Salvador Allende with the repressive regime of Augusto Pinochet.

Thousands were arrested, tortured and killed.

Soon after the coup, six-year-old Aguirre and her younger sister fled the country with their parents for Canada and a life in exile.

In 1978, her mother and stepfather answered a call by the Chilean resistance to return to South America.

As their mother and stepfather set up a safe house for resistance members in La Paz, Bolivia, the girls’ own double lives began.

At 18, Aguirre herself joined the resistance. With conventional day jobs as a cover, she and her new husband moved to Argentina to begin a dangerous new life of their own.

Back in Vancouver for the past 24 years, Aguirre says her book, which won Canada Reads in 2012 and became a No. 1 national best-seller, explores two themes: living in a state of terror and the tension between political commitment and personal desires.

“It’s a coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of a political thriller,” she says. “Coming of age, where the theme is commitment clashing with desire. I think everyone can relate, which is why the book is doing well.”

Asked about coming to terms with the terror inherent in her own early life, Aguirre says she is grateful for the experiences that have provided fodder for many of the 20 plays she has written and co-written.

“I feel if I had not suffered what I had, I also would not have been able to appreciate the light…”  says Aguirre, noting she is not alone in having to overcome terrible experiences. “This country is full of people who have survived that, as have the First Nations. It’s beyond sick.”

But Aguirre will not be talking about her book in her master class, focusing instead on helping participants to probe their own memories.

Aguirre has more than 60 film, television and stage acting credits, and is currently appearing as Alcina on Showcase’s Endgame.

Aguirre is also a theatre director, acting teacher and a Theatre of the Oppressed workshop facilitator, working with communities around British Columbia.

Aguirre’s workshop will consist of theatre exercises, writing and feedback. Participants are advised to wear comfortable clothing and to take writing tools, preferably a laptop.

Presented by the Shuswap Association of Writers, Word on the Lake takes place May 16 to 18 at the Prestige Harbourfront Resort and registration at reduced prices ends April 25.

This year’s presenters also include Gail Anderson-Dargatz, Ann Erickson, David Essig, Diana Gabaldon, Gary Geddes, C.C. (Chris) Humphreys, Shelagh Jamieson, Ursula Maxwell-Lewis, Carolyn Swayze and Howard White.

Following Friday evening registration, participants are invited to a coffeehouse at 7 p.m. at Shuswap Theatre, hosted by the Shuswap Writers and featuring an evening of readings by festival presenters.

This event is open to members of the public. Admission is $10.

Saturday morning sessions begin with a keynote address by best-selling author Diana Gabaldon, followed by workshops and presentations, which wrap-up at 4:15 p.m. with a ceremony to announce the winners of the Kidswrite contest.

New this year, a banquet and entertainment gala will take place at 7 p.m. at the Prestige on the Saturday night.

Sunday’s session, which takes place at Okanagan College, will begin with breakfast at 9, a keynote address by author and biologist Ann Eriksson, followed by presentations and a wrap-up at 1:30 p.m.

For more information on festival, visit www.saow.ca.