Impressions of Eden Mills

By Jessica Westhead, author of Worry

My first-ever experience of the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival was idyllic, except for the wasp sting.

There was the anticipation-filled drive up from Toronto with writerly friends and our giddy arrival in this lush, literary-loving land. Charming houses with doors flung open and butterflies everywhere.

Then we were in a field of rapt, upturned faces. All of our attention focused on the stage and the author’s words filling the warm air and drifting away on a cool breeze. Blankets and folding chairs and a friendly sun beaming down, filtering through the trees. The shifting shadows of the leaves playing across the expanse of soft lawn and wildflowers.

The sky was bright blue and the grass was bright green and then there was a flash of yellow. A warning buzz and then the fast, searing jab. The anxious wait for an allergic reaction even though I had been stung once before, years ago beside a neighbour’s pool, with no adverse effects. But I am a worrier, so I stared at the small, red welt on my hand until I was sure it wasn’t getting any redder.

It wasn’t.

I forgot about the sting (after some additional reassurances from my gentle friends) and sunk back into the words. I remember thinking, “I would love to be on that stage some day.”

Between readings, we wandered along Publishers’ Way, smiling with new and familiar faces. Book lovers hovering over tables, turning pages tenderly, caressing covers. So much beautiful sentence-fondness. Everyone gathered together because of a shared appreciation for good stories. How cool is that?

Years later (and just a few years ago), I was thrilled to be at Eden Mills for the first time as a participating author, with my story collection Things Not to Do. I drove up with my family and we were warmly welcomed by the festival volunteers and organizers. I ate a lot of complimentary pickles and olives and gabbed with fellow writers in the green room. And then I stepped in front of a microphone at The Open Book Patio, surrounded by my very own audience of attentive, encouraging faces. And I wasn’t stung once!

This year, I’m returning to this wonderful festival with my new novel Worry, which may or may not have been inspired by my own worrying tendencies (okay, it was). Will I have another run-in with a pesky yellowjacket? Who knows? But I’m not worried about it! Okay, maybe a tiny bit. But mostly I’m just super excited about everything else. Public readings with enthusiastic audiences—like those that are always found at Eden Mills—are vital for authors. The writing life can be rocky sometimes, but it’s an elixer to have our work received and enjoyed in real time, and to joyfully connect with fellow writers and readers. Especially in a glorious outdoor setting in early September.

I can’t wait.

Jessica Westhead participates in the set “Cabin Fever” at the Mill from 1:45-2:45 on Festival Sunday (Sunday September 8, 2019).