Student Writing Workshops

Four outstanding Canadian authors host writing workshops for high school students.

Tuesday September 24, 2019
8:30-3:00 PM in Eden Mills

Led by authors Brian Francis, Heather Smith, Kevin Sylvester and Najwa Zebian
$35 per student – includes four workshops

Contact [email protected] to register

Teachers: Please contact us if you are unable to attend in 2019 but would like to be notified of our 2020 workshops when information becomes available.

WORKSHOP: Beat it!
Beats in fiction serve a very specific purpose and can make your writing better. What are beats? They’re the bits of action interspersed throughout a scene, such as a character walking to a window or removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes. But use too many beats and you’ll annoy your readers. Use them too little and readers won’t be able to picture the scene. In this workshop, you’ll discover how to use beats to your advantage and make your scenes come alive for your readers.

BRIAN FRANCIS is the author of two previous novels. His most recent, Natural Order, was selected by the Toronto Star, Kobo, and Georgia Straight as a Best Book of the Year. His first novel, Fruit, was a Canada Reads finalist and was selected as a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers title. He lives in Toronto.

BREAK IN CASE OF EMERGENCY: Life has been a struggle for Toby Goodman. Her mother died by suicide five years ago, and her father left their small town before Toby was born. Now a teenager living on her grandparents’ dairy farm, Toby has trouble letting people in. She keeps even her closest friend, the brash but endearing Trisha, at arms’ length, and recently ended her first relationship, with Trisha’s burnout brother, Mike. Convinced that she is destined to follow her mother’s path, Toby creates a plan to escape her pain.

But with the news that her father is coming home and finally wants to meet her, Toby must face the truth of her family’s story. Not only is her father gay, but he’s also a world-famous female impersonator—and a self-absorbed, temperamental man-child who is ill-prepared to be a real parent.

When Toby’s careful plans go awry, she is forced to rebuild the life she thought she knew from the ground up. While she may not follow an expected path, through the support of a quirky but lovable circle of friends and family, Toby may finally put together the many different pieces that make up her past, her present, and her future.

Photo by Samuel Engelking

WORKSHOP: Great Beginnings: How to Hook a Reader
Join Heather as she shares her journey as a reluctant reader turned author and talks about beginnings, both in literature and in life. In this workshop, Heather will explore great opening lines in literature and shares tips on how to start a story with a bang! Participants are encouraged to put pen to paper and create their own great beginnings.  With sparks of inspiration flying, Heather will share tips on how to develop the storyline, create unforgettable characters, and most of all, have fun along the way.

HEATHER SMITH is originally from Newfoundland, and now lives in Waterloo, Ontario, with her husband and three children. Her east coast roots inspire much of her writing. Her previous novel, The Agony of Bun O’Keefe, received a starred review from Kirkus and Quill & Quire and was named a best book of 2017 by Kirkus, Bank Street College of Education, The Globe & Mail, and Quill & Quire (honorable mention), as well as selected as an Outstanding International Book by USBBY (United States Board on Books for Young People).

CHICKEN GIRL: Poppy used to be an optimist. But after a photo of her dressed as Rosie the Riveter is mocked online, she’s having trouble seeing the good in the world. As a result, Poppy trades her beloved vintage clothes for a feathered chicken costume and accepts a job as an anonymous sign waver outside a restaurant.

There, Poppy meets six-year-old girl Miracle, who helps Poppy see beyond her own pain, opening her eyes to the people around her: Cam, her twin brother, who is adjusting to life as an openly gay teen; Buck, a charming photographer with a cute British accent and a not-so-cute mean-streak; and Lewis a teen caring for an ailing parent, while struggling to reach the final stages of his gender transition.

As the summer unfolds, Poppy stops glorifying the past and starts focusing on the present. But just as she comes to terms with the fact that there is good and bad in everyone, she is tested by a deep betrayal.

WORKSHOP: What Happens Next?
Kevin will lead a workshop about writing prompts, filling in details and working out plots. All the students will start from the same place, but where they end up depends entirely on them. Kevin will discuss how you build a world that makes sense, even if it isn’t “real”: and how to build characters, figure out problems and dig out of “writer’s block”. All that in an hour? Hell yes.

KEVIN SYLVESTER is an award-winning writer, illustrator, reporter, radio sports host, producer and documentary maker. His books include the MiNRS and Neil Flambé series. Kevin’s claims his superpower is that he can take a puck off the head and STILL finish a hockey game. He’s also known for his ability to be able to make a last-second dinner from whatever smells reasonably edible in the fridge. And he can instantly turn circles into cats and ice cream cones into dragons. Well, cat and dragon cartoons anyway. He lives in Toronto, Ontario. Visit him online at

ALMOST EPIC SQUAD: Jessica Flem has spent the better part of her life so far reacting allergically to everything – and much of it in her basement where she rules the online game Gang of Greats. She’s used to a nose that never stops running, but is not prepared for the mysterious power that shows up around her thirteenth birthday – the ability to transform her mucus-filled tissues into slimy magical helpers. And just in time, too. It turns out there are forces both good and evil who have had their eyes on her and three other “special” kids since their exposure at birth to a mysterious element called reidium. Jess must draw on her full video game knowledge to face the evil Boss and her equally evil henchwoman in their quest for world domination. With her best friend Cliff at her side, and with the stakes ratcheting higher and higher, Jess and her arsenal of mighty. . . well, tissues, must make the world of Dimly, Manitoba, a safe place once again.

WORKSHOP: Tell the Story of You
Students will be guided to write a poem that expresses who they really are on the inside, the person who they want the world to see. Students are bombarded daily with messages that tell them in different ways that they are not good enough, to define themselves in ways that are not authentic to them. The struggle to fit in is real. This workshop is intended to allow students to shine and stand out by embracing the truth of who they are.

NAJWA ZEBIAN is a Lebanese-Canadian author, speaker, and educator. Her passion for language was evident from a young age, as she delved into Arabic poetry and novels. The search for a home—what Najwa describes as a place where the soul and heart feel at peace—was central to her early years. When she arrived in Canada at the age of sixteen, she felt unstable and adrift in an unfamiliar place. Nevertheless, she completed her education, and went on to become a teacher as well as a doctoral candidate in educational leadership. Her first students, a group of young refugees, led her back to her original passion: writing. She began to heal her sixteen-year-old self by writing to heal her students. Since self-publishing her first collection of poetry and prose in 2016, Najwa has become an inspiration to millions of people worldwide. Drawing on her own experiences of displacement, discrimination, and abuse, Najwa uses her words to encourage others to build a home within themselves; to live, love, and create fearlessly.

SPARKS OF PHOENIX: In Sparks of Phoenix—Najwa Zebian’s third book of poetry—she takes her readers on a powerful journey of healing.

As the phoenix emerges from its ashes, Zebian emerges ablaze in these pages, not only as a survivor of abuse, but as a teacher and healer for all those who have struggled to understand, reclaim, and rise above a history of pain. The book is divided into six chapters, and six stages of healing: Falling, Burning to Ashes, Sparks of Phoenix, Rising, Soaring, and finally, A New Chapter, which demonstrates a healthy response to new love as the result of authentic healing. With her characteristic vulnerability, courage, and softness, Zebian seeks to empower those who have been made to feel ashamed, silenced, or afraid; she urges them, through gentle advice and personal revelation, to raise their voices, rise up, and soar.

Photo by Farrah Benni