I didn’t know what to expect of the first annual Penticton and District Arts Awards. We certainly have lots of talent in the valley, but would there be enough interest for people to nominate a variety of artists in its inaugural year?
Having been asked to judge the literary arts category, I was pleasantly surprised when presented with several talented nominees to consider — ranging from spoken artist Shane Koyczan to well-known ecologist and writer Dick Cannings.
Anne Barton was the only nominee unfamiliar to me, but after reading her work, she also ended up being a strong contender.
To prepare, I picked up Barton’s murder mystery, The Evil That We Do. This is the first book in a series that features Robin Carruthers, an inquisitive flight instructor and member of the Anglican congregation in the fictional town of Exeter. In this book, Carruthers quickly gets mixed up in the murder investigation of a church manager.
Exeter, although fictional, is recognizably Penticton, and includes descriptions of local fixtures such as St. Saviour’s Church and the flight school at Penticton Airport. Carruthers’ character is somewhat like Barton, whose real name is Florence Barton, retired local veterinarian and flight instructor.
Many of the characters reminded me of people I know, including my influential and dynamic high school English literature teacher. Although I correctly guessed the ending, telling details and good dialogue still made The Evil That We Do a charming page-turner.
I was glad I wasn’t alone when having to pick the winner of the literary arts award. It wasn’t easy for our panel to compare non-fiction, fiction and poetry. Some nominees had a great quantity of published work while another had just one very well-written novel. In the end, our decision came down to number crunching, and saw Shane Koyczan take home the prize.
I could list many more Penticton writers who deserved to be nominated, but there will be time to catch up on this backlog of talent. As it was, hundreds of people showed up to the awards night on a cold February weeknight, packing the Shatford Centre.
The show, complete with live performances, Oscar-esque screen presentations, and a witty emcee, made many of us in the arts community feel reinvigorated — to go out and volunteer more hours, attend more live performances, and work on perfecting our individual crafts.
Of course, I also hope there was a writer in the audience who went home that night freshly inspired to create.
Heather Allen is an avid reader and contributor to the Western News.