Our Jack

Jack Whyte, champion of this conference from the very beginning, and friend to all who took part, died last night, in his adopted hometown of Kelowna, BC. There is a brief, lovely piece marking his passing here in The Daily Courier, his local newspaper.

I have been awash in sadness, and memories, since I heard the news this afternoon. He’s been ill for some time, and this shouldn’t be a shock, but somehow, it still is. I can hear his voice right now. “Christ, darlin’. I’m eighty — what did’ye expect?”

I expected you to last forever, Jack.


In order to cope, I have been, of course, writing everything down. How we first met, his unerring kindness, all our shared adventures — and mis-adventures! — over the years. His willingness to lift other writers up. How both he and Diana dropped everything — every single year — to judge the contest. The first time I heard him tell the story of Excalibur… Goosebumps!

These memories will stay with me forever — but what about you? Did Jack sit with you in a Blue Pencil session, and offer a word of advice? Did he read your story aloud in Idol? Did you share a laugh in the hotel bar? Did you find yourself singing along with him, at the top of your lungs, about young hippopotimi love?

In the more than twenty years of our friendship, I cannot count the number of acts of kindness I watched Jack offer to other writers. If you have a memory you’d like to share, please feel free to add your thoughts down below.

I miss him so much already. We all will miss him. But Jack’s kindness and generosity helped shape SiWC into what it is today. He was Our Jack, and so much of who he was lives on in the spirit of this wonderful group of people. A legacy we can hold close to our hearts.



March 16th. Editing to add:

Canada’s Globe and Mail has run a lovely obituary for Jack in the Arts section that you might enjoy.

A goodbye to author Jack Whyte.


kc dyer

Contest Coordinator




  1. A few years ago, Jack sat beside me at dinner at SiWC, entertaining the table as usual. At some point, the Storyteller contest came up, and I said something about being ‘always the bridesmaid, never the bride’ as I’ve been frequently short-listed, but never won. He said, “If you’re being short-listed regularly, you’re there. The winner of these things is ultimately the whim of the moment, because the entries are all strong. Don’t worry. You’re at the level you need to be at.” Then he asked which story that year had been mine, offered some specific feedback , and told me to watch for the winner of that year’s prize, because we’d had similar themes, and I’d be able to see precisely what they’d loved about it. When I stumbled on it a couple of years later in a back issue of Pulp Literature I said, “THAT’s what you mean, Jack!” He was right, it was a perfect gem of story. I have held his words close to my heart, thankful to be encouraged for what I’ve achieved, AND nudged gently to be better, as well.

    I will miss belting out Hippopotamus Love in my best musical theatre voice at the end of future SiWCs.

    Thank you for your time and encouragement, Jack, you delightful curmudgeon. How we will miss you!

  2. Angela Post

    I had the honour and privilege to be a part of Jack’s manuscript review masterclass. These always sold out early because we all wanted to have Jack’s wise feedback. He was an excellent story teller and an encourager. I still have his voice in my ear telling me that I will get published after sitting with him in a blue pencil session. It was a thrill to stand with him and Diana on stage holding a prize for the SIWC contest. Who else could bring such life and fun to a silly song about hippopotami? He was truly a character and the spirit of Jack will continue to be with us in SIWC conferences to come.

  3. Carol J, Garvin

    Jack was a huge part of every SiWC I’ve attended — encouraging writers at every level, sharing his writing expertise in workshops, presenting contest awards, reading manuscript first pages at ‘Idol’ sessions in his remarkable, sonorous voice, and singing about hippopotami and mud every Saturday night (after raising a glass or two). I remember how wan he looked in October 2012, only to learn later of his November lung cancer surgery and post-operative pneumonia and impaired immunity responses during recovery. It was a ‘big deal’, but he fought his way back and was present again at more conferences. I doubt I’m alone in assuming he would always be there, and I’m sad to know now that he won’t be. Rest in peace, Jack.

  4. Taylor MacDowell

    I had never been to a writers’ conference before, so I was nervous letting a total stranger read my writing. Jack must have noticed that because he waited a little bit, asked me some disarming questions, before asking to see the scene I’d prepared for the blue pencil. Of course, the phone book would sound amazing read aloud in Jack’s glorious Scottish burr. But I will never forget how accomplished I felt, hearing my words spoken by such a voice.

    I left the blue pencil that day Encouraged by Jack’s kindness and feeling, for the first time, like a Real Writer.

  5. Carrie Douglas

    I loved Jack’s books!
    We briefly corresponded last year. So sad to hear of his passing.

  6. Alexandra Crosbie

    What sad news. While it has been many, too many years since I attended the conference, I feel the loss. Jack was always such an entertaining storyteller and happy to share his wisdom. He will be missed.

  7. Rhonddalyn

    Awww…I was recently thinking about Jack Whyte. It’s been several years since I’ve attended Surrey Writers Conference but I had a Blue Pencil crit with him at my very first time attending. I was beyond nervous. He was great and I can still hear his voice as he read my snippet. Oddly enough the contents of that snippet reminded him of a very personal experience he had as a young boy and shared it with me. I will treasure that always. He was just a lovely kind man.

    I read lots of stories about King Arthur and I have to say Jack Whyte’s brilliant reasoning of ‘the sword in the stone’ in his Arthur series is the best and most realistic of any Arthur book I’ve ever read.

    Singing The Hippopotamus song was always a highlight and a most heartfelt way to end the conference.

    I’m very saddened to learn of his passing.

  8. Diane Overcash

    I am sorry to say, I have never been in Jack’s presence. I have missed something I am sure. I am, however, now compelled to go read some of his books. I think he would like that.

  9. Kelly Chappelle

    I am not a writer, I am a reader. Jack Whyte is one of my very favorite authors. I will miss him.

  10. For most of the fifteen years I attended SIWC, Jack Whyte was such a large part of the wonderful, inspiring experience. His songs, his voice reading for SIWC idol, his workshops, the skits, and so much more. He was always friendly and approachable.
    His passing is a great loss. My condolences to his friends and family. Rest in peace.

  11. Patricia Donahue

    Jack was an outstanding individual as well as a terrific story teller. It was a delight to meet him at the SIWC and although I lost out on having his Blue Pencil, I had two inspiring conversations with him. The second was when I relocated to the Okanagan Valley. He was gracious in offering me assistance in ‘saga writing’, which I was working on. He gave his wife the credit of being his essential assistant. I remember that last comment. Jack gave from the heart, and countless writers and readers benefitted. May he rest in peace amongst the highlands’ heather.

  12. Wendy Waddell

    I am not a writer but am an avid reader and Jack’s books were some of my favourites. I am sorry to hear that he has passed, he will be missed.

  13. Nancy Bell

    Years ago Jack did a blue pencil with me and gave me the perfect word to make my fight/death scene better. Disarticulated. We became friends over the years, and he was always there with words of advice. I loved his master classes even if there was ‘blood on the floor’ after some of the manuscripts were gone over. One of my best memories was giving him a brass rubbing of Robert the Bruce and seeing the joy and amazement on his face. kc mentioned the Excaliber story- total goosebumps and he told a story at When Words Collide in Calgary in 2011 (I think) about a school trip when he was a lad in Scotland and his teacher ripping a bunch of moss off a stone wall and smacking it. It was Hadrian’s Wall- total goosebump story. Above all else Jack was a Story Teller. Love you Jack and miss you.

  14. Tara Parker

    I met Jack at my first conference years ago out in front of the hotel. He and I struck up a conversation about me being nervous to have met Diana for the first time. We talked several times throughout the day before I ever knew _who_ he was. I had mentioned meeting a nice, funny man outside named Jack to a friend and was then informed he was THAT Jack. Lol
    He got a big kick out of that. We had many more short conversations when we would see each other and I had the best time with him at the Forum parties. I will forever regret not seeing him again. He was truly one of a kind and someone I truly admired.

  15. Denise Jaden

    Oh! My heart hurts! I’m so very sad to hear this. I can still hear beautiful humor filled voice singing the hippopotamus song.

  16. Such an ache hangs there in my chest at the news. But then, ’tis replaced by a warmth – Jack’s warmth – spreading, spreading, spreading. That was what Jack always did, for everyone: spread warmth and love everywhere he went, like a tropical sun. I witnessed it in the workshops, ballroom, blue pencil, hallways, hospitality suite, and outside on the steps of the hotel for 13 years I was a speaker and agent at SIWC. One memorable year presidents and prime ministers held a summit at the hotel just before the conference. Naturally, once discovered, protesters surrounded the hotel by the thousands, followed by police and international camera crews and their satellite trucks ringing the block. When Elizabeth George, Samuel Sykes, and myself arrived from the airport, there was nothing to do but hike in for several blocks through the crowds, dragging our luggage. At the police line we were halted, made to wait, followed by interrogations. But then, like a knight on a white horse from one of his books, Jack called out from the front steps, swooping down to us, arms raised, a giant grin exuding his warmth, “Cricket! I’m so glad you’re here!” And just like that, the police line parted and they waved us in. The power of Jack.
    * If you’d like to see video of Jack at work at the conference, check out the writing documentary, “Scribes,” shot at SIWC by dear Rusty Nixon, who made it available many years ago for me to post here: https://www.augustagency.com/WritersConferences.html