The Fur-Bearing Trout, and the power of patience

This summer, I got to add the words ‘contributing author’ to my resume.

My story, The Secret That Won The War, was selected for inclusion in The Fur-Bearing Trout…and Other True Tales of Canadian Life.

The book is a collection of non-fiction pieces by 16 local writers, and was published by the London & Southwestern Ontario chapter of the Professional Writers Association of Canada to mark the Canada 150 celebrations.

TFBT Cover

I am grateful to be a contributing author….

This was a thrill for me for two reasons: I can now say that I’ve been published in a book, and more importantly – I had been sitting on this story for 13 years.

The Secret That Won The War was written in 2004 when I was still in journalism school at The University of Western Ontario.

As a student, my goal was to publish every assignment I wrote for J-school.  I did – with the exception of this one.

Perhaps it was the subject matter, telling the story of Canada’s top-secret radar program through the eyes of Word War II radar veteran Fred Bates. A storekeeper from Wingham, Ontario, Bates had been trained at RAF Station Clinton – located 85 km north of London – before serving on Canada’s West Coast and in Europe.

Perhaps it was the length.  Bates’ personal recollection was interspersed with plenty of historical and technical information – necessary, I felt – to properly tell the tale. But at more than 4,000 words, the draft I handed in was certainly far too long for most traditional publications.

Perhaps my student writing skills just weren’t strong enough to pull off such an ambitious project. I received a mediocre grade and some unenthusiastic feedback.

But Fred Bates had passed away less than two weeks after our interview, and I felt that I couldn’t simply throw away his words.

The story was filed away on my computer. And then on another computer. And another.

Filed away, but not quite forgotten.

When the call for submissions for non-fiction stories about any facet of Canadian life dropped into my in-box last November, I knew that The Secret That Won The War had finally found a home.

It’s now 2,500 words shorter than the original, with a new beginning and ending, but each one of Bates’ words remain.

As for the fur-bearing trout, that’s another slice of Canadian history worth reading about.

The Fur-Bearing Trout…and Other True Tales of Canadian Life was launched at Anderson Craft Ales on June 25. Copies are available at Attic Books and Chapters / Indigo in London, Ontario and it will soon be available on Amazon.

Learn more about Canada’s secret WWII radar program. 

As a story-based copywriter, marketing & website copywriter, content consultant, and blogger, I am passionate about helping people grow their success by sharing their stories with the world. Read what I’ve been up to at Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing.

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Shine the Light – A Sister’s Story

November is Shine the Light on Woman Abuse month in my home town of London, Ontario. I was recently asked to write a story about this year’s campaign – which put me in touch with Lynn Blackburn.

Lynn’s sister, Paula Gallant, was murdered by her husband in 2005, shortly before their daughter’s first birthday.

paula-gallant-small

Paula Gallant is being honoured as part of this month’s Shine the Light on Woman Abuse Campaign.

Many people think it must be difficult to interview people who have lost a family member or friend. But I have found the opposite is usually true. Most people are eager to speak about a loved one – to share stories and let others know how that person made a lasting impact on the world they left behind.

Lynn was no different. Unfortunately, I couldn’t include most of what she told me in my newspaper article. So she gave me permission to share our interview through my blog – in honour of her sister, Paula – and all women who experience women abuse.

What would you like Londoners to know about your sister, Paula Gallant?

Paula was a woman who loved every aspect of her life and lived each and every day to the fullest. She had an incredible smile, kind heart, generous spirit and a wonderful sense of humor.  She had a presence when she walked into a room and people just naturally gravitated towards her positive and energized personality.

Her sweet baby was the brightest joy in her life and her love and commitment to her family and friends was evident in all she did.

Paula was a born educator and her passion for culture and adventure was always incorporated in her daily teachings, both in and out of the classroom. In life she touched the hearts of many and in death, her legacy has left meaning and purpose.

Why did your family decide to honour her memory by taking part in this year’s Shine the Light campaign?

It is so important for people to realize Paula could have been their daughter, sister, friend, their children’s soccer coach or the lady at the grocery store. Men’s violence against women does not discriminate and no one is immune.

We need to help people understand this is a real issue in our communities and our family could never have imagined it happening to us, to our sister, but it can and it did.

It is also important to understand there are cases where physical abuse does not exist, such as Paula’s case.  They were no warning signs, no known triggers, no ability for her to understand or predict the risks.

Although Paula’s voice was physically silenced through murder, our participation in events like this give Paula a voice, in the hopes that we can help drive change and perhaps save a woman’s life.

What would you like Canadians, both women and men, to know about women abuse?

The statics pertaining to intimate partner violence and physical and sexual abuse in Canada are staggering.

Prior to Paula’s murder, we had no understanding of how prevalent men’s violence against women was nor would we have known there were so many agencies, organization, professional and volunteers working tirelessly to try and end violence.

Unfortunately, it took a personal experience for me to fully understand the scope of this issue and that we all have a role to play in working as a society to end this.

All women deserve to live freely and peacefully without abuse. I would challenge both men and women to ask themselves, if this was their daughter, their sister, what would they do different than they are today? My hope is that if we can create a zero-tolerant society against drinking and driving, then I have to believe that one day women will live peacefully and freely without men’s violence and abuse.

You can read my story on the London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC) 2016 Shine the Light on Woman Abuse Campaign here.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit the LAWC website.

 

Following their passion….while paying the bills

You’ve probably heard it a thousand times: Do what you love and the money will follow.

If it were only so simple, we’d all be millionaires!

Unfortunately, real life isn’t so straight forward. You can’t pay your bills with enthusiasm, or fill your plate with passion. But recently, I met two individuals who are pursuing their business dreams without giving up their day jobs.

As the owners of Harris Flower Farm & Pastured Pork, Janis and Mark Harris are literally watching their business grow one flower and heritage piglet at a time.

Janis with the first bunch of tulips

Janis with the first tulips of 2016.

I drove out to meet Janis on a miserable snowy morning in April. Janis greeted me with a warm smile. She had recently picked her first spring tulips, grown in a hoop-house greenhouse on her family farm.

Janis explained that her parents still run one of the first organic farms in our area and that she inherited her love of flowers from her grandmother.

But instead of following her parents into farming full-time, Janis trained as an optometrist. She still works in the profession – when she isn’t looking after her three small children or tending the thousands of flowers she now sells every season.

Last year Janis hired part-time help to get her through wedding season; this summer her sister is moving back to the area to lend a hand.

Mark also works “off the farm” but finds time to help out with the flower crop and to look after a small group of pigs who feast on organic leftovers before being turned into tasty sausages and bacon available at local markets and directly from the farm.

You can read my story about Janis and Mark here.

Emilio Barbero is another entrepreneur who is dreaming big in his spare time.

Emilio

Emilio has a passion for geometric design.

By day, Barbero works as the creative director at a London interior design firm. In his off hours, he is the founder of Marbleknot Design Studio, where he lets his imagination run wild as a surface pattern designer.

Despite being a relative newcomer to the field, Barbero recently made his second trip to Surtex – North America’s largest art licensing show. If Barbero’s dreams come true, you’ll soon see his bold, geometric patterns on everything from gift wrap to coffee mugs. In the meantime, he’s producing a small range of consumer goods – including colourful hand made bow ties – all available from his online store.

You can read my story about Emilio here.

So what’s the moral of this blog?

You don’t have to give up your dreams when adult responsibilities hit. You just have to have enough drive to pursue them in your off-hours. And maybe one day you’ll be able to turn your passion into your full-time career.

What passions are you pursuing? 

 

On board with MainStreet London

I’ve been writing about downtown London for more than a decade. In fact, my very first cover story was about Kingsmill’s department store. Founded in 1865, this retail icon predated Confederation.

Store Exterior 001.JPG

    Kingsmill’s was founded in the heart of  London in 1865. (Kingsmill’s store for Francine Kopun.)

In 2004, when my story was published in Business London magazine, the family-owned retailer was an early adapter of online sales. In 2014, Kingsmill’s closed, marking the end of an era for anyone who grew up in London.

(Although I can’t seem to find a copy of my 2004 story, you can read more about the history of Kingsmill’s and its closing here and here.)

That cover story – penned as a J-school assignment – was the first of hundreds I have written that are in some way connected to the core of my home town.  So when some Londoners claimed that the closure of Kingsmill’s signaled the death of downtown retail, it got my blood boiling.

Luckily, I have a pen (or keyboard).  I pitched, and wrote, a second cover story on the new wave of independent retailers setting up shop in downtown London.

Declaration of Independance

I turned my anger into another cover story….

You can read the full story here.

Around the same time, I saw a Facebook posting about a board opening at MainStreet London – an organization tasked with supporting and strengthening all aspects of downtown.

I know that I am not the only Londoner frustrated by the snail’s pace of progress in the core. But being an optimist at heart I decided the time was right to join the fight for downtown at a more formal level. So I sent in my application – and was accepted to the board in January.

I am looking forward to seeing the revitalization process from another angle, and am hoping to learn more about the challenges of bringing meaningful – let alone transformational – change to the heart of my hometown.

Musing on millenials and Eiskaffee

Having the opportunity to meet young people who are trying to change the world is one of the best things about being a freelance writer.

I recently had that chance when I interviewed the founders of Ezzy Lynn – a group of women who are using fashion for social and environmental good. Their weapon of choice? The scrunchie.

[For those who aren’t in the know, Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines a scrunchie as   “a piece of elastic covered in often brightly-coloured cloth that is used to hold long hair at the back of the head.”]

Sound crazy? That’s what I thought when the assignment dropped into my inbox.  Then I met Western University grads and Ezzy Lynn co-founders Samantha Laliberte, Sonja Fernandes and Bianca Lopes.

The ladies of Ezzy Lynn.

The ladies of Ezzy Lynn.

This trio of 25-year-olds have their act together, and I wouldn’t bet against them. Intrigued? You can read my cover story here.

It made me think about what I was doing when I was 25…living in Geneva Switzerland, working as a freelance musician with no plans to change the world.  Without many plans beyond next week, actually.

Worrying about the bottom line and trying to build a business in a socially and environmentally responsible way was definitely not on my radar screen.  But eventually I gave up my bohemian ways, returned to Canada, and went back to school…

Fast forward 15 years and I have a new career and a family that includes a 9-year-old and two Newfoundland dogs.

The geriatric and the young b**ch enjoying a swim.

The geriatric and the young b**ch enjoying a swim.

Last week, we made a quick trip to Geneva (minus the dogs)…

We visited some of my old haunts…

We took a boat ride to the medieval village of Yvoire, France.

We took a boat ride to the medieval village of Yvoire, France.

… drank real Eiskaffee…

Why can't I find this in London, Ontario?

Why can’t I find this in London, Ontario?

…and escaped the heat wave by jumping in the lake.

Yes, you can swim in Lake Geneva!

Yes, you can swim right downtown in Lake Geneva!

We also went on a day trip to Chamonix and took the gondolas up Mont Blanc – something I couldn’t afford to do as a twenty-something musician.

On top of the world....

On top of the world….a pricey day trip, but worth it!

It was wonderful to revisit a city that was once my home and that holds so many great memories. And so, while I am in awe of this generation of  driven, entrepreneurial millenials who are working so hard to change the world, I hope that they’ll also take some time to explore it. Responsibilities will wait.

Speaking as a writer….

Whether I’m writing freelance articles or crafting copy for a website, I essentially spend my professional life telling other people’s story.  Never my own. And that suits me just fine.

So you’d be forgiven for wondering why I spent one Friday this February at the moSpeaker Academy BIG Day – which promises participants that they’ll “come away with a more powerful story and new tools to help you accelerate your success and performance in a multitude of ways…whether your focus is motivational speaking, keynoting, speak-to-sell, informational speaking and training – or changing the world.”

That's the back of my head at the moSpeaker Academy BIG Day, listening to presenter Paula Morand,

That’s the back of my head at the moSpeaker Academy BIG Day, listening to presenter Paula Morand.

While the event may not seem like an obvious fit for a non-fiction writer, I promised myself to make more time for professional development this year. I also recognize that as a solopreneur I am required to ‘tell and sell’ my own story each time I meet a prospective client – and that I sometimes sell myself short.

So off I went, intrigued to learn more about a speakers’ approach to storytelling and hoping to pick up a few new skills in the public speaking department.

Here’s what I learned.

According to momondays founder Michel Neray (who interestingly comes from an advertising copywriting background), any spoken presentation should contain at least one ‘signature story’ – something personal that will stick with your audience.

moMondays founder Michel Neray says every story should have three things.

momondays founder Michel Neray says every story should have three things.

He says an effective signature story must have:

Intention – Why are you telling this particular story? How does it link to your primary topic?
Structure – A cohesive beginning, middle and end that will take your audience on a journey and drive home your message.
Authentic Delivery – Do you have stage presence? Are your voice and movements natural and aligned with what you are saying? Can you ‘go with the flow’ and respond to audience reactions?

Intention. Structure. Delivery. Sounds like the ingredients to any well-written copy!

Then Neray asked everyone to complete a ‘Truth Map’ to identify the challenges we help clients solve.

My 'Truth Map' - a work in progress.

My ‘Truth Map’ – a work in progress.

We brainstormed outward – taking problems like “losing clients due to unprofessional or non-existent web presence” to their most far-reaching conclusion (possible bankruptcy, family upheaval, depression)…..wow…I never realised my words could make such a difference!

This was followed by Paula Morand’s presentation on story structure and timeless plots. You can read more about the seven basic plots here.

Regardless of the underlying structure, Morand said storytellers should ask themselves: What is the moral of this story? What issue is being solved? What is in it for my listener – and how can I make my story engaging?

All good points to keep in mind for a writer.

The day ended with a session on Stage Presence – and this is where I squirmed in my seat.

As an interviewer, I’m used to being (more or less) in control of the conversation, asking the questions, and doing the observing.

I’m not used to having other people scrutinize my body language, facial expressions, and verbal cues.  But I took a deep breath, participated in the group exercises, and came away with a new appreciation of how how I say what I say can affect how my message is received.

Something to keep in mind for my next client meeting!

So what’s the moral of this story?

Acknowledge your weaknesses and look for opportunities to improve.  Don’t be afraid to try something different. Change is uncomfortable, but it’s the only way to move forward.

stock-footage-closing-red-curtain-with-title-the-endWhat have you learned so far this year?

The Musicians of Orchestra London and the sound of victory

One of the final articles I worked on in 2014 was a story about the imminent demise of Orchestra London Canada.  Published in The London Yodeller in mid-December, thanks to the miracles of modern technology, you can still read it here.

I capped off 2014 co-writing a story about Orchestra London Canada.

I capped off 2014 co-writing a story about Orchestra London Canada.

This was a unique assignment in many ways.

If you are one of the few people who pays attention to by-lines, you’ll notice that the story was co-authored by myself and friend and colleague Richard Young. In a decade of writing, this was my first collaboration. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, involving animated conversation, plenty of background research, and many interviews. In the end, we had too much material for our word-count, so Richard did the writing and I got out my ‘red pencil’ to cut things down to size.

(Writing Tip: Always stick to your assigned word-count. It’s better to do your own word cull than rely on an editor who may leave your beautifully-crafted copy in shreds.)

This story was also close to my heart. As a former oboist, I completed my journalism internship with Orchestra London’s marketing department, and was hired by the organization upon graduation from J-school in 2004.

I worked as part of the Orchestra London marketing team for several years.

I worked as part of the Orchestra London marketing team for several years.

I continued to write press releases and other marketing and development copy for the orchestra on a freelance basis until August 2009, when I decided it was time to move on from what had become a toxic work environment.

(Work/Life Tip: When a client causes sleepless nights on a regular basis, it’s time to fire them.)

But I’ve kept in touch with several former colleagues, including many of the musicians.

So I’m sad to see this orchestra on the verge of bankruptcy, and angry at the board for allowing the financial situation to get so out of hand. You can read more about the mess here and here.

That brings us to last night, and a concert given by the Musicians of Orchestra London as a thank-you to their audience and as a plea to the community to help them find a way to keep the music alive.

You can read a review by Brian Hay here.

The evening was a sell-out, and a veritable love-in for classical music in London.

It was a sold-out event. Photo credit: Bryan Nelson.

It was a sold-out event. Photo credit: Bryan Nelson.

Luckily our newly-elected Mayor and a few City Councillors were there to see and hear it. (Hopefully they also heard the clanking church pipes and realized that at some point London does need a purpose-built performance venue if it wants to be taken seriously as a ‘world class’ city.)

But after last night’s good vibes dissipate, the orchestra’s musicians are still left wondering: How am I going to pay my bills? Some have already moved on to new ventures, and many others must seriously be considering their future options.

The board has gone silent, and seems to be hoping that someone will magically appear to pay their debts – the most pressing ones owed to Revenue Canada.

Bankruptcy seems inevitable, and many are calling for a financial audit.

Going broke would allow the orchestra to walk away from almost $1 million in accumulated debt, and an untenable union contract with IATSE.

It would also disqualify the orchestra from receiving Federal or Provincial arts funding for up to seven years.

The City of London has already said it won’t step in with emergency funding – probably the right decision given the murky circumstances surrounding this financial crisis.

But it could continue to provide a new ensemble with the annual $500,000 grant previously given to Orchestra London Canada. Then, perhaps other community agencies like the London Community Foundation could kick in some financial support, along with local businesses who understand that culture is an important piece of London’s economic puzzle.

Culture is an important part of the economic puzzle.

Culture is an important part of the economic puzzle.

A true partnership could be built between a future orchestra and Western University’s Faculty of Music, ensuring that players are also employed to teach the next generation. (Orchestra London’s top salary was about $26,000 – so members have always had to find additional revenue sources)

A new orchestra would have to be lean and mean. It would need the flexibility to create concerts that make the orchestra an integral part of the community, and that make financial sense.

But as last night’s concert proved, the Musicians of Orchestra London can do a lot more than play. They organized a sold-out event on a shoestring budget. They understand their craft, and they know how to reach their audience.

Conductor Uri Mayer said he chose to close the evening with Beethoven’s 5th because the Roman numeral V was a ‘v’ for victory – the victory of music.

Conductor Uri Mayer said Beethoven's 5th Symphony represented the 'victory of music.'

Conductor Uri Mayer said Beethoven’s 5th Symphony represented the ‘victory of music.’

Last night, the Musicians of Orchestra London won the battle for the hearts of their core audience. Let’s hope London has the imagination to give them the financial and moral support needed to win the war.