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.

 

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.

Three that made a splash in 2014

I’m the first to admit that my 2014 freelance portfolio is thin compared to previous years. That’s because I was busy with corporate work – in particular a lengthy freelance contract with London Life, one of Canada’s largest financial institutions.

This year, I spent three days each week in the cubicle jungle.

This year, I spent three days each week in the cubicle jungle.

Spending three days each week in a cubicle was a bit of a culture shock, but I appreciated the regular pay check, dressing up to go to work, and the daily chit-chat with colleagues.

I learned that I can happily work in a corporate environment, and that I enjoy the challenge of writing engaging copy on complicated subjects for a mass audience with a short attention span.

I also learned that I love the variety of the freelance life!

So without further ado, here are my three most-memorable projects of 2014:

Idlewyld Inn & Spa 
This venerable old Inn underwent a major renovation and relaunch last year, and needed a new website to match.

London's Idlewyld Inn & Spa deserved a great new website!

London’s Idlewyld Inn & Spa deserved a great new website!

This project gave me a chance to put everything I’ve learned about SEO copywriting into practice – keep it short, sweet, and choose the right words. Think about how the content connects. Use great photos and keep the layout clean.

With the help of graphic designer Johnny Delguercio of Degee, and programmer Jack Ivansevic of Think Forward Technologies, I think the Inn now has an online presence it can be proud of.

Build Strong Cities
I can’t remember the first time I met Kadie Ward, but she is one lady who makes a lasting impression!

Kadie Ward makes a lasting impression.

Kadie Ward makes a lasting impression.

Ward truly loves the challenge of building a better city, so when I learned that the London Economic Development Corporation marketing wiz had struck out on her own and was now sharing her passion internationally, I decided it was time to pitch a story to her Alma Mater. You can read the story here.

Ward’s first major contract was with Ukraine’s Municipal Local Economic Development agency, and she put me in touch with MLED’s project director, Alexander Kucherenko, in Kiev. We spoke over Skype as history was unfolding in the streets outside his office.

While my story wasn’t about the ongoing political developments in Eastern Europe, I still think about Kucherenko when I hear news from Ukraine, and hope his optimism about his country’s future will come to pass.

Oxford County Cheese Trail
I have rarely met a piece of cheese I didn’t like, so when Oxford County developed a self-guided Cheese Trail to promote the local artisan cheese industry I knew this was a story I needed to write.

Oxford County is home to lots of artisan cheese makers.

Oxford County is home to lots of artisan cheese makers.

Luckily, London is home to a fantastic publication for foodies, EatDrink magazine.

That’s how I found myself hitting the back roads in pursuit of a slice of some of Oxford County’s best cheese. You can read the story here.

It’s always fun to interview people who love what they do, and Shep Ysselstein of Gunn’s Hill Artisan Cheese and  Adam and Hannie Van Bergeijk of Mountainoak Cheese Ltd. didn’t disappoint.

In addition to learning about traditional cheese-making practices, I got an earful about government regulations and the pros and cons of going organic.

I also got to sample some delicious cheese, and take in some beautiful countryside. This is a day trip I will definitely do again with out-of-town guests.

So, what’s in store for 2015? 

What's in store for 2015?

What’s in store for 2015?

I’ve got a handful of freelance ideas to pitch in early January, and a few copywriting projects in the works.

I’m also helping to organize a southwestern Ontario freelance writer’s conference, scheduled for April 25, 2015. But that’s a topic for another blog….

What were your favourite writing moments of 2014? And what do you hope to accomplish in the coming year? 

Happy Holidays and a prosperous 2015 from spilledink.ca 

Pushing through my annus horribillus

How embarrassing! It’s been almost a year since my last blog. And what a year it’s been.

Without sharing the gory details over the internet, let’s just say that I’ve been to more funerals in the past 11 months than in the previous 44 years.  Cancer, suicide, and plain bad luck have all taken their toll on friends and family members.

Sometimes it's felt like Death has been trying to have the last laugh....

Sometimes it’s felt like Death has been trying to have the last laugh….

I guess it’s all part of growing up and growing old. Or at least middle-aged.

My plan to become a certified SEO Copywriter was (temporarily) shelved as I juggled a large corporate contract with hospital visits and my son’s competitive hockey schedule.

Exploratory coffee meetings were postponed while I managed the rebranding of Idlewyld Inn & Spa, including the launch of their new website.

Freelance ideas remained unpitched as a challenging project become even more of a burden when two partners dropped out leaving me to shoulder most of the grunt work.

But if I’m blogging today, it’s because that is all in the past – and life is starting to return to a (new) normal on both the personal and professional fronts.

I am looking forward to the possibilities of 2015!

I am looking forward to the possibilities of 2015!

I will not be sad to see the end of 2014. To quote Queen Elizabeth II, it was an ‘annus horribillus.’ But I am looking forward to getting back into the groove during 2015.

Top of my ‘to do’ list?

Updating  my website…starting with this blog!

A look back at 2013

As another year draws to an close, the annual deluge of ‘Top 10 Lists’ is upon us.  So in the spirit of the season, I’ve decided to end this year of blogging with a look back at three of my favourite stories of 2013.

As 2013 comes to an end, I look back at some of my favourite stories of the past year.

As 2013 comes to an end, I look back at some of my favourite stories of the past year.

Listed in no particular order, they are simply what spring to mind when I reflect on which stories have stayed with me beyond their short shelf-life:

Partnering Research and Industry Health Sciences Matters, 2013

This story was an assignment for Western University’s Health Sciences Matters alumni magazine.

Writing about a medical device designed to help people swallow may sound like a dull day at the office, but interviewing Professor Ruth Martin quickly made me realize that swallowing is one of those things people don’t appreciate until it’s gone.

Professor Ruth Martin's enthusiasm for her research was infectious.

Professor Ruth Martin’s enthusiasm for her research was infectious.

In fact, a quick chat with my father confirmed that the loss of the ability to swallow was indeed one of the major complications my grandfather suffered after his final – and ultimately fatal – stroke.

Professor Martin’s device works by shooting pulses of air at the back of the mouth, and she is partnering with Trudell Medical International to bring it to market. This brings me to another memorable aspect of preparing this story – interviewing London business icon, Mitch Baran.

It took a quite few attempts to reach the president and CEO of Trudell Medical, but once I had him on the phone he was a dream interview.

After asking my first question Baran proceeded to give me all the information I needed to complete my story – without any further prompting or extraneous information. (Which, as any journalist will tell you, sure beats sifting through 45 minutes of tape to find one decent quote!)

The Joy of Slowing Downeatdrink, September / October 2013

I am a sucker for small town restaurants. So I was excited when I received an assignment to do a write-up on Anna Mae’s Bakery & Restaurant from Flanagan Food Services’ Selections magazine. A quick Google search reveled that the bakery was located in Millbank, Ontario – just outside Stratford – and only about an hour from home.

Since I always prefer to see something with my own eyes, it sounded like the perfect excuse for a summer road trip with my mother!

Anna Mae’s did not disappoint, and Millbank – the commercial heart of the area’s vibrant Mennonite community – was a delight.

Turkey Club

Mom and I enjoyed a delicious lunch at Anna Mae’s!

Our after-lunch stroll through the village brought us to another hidden gem – the Millbank Cheese Factory. As we stocked up on their famous cheddar I thought “This is a story for eatdrink magazine.”

I made the pitch and ended up expanding my initial assignment into two different stories – always a bonus for a freelance writer. The best part – we now have a fun place to visit after morning hockey games against the Stratford Warriors!

Sounds From the Ashes The Beat Magazine, November 2013

I have been writing about Serenata Music and its founder, Renee Silberman, since the chamber music series debuted nine years ago.  But I felt this particular concert deserved some extra attention.

“Banned Composers, Forbidden Music” commemorated the 75th anniversary of Kristal Nacht. What better way to remember the beginning of one of history’s most terrible times than to perform music the Nazis wanted to silence forever?

The concert commemorated the beginning of the end for many of Europe's Jews.

The concert commemorated the beginning of the end for many of Europe’s Jews.

In fact, this concert featured a few works that have only recently been rediscovered, after miraculously surviving the Holocaust even when their composers did not. That fact just reinforces my belief that creativity and culture can overcome even the worst oppression to be a powerful reminder of what is good in the world.

With that said, I wish you all a very happy holiday season, and a wonderfully creative 2014!

And The Beat goes on….online!

As many of you may know, The Beat Magazine ceased publication at the end of the summer. From our first issue in September 2009 to our last in August 2013, being Beat editor was a wonderful professional and personal adventure. But as the saying goes: all good things must come to an end.

The Beat

The Beat ended on a high note with our 2013 Summer issue.

As it turns out, some good things are harder to kill than others, and after an outpouring of support from readers and the local arts community, Beat publisher Richard Young decided to keep our website up and running.

While this means I’m out of a job as a magazine editor, I do get to continue doing one of my favourite things – interviewing and writing stories about the local classical music scene.

Most recently, I chatted with the always charming and very knowledgeable Renee Silberman of Serenata Music, who is presenting an evening of music banned by the Nazis in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Renee Silberman

Serenata Music’s Renee Silberman.

The November 9 concert, co-sponsored by the London Jewish Community Centre, features music by composers who were persecuted and often murdered by the Nazi regime.

Writing the story got me thinking about music as a political force. And while it’s somewhat difficult for us to imagine the arts posing any sort of threat to the government, Renee points out that the Nazis were experts in mass manipulation and that culture can indeed play a large role in defining social norms.

(Just look at the ongoing debate about Miley Cyrus’ onstage antics and whether she is a feminist icon celebrating her sexuality or merely another young women exploited by a money-hungry patriarchy. Whatever your opinion on the matter, the fact remains that we’ve come a long way since Elvis’ hip action was considered too risque for television.)

Another ongoing local debate is London’s need for a performing arts venue. To make a long story short, our city is the only one of its size in Canada without a proper venue – but we still can’t seem to convince enough people that this matters.

So when I had the opportunity to interview Orchestra London conductor Alain Trudel about this season’s Opening Night, I couldn’t resist asking him what he thought Londoners were missing out on.

Alain Trudel

Alain Trudel had an unexpected answer for my question about a Performing Arts Centre.

His answer was not about the orchestra’s need for a hall with decent acoustics or site-lines. It was about the need for a place for the community to come together to make music.

I’m looking forward to continuing to share those community stories with Beat readers, both in regular feature stories and in my monthly Classical Q&A columns.  And if you’ve got an arts story that needs to be heard, please drop us a line! You can still reach me at thebeateditor[at]gmail[dot]com.