Saturday, May 29, 2010

7 Things

Just as I was wondering about what to blog about next, Eileen Shuh tagged me in "7 Things..."

The first thing I did was go to her blog to find out what the heck she was talking about. It gave me the information I needed and a desire to visit "West Ed's" theme rooms. I was also a bit jealous that I didn't get "themes" as a theme. I could have waxed poetic about death, grief, folklore, moral philosophy, point of view, commitment issues and coffee.

Instead, I have to have to come up with "7 great things about writing". As I write this I wonder if Eileen's real challenge is to get myself to stop at seven.

1. You can write anywhere... and I have.
I once wrote a letter to a friend in a stall in the "Ladies' Lavatory" at a British National Historical site. Toilet paper in England is notoriously stiff - probably the cause of the "stiff upper lip" - though it has improved since I was a teen. This stuff was like a roll of tracing paper. Every square was imprinted with HRH's seal, meaning it was Queen Elizabeth's property I was about to deface. So I wrote about my dilemma to my best friend and used a tissue from my pocket for the other business. (My father would travel with half a suitcase of Facelle Royale which would be replaced by a couple of bottles of Scotch on the trip home.)

My favourite place to write is a coffee shop, on my laptop, with a Cafe Americano or iced espresso as creative lubrication. The laptop is wonderful, but I've started stories on cocktail napkins in bars with borrowed pens. When the muse strikes, you can write anywhere.

2. You can write about anything... and I have.
My professional writing career started in 1991 when my cousin Hilary asked "What do you write?"

Up until then I had primarily written stories only friends and family ever read and two novel -- one of which I write when I was supposed to be writing notes in Nutrition and I lost in a third floor washroom at Ryerson. I had also written marketing copy and designed ads for the store I managed.

What I answered was, "What do you want written?"

Since then I have had the pleasure and challenge of writing on a variety of topics I had no clue about until given the assignment to write about them. Writing for other people - especially people who are experts in their fields but not experts in mine - has become a continuing education program.Which brings me to...

3 Writing expands your horizons.
For the sake of writing assignments I have researched a myriad of topics from becoming a change agent in your organization to getting rid of squirrels in your attic. No surprise then that I do a lot of research for my own stories. Whether I am creating a fantastic new world or making sure I know the difference between Scene of Crime Officers and Forensic Identification Services, I do a lot of back ground work. Sometimes my stories are inspired by research done for a commercial client. For instance, the setting of my Carmedy and Garrett series grew out of an interview with our then new (and now moved on) Chief of Police about the future of community policing.

4 Everything you do is grist for the writing mill.
If I ever make enough money to get away with it, I'll write-off every holiday as a business expense because every place I go is a potential setting for a story. (I wonder if that's what Anthony Bidulka does?)

When I was in a car accident, and they thought I might have broken my neck, I consoled myself with the knowledge that some day I'd be able to recount with accuracy what it felt like to be strapped to a backboard and how black the sky is when that's all you can see as you're wheeled away.

5 Writing is an emotional outlet
When I was in my teens, writing was a way of releasing the anger, frustration, sexual tension and general angst that is a teenager's lot in life. None of that stops as we get older, we just get better at handling it and, more often than not, the stakes get higher.

If I can't talk about it - either because it is too painful, embarrassing or just not appropriate (that adult filter) - I can still write about it. I can let one of my characters express what I have trouble with, or, as with "Joey and the Turtle" (Canadian Voices Volume 1) I can let flow on paper what I find hard to talk about without crying.

6 Writing is an escape
When I sister was fighting a losing battle against cancer, I created another world that we could escape into. Joey edited my novel as it was written and we'd hash out the details of plot, character and grammar in a world of vampires, demons, ghosts and the fledgling superheroes who dealt with them.

It wasn't the first time I used my writing as an escape from reality, but it was perhaps the most profound.

7 Writing is fun
It's also damned hard work sometimes but if I didn't love it, I'd do something more practical with my life like manage a store, or work in an office or be the chief assistant to the assistant chief ... wait I've done all those things and still kept writing. It's what I do.

That and drink coffee.

So, now I have to tag four other people...

Cathy Astolfo:
Tony Bidulka:

Jennifer L. Hart
and comic artist
John Macleod:

Monday, May 3, 2010

My Father's Navy

May 2, 2010 : Today my son Sam marched in the memorial parade for the Battle of the Atlantic.

Sam is a Navy League Cadet (cadets for the 9-12 set). He is very proud to be a cadet and keen to do ceremonial parades. Both his paternal grandparents, neither of whom lived to see their grandson, were in the Navy. His maternal grandfather -- my dad -- was in the Navy and took part in the Battle of the Atlantic.

To hear my father talk, all he did in the Navy was throw up. "I was sick every day I was at sea," he'd say. 

That was when he was serving on the HMCS Stratford, a mine sweeper serving in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Until I was grown up and reading about the history of the period, I had no idea how rough the seas were -- that almost as many ships were lost to weather as mines and U-boats. They didn't teach us in school that the German u-boats invaded Canadian waters, or even how important it was to the war effort to keep the seaway safe.

The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest running battle of World War II. Britain would have fallen if not for the steady supply of food, equipment and arms from Canada and the United States.

Halifax and Sydney Nova Scotia were the marshaling points for American and Canadian merchant ships carrying these goods. They sailed in convoys, guarded by naval destroyers and corvettes. By the end of the war, most of those ships were Canadian.

Canada  entered the war with 13 ships and ended it with the third largest navy in the world. During the Battle of the Atlantic - which endured most of the war, twenty-four RCN ships were sunk and 2000 lives lost.*

From my father's point of view, the danger of being blown out of the water was outweighed by whether or not he could keep his breakfast down. So he made it seem and maybe that's how he felt. He was barely out of his teens and death didn't worry him nearly as much as discomfort. 

The memories he shared were mostly about what he did on land, not at sea. Foremost, he fell in love with the maritime provinces, especially Newfoundland. Apparently, he also fell in love with a member of the WRCNS (Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service). But I only know about that because of a photo and a telegram I found with my father's effects.

He met one of his best and life long friends in training, Reg Bennett. Dad never talked about training except to say he wasn't fond of the physical parts. Reg filled in a few gaps describing my father as one of those infuriating types that would seem to doze off in class and them give the right answer when questioned.

That jibes with the man I knew.

He would tell stories about being on leave -- like seeing the "Scottish Play" in Scotland. He and his friends had been out drinking beer before the play started, and there were these artificial plants... then he'd remember he was supposed to be a good example to the children.

Other than being sick, he only spoke of his downtime onboard. On one ship they had Sterno stoves and would fry-up egg-in-the-hole, boil coffee or warm up a can of beans. This was when he was posted to a cruiser, I believe. (Dad tended to jump around in his stories.) After the mine sweeper, the cruiser was smooth sailing. Because of delays in outfitting, it made it into the Pacific just behind the major engagements that culminated in the surrender of Japan.

All this nostalgia is not entirely the fault of the memorial... at least not today's memorial.

In two days it will be the second anniversary of Dad's memorial gathering. He died March 30, 2008 (or March 29, his wedding anniversary if you fudge the record by a couple of minutes). Because we wanted to get as many family members and friends together as possible, we waited until May for the service. Because I knew my father would appreciate the humour, it was held May 4 ("May the 4th be with you.")

In the twenty-four months since then, I have been finding clues to my father's life BC (Before Children). 
I grew up with my Dad and lived with him (more or less) the last eight years of his life. I see him daily in my own son. But I wish he had told me more about his Navy career (I asked often enough) and even more, I wish he could have told Sam.