Thursday, February 17, 2011


The other day I had a meeting with Lauren Horlock, a winemaker at
Hillier Creek Estates. She has just started a blog, which can be read at,; or by clicking on the title of this entry.
She wanted some writing tips, and I wanted to learn more about wine, so we got together over tea and stone-baked pizza at the Regent Café.

“Where did you study writing?” she asked me.

“Actually,” I said, “I graduated from Radio Broadcasting.”

“Oh,” she said, “so you’re self-taught.”

I thought about this. While it may seem like that—more so since I wrote an article for Education Canada about me dropping out of high school(I later went back)—in actuality I have had many teachers in the art of writing and storytelling.

The first would have been my parents. Dad was a great storyteller: he could always grab and hold an audience. My mom was a teacher; mine for pre-kindergarten through grade two. She had newspaper articles and quotes posted all around the house, and every morning we would listen to Peter Gzowski on CBC radio. Mr. Gzowski was a master with words, and CBC radio brought the best of Canadian and international talent into our country kitchen.

Then there was church, Cressy United, and Sunday School, where I would study Bible stories and their meaning: learning about parables, metaphors, imagery, the power of words, and the assurance that if you had faith anything was possible.

There’s a great storytelling culture in Prince Edward County: countless jokes, ghost stories, accounts of the adventures of friends, family, ancestors, and neighbours are told—sometimes being ever so slightly exaggerated for effect. And my Irish American cousins would always bring stories with them when they came up in the summer—never letting the truth get in the way of a good story.

I can’t recall when I started putting stories on paper, as soon as I learned to write I suppose. I wrote my first book in grade 8. I wasn’t a very good speller though and was told that that handicap would prevent me from every being able to become a writer. I tried to give it up, but I loved stories and words so I never could. I moved to poetry and lyrics: things I could write quickly and keep hidden from those who were less than encouraging.

In grade 10 English, with Mrs. Grimly, I did write a short play(a murder mystery), which was performed in front of the class; and I helped write scripts for my drama classes with Mrs. Ireland and Ms. Hair, and my media class with Mr. Sivel. Through drama and media I was also able to work on, and watch, many shows that came into our little town from all over the province.

In Radio Broadcasting at Loyalist College of Applied Arts and Technology we had to do a great deal of writing: weekly on-air shifts, commercials, public service announcements, reviews, a radio play, interviews and a documentary. I even heard that my writing teacher, Liz Marshal, used my documentary as a writing example years after I had left.

Studying wasn’t just in the class either. Writing comes from a love of words and learning how to use them effectively. It also comes from listening and observing. In Radio we were learning how to do that all the time. Constantly looking for things to talk about on air, listening endlessly to lyricists (and being music junkies some of the best the world has to offer) and tearing each other apart—in a good way. Radio wasn’t for the thin skinned.

Every week, in Steve Bolton’s production class, we’d have our commercials critiqued by everyone who felt they had something worthwhile to say. Outside of class the critiques were more burns and were a little less professionally constructive. From an outsiders point of view it may have looked like we hated each other; but there was a love there, for each other and for the job-at-hand; we were always pushing each other to be better—and sometimes pulling one another through. Some of my closest friends—and the best anyone could ask for—were ones I made in radio. There were lines that it was generally known you didn’t cross; we just had fewer of them, and the ones we did have were further away.

Radio is theatre of the mind. All you have is you, your microphone, your words and stories, and the guests or co-hosts—when you’re lucky enough to have them. The sharper you can keep your mind the better; and a little verbal jousting, and practical jokes, was a great way to do that. We learned how to take nothing said to, or about us, (within reason) personally (in order to be able to laugh at yourselves); and everything outside our self very personally—in order to keep our passion alive. To do as Mark Twain suggested: believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see (less than half now with television and the Internet).

When speaking, author Hilary MacLeod (Revenge of the Lobster Lover) taught us how to enunciate our words just so. Your respect for words increases when you focus on their subtle nuances as you roll them around in your mouth, getting a taste for them yourself before sharing them with others.

We were also taught that, to remain relevant and to be able to connect with our audience, we had to stay aware of what is going on in our community and the world outside it.

One of the most important things I learned is that THE MIC IS ALWAYS ON. There were many examples of people who thought the mic was off and said things that everyone got to hear, which they didn’t want heard. And, I can assure you, words can do just as much damage as sticks and stones. In life outside of radio, you still never know who’s listening; so remember: THE MIC IS ALWAYS ON.

One of the sharpest minds belonged to John Henderson, who taught us all many things about how to choose our words carefully and how to stay on top of everything that was going on. He taught us more than that, but sometimes words just can't do justice.

I later went on to formally study television, which involved more writing, film: more writing; I took a short story analysis class at Humber College, a poetry night class at Ryerson University, script writing at George Brown College, received feedback and notes from my cousin, screenwriter John Frizzell (Dance me Outside), read countless books on style and craft, listened to Nick Cave's lecture on songwriting (I don't know how many times), and spent a year and a half in Ireland, much of that time in pubs—where better to learn storytelling than in Irish pubs? Then there was the years I worked at the St. Lawrence Centre, as an usher, and was able to watch and study CANSTAGE plays, night after night—and get paid for it.

Through all of it I was always scribing things down; always practising, always learning, always listening to the interesting people I was lucky enough to come in contact with, and the wonderful words and stories I was fortunate to be surrounded by.

I still have trouble with my spelling, but I try to not let that get in my way too much; it’s a handicap I’m aware of and still trying to overcome—there are worse. And I am still learning, and still being taught.

So, self-determined . . . maybe: self-taught, not so much.

County and Quinte Living

Another my bad for not updating.

The winter issue of County and Quinte Living had a segment about local authors in it. The article is called, "Hibernate with Local Authors: Discover the Personalities Behind the Print." I was fortunate enough to be one of the authors featured.

There is a digital copy available at,

This one I put on my facebook page but then forgot to update my blog. Oops. I have trouble keeping up sometimes.

I would like to thank County and Quinte Living's editor Donna Kearns, and Kerry Lorimer—who interviewed the authors—for the magazine and for promoting local talent.


Square2 Magazine (Update on The Snowflakes’ Waltz)

Back in November, I blogged about my new short story, The Snowflakes’ Waltz, coming out in Square2 magazine. Then I neglected to do an update when it did come out. My bad.

You can get to the magazine's website by going to; or, if you click on the title of this blog entry it will take you to a digital copy of the issue that, The Snowflakes’ Waltz, is in.

Congratulations to the everyone at Square2 for putting together such a stylish, well thought out, and well designed magazine.

A special thanks to Chrissy Poitras of Square2 and Sparkbox Studios for inviting me to be a part of it. And also to Kyle Topping (Spark Box Studio) and René Dick (Scout Design).

I hope you enjoy.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

I Went to the Coffee Shop and a Musical Broke Out

Yesterday I went to the coffee shop and a musical broke out.
I was heading down to Miss Lily's Café; when I got there I saw, taped to the front door, a sign that read it was closed for the day. I turned, sadly, and walked away. Then I heard a voice calling me in the distance. I turned around and, standing outside of Miss Lily's was Susanne Larner, whom I went to high school with, and who is now the manager at Miss Lily's.
"Colin," she said. "We're shooting a music video. Do you want to be in it?"
"Yes!" I said.
What else would you say when such an offer comes along?
I went back and into the café.
"Just set up your laptop and work like you always do," Susanne said.
"I can do that," I said—and I did.
Then they started handing out scripts. Miss Lily's the Musical, the title read.
"You need to memorize some of the lyrics," the director, Victor Cooper, said. "Especially, the chorus."
"What?" I said. "I have to sing?"
"Don't worry," Victor said. "We wouldn't be using your voice on the video, you just need to sing along."
I let out a sigh of relief. Despite my own youtube videos, I'm not keen on my singing voice.
They had us sign some release forms.
Susanne gave me a mug and told me to help myself to the coffee.
"Thanks," I said.
I went over and filled my cup with an Organic Costa Rican single estate coffee.
Fellow County author, Andrew Binks (The Summer Between), came in and we had a chat, about this and that. He needed to play the trombone in the video. Having never played the trombone before, he wasn't 100% sure how to do it. I tried to give him some pointers since I had played it in grade 8. I wasn't very helpful: I couldn't remember much.
I returned to my seat and my little LG laptop.
The director then told me that I would be singing the first line into the camera.
"What?" I said.
"The first line is 'I got a smile on my face'," Victor said. "You've been smiling since you came in. I have to use that smile."
Susanne, and Skye (one of the staff at Miss Lily's), laughed.
"You do smile a lot," Skye said.
I've known Skye for years, also. That's the thing with small towns, you've known so many of the people for most of your life that, even when if don't see them that often, there is a familiarity, like an extended family.
The video got under way.
More people came in, some who I knew, others I only recognized. Everyone jumped right in, filling the café with laughter and energy like we were all, well, in a musical.
Graham and Vicky, who own Chesterfield's Café in Picton, dropped into take part; and Jody Bain, who I also went to high school with, and I've been trying to organize a meeting with over a book he's writing, unexpectedly dropped in. Jody, along with Victor, and Trevor Crowe, were the Crowe Video Productions crew.
In the end of the video we all got to sing in the chorus, dancing out of the attached bookstore (Books and Company) and into Miss Lily's, following Andrew who was doing a great job playing the trombone.
As strange a story as this may seen, going to a coffee shop and a musical breaking out, that's just one of the many adventures one has when living in Prince Edward County; or The County, as the locals call it. And, when the video comes out, you can it see for yourself.