Tag Archives: Advice

Remembrance Day Special Part 1 Ypres

We interrupt your regular travel blog (not so regular I’m afraid) to bring you highlights of our European trip that pertain to the upcoming Remembrance Day ceremony on November 11.

We first must jump forward a few days to Day 14, July 13, 2015 when we are in Bruges.

We had always planned to visit Ypres, and when we told our Bruges B&B host, Nicole, that we were going to leave early, she said we had to see the Last Post ceremony, which is held at the Menin Gate Memorial.

Nicole said that as in many places in Europe, Ypres is commemorating the hundred year anniversary mark for each year of the Great War 1914-1918 therefore, at the Memorial, special choirs are singing nearly every night. So it is a special time to go.

So we decided to leave a little later than planned so that we could still see Ypres other sites and be there for the ceremony.

Words cannot express, pictures cannot do justice to the experience of seeing all the names at the Menin gate, and the Tyne Cot cemetery. I will let  the pictures do most of the talking but I will say this: for us at home in Canada, whenever we find it hard to rouse ourselves from the comfort of our homes to go to a local cenotaph on November 11, please think on this, as I will.

From November 11, 1929 onward, the Last Post has sounded at the Menin Gate Memorial, every night and in all weathers.

Every, single night at 8.00pm! Not just once per year. Every night. The only exception to this was during the four years of the German occupation of Ypres from 1940 to 1944.

Nicole told us that the 4 buglers are from the town’s volunteer fire brigade. Apparently there are 6 or 8 of them that rotate duties in order to provide the 7 day a week coverage. One of the bugler volunteers is 90 years old and has been doing it for 60 years. A name and story is read out for one of the names on the walls (those that have no known grave). On July 9, 2015 they celebrated their 30,000 performance. There are well over 100,000 names of soldiers who died with no known grave to be honoured, so even with doing this every night, they are less than a third the way through.

As we set out it was rainy and stayed that way for most of first part of morning, and was windy and cold the whole day.

We arrived at Ypres and first parked just outside the gate and explored  the memorial itself.

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A seemingly never-ending proclamation of Canadians ..,

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And a fitting reminder to not forget those whom we sometimes don’t think about as having stood and died along with our fathers, who perhaps were not of British, European, Canadian or American heritage…

DSC_0033  And we strolled on the ramparts and the park along the river …




We headed back into town for breakfast …  DSC_0145

As we walked about in the damp and drizzle, MLW and I both expressed to each other our similar thoughts, which we summed up something like:

I think we can handle a little cold and wet to honour those who slogged it out scared to death, in the cold winters beneath the shrieking mortars, shelling bombardments, and gas attacks, often only to die in mud, blood, vomit and excrement among the trench rats and bodies of comrades and enemies alike.

One can never fully imagine the horror of it all, but going through the museum at Ypres, visiting the nearby sites and seeing the Menin Gate memorial itself forces one to at least make the attempt.

We made a quick trip to the Essex Farm cemetery, near the Advanced Dressing station bunker where John McRae had written In Flanders Fields.DSC_0153




This is what the cemetery looked like immediately following the battle …


Canadian John McCrae is well remembered here.


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And indeed a field of wild poppies grows nearby.


This memorial is not Canadian, but as my father was from Yorkshire (although the East Riding), I felt I could pay tribute.


Next we went to see the 10 metre high statue of the Brooding Soldier  or ‘De Canadien’ as it is known locally. It was sculpted by F.C. Clemeshaw, the runner-up in the competition to design the Vimy Ridge monument, and erected at Vancouver Corner in Sint Juliaan.


The Brooding Soldier’s bowed head is looking in the direction from which a cloud of chlorine gas approached on April 22, 1915; the first large-scale chemical attack in the history of warfare.




The front of the monument is engraved simply: CANADA. DSC_0199 The stone plateau has directions to other nearby memorial sites, such as Passchendaele.



We signed the register book, an unexpected pleasure.

DSC_0202 DSC_0203 DSC_0206Then we journeyed (not without blog-worthy trials and tribulations to be iterated elsewhere) to Tyne Cot Cemetery on Passchendaele Ridge, the largest Commonwealth cemetery in the world.

As you walk through the introductory visitor centre, you can’t help compare the picture you see of what the area looked like during the war, and the conditions the men endured … (A must watch is the movie by Paul Gross: Paschendael, if only for the stark realism he portrayed.)


with the view today …


The Canadians were a big part of this battlefield; being gassed and then trying to capture the church, losing more than 4,000 men …


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A girl’s voice reads out a name that echoes through the building. Pictures, if available, of the man who died flash on the wall.

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Walking out of the visitor centre, the girl’s voice mournfully accompanies you as you make the seemingly long walk to the cemetery.


The cemetery itself stuns one into silence.



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Back to Ypres (after a few more adventures with Jeeps that shall be recounted in the travel blog proper), we had to unfortunately hurry through the marvelous In Flanders Field Museum, so as to be able to catch the Last Post ceremony …


You are greeted shortly in the entranceway by this incredible painting of the ghost soldiers streaming out the Menin Gate into the battlefields beyond moving through fields of poppies. Menin Gate at Midnight (also known as Ghosts of Menin Gate) is a 1927 painting by Australian artist Will Longstaff and I believe this was at the time we saw it on loan from the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.DSC_0263

The museum is fascinating, full of movies and slide shows and all manner of artifacts from many countries.

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DSC_0296   Items found on the battlefields, these are balls of lead shot placed in mines and mortars


Belt buckles ….



Outside, a commemoration on a nearby building honouring the many Belgian citizens who assisted downed allied airmen, many of whom secretly passed through the Hotel Regina.



We got back to the gate to find the crowds queuing up already…

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Among them a thinly disguised John Cleese ?

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Sorry, I could not resist. I noticed him in the crowd and to this day I wonder.


The buglers arrived …




They began the Last Post …



This night there was a girl’s choir and band who sang two hauntingly beautiful songs, one was View Me Lord, the name of the other unfortunately escapes me.


The buglers finished Last Post to a hushed crowd …



Wreaths were laid and a lad read the Exhortation, the famous excerpt from Laurence Binyon’s poem “For the Fallen”.


Standing in the centre of the road under the arch of the Hall of Memory, the words echoed briefly off the walls as the crowd and city remained silent:

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.”

The crowd, we all answer: “We will remember them”

Then it is Reveille, the soldier’s time to rest has come …


“We will remember them.”

Go to Part 2

Artist Statement

Apparently everyone who is in the creative arts should have an Artist Statement, much like organizations have vision statements and mission statements.

It is not goal-setting; this comes after that chore.

The idea is to keep you on track with your goal, add fire to your muse and motivate you to carry on when difficulties and obstacles arise, which they always do.

Re-reading your Artist Statement, polishing it, making sure your goal and path align what it states is  important. Sometimes we get lost in the morass and chaos of creation. We get so excited and interested in a new project or work we don’t realize that although we are on track with our goal, suddenly the path or the goal itself are slightly off-kilter from our Artist Statement, our vision.

This is not always a bad thing; often the Artist Statement is made in the early stages of the journey, and we don’t know what we don’t know … or our interests change as we grow.

Using myself as an example, when I set my goal to publish a novel in five years (not a lofty goal, I know, but one I thought I could manage), I was interested in writing suspense/horror thrillers like Stephen King or Dean Koontz. I had an idea in mind for a story and I jumped into it.

Thus, when I threw down my Artist Statement, it looked like this:

I want to write to explore the depths of my own psyche, to bring out previously unheeded or unwanted thoughts and ideas within others, and to set something down that will live beyond me.

I wish to speak of the life interrupted, the lightning shift of life events.

Over the last year or so, I have taken to writing stories and works in progress that are better served as crime fiction./thrillers along the lines of Lee Child.

So today I realized that, while my  Artist Statement still applied within the scope of what I was writing and my goal, it was not quite aligned with my current path. So I changed it to match my changed path to my unchanged goal.

I added one line:

I desire to excite the reader and myself with a plot-driven yet character-rich crime fiction novel.

I believe this incorporates what I am doing and how I want to feel about my work.

The Artist Statement is not meant to be shared with the world, as it opens the artist up to the laughter of loved ones, scorn of so-called friends and the onslaught of hordes of were-gypsies casting spells to steal your soul, but hey! I can always delete this later.

So …

What about you?

Do you have an artist statement?

If so, how is it looking today?

Does it align with your goal and the path you are on now?

Are you brave enough to share?

<steps back, laughs, shovels a heap of scorn onto your head, and morphs into a wolverine wearing a diklo and a gold necklace, chanting “tolle animam eius!”>.


OK, <returns to simpering scribe>

No problem, you’re not supposed to, remember?


Bad writing ?

Recently I read the blog of an agent I admire because of her no-nonsense advice on querying and general writing tips and I was somewhat taken aback by what she believed was bad writing. While I agreed with 3 out of the 4 examples she gave, I found myself pondering 1 of them. The agent said the following was just plain bad writing:

“A scream escaped her throat.”

She preferred the minimalist:

“She screamed”.

Now, I do understand why she included this, as it certainly feels awkward, but leaving that aside … it does in fact convey something much more than simply “She screamed”.

It infers that the screamer attempted to hold back the scream; thus, the scream just couldn’t suddenly come out, it had to escape her throat.

This raises more questions: was she choking or being choked; was she so terrified to make noise that she wanted to hold in the scream but couldn’t?

In essence, the writer is trying to convey something more than a simple scream, and to generate reader engagement with the screamer’s predicament.

So, is this truly bad writing or simply writing that the readers of today won’t accept, because it may seem too literary in composition and therefore hard to read?

I personally believe the latter.

I mean, Charles Dickens was a fabulous writer of words, providing incredibly rich descriptions. He was a literary giant, but his style of writing would fail miserably today. No one has the attention span to slog through the verbiage. Elmore Leonard rules, Dickens drools. Which is mildly funny, since Leonard had been called ‘the Dickens of Detroit’.

I get it. A writer must go with the flow and realize that his / her writing must be as spare as possible to allow the reader of today to access it. This is or presumably will be your audience after all.

However, perhaps a better example of what the agent was trying to convey might be this: (Full Disclosure: I plagiarized this from http://jakonrath.blogspot.ca/ in a guest blog of advice by Leslie Wells)

“Meticulously and carefully, Dr. Pedantic graded the exams.”

Edited sentence: “Dr. Pedantic graded the exams meticulously.”

Meticulously and carefully convey similar meanings, so the writer needs only one of them to get the point across. Here, the first sentence certainly contains too much verbiage and adds nothing to the sentence or to the story.

Do you agree, disagree?

Do you have more examples?

If so please comment below.

(BTW, if anyone is interested in writing advice and how to self-publish in today’s market, I am just delving into the website mentioned above by Joe Konrath and it looks full of information and good advice ferom someone who has gone that route. Another excellent site is Hugh Lowey’s http://www.hughhowey.com/my-advice-to-aspiring-authors .)

2014 Surrey International Writers Conference


This is a conference held in BC, in Surrey every year for over 20 years now. This year it is on October 24-26.

By accident I found out about it several years ago when following a blog of a writer I was reading at the time. I found out he was coming to the conference and then I was amazed at who else was going to be there. People like Diana Gabaldon, Jack Whyte, Michael Slade, Anne Perry, who all come every year and many more authors, agents, and editors. This year Mr. Chuck Wendig whose blog inspired me to start mine, will be here, so I am excited to take in his workshops maybe sneak a hello in an elevator or follow him into a washroom … well maybe not that.

Anyway. If anyone who reads this lives in the area and didn’t know about this conference, it is a must attend!


Jack Hodgins, Award Winning Canadian Author

I wanted to mention Jack Hodgins here, because not only is he a fabulous writer, he is a great creative writing teacher as well. His Book ‘Passion for Narrative’ is one of the best teaching tools I have in my arsenal. Working on just one of the exercises brought me closer to my voice and narrowed my focus to at least one of the genre’s that I now want to write: a fictionalized (well … slightly) memoir style.

His fiction has become literary classics. His spirited and humourous character depictions are not to be missed. Do yourself a favour and check Mr. Hodgins out.

I think of him as ‘Mr. Hodgins’ because he taught me in a Grade 11 Creative Writing class.



Janet Reid, Literary Agent

Janet Reid, Literary Agent

Up to recently I never read or subscribed to blogs. I never realized how accessible they made specific information from professionals in the business.

At a writers conference during my virgin  (and doomed) query session with an agent, she recommended a colleague that was better suited to querying for my genre of work (which I had naturally totally wrong). When I checked out the agent online I found she actually performed a service online of doing weekly query sessions, as well as Q and A for misguided and misled writers.

This was my first experience with interacting in the blogiverse.

Janet Reid tells it like it is. Everyone who wants to ever publish should check this agent out.