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October - November 2023 Newsletter

Celebrating True Stories Well Told

"Celebrating 'True Stories Well Told" - refers to my preference in novels, films, podcasts etc. based on memoirs, biographies, historical events, or true life experiences. The expression was coined by author Lee Gutkind, a creative nonfiction pioneer, who defines it as using literary techniques to vividly portray true events.


In this newsletter:

. . . Autumn reflections - No such thing as free will? 

. . . The film PATHS OF GLORY and the book THE SPLENDID AND THE VILE;

. . . Marketing struggles of a self-published author;

. . . A strange tale of unintended consequences - the sad story of the  plastic bag

. . . My first attempt at video;

. . . and Tips for combatting the flu from the 1950s.


Autumn reflections

Fall is a time of year when I get contemplative – There’s my birthday for one thing. The calendar flips a page, and there I am - a year older, with flashbacks that go so far back, they seem other-worldly: a childhood in the conformist '50s, then the hippy '60s, the yuppie 70’s and so on.  It's a bit surreal – the decades feel like they happened just yesterday, yet they're now ancient history.


Reflecting on the twists and turns, the opportunities and bumps along the way that define a life’s journey, I sometimes wonder what makes us take one road and not another and how much of our life's story is driven by unexpected factors over which we have little control.

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No such thing as free will?

Recently, I heard an interview with world-famous behaviorial scientist and author, Robert Sapolsky on CBC’s Quirks and Quarks, who argues that there is no such thing as free will because even our smallest decisions and actions are so deeply influenced by where and when we were born, genetics, upbringing, early experiences, and circumstances beyond our control – which together have laid the foundation for the person we have become and how our brains view the world.

As for the ‘grand plans’ – choosing a life partner, pursuing a career, and envisioning a future – these decisions offer the illusion of control (according to Sapky), but are in fact, just the manifestation of cognitive and emotional responses that are aligned to how our mind patterns are set.


Then there are the seemingly inconsequential choices that have vast unexpected impacts - the time we chose a different path and accidentally stumbled upon an event or met someone, or missed a train, or read an article that altered the course of our life - small acts that were the sparks that ignited significant chapters.


Reactions to Sapolsky’s book have been mixed, not the least because the notion raises important ethical issues about moral responsibility. Some of his peer scientists have said about him that "it's possible to be brilliant but be wrong."

Personally, I think we control the steering wheel of destiny to some extent, while at the same time, we ride the unpredictable currents of circumstance and cause and effect. What do you think?

November also brings thoughts of family members who weathered the hardships of the two world wars.  As we witness growing tensions and challenges around the globe today, including the spread of authoritarian regimes, it’s like the collective memory of past tribulations is converging with the current harsh realities.

Book and Film Reviews

This season, which lends itself to thoughts of history and the enduring human spirit, also speaks to the power of storytelling to capture the authenticity of historical events.

We recently saw a great WWI action movie, PATHS OF GLORY (1957) – held up as arguably one of the greatest war films ever. Also, if you are a fan of Winston Churchill, look no further for a great reading experience than THE SPLENDID AND THE VILE by Erik Larson.

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directed by Stan Kubrick, starring Kirk Douglas


Paths of Glory is often held up as one greatest war films for its gripping action and authentic portrayal of trench warfare. I also admire its ability to evoke emotions and contemplation without relying on cinematographic gore. Kirk Douglas who played the leading character said it was the summit of his acting career.


The film, is based on the true story of the Souain Corporals Affair in 1915, in which a high-ranking French general ordered what was clearly going to be a suicide mission by 8,000 soldiers to take a heavily defended German position. When wave after wave of French soldiers armed only with bayonets fell within moments of stepping into the hail of German gunfire, the next company of soldiers refused to leave their trench to step into sure death. In order to deflect blame of the failed initiative on poor decisions and avoid embarrassment, the top-brass and commanders court-martialed soldiers for cowardice, punishable by firing squad to "set an example".


The story is simple; the human drama and the ending are extraordinary.

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When I was growing up, Winston Churchill loomed as a constant presence in our house thanks to the vivid personal stories told by my mother, who lived through the Battle of Britain and the London Blitz while she was a teenager.

The Splendid and the Vile is about Churchill as Prime Minister during Hitler's devastating blitzkrieg. It’s a great read with short punchy chapters (ideal for bedtime reading) that take the reader from top-secret cabinet war room meetings, where ‘The British Bulldog’ guides a nation through its ‘finest hour’, to the breakfast table, where he scolds his wife Clementine for wasting his favourite honey from Scotland for baking.

What makes this book different from other biographies is the way it peels back the layers of Churchill's persona, beyond the familiar image of the master orator with a tight grip on his cigar. Here we see his human side and the eccentricities that made him such a legendary figure.


Drawn from diaries and letters, Larson reveals how Churchill navigated the challenges posed by temperamental members of his political entourage and handled public relations. He describes his moments of tenderness and domestic squabbles, and his relationships with his children: his delight in his youngest daughter, Mary, and his disappointment with his gambler son, Randolph.

Beyond the political arena and his relationships, Larson also exposes Churchill's empathetic soul when the weight of his position and responsibility brought him to tears. It’s a fresh perspective on Churchill, adding depth to his well-documented life and it reminds us of the humanity within historical giants.


Beyond marketing anguish: Joy in writing


In the world of books, they say there are three keys to success: a killer manuscript, a snazzy cover, and a handle on the enigmatic art of marketing. As I’m discovering, marketing is the hardest.


Marketing is a universal challenge for any product of course, but books are particularly hard to market.  There are literally millions of books competing for readers’ attention.

The decision to self-publish led me down a rabbit hole of challenges and discoveries that I had never anticipated when I began writing novels. Had I known what I know now, I sometimes wonder whether it would have dissuaded me from taking the leap. Still, I'm glad I did.


Most marketing advice is about social media and advertising, two areas that aren't exactly my cup of tea. In fact, a few weeks ago, I was so fed up with the whole business that I decided to throw in the towel on writing.


The decision to quit writing lasted for less than a week. I missed it so much, I was miserable.  I missed the purposeful research that fills so many hours of pleasure and those moments of discovery to make sense out of the world, and of stories waiting to be told in a narrative that runs in my head. Then out of the blue there came a text message from my niece to tell me how much she had enjoyed Three Tales from the Tip of an Era. That was such a shot-in-the arm that I hopped right back in the saddle, having had the benefit of 72 hours to reassess my whole purpose in writing.  Thank you, Marianne!


So I’ve decided to stop worrying about it with the view that there are other more important measures of success than the number of books sold – such as honest reader reviews on platforms like, and the personal fulfillment.

As for ‘marketing’, there is a world of things I enjoy doing - even though they are not strictly “marketing” - like writing this newsletter, and blogs, and discovering new kinds of media for storytelling, like audio and little YouTube video documentaries such as the one below about Paris Nightlife during La Belle Epoque.


With this perspective, joy in writing extends far beyond the realm of marketing anguish.

A Strange Tale of Unintended Consequences

The recent reversal of Canada's single-use plastics ban by the Federal Court sparked the sad tale of the misunderstood plastic shopping bag on my blog, which shows how good intentions can lead to unexpected consequences.



As I dove into the research rabbit hole on plastic bags and garbage, I came across a real gem of a solution that I had never heard of before to combat ocean plastic while simultaneously addressing poverty in countries like Indonesia. Check out this TED talk by the PlasticBank founder David Katz that describes a business model and a paradigm shift on plastic waste that closes the gap of a circular economy and offers one of humanity's richest opportunities.



How to Fight the Flu in the 1950s

Check out out this video from the BBC, in which the good people of the 1950s share some of their homemade cures for the 'flu.

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From the BBC - The good people of the 1950s share some of their homemade cures for the 'flu, with BBC reporters.  DISCLAIMER: BBC Archive takes no responsibility for any side effects you may experience after putting an old sweaty sock around your throat, rubbing mustard and lard on your chest or any other remedy herein mentioned. This clip is from Tonight, originally broadcast 18 February, 1959.


Family News

Counting down to a family milestone in a few days as our son Tom ties the knot with a most wonderful girl. Thrilled to welcome Julia into the family!


Tom and I are the kings of terrible dance moves. Here we are practicing in the park for the upcoming groom and mother waltz — house space just couldn't contain our epic waltzing skills!


Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter. I appreciate your engagement and very much welcome your thoughts, comments, and recommendations for great books, movies articles or podcasts.

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