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Writing Projects

Words for the Web, books,  displays, scripts, speeches and magazines.

Good writing is key to delivering messages effectively. The more important the information,
the better the writing should be. Clear, lively, concise text that is grammatically correct should
never go out of style no matter what  the message or the media.

Murray Marshall
The Project:
Feature-length obituaries
The Client: Globe & Mail, Toronto, ON (and Chemical News magazine)
Assignment: Research and write feature obituaries on important and interesting Canadians.
Approach: This work must be done quickly because of tight deadlines. Assignments are made by the national editorial desk and research starts immediately. Once sources for information and quotes are identified, phone interviews are done and photo sources assembled. A 1,500-2,000 word personality profile or feature obituaries can usually be created in two very long days.
End Result: Two recent assignments needed some serious background research –– one into organic chemistry and the other into the subtleties of Parliamentary politics. Two of my favourite assignments told the fascinating story of recently deceased war veterans: Larry Story, shown in 1942, joined the Devil's Brigade commandos at age 19; Murray Marshall became an RCAF pilot at the same age. 

Read "The Man Who Clothed Canada: Wilfred Posluns."
Read "Toronto's Finest Diner: Arthur Carman"
Read "The Accidental Devil: Lawrence Arthur Story."
Read "Conscience of the Conservatives: John Yaremko."
Read "Potato Farmer Pilot: Murray Marshall."
Read "Canada's Top Civil Servant: Glen Shortliffe."
Read "Canada's Chemistry Genius: Keith Fagnou."
Read "The Professor Who Changed Wall Street: Myron J. Gordon."
Read "A Waterborne War Hero: Russ Kennedy"
Read "Teacher of Teachers: James T. Anus."

Dredge No. 4The Project: Feature stories
The Client: Parks Canada, Gatineau
Assignment: Research and write feature stories about 15 different infrastructure projects at national parks and national historical sites that were being funded by the government's Economic Action Plan.
Approach: Parks Canada planned to offer the finished stories to a range of publications so the features had to be written to the standards of Canada's best magazines. Because most of the projects were in the planning stage, it was necessary to interview staff and "stakeholders" to create stories that put the project plans into a historical context.
End Result: The initial stories about individual projects were so well received by Parks communications staff that the contract was adjusted to include more in-depth stories that dealt with multiple projects and Parks Canada's heritage mandate.
Link: Read "Contaminated sites clean up"
Read "Restoring Dredge No. 4"

building Ontario's memory sloganThe Project: Building Ontario’s Memory tagline, 2007
The Client: The Archives of Ontario, Toronto, ON
Assignment: Create a tagline that blends the Archive’s official task with its building program.
Approach: The tagline combines the idea of the Archives' responsibility for preserving the province's historical documents with the concept of building the new facility that will house the documents.
End Result: The Archives used the slogan extensively on posters, billboards, stationery, publications and its website to promote the construction project.

Link: Read a letter of appreciation from the client.

Cultivating the wilderness
The Project:
A local history book, 2005
The Client: County of Lennox & Addington, Napanee, ON
Assignment: Research and write Cultivating the Wilderness, a history of the Loyalist Parrott family of Ernesttown Township.
Approach: The book tells the history of Ernesttown Township through the lives of several generations of the Parrott family who were keenly involved in everything from the Loyalist landing and settlement in 1784 through the War of 1812 and the area's farming and business development.
End Result: The book was published in time to serve as a key part of the opening of the John M. Parrott Centre, a home for seniors, in Napanee and enhanced the recognition of a million dollar gift from the Parrott Foundation.

Link: Read a letter of appreciation from the client.
       See sample pages.

Trooper_Edwards_1945The Project: Student orientation scripts, 2003-2009
The Client: The Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, ON
Assignment: Create a series of scripts for the museum animators who introduce visiting students to the War Museum before they tour its exhibits.
Approach: The seven scripts are designed to give students insight into the idea that war affects ordinary Canadians in extraordinary ways. Although the characters the animators portray are fictional, their stories are based on the reality of those who took part in the various war efforts that have engaged Canadians in the past 250 years. Scripts include portrayals of a young carpenter during the 18th Century seige of Quebec City, a teenage munitions factory worker in 1917, an infantryman during the 1944 liberation of the Netherlands, nurses during the First World War and Operation Desert Storm, a soldier on leave in France during the First World War, a merchant mariner rescued from the North Atlantic in 1942, and a war correspondent covering Canada's hunt for Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan in 2002.
End Result: The scripts are the foundation of the War Museum's very successful and popular education program that attracts 60,000 student visitors each spring.
Link: Read an excerpt from the Second World War script.

Eaton_Department_storeThe Project: Text for an online historical exhibit about the display windows of the T. Eaton Department stores, 2009
The Client: The Archives of Ontario, Toronto, ON
Co-writer: Janet Uren, WordImage (Ottawa, ON)
Assignment: Research and write exhibit text and photo cutlines for an exhibit that explores the social history of the department store windows that both reflected Canadian society and influenced the tastes and lifestyles of Canadians for more than a century.
Approach: The exhibit was divided into three themes -- The Magnificent (displays related to royal visits and national events), The Merry (displays related to seasonal holidays, especially Christmas) and The Mundane (displays of merchandise).  The text offers succinct descriptions of the 100-plus exhibit photos and provides an historical context for the exhibit.
End Result
: The exhibit was the Archives' most ambitious online exhibit and has proven to be one of its most popular.
Link: Visit the exhibit.
Related Projects: Visit an exhibit exploring the water-colour artwork of Rideau Canal engineer Thomas Burrowes, circa 1830.

bookshelfThe Project: Reading passages for statewide literacy testing, 1999-2003
The Client: The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Contracted by Reading Matters, Lancaster, PA)
Assignment: Write a series of short stories and informational articles suitable for readers in elementary and high school which were engaging and could be used to test reading comprehension without giving advantage to students of any particular geographical or ethnic group.
Approach: The dozen stories were written to entertain and interest the students who were reading them as part of statewide testing. Topics included the hunting of buffalo in the foothills of Alberta, the refining of gold, being lost in the woods, the diaries of a young woman during the deportation of British loyalists in 1776,  the literary aspirations of a young Innu in Labrador, and the comical plotting of two nosy youngsters in search of a missing cat.   
End Result
: The stories were well received by the state examination board which wrote testing materials for them.
Link: Read an excerpt of "Over the Falls."

boys reading bookThe Project: A short story about literacy issues, 2009
The Client: Canadian Organization for Development through Education (CODE), Ottawa, ON
Assignment: Write a short story to encourage readers to consider issues of literacy as part of a UNESCO education project.
Approach: The story "Deleted" describes an afternoon in the life of a young teen who unwittingly gives up his ability to read.
End Result
: The story was chosen as CODE's primary contribution to an international collection of literacy-related writing. A video-reading was posted on the internet, the Canadian Teachers Federation built an educational lesson plan around it and it was used to launch a national program on April 22, 2009 celebrating The Big Read Day. The story was read at a Parliament Hill breakfast by students from across Canada.
Link: Read the story "Deleted."

Steven Page hostThe Project: A speech for Barenaked Lady vocalist Steven Page, 2008
The Client: National Arts Centre, Ottawa, ON
Assignment: Create a light-hearted dialogue for Steven Page and opera singer Michael Schade who were the hosts of the NAC's annual Black and White Opera Gala fundraiser for Opera Lyra and the NAC Orchestra.
Approach: The assignment came in just two days before the event. The speech had to reflect Steven Page's comic reputation, deal with operatic traditions and introduce each performance in a way that appealed to opera aficionados while outlining the background of the arias for novices. A running joke about Mr. Page not being allowed to sing ran throughout the evening, culminating in his performance of an aria.
End Result: The evening was a financial and entertainment success. The Ottawa Citizen described Mr. Page as an "irreverent and witty host."
Link: Read excerpts of the evening's presentations.
Related Projects: Read excerpts of a speech for the Archivist of Ontario, 2007.

profile magazine coverThe Project: Magazine essays, 2001-2009
The Client: Profile Magazine, Kingston, ON
Assignment: Write occasional general interest essays of interest to an adult readership.
Approach: Topics vary widely from personal finance and housing to dogs, dating and outdoor pursuits. They are generally humorous and told in the first person.
End Result
: The stories are well received by the readers and editors.
Link: Read excerpts from a variety of essays.

    Dr. Oswald Withrow and the Kingston Penitentiary
    Freedom 55. Sort of...
    Aimee Kennedy's Radical Little Library
    Hugh Lawford, academic entrepreneur
    Photographer Pat Morrow: F8 and be there

Robert Munsch bioThe Project: A biography of storyteller Robert Munsch, 2009
The Client: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, publisher, Toronto, ON
Assignment: Research and write a 10,000-word biography on Canada's bestselling children's author and storyteller to be marketed to the North American library trade.
Approach: Much has been written about Munsch but few writers have interviewed him in depth. Through persistence I arranged for two separate interviews (and, later, a third appointment to gather personal family photographs) and was able to gather insights into his childhood, his years as a Jesuit, his work in childhood education centres at universities in Boston and Guelph, his writing process and his family life. The book is aimed at senior elementary students but is written to the high standard that any biography should attain.
End Result: The book was nominated for the 2010 Silver Birch Awards sponsored by the Ontario Library Association.
Link: Read an excerpt from the manuscript.
         Read two reviews.

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