Friday, 31 October 2014

4Q Interview with Matthew Williston - VJ, DJ, Escape Artist...

Matthew Williston is a man of many skills, actor, director, VJ, DJ, experimental projectionist& sound technician, co-founder of L’Art Ici SVP.(a public art company in Moncton) Also co-founder of **Gay Poutine** (an alternative LGBTQ night in Moncton)  He has spent many years developing those skills while living in Montreal for the better of 13 years as well as western Canada. He currently resides in Moncton, NB where he is presently building the cabin of his dreams in the country. He works under the pseudonym of M K W. He’s gregarious, witty, generous and an all-round nice guy.  (B&W photo by Robert T Wilson Thank you Robert)

4Q: Tell us how you became involved in the music business as a DJ, VJ and projectionist.

MW: I’ve always been drawn to and appreciated music .The reason I got my first job was because my folks would not by me a boom box. They may have been worried that the sounds of rock’n’roll would corrupt their little boy…They were right.
I started mixing records at the age of 14/15 .We were putting on “all night dance parties” in Moncton by the time I was 16. Electronic music was deep inside me at this point, as was the love of movement and dance.
Moving to Montreal was where my schooling really started, I was fortunate enough to meet and have the pleasure of working with 4 guys who had big dreams for projections in the world. 2 of these guys are still running an internationally renowned company called Moment Factory. The 2 others also have an innovative businesses in the Multi media world as well.(NOMAD NATION,BAILLET,CARDELL & FILS)
Having already been carrying a video camera in my backpack for a few years before this, I was a sponge and engaged in what could be done with a camera and some video editing software. Hired on mostly as a VJ (video Jockey) I was mixing images with world class talent in internationally renowned clubs and venues.
I continue to push my visual installation experiments and my DJ style in the Atlantic Canada.  The east coast festival circuit in the summer is a blast, with such a great community of people coming out to support, engage and experience in a creative coming together of minds. 

4Q: As a co-founder of the art movement in the city, tell us about the development and goals of L’Art Ici.
MW: My partner Lisa J Griffin and I started this initiative at the end of last year. We have since put up two murals on St. George St. Curated 12 bins to be painted downtown with DMCI(downtown Centreville Moncton Inc) We were involved with Gallery days with the City of Moncton in which we built  a structure and had in painted live in front of city hall.

We have some really exciting things lined up for next spring and summer. Our main goal is to bring out color and character in our great hub city. We want to be inspired and to inspire creation and vibrancy in our daily lives. Bringing a community together is also important to us.

You can keep up with us at our facebook page for now as our website is under’articisvp. 

4Q: Please share a childhood anecdote or memory.
MW: I was in Florida with my parents, probably around 6 years old. I like most kids, loved animals. Also like most kids I wanted to pet them and cuddle them. Even if it was a pelican. Well to my surprise pelicans weren’t friendly. This monstrous beast tried to swallow me whole. There’s not much in life that I’m scared of, but pelicans still freak me out a bit. 

4Q: What’s Gay Poutine all about?

MW: It came from a lack. A lack of contemporary gay and dance culture, A lack of visibility of the LGBTQ community in Moncton. My partner in Poutine, Danderson, and I had been talking about this lack and our interest in filling that void. When he was travelling in Europe last year he hit me up … “GAY POUTINE” he said. I said, “I love it”. Upon his arrival we started putting the forum for these events together. Local cafĂ©/bar owner Marky was supportive in our endeavors and offered us to do our first **Gay Poutine** at LAUNDRO on St. George St. We have had Poutine served at all our events, usually served up by Harry and Taco from Harry’s Pizza, another strong Allie in the LGBTQ community.
The community has been very supportive, both the straight and LGBTQ, We were invited to join in the gay pride parade this year, which I feel still has a big place in creating acceptance and assimilation in Moncton NB.
Every event is mixed with gay, lesbian, straight, trans-gender, and others…We are inviting and accepting to all. We hope that this movement will spark the imagination and drive of other freedom fighters in the city. We hope to see more LGBTQ events pop up in our ever growing cultural landscape.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the 4Q Interview Matt.  If any readers want to connect with this artist or are looking for someone to spin the right tunes at any event, you can reach Matt at

Next week be sure to drop by and meet Chris Eboch of New Mexico. She writes Children's Stories, Historical Fiction and Mystery/Thrillers. She will be offering advice on writing vivid scenes, adapted from her book Advanced Plotting.

Friday, 24 October 2014

An Excerpt from Dark Side of a Promise by Allan Hudson

After a major confrontation with the villainous men he is pursuing in Bangladesh, the police are now involved. Drake Alexander must explain his actions to the Officer-in-Charge, Inspector Bitan Chowdhury.

Drake leans against the wall of Inspector Chowdhury’s office and crosses his arms. He had been sitting in the same chair Mireille had occupied the day before, telling Chowdhury of the events of the last three years. He had been speaking for over an hour when he had gotten up to stretch half way through, his muscles taut from the day’s action and frustration. He had paced about the office as he related the rest of his story before leaning back against the wall.

The Inspector had interrupted occasionally for clarification on some points of Drake’s narrative but mostly sat unmoving, wrapped up in the details.  Drake began by telling Chowdhury of finding Amber and Sakeema, who they were, the condition their bodies were found in. In those very first sentences, Bitan learnt a great deal about the stranger in his office. When Drake had been itemizing the girls’ terrible wounds, he had choked up. Chowdhury, who had been listening while writing his own notes, had looked up at Drake when he had gone quiet. The man was looking him directly in the eyes, not downcast, not covert, and not ashamed. Chowdhury could tell the effort it was taking Drake not to blink. The inspector stared back only for a second, dropping his gaze out of respect. He continued to write when Drake speaks again, stops writing and drops his pencil. The notes can wait, he believes, and listens intently.

“So you see, Inspector, every trail we follow has always led us back to Central America, but it goes cold when you set foot on the isthmus. He could be in the Honduras, Belize, Panama, Guatemala, we don’t know. All we know is that he’s involved in something here in Dhaka. Men, we can safely assume work for him, are chasing one of the slain girls cousin’s, who by the freakiest chance heard someone speak Rizzato’s name.”

“Why didn’t you contact someone in our departments when you arrived”? He asks, his English precise, his accent euphonic.

“Well, as I told you earlier, law enforcement agencies have not been effective in finding Rizzato. It has always been an international screw-up, with arguments over jurisdiction. The girls were in Venezuela, so agents there are involved. The girls were foreigners, one American, one Saudi Arabian living in the U.S.A. on a student visa, so those countries are involved. Bartolommeo Rizzato is a wanted man in several countries, so when his name popped up, they all got involved. Now your people will be involved. Do I need to go on, Inspector? Can’t you see the bureaucratic mess? We had originally planned to do this on our own. But Rae is right, it’s important for us to stay on the right side of the law. I think we need to work together. I have good people with me and we can find him. Let us bring him in.”

Chowdhury gives this idea some thought. He muses that Alexander is probably correct for he knows how red tape can slow down the process when multiple forces are involved. Goodness knows there are too few detectives now for all the investigations to be done.  

The Inspector has seen a lot over the years, insensitivity, depravation, cruelty, lies, amongst many things. But his sense of honesty, of a man’s personal honour has not curdled over the years. He looks up at Drake, who is leaning against the wall. His arms are crossed but his chin rests heavily on his chest, eyes closed, features sedate. Chowdhury wonders if it is fatigue or the peace that comes from a complete confession, a sharing of your burden that makes the man so calm.

He studies Alexander for a moment. The man reminds him of a steed, a quarter-horse in its prime.  Perhaps it would be wise to allow this man his “private investigation.”  Chowdhury believes this man, believes in the depth of his furor and believes in Rae. He sifts through the documentation he’s received on Drake. Honourable discharge, commendations, mostly for his leadership abilities and acts of bravery. Absolutely no criminal record, an abstract so clean it defies possibility. His only black mark was the string of speeding tickets he has accumulated over the last ten years. The man must always be in a hurry.

Chowdhury interrupts Drake’s reverie.

“Mr. Alexander, sit for a moment.”

Drake hesitates; he wants to get this interview over with, to keep searching for Rizzato, not to get comfortable.

“Please, what I want to tell you won’t take long. It will better explain why I feel we should cooperate.” He unsteeples his hands and waves Drake to a more comfortable chair in the corner, to the right of his desk.

Drake is encouraged by the word cooperate and sits in the chair, which is obviously the Inspector’s thinking spot: pipes, tobacco, ashtray, reading glasses, a magnifying glass, all are within easy reach. Like the rest of the office, everything is neatly arranged and spotless.

Chowdhury leans back in his chair; the rocker strains from lack of lubricant and gave a shrill dissent. He points to a large photo hanging over the wooden filing cabinets that claim most of the wall to Drake’s right.  Drake has to lean forward to see it clearer. There are four men in yellow and green cricket uniforms, obviously celebrating some victory. The man on the far left – one arm around his fellow player, the other arm lifting a magnum of champagne, bubbles fizzing over the neck – is Chowdhury. The other three are similarly gleeful, which is evident in their ear-to-ear smiles and victorious hand gestures.

“The man on my immediate left is Taj Al-Khuri, who was Rae’s husband. We were great game mates and quite possibly the closest I’ve ever came to having what you might consider a “best friend.” Taj was a man I greatly admired but could never emulate. He wasn’t much for rules, as I suspect you aren’t either. But he was always a man of the law; he walked the line many times but never, not even once, stepped over. He couldn’t be bought, couldn’t be coerced and couldn’t be stopped once his mind was made up. Had he been a... toady I think the British call it, he would have certainly outranked even me, at an earlier age, he was really quite clever and a damn good detective.”

The Inspector twists in his chair, his imagination sending his words off on a tangent, “I still can’t get over the senseless way he died, how some businessman got the best of him, Taj was so much smarter than that...” He only ponders the idea for a few seconds, “Alas, he is dead and we will never know those last moments of his fruitful life, but we do know he married a sensational woman who is just like him. They were a wonderful team, always in love, always together. Poor, poor Mireille. It took her a long time to get over the ordeal.”

He pushes himself away from the desk, rolling on whispering wheels, and rises from his creaking chair. He grabs the chair back and rocks it each way twice, the spring creaking a bit. “I must oil that soon,” he reminds himself. He reaches for Drake’s sidearm, which is resting on the corner of his desk. He picks it up along with the half empty cartridge and gives it back to Drake.

“Now, what I want to say to you, Mr. Alexander is this: Taj and I had a bond, a bond of trust, both officially and personally. I doubt very much that I shall ever attain a comrade such as him again; if I do it will most likely be his widow. But I am not an easy man to get close to. However, I’m not made of stone either. It is because of these two that I will entrust you to do your ‘private investigating.’ I had a chat with Rae earlier today, as you know. I am also acquainted with Uday Saad, albeit not well enough to have been aware of his daughter’s plight. The people you are associated with, I hold in high regard. Therefore, you are free to carry on”.

Drake is relieved to be able to leave; he wants to get to the hospital to check on Dakin.

“Thank you Inspector and I...”

“But,” said the Inspector, interrupting Drake. He walks over to the cabinets the picture hangs above and waves Drake over. When Drake joins him, he points to the man on the far right of the picture and says, “Tomorrow this man will join you, and he will be like flypaper. Are you familiar with flypaper, Mr. Alexander? Extremely sticky stuff, flypaper.”

Chowdhury grins at his metaphor and doesn’t wait for an answer.

“His name is Gurupada Bannerji, some people call him Pada. I am assigning this case to him. He or Rae will liaise with me, keeping me informed as to your progress. Is that clear?”

The scrunched eyebrows and heavy frown on Chowdhury’s face indicate his seriousness; this is not a negotiable issue. Drake nevertheless makes an attempt to dissuade the inspector, “I don’t think we need a babysitter, Inspector. Rae knows her way around. My men and I are familiar with each other and I’m not comfortable with adding an unknown to our efforts. You’ve seen what we are up against. I’m not sure a desk jockey is a good idea.”

 Chowdhury grunts and goes back to his desk, “I can assure you, Mr. Alexander that Mr. Bannerji is no desk jockey. He is one of the top three shooters on the police force, both with a pistol and a sniper rifle. He is a practitioner of Haidong Gumdo. He is an all-rounder in cricket, being an exceptional batsman and bowler. He can be brutal if necessary. And he is single, which means he will be able to assist you twenty-four hours a day.  I can guarantee that if push comes to shove, Mr. Alexander, Bannerji will be a valuable asset. I also need to remind you that you are short one man at present, with your comrade – who would be in some trouble for carrying side arms without a permit were it not for Rae and me – is in hospital.”

Chowdhury sits in his corner chair and reaches for his pipe. He speaks as he fills it and tamps the tobacco, “I’m going to insist on this Drake, or your investigation will come to a quick end. I also expect that you will stick to the investigating and leave the arresting to us.  Of course, I anticipate you will need to defend yourself in certain situations, but I don’t wish for you to provoke anyone. Don’t endanger my people or yours.”

He hesitates before lighting the pipe, then looks up at Drake, who is still standing beside the filing cabinets.

“I don’t think there is anything else to discuss, Mr. Alexander. I have your cell number and Bannerji will be in touch with you in the morning. May I tell him you are an early riser?”

Drake realizes Chowdhury has the advantage and that submitting to his proposal will make searching for Rizzato much easier.

“Fine Inspector, I agree to your conditions and look forward to meeting Mr. Bannerji. I’m available anytime he or you need me. Thanks for your cooperation. If you could arrange for someone to drive me to the hospital, I would appreciate it.”

“Go wait at the entrance and one of my men will escort you. Oh, and I trust you will see to the rental that was destroyed, as well as the other vehicles. I’m certain the rental company won’t be pleased and I’d rather they didn’t have to bother us over this matter.”.

He places a match to the packed bowl of his pipe, sucking in the flame. Thin plumes of aromatic smoke move gently about the room. Drake recognizes Borkum Riff, the same brand his father had smoked, the one with the whiskey flavour.  A calm comes over him, a reassurance of something familiar.

“I take full responsibility for the vehicles. I’ll personally see that the rental people are compensated. Is there anything else Inspector? If not, I’ll bid you a good evening.”

Their eyes lock for a moment. There is mutual respect there.

“Good night then, Mr. Alexander. Go cautiously.”
Dark Side of a Promise is a story you don't want to miss. Available at or .ca. Ebook version or hard copy. Also available from this website.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Guest Author Elizabeth Housden writes about Creating Characters.

Elizabeth is a professional actress and director. Her first performance was at the age of three and she has worked in the theatre for many years, performing everything from Shakespeare to pantomime, turning to directing some years ago.
Having taught drama for some 15 years at Bedales School in Hampshire, Elizabeth still runs the theatre company that she founded in 2001, ‘The Misrule Theatre Company’. In addition to writing all the original material for Misrule she has also been writing novels for both children and adults for the last 20 years.
Elizabeth is currently working on a series of books for older children called ‘The Barbary Trilogy’, the first one, ‘The Hollow Crown’, to appear on this website soon.
Married to Michael, who works in the City, she has four children, two sons and two daughters, with 6 grandchildren between them. She and Michael live in London and Hampshire.

You can read more about Elizabeth at

I've often wondered how on earth it is so many deeply talented writers manage to write such glorious stuff if they hadn't first been trained for the stage.  But few have been.  I admire them hugely. 

Why, you ask? 

Well now, theatre - the greatest and most clever confidence trick of all time.  Everything is illusion - the sets are not Aladdin's cave or a castle in Denmark, neither are they a bar in New York or a blasted heath, they are drawings, digital images, bits of painted cloth, lumps of polystyrene decorated to deceive.  The people who speak to you from those sets are not really old tramps or murderous kings or angry young displaced princes hell bent on revenge, they are actors pretending to be them.  Everyone who works in theatre knows it, the audience knows it, the people who own the theatres know it, and yet people flock in in droves, paying out good money to sit and watch things unreal performed by real people who are not what they seem and the ones they like best are those that con them better than others.  That's what a great actor is, simply a first class con artist.

How do we achieve this?  There are many tricks and dodges, ways to walk and talk and sit and die.  There are costumes and props, make-up and lights.  To help us, too there are great theatre practitioners all round the globe who have given their lives over to helping professional con artists trick people ever more convincingly.  One of the greatest, Konstantin Stanislavski said, "I go to the theatre to see the actors perform the subtext.  I can read the text at home."  Thus it is, as actors we must get into the character, see behind what he says that makes him the real person, observe what others in the play say to him or about him and work out what he is like.  Then we play it, knowing what he REALLY is.  Simple.  Well, no not really.  It is a hugely time consuming, totally absorbing, frustrating, fascinating journey.  The rehearsal process which we all go through is enlightening, infuriating, exhausting and we love it.  Through it we learn about ourselves as well as those we play.  We never stop learning.  We learn about our fellow actors and we are privileged to be allowed to get to know other humans in such an intimate and personal way.  We are the most fortunate of people. 

So, how does this relate to my admiration of writers who have not been put through this rigorous process?  I have acted off and on, all my life, and still do so, interspersed with my roles as wife and mother and all that goes with that.  I spent my required years at drama school and loved them, hated them, cried, laughed and screamed at my inadequacies.  As I got older and the parts became fewer and further between, which is normal for most women, I started to write, firstly plays, the format of which was so familiar to me and then, later, gradually, slowly I began to write novels.  Now I can't stop. 

To begin with, I thought how lucky I was that now I could create my own characters.  I was not confined to those of the playwright but could branch out on my own.  But suddenly I knew I needed a back story, not just the one behind the whole novel, but each character had to have one.  Why did he or she talk the way they do? What makes them angry, sad, happy, laugh? Why are they jealous?  Of whom?  Why are they not jealous if they should be?  The task was huge but had to be undertaken or these imaginary people would not be real.  I wouldn't have conned anyone, not even myself.  I suddenly knew my job, as I had all my life before as an actor.  It was a wonderful and terrifying moment.  And if a writer hadn't been trained and worked as a professional actor, as I have, God knows how they'd start.  I am in awe. 

I am often asked what I think of my characters - no, more specifically I am asked always about the two or sometimes three main characters in the book, generally the "lead" man and girl and the villain!  What makes him villainous?  A fellow writer acquaintance of mine said once, if someone really upset him badly, he would put him in a novel and kill him very slowly and painfully.  I know exactly what he means!  It is rare for me to kill someone in a novel, but I might slip in the odd characteristic here and there of people who have irritated or infuriated me!   Do I like the male lead? You bet I do!  Given the opportunity to create someone completely wonderful, why wouldn't you?!  The lead male in my latest novel, I have published four so far and this new one is the fifth, is to die for.  He makes me go weak at the knees.  But this book is also a first - my first historical novel.  It is called The Gentlemen Go By. 

I have loved the disciplines that history demand and impose upon you.  I have had to remember how long it took for news to be taken from one part of the land to another.  I have had think about fashion in clothes, fashion in morals, food, drink, transport as well as what was actually happening in the world then, both politically and socially and also physically - famous storms, erupting volcanos, tidal waves.  Were there any?  What impact would they have on the lives of those imaginary people who inhabit the pages?  Imagination hemmed in by necessary disciplines is powerfully enlivening.  This new story of mine is set in the years 1788/9 - to save anyone looking that up, 1789 was the date of the French Revolution.  It was the time of Les Mis.  But the setting was a very different place. 

This tale is derived from a real character and in a place that I know well and that in many ways has changed less than in other parts of the British Isles.  Right at the bottom of Great Britain just a few miles south of the city of Southampton, in the middle of the northern stretches of the English Channel is a tiny, diamond-shaped island.  It is called the Isle of Wight.  Here it was I grew up.  For some reason, and I'm not sure why, British people measure the size of bits of the world in relation to the Isle of Wight.  Example:  How big is Barbados? About the same size as the Isle of Wight.  Example :  How many people are there in China? Well, if you stood the whole population of China next to one another without a space between them, you would fit them all onto the Isle of Wight.  Example:  How big is London?  Oh, huge - four times the size of the Isle of Wight.  The examples are endless.  The real man on whom this tale is based was nothing like the man in my story - at least I doubt it.  But he was a smuggler. 

This real, eighteenth century fellow, then, was an Islander and a man of the people.  He was a crook, really, and involved much of the populace where he lived on the Island (the islanders always call the Isle of Wight, 'The Island', by the way - it is the only Island they care about, you see).  They helped him smuggle, hide the contraband, distribute it and share in the profits.  But it is there the similarity ends, however.  The hero of my story was a French aristocrat, dashing, handsome, sexually magnetic, and the girl he falls in love with utterly worthy of him and matches his courage, imagination, commitment and sense of humour in every way.  I know nothing of that aspect of the real man, but that doesn't matter for this is my story, they are my hero and heroine and I can do with them what I will, given the restraints of human nature and physique and the era in which they lived.  As I do when researching a part, getting to grips with the clues in the text, every time I write a book, I use those same rules and apply them to my imagined people.  

I spend long hours just thinking about them, inventing scenes that never appear in the book and are not meant to be used either, but simply so I get to know them better, to make them real. I have to know what they look like, how they dress, what they eat and drink, what makes them laugh and cry, what turns them on.  Why do they like this person or that, how they have been hurt, what they were like as children, or if they are children, what they hide from adults, and how they say it.  I have done much work with young people and I have been lucky enough to be the confidante of many so I know how they talk to one another when adults are not there, how they think, what makes them laugh or angry and so positive in the face of desperate uncertainty and questioning in the midst of cast iron reality. 

I suppose in the end, people will ask, so then, what about the character you know most, namely myself?  Am I in these books?  In many ways yes, how could I not be.  Every actor brings his or her own experiences of life and uses them within the restraints put upon them by the character he or she plays.  So, I suppose it is with me, but none of the girls in my novels is actually me and neither are they any of my friends although some believe, quite wrongly they are.  For example, if I write about a character who has a phobia of something, say, then she would probably be afraid of heights or spiders.  I know what it is like to be afraid of heights and spiders because I am.  I can write about it with conviction.  I couldn't really write about a phobia of say, balloons or clowns or snakes (and I love snakes, actually) because I don't really understand those.  But these women are not myself. I only draw upon one or two things I feel or hate or enjoy to make them real to my audience.  I lend bits of myself to my creations, that is all. 

Will you like the Marquis Jacques St Aubin if you read the Gentlemen Go By?  I would like to think so.  Not just because I like him and we like our friends to like other friends but because he appeals to you - he is real and you can visualise him, his crooked smile, his eyes that hold too much knowledge, maybe knowledge he shouldn't have, the frisson of danger about him, the way he raises a glass of brandy to his lips and smiles at you just before he drinks it. 

Oh yes, he is to,die for... 

And he's mine.
Please drop by The Scribbler next week for an excerpt from my novel, Dark Side of a Promise. Drake Alexander has tracked his man to Bangladesh. After his first encounter with the villainous men that work for him, the police are now involved. Drake explains his actions to the Officer in Charge, Inspector Bitan Chowdhury

Friday, 10 October 2014

My favorite short story - The Ship Breakers

This story received Honorable Mention in the Kyle Douglas Memorial Short Story contest sponsored by New Brunswick Writers Federation. Ship Breaking is done mainly by hand and is gruesome hard work.  It was first published in SHORTS Vol.1 which is available at I hope you enjoy my story.

The Ship Breakers.

The Neptune Giant is a VLCC, a very large crude carrier. When it was completed in 1979, it ranked among the largest oil tankers in the world. From bow to stern, 75 Cadillacs could park bumper to bumper. The crews used bicycles to travel the elongated deck. With a beam of nearly two hundred feet, five bungalows could be placed lengthwise side by side across the deck; her keel is six stories underwater. The raw steel is covered with over fifteen hundred gallons of paint. She’d been given a lifespan of thirty years; instead, she had sailed every ocean of the world, berthed at every continent, rode many storm’s fierce waves and trolled the endless seas for thirty-five years. Today is her final voyage.

Her last port of call, two weeks ago, was Saint John, New Brunswick, with two million barrels of Venezuelan crude. Now, the tanker cruises the Bay of Bengal at fourteen knots. At that speed she requires five miles to come to a dead stop.  The ship breaking yards of Chittagong, Bangladesh, are only four miles away. The captain brings the ship to starboard, aiming the aging tanker directly at the muddy beach. The tide is high, which is necessary to allow the gargantuan machine to ground itself like an aged sea lion, as near to the shore as possible, where it will die.

The engine that powers the ship is eighty-nine feet long and forty-four feet wide with twelve massive cylinders – one of the largest engines in the world. It weighs two thousand metric tons costing more than the rest of the transport. Its thirst for fuel demands over fifteen hundred gallons of crude every hour. Its last chore will be to power the vessel onto the tidal mud banks, where humans who are dwarfed by its immensity will eventually take it apart, by hand, piece by piece. The work is extremely dangerous with an exceptionally high mortality rate and yet there is no shortage of men.

Of the approximately 45,000 ocean-going vessels in the world, about seven hundred per year are taken out of service for dismantling. Many go to Alang, India, the world’s largest shipbreaking yard. Or to Gadani, Pakistan, the third largest after Chittagong. Where the ships go, the jobs go. As difficult as the work may be, ship breaking is part of the momentum powering the economy of a young Bangladesh. The owners of this particular ship-breaking yard paid three million dollars for the Neptune Giant. 

With torches, sledgehammers, steel wedges, brute force and painstaking drudgery, it will take six months to dismantle; one man will die and two men will be injured by a thousand pound slab of steel cut from the behemoth’s hide. It will net the owner millions more than he paid when he sells the scrap metal and he will provide no compensation for men that can’t work. They toil fourteen hours a day, with two half hour breaks and an hour for lunch, six and a half days a week. The men will eat their supper when their work shift ends. At least one quarter are illiterate; one quarter are children. The average wage is $1.25 per day.


Azhar Uddin is gently woken by his father. It’s 4:30 a.m.

“Come my little man, you must join your brother at the table. You must leave for work soon. Come now.”

Hafiz Uddin turns from his son, supporting himself with his only arm grasped upon a homemade crutch; the other arm is buried beneath the muddy beaches where he once toiled, severed by falling steel at the same crippling yards where he will soon send his two sons. He wobbles even with his lopsided support; the left knee and lower leg, the same side as the missing arm, were wrecked in the accident also. Unable to find meaningful work with only a single hand, one strong leg and a defeated spirit, he remains dependent upon his male children: Nur is fourteen; Azhar will be thirteen next week. Because they are exceptional workers, they earn two hundred and sixty takas a day, just over three dollars.

Rising slowly, he sits up on the side of the bed, Azhar rubs his shoulder. The dull ache in his muscle reminds him of the steel pipes he helped carry all day. Long straight bangs of the fiercest black hang over his narrow forehead. His brown boyish skin is smooth and untroubled, not yet marked by the lines of struggle. A slight dimple on the end of his nose balances the squareness of his jaw. The man’s work he does has not taken the childish shine from his eyes. Blinking the sleepy fog from his brow he rises to find his work clothes neatly folded at the foot of his bed. His father washed and hung them to dry before he retired for the night, as he would’ve done for Azhar’s older brother, Nur, also. There are no women in the house.

Azhar slips on his red and blue striped shirt, the collar and cuffs worn thin bearing unravelled threads. Wrapping a green and yellow lungi around his slim hips, he ties a double pretzel knot to keep it secure. He often wishes for trousers to protect his legs, but they would be too hot for work, and he knows there is no money for such luxuries. Every spare taka is sent to his mother, Naju, in Dhaka. He ponders a moment, thinking of her and his sisters. Rayhana is eleven and works with his mother; and Tasleema is six. He hasn’t seen them for over four months. It is for Tasleema that they all work and save whatever is possible so that she can go to school. As he thinks of her glowing eyes and the tiny face he remembers her promise,

“When we are together again, Azhar, I will teach you to read.”

The thought causes him to bend down to retrieve the tattered comic book from under his bed. In the dim light of the bare bulb from the kitchen, he scans the torn cover. The masked man with the flowing cape, he knows, is called Batman. One of his first jobs when he was only ten was to retrieve any usable items from the grounded ships that could be sold to the recyclers: rolls of unused toilet paper, cleaning supplies, pots and pans, furniture, bedding, tools, discarded books, coastal maps, light bulbs, cans of paint, rope, wire. The comic book had been in a waste basket; it was torn and thick with many readings. Azhar had seen other comics before but he wondered where this one came from and how far it had travelled when he found it. His boss Mojnu told him to keep it, otherwise it was being tossed out. He was always impressed by the colored pages, the photos of cars, tall buildings, fancy clothes, fight scenes, smiles and scowls – and he longs to know what the squiggly words mean. More than anything, he wants to read.

Tossing the book under the bed once more, he tugs the frugal sheets into place neatly, as his father expects, before joining his brother at the table. Their home is corrugated metal divided into two rooms with few possessions, its shape a replica of the many shanties lining the dirt street where he lives. Theirs is different because their father keeps it clean. The walls are painted a bright blue inside and out; their roof doesn’t leak when it rains.

The smell of oatmeal greets him as it drifts from the boiling pot his father is bent over, stirring, on the Bondhu Chula, a cook stove. Oatmeal for breakfast is not common in their home or their neighbours for that matter. Most breakfasts are rice, sometimes with red or green chillies. Or paratha, a pan fried unleavened flat bread. Yesterday Old Angus Macdonald, the burly Scotsman that visits them sometimes, dropped off a bag of rolled oats. They have no idea where he lives or where he comes from. They only know him from the story their father has told them.

The man was almost seventy when he commanded the Atlantic Pride, one of Canada’s largest ferries, to the yards in Chittagong when it was retired four years ago. He stepped onto shore after he grounded the ship and he never left. When the torches cut a section of aged steel from the nose of that very ship, a huge chunk crashed to the ground beside Hafiz, pinning his arm to the sand and breaking his leg. Had the piece fallen several inches more to the left, Hafiz would`ve died. Maybe that was why the elderly man stopped by once in a while with his bag of oats or some other staples and a few taka notes. He never stayed long, spoke very little Bengali. Always laughing, always a mystery.


Nur sits in front of a dish of flatbread, resting on a makeshift table which is a piece of discarded plywood his father has sanded, painted and polished. It’s the same teal that decorates the home, the same teal Hafiz got for free. Nur looks up with his usual wide grin,

“Good morning little brother. Will you be having paratha or paratha for your meals today?”

Hafiz has his back to his boys, cooking their breakfast. He doesn’t turn around when he scolds his oldest son. “Be thankful you have food, Nur. There are neighbours who may not have any today, or tomorrow. Don’t make fun. And Azhar, wash up, do your morning duties, and hurry. This is almost done.”

Both boys answer in unison, “Yes, Baba.”

The man that owns the property their home sits on is the same individual who owns the breaking yard the boys work at. Not totally without empathy, he provides running water and outhouses. Perhaps it is benevolence that has him supply these accommodations; it’s also his desire that his employees should be healthy so they don’t miss work. Hence the covered latrines and cold, life-giving Adams’ ale. Azhar goes to the sideboard, where water heated by his father steams from an old porcelain basin that is storied with nicks and scratches. He washes the sleep from his face, tames the cowlicks on his head, before taking the bowl outdoors to discard the soapy residue. Setting it on the doorstep, he rushes to the outhouse to complete his morning ritual. Returning to the kitchen, he finds Nur bent over a smoking bowl of hot porridge with the grandest of smiles.

“Azhar, we have brown sugar this morning. Our Baba is good to us”

Hafiz sits at the opposite end of the table, his own porridge barren of anything sweet. There is only enough for the boys, he feels.  The used plastic bag that sits on the table holds about three tablespoons of crumbly dark crystals. Azhar sits at his seat, an upended orange crate padded with a cushion his mother made.

“Eat up boys. Divide that between you.”

As Nur digs into the bag, Azhar watches his father stir his breakfast to cool it, knowing such a treat is rare.

“What about you Baba?”

Nur halts his sprinkling to look at his father.

“No, no, I don’t want any. Take it. And hurry, Ismail will be along soon with the truck to take you to work.”

Suddenly the kettle’s steam whistle erupts. Hafiz sits closest to the cook stove and twists about with his single arm to lift the heated pot to fill the three mugs for tea.  When his father turns his back, Azhar hastily reaches into the bag pulling out almost half of what is left. He stretches to sprinkle the sugar about his father’s bowl. Nur grins and tosses in what is left on his spoon. The boys are giggling as Hafiz turns around with the first of the mugs.

He stops in mid swing when he sees what they have done. He guesses it to be Azhar, so much like his mother. He holds his youngest son’s gaze for a moment before looking at Nur. Mistaking the look on their father’s face, thinking him upset, the boys grow quiet. Hafiz briefly studies his sons, soon off to do men’s work, still childlike in their hearts. He yearns for them to run free, not to need their strong backs to survive. He is overcome with this simple gesture of love; a glistening tear zigzags down his haggard cheek.

“Thank you, my sons. You are fine men.”

With everyone shy, the meal passes in solitude. The boys hastily finish so they can get ready for work.

Please feel free to leave a comment. Thanks for visiting.

Next week the Scribbler welcomes Elizabeth Housden of the United Kingdom as she talks about Creating Characters and her novel The Gentlemen Go By. She is a published author and former actress.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Canadian Diamonds are not Blood Diamonds

Why would a diamond be called a blood diamond? Here’s what Wikipedia says; Blood diamonds (also called a conflict diamonds, converted diamonds, hot diamonds, or war diamonds) is a term used for a diamond mined in a war zone and sold to finance an insurgency, an invading army's war efforts, or a warlord's activity. The term is used to highlight the negative consequences of the diamond trade in certain areas, or to label an individual diamond as having come from such an area.


"Diamonds are a girl’s best friend" Marilyn Monroe famously sang in the 1953 classic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. But are they friends to Canadians too?  Diamonds are not everybody’s friend. Check the video at the end of the blog. made available by the diamond buyers guide.


In February 2011, a Canadian diamond named the Ekati Spirit sold at auction for a record $6 million. The cherry-sized, 78-carat rock’s exceptional clarity, carats and colour surpassed that of the previous record holder which sold for $1.2 million just a few years ago. It wasn't disclosed whether the Spirit's buyer was male or female, but somewhere in the world a girl has a new best friend.

Early in 2011, DeBeers got the green light to open a new mine located roughly 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife on the shore of Kennady Lake. Estimates say that the $600 million Gahcho Kue project could start production in 2014. Yet since the kimberlite (ancient underground magma) that holds the diamonds is actually located under the lake, the plan is to lower the water level in some spots and completely drain the lake in others. This overhaul of the natural landscape is fueling concerns that the diamond business is not as clean-cut as the stones they produce.


Canada’s diamond industry was launched from a standstill in the late 1990s after the discovery of one of the gems at Point Lake, NWT. Since then, the industry has surged and Canada now produces 15 percent of the world’s diamond supply and is the third largest producer of diamonds after Botswana and Russia. Between 1998 and 2002, 13.8 million carats worth $2.8 billion have been mined in Canada. "This is roughly a 1.5-kilogram bag of ice each day for five years, with each bag worth 1.5 million," reports Statistics Canada.

Diamond mining has also led to a marked increase in Northern jobs. And these positions are more than just stints, but long-term posts. Nearly a third of these jobs are held by aboriginals and average salaries hover around $63,000. The mining has come to account for almost half of the North West Territory's GDP, according to Deb Archibald, director of minerals, oil and gas at the NWT industry ministry.


However, both open-pit and underground mines present significant environmental impacts. Issues such as destruction or loss of habitat, water contamination, excessive waste (rock, soil etc…) and the possibility of heavy metals or toxins leeching into the water table are ever-present factors. In the case of the new Gahcho Rue mine, the displacement of the caribou habitat and migration paths are of great concern.

In response to these threats, First Nations groups set up an independent watchdog organization to protect against environmental damages at the Ekati mine. In 2004, they reported an increase in chemicals in the surrounding lakes and a total habitat loss of 19.7 square kilometres, an area double the size of Yellowknife. And the mine was also in the migratory path of the largest caribou herd in Canada.

The open-pit Victor Mine in the James Bay Lowlands of Northern Ontario produces some 600,000 carats of diamonds every year. It also produces 2.5 million tonnes of processed waste rock every year and pumps 40 Olympic sized pools of salt-water into the Attawapiskat River every day.

A great deal of emphasis is placed on the Canadian diamond industry as a welcome alternative to the blood or conflict diamonds mined in Africa. Canada was one of the main supporters of the Kimberly process, a certification initiative created in 2000 to help deter the trade of conflict diamonds.
All diamonds mined and cut in the Northwest Territories of Canada are laser inscribed with a unique identification number so that retailers can assure they are conflict-free stones. Taking another oppositional cue from Africa and the disastrous impacts their mining programs had on the surrounding ecosystems, all Canadian diamond mines are overseen by the Canada Mining Regulations for the Northwest Territories. This program ensures the preservation of surrounding land and aquatic habitats.


The following 1 minute video is from the African Diamond Council. It warns about blood diamonds and is NOT for the faint hearted.
Due to a time conflict, the 4Q Interview with Kitty LaRoar will only be available next week. You really need to meet this gal and listen to her music. She has a wonderful voice and sings the old classics beautifully. Here's a sample.