Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea


Feature writing my favourite

Ever since learning to read and write, I knew that I wanted to live in the world of words. As a child, I wrote stories on my mother’s typewriter, kept a journal, made mini-newspapers, and loved to visit the library.


As a teen, I wrote newsletter blurbs and edited my high school yearbooks. At university, I co-edited the tri-weekly student newspaper and worked as a summer reporter at The Edmonton Journal and The Vancouver Sun.


 Today, I have published in more than 50 books, magazines and newspapers, including The Globe and Mail, The Georgia Straight, Sierra and BC Business magazine. Yet, as a reporter, I soon realized that “hard” news or daily reporting of events didn’t excite my heart. I preferred feature writing, which offered more depth and creative options as a writer.


 Early in my career, at age 21, one small reporting assignment shaped my future work decisions. While at The Edmonton Journal, I was supposed to do a story about a baseball coach who became paralyzed after a member of his peewee baseball team had thrown a bat in anger. The bat had bounced off the ground and hit the coach’s spine, leaving him permanently injured.


 When I phoned the coach for an interview, he selflessly pleaded with me not to pursue the story, insisting that the boy and his family had already suffered enough. His grace and consideration in crisis touched me.


I discussed the situation with my editor, who relented; he said just to include a short paragraph on the incident as a matter of record. I did so and in the process, learned that my priorities would never make me a hard-nosed reporter: I would always place the human factor above getting a story at any cost.


When interviewing people as a professional writer today, I have found myself more intrigued by their personal tales and inner struggles than just recording an external event.


I like to extend compassion and a soulful connection to the people I write about, rather than only find a story angle and maintain so-called objective, professional distance.

November 30, 2009 at 5:49 pm Comments (0)


Whatever happened to free speech?

Detention and interrogation. A vehicle and laptop search. Riffling through reporter notebooks. I found Canadian border officials’ recent treatment of U.S. journalist Amy Goodman a disturbing threat to free speech. 

Host of Democracy Now, a public radio show in the States, Goodman was stopped in a vehicle with two assistants at the Washington-B.C. border on Nov. 25. Visiting Canada to promote her new book, she was en route to Victoria for a speaking engagement. Yet the border guards kept grilling her about the 2010 Winter Olympics, afraid that she was coming to Canada to criticize this world event. What if she was? Is freedom of speech the new contraband?

The guards  interrogated her for more than an hour, reportedly demanding to know the details of Goodman’s planned speech. They asked her at least six times if she was coming to Canada to speak about the Olympics. One border patrol agent looked through her book, Breaking the Sound Barrier, and made notes from it. Goodman said: “I was totally shocked . . .It sends a message that we’re being monitored, watched. . .It sends a message to other journalists to watch what they do.”

Fear of such reprisals might indeed result in unnecessary self-censorship on the part of reporters, both locally and those visiting from around the world. Are we heading for a Big Brother world of Government Think?

We’ve already seen the fallout in Vancouver from “free speech zones” designated for protesters during the Olympics. A gag order targeted for the three-week event prevents the display of any commercial signs that  might compete with the corporate logos and messages of official sponsors like Visa or Royal Bank. Whose interests are we protecting, anyway?

This makes me think of practices by companies like Coke and Pepsi that try to muzzle negative comments about their products. In many cases, they make any school or university that carries their bottled water sign an agreement saying that they will not publicly criticize their products.

November 30, 2009 at 5:01 pm Comments (0)

A dog’s breakfast

No, this isn’t a rant about pet food. It’s my potpourri category for comments that don’t fit under my other posted themes.

I first heard the term “a dog’s breakfast” while working on The Ubyssey, the student newspaper at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. (I served as co-editor with Tom Hawthorn, now a Victoria-based author and Globe and Mail writer.) Staff editors used the term to describe some awful-looking layout spread or a disjointed story.

Recently, a friend of mine had some cancerous cells removed from her nose, requiring some skin gouging by a plastic surgeon and garish-looking stitches. While people around her kept insisting that her red, swollen nose full of stitches looked fine and even good, her plastic surgeon told her: “It looks like a dog’s breakfast.” I liked the bluntness of his observation, which made my friend laugh. I’d rather hear the truth.

I hope that posts here, whether yours or mine, can contribute to the “dog’s breakfast” view of life.

November 30, 2009 at 4:36 pm Comment (1)

Why writers?

Writers challenge, provoke, question, denounce, mock, threaten, entertain, and inspire. They record and reveal the joys and rigors of daily life. They bring a voice and validation to powerful and poignant moments within a life, a family, a community, and a culture that would otherwise slide away and disappear under the gloss, distortion and lies of advertisers, conventional media, and politicians.

Writers transform memories, emotion, and events into shared social history. By touching souls, minds and hearts, their words remind us that we do not sing about or suffer through this human experience alone.

November 30, 2009 at 4:27 pm Comments (0)