Writing it right&ldots;
by Kate Aley
published in the
Photo by Kate Aley
I had recently heard Barbara Florio Graham speak about reselling articles to newspapers, magazines and anthologies, but was still a little taken aback to find her name in a Family Circle magazine from 1967, giving suggestions for extending the life of your moisturizer.
First published at the tender age of nine, Barbara has followed a single-minded course: to write fluently, knowledgably and well - and to teach others to write well too.
"I never considered myself a woman author; I always thought of myself as a journalist," she states, draped in a stylish silk jacket that perfectly matches her purple and turquoise cushions, candles and eye shadow. "I never thought of doing anything else but writing, 'though of course I did."
Working over the years as a high school teacher, PR administrator and on line mentor, Barbara describes her lifetime of writing as a "vocation".
"My technique is to get a bright idea, write it down and send it off," she quips. With a pad of paper at hand at all times, even positioned at the ready in the downstairs bathroom, Barbara has been published in countless magazines, periodicals and newspapers, including her column in the West Quebec Post. "I have bought a hand held recorder for when I get an idea in the car," she continues. "It was getting too hard to wait for a red light so I could write something down on the note pad mounted on the dash board."
Specializing in two fields - native affairs and entertainment - Barbara also began writing under an assumed persona: her cat, the now famous Simon Teakettle. "That's my hobby writing, the fun stuff," she smiles, adding that it helped lift some of the pressure from more serious subject matter.
During her stints as teacher in both Canada and the United States, keeping learning light and fun became her key to success. "You learn when you enjoy yourself," she says emphatically. 'You can beat or drill information into kids, but it's a terrible mistake. They must find it worthwhile, or they will never learn."
Devising entertaining and effective course material for students both at high school and in the public sector led to the creation of her book "Five Fast Steps to Better Writing", now celebrating its 20th year.
"I wanted the book to be non-threatening and fun, not bogged down with grammar exercises," she says. With updated information on freelancing, references and resources, the core of the book is mostly unchanged from the unprepossessing manual it was in 1985. "It got many great reviews, but the one I liked best claimed that "Five Fast Steps" was proof that you can't judge a book by its cover."
Ever a passionate advocate for good spelling and a strong participial phrase, Barbara is currently drafting an indignant letter to a city newspaper to protest the use of "alright" in a headline. The misspelled word stars on her list of "Barbara's Banished" at the end of "Five Fast Steps", joining such luminaries as "alot", "irregardless" and "would of".
"The standard of writing today is deplorable," she laments. "I became a writer because that's the way I expressed myself best; for me, writing was as easy as speaking, but it's not so for many. We need to comprehend that how we appear in print is as significant as how we appear in person."
"The topics I write on often have the same thrust as teaching. When you have received good teaching you remember it for years, and you want to give it back. One of the most touching things I was ever sent was a picture of one of my old students, now a teacher herself, with her students. Written on the photograph were the words: "Paying it forward." She couldn't have sent a better gift."
At this point Simon himself enters the room, a little stiff legged from his afternoon nap. "I trained the cat!" grins Barbara. "I just applied the same method as teaching my students!"
2006, Kate Aley. All Rights Reserved