Thursday, March 31, 2022

“Looking for Jubilee” by Carol Chandran


We’ve been in a rough patch. The hardest part is that my father-in-law’s cancer has metastasized into his brain, producing a poor prognosis. Under the broad cover of that worry is a blend of more commonplace issues (Covid, parenting, winter doldrums) and some less commonplace ones (my husband and I recently discovered a hidden leaking oil tank buried behind a rental property we bought and we’re solely responsible for the massive job of cleaning up the resulting environmental contamination).

One frigid Sunday night, shortly after the shock of discovering the oil spill, we went to my in-laws’ house for dinner. My father-in-law loves our two Siamese cats, Django and Jubilee, so we brought them along as requested. Dinner was nice and felt reassuringly normal, apart from my father-in-law excusing himself at 7:30 to rest in bed. When it was time to leave, we packed up the cats and their litter box, and headed for home.

When we arrived, we stumbled out of the car how ever our winter gear would allow. Sam, 15 years old, carried Django; Nathaniel, 13 years old, carried Jubilee. We were shuffling along through the snowy backyard toward the house when I saw Jubilee jump from Nat's arms. Immediately, my heart froze. "Nat..." I heard myself breathe out, "Oh, no."

Jubilee is a sleek lilac point Siamese cat. This means she’s mostly white with little bits of silver on her face, ears, paws, and tail. She is an indoor cat and weighs eight pounds. Inexplicably, she had decided to run on a night flagged with an extreme cold warning.

We all searched. We all searched in the dark. We all searched in the dark for a small white cat against the backdrop of snow that covered everything on one of the coldest nights of the winter.

Nathaniel and Elizabeth, my 10 year old daughter, cried while they searched. I could see Nat lying flat on his belly on the ground looking under cars, not able to call Jubilee’s name. At 15 years old, Sam was not crying. But I knew the boy before he looked like a man, and I knew that he might be the most terrified of us all.

Fear mounted with each passing minute. The truth is we would not be able to find Jubilee unless she allowed herself to be found. I prayed she was not so spooked to have run far and become disoriented. I did not think she could survive the night in such low temperatures.

Hours earlier I had felt sick with worry about managing the cleanup and financial toll of an oil spill we hadn’t caused. But this was something else altogether. I almost nodded inwardly. “To whomever it may concern,” I silently said, “I appreciate the reminder of what matters. I’ll pay whatever you want, but not this."

Locking Django in the basement so he couldn’t get outside, we opened the front and back doors of the house wide open. We spread food and litter outdoors, familiar smells to help bring Jubilee home. We patrolled the street and the alley behind the house, calling for her as calmly as we could so she would not be afraid. 

"Search the house, too, in case she comes back on her own," I said, thinking especially of Elizabeth, as this would give her a chance to warm up inside.

A good Samaritan helped us look for her, in spite of the biting cold. He was a neighbour up the street but I hadn’t met him before. "I remember what it's like when you're a kid and a pet goes missing," he said. I would later write him a thank you note for this spark of kindness.

It wasn't long before I was freezing cold myself. I went inside and changed into warm layers. I had a plan. I was going to sit on the front porch and call Jubilee’s name while shaking her food tub through the night. My friend told me this is what she did once when her cat ran away. After five hours, she said, he did return. He ran away in summer though. I had to prepare for a winter vigil.

I was bundling up in my bedroom when Nat came up the stairs and headed straight to me. His eyes were closed and head hung low when he fell into my side. "I'm so sorry," he sobbed. Normally, Nat avoids hugs and sometimes conversation with me. I held him up and held him close.

"I know, Nat. It's alright," I said.

From nowhere my husband appeared and shrouded Nat with his body while I held him. "It's not your fault. Of course it's not your fault! I'm going to find her. She's coming back," the words poured out. This is a difference between my husband and me, his ability to make a well-intended promise that may not be in his power to keep. I'm too literal for that. I watched him bundle himself up with more clothes and return to search the streets.

By now we had been looking for an hour and a half. It was almost midnight. My daughter met me in the hall. I told her to go to bed while we kept looking.

"Mom, I think she's gone," she said, through tears.

"Do you see me all dressed up like this?” I asked. “ I'm going to sit outside, for hours if I have to, and call for her. Andrea's cat came back after five hours. Jubilee's clever. When it’s quiet and calm, she could hear me and come back. I'm not ready to give up."

But Elizabeth couldn't take them in, these words that I still had hope in, even in my fear. Her small body stood straight and rigid. "I'm going to try to go on without her," she said in a stoical, quivering voice I hadn't heard before. I just hugged her, then she turned to climb the stairs and go to bed.

The rest of us continued to search.

A while later, when I was stationed on the front porch, I heard Elizabeth calling out. "Mom! Mom! She's here! Jubilee's here!! She's on my bed!"

She must have come back through our open doors and we missed it, looking for her elsewhere. I immediately yelled out to tell the boys. Nat came running.

Suddenly I heard a loud banging at the back of the house. I ran towards it and stopped short. Sam was stomping at the mechanism of the back screen door that held it open.

"Stop that! What are you doing? You'll break it!" I cried.

"I have to close it so she won't get out again!" he shouted back.

"She's not going to run out into the cold. Just close the door normally. Stop it!"

But he didn't. "We have to keep her inside!" he yelled. I watched helplessly while my 6 foot man-son kicked the door off almost all its hinges, until it hung sideways, connected only at the top. The broken screen door couldn't close at all now.

I gaped at him and the door. I think he apologized before rushing past me to see for himself that the cat was back. There was nothing to do except leave the broken screen door open and shut the main door to the house.

Finding my phone, I called my husband who was still searching the streets and alleys for Jubilee. "She's here. In Elizabeth's bed. She must have come in when we were out looking."

There was silence. "Ben, can you hear me? Jubilee is back. She's home. You can come home now."

Then I heard: "Oh, thank God. Thank God." At first I thought he was laughing with relief, but soon realized he had burst into tears. In our 20 years together, I could count on one hand the times he has cried like this. "For Nat," he said. "For Nat not to have to live with that, thank God." He hung up before I could reply.

That wasn't even the end of it. With Jubilee safe at home, I thought we'd all fall asleep in grateful exhaustion. I went upstairs. Then I heard yelling below. Sam was blaming his younger brother for letting Jubilee out of his arms. Nat bore Sam's wrath with relative restraint, as if we needed more evidence of his despair. Ben defended Nat by yelling at Sam. I descended the stairs to hiss at everyone to stop.

Finally, we unstuck ourselves from this emotional tar pit and got to bed, the only place that could hold our wracked selves.

We were still facing the environmental nightmare and Ben's dad might still be terminally ill. But that night, it was a cat that felled my family to its knees. If you have pets (such an inadequate word for the animals we love), then you know. If you don't, this is what it looked like behind the curtains of one household when the threat of losing its smallest heartbeat bared its teeth.


Carol Chandran was born in Malaysia and now lives in Toronto with her husband, three kids, and two cats. She’s a lawyer who recently resigned from the Department of Justice to extend her research and writing interests beyond the law. She is also editing several personal history collections, including her mother’s. Once a year or so, you’ll find her on the floor with her kids playing with kittens born from beloved Jubilee. You can reach her at

See Brian Henry’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Online: Intensive Creative Writing courses offered at 3 different times

Intensive Creative Writing

 ~ Grow as a writer

Online ~ 3 different sessions: 
(On Zoom and available wherever there's Internet)

Tuesday evenings, 6:30 – 9:00
Classes April 12
 – June 21, 2022 {no class June 7}

Wednesday afternoons, 12:30 – 3:00 p.m.
April 6 – June 22, 2022 

Friday mornings, 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
April 8 – June 24 {no class June 3}

See details of all classes starting this April here.

Intensive Creative Writing isn't for beginners; it's for people who have been writing for a while or who have done a course or two before and are working on their own projects. You’ll be asked to bring in five pieces of your writing for detailed feedback, including three long pieces. All your pieces may be from the same work, such as a novel in progress, or they may be stand alone pieces. You bring whatever you want to work on. 

Besides critiquing pieces, the instructor will give short lectures addressing the needs of the group, and in addition to learning how to critique your own work and receiving constructive suggestions about your writing, you’ll discover that the greatest benefits come from seeing how your classmates approach and critique a piece of writing and how they write and re-write. This is a challenging course, but extremely rewarding.

Fee: $229.20 + hst = $259

To reserve your spot, email:

Instructor Brian Henry has been a book editor and creative writing instructor for more than 25 years. He publishes Quick Brown Fox, Canada's most popular blog for writers, teaches creative writing at Ryerson University and has led workshops everywhere from Boston to Buffalo and from Sarnia to Saint John.  But his proudest boast is that he’s has helped many of his students get published.      

Read reviews of Brian's various courses and workshops here {and scroll down}.

See all of Brian’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

“The Virtue of a hug in war, peace, and pandemic” by Nadja Halilbegovich


I had not hugged a friend or a family member, save for my husband, for over two years until recently, when my sister-in-law flew in for a brief visit. For everyone’s safety we met outside, but despite the wintry weather, her hug warmed me from the inside out. It’s strange, but only now do I truly realize how much I’ve missed embracing loved ones – the lingering warmth that remains long after our arms have untwined. Unexpectedly, this pandemic milestone has also reminded me of some of my life’s most significant and vulnerable moments indelibly shaped by a simple hug.

I spent most of my teenage years living under siege in my hometown of Sarajevo, Bosnia. Every single day of those three-and-a-half years was steeped in danger, uncertainty and privation of food, water, electricity and above all, peace. At 13, I was wounded. On that rare peaceful morning, I had begged my mom to let me go outside after spending weeks wilting indoors. She finally relented. I was outside for only 10 minutes, when an artillery shell struck a few feet away, raining tiny, searing shrapnel on both of my legs. 

Shot with adrenaline, I sprinted toward the front entrance of our building where I literally crashed into a neighbour. I draped my arms around her neck just as my legs collapsed underneath me. She hugged me with both arms and dragged me to the hallway in front of her apartment door. The following moments are a flurried mess of panicked faces and cries as I lay on the ground, while neighbours wrapped my legs with towels and tried to keep me conscious. 

A stranger showed up with his van ready to transport me to the hospital just as Dad appeared and scooped me off the bloodied tiles. I will never forget the desperate grip of his hug as he sat in the back of the speeding van, holding me in his lap, gathering me up as if I could spill out at any moment. I burrowed my face into his neck, averting my eyes from the rapidly blooming scarlet on his shirt. “Don’t let me lose my legs, Dad” I cried.

Thankfully, I made a full physical recovery, but the onslaught of danger and terror that was our daily life gave no reprieve for my mental and emotional wounds to even begin to scab. Two and a half years later, on August 28th, 1995, several explosions struck Sarajevo’s outdoor marketplace which was mere metres from our apartment. I was alone at home and Dad had just popped out to the nearby bakery. By the time he showed up at our doorstep, carrying a loaf of bread, he had missed the blasts by a whisper. I was caked in tears, covering my ears in an attempt to block out the blood-chilling chorus of civilians strewn across the pavement among torn flesh and bruised fruit. Dad nearly toppled over from the force of my hug. I clasped my hands so tightly around his back, my knuckles ached from my grip.


As fate would have it, that same night my parents managed to smuggle me out of Sarajevo through an underground tunnel that connected the besieged capital with the rest of the world. They desperately wanted to secure some small shred of normalcy for what was left of my childhood. I was 16 and I came to America on my own. A generous host family took me in and I began learning English and going to school. They had a large dog, Oscar, a sweet, good-natured mutt with floppy ears and brown spots on his paws. 

Over the next several months, I secretly struggled with feeling homesick, exacerbated by the constant fretting over my family’s safety. Calls to Bosnia were expensive so I could only speak to them once a week for 15 minutes. Despite this, I was managing quite well at school, with the help of my teachers and host parents, but I still had no ability to share my feelings with anyone. A couple of times a week, while my host parents ran errands, I would sit on the floor and drape my arms around Oscar. He would remain quite still, fidgeting only a little, just to nuzzle his head on my shoulder. He was big and sturdy so I could hug him tightly and let myself cry until I felt lighter.

Several years later, I moved to Canada for my first job after university. The first person I met was a 19 year old named Joe who quickly became a close friend. Joe gave everyone hugs, even upon first meeting. In fact, he loved picking a spot on a street or in a park while holding a sign that read “free hugs.” He died in a car accident two years after we met and I still feel his loss. One summer afternoon, as a way of honouring him, a dozen of his friends gathered in a park and we spent several hours giving “free hugs” to passersby. With some people, I instantly felt comfortable – our bodies fit in a perfectly moulded hug. 

This surprising alchemy between strangers made me think back on Sarajevo’s siege and the numerous occasions where I’d find myself on the street when thunderous explosions suddenly struck the neighbourhood. I’d quickly duck into the first shelter I could see – usually a lobby of some building – and there I would find a stranger also seeking cover. Our eyes would meet for just a second, before darting like arrows trying to find the safest corner. Without a word, we would hug and brace for impact. We would grip each other as if trying to pin ourselves to the ground as the earth beneath us quivered.

It is yet another sad aspect of our pandemic lives that hugging a stranger is the last thing on our minds. For many of us, even hugging a relative or a friend comes with stress and anxiety over risks and precautions. Perhaps we have undervalued the impact of a simple hug. As I look back on my four decades, I count myself truly lucky to have been held, shielded and buoyed at some of the most pivotal moments of my life by the almost otherworldly power of a hug. I pray that in the not-so-distant future we can safely hold one another again — a friend, relative, or even a stranger.

Nadja Halilbegovich is an award-winning author, public speaker and peace activist. She is a survivor of the Bosnian War and the siege of her hometown of Sarajevo. Since her arrival to Canada in 2002, Halilbegovich has been a frequent speaker in middle schools and high schools across the country and with the pandemic, her presentations have become virtual. 

Her book My Childhood Under Fire: A Sarajevo Diary was published in 2006. (see here). Visit Nadja's website here:  

See Brian Henry’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Congratulations to Evena, Kristy, Jill, and Sue; Plus: Children's writers wanted for a critique group

If you’ve had a story (or a book!) published, if you’ve won or placed in a writing contest, if you’ve gotten yourself an agent, or if you have any other news, send me an email so I can share your success. As writers, we’re all in this together, and your good news gives us all a boost. 

Also, be sure to let know if you're looking for a writers' group or beta readers; a notice in Quick Brown Fox, will help you find them. 

Email me at:



Hi, Brian.

As of today, for the fourth time since its publication, Ready to Come About is Amazon's Number One bestselling memoir in the Canadian Territories, (yay!)

Thanks a lot.

Sue Williams

Note: Anyone interested in buying Sue’s amazing memoir of sailing the North Atlantic – just Sue and her husband   you can get it for 25% off through the publisher Dundurn Press {either paperback or e-book}. The Promo Code is: SUEW25. To order or to read more about Ready to Come About see here.  

Also, Sue will be the guest speaker for the Writing Personal Stories class this spring. See here.


Hi, Brian.

I had a flash fiction piece recently published online in Variety Pack magazine. I have attached a link to the issue, mine is the last piece called "Eating Lesson." See here.

Also, I have another story in CommuterLit, “Matches.” See here.


Jill Malleck

For information about submitting to CommuterLit, see here


Hi, Brian.

I got a second short story published! You might remember this one as a chapter from the novel I'm working on, Supers. Thanks for encouraging me to submit chapters as short stories – what a great idea! I've learned so much from your courses and particularly the Friday morning group, and look forward to the learning yet to come. 


Kristy Jackson

You can read Kristy’s story, “Dragon Breath” on Short Kid Stories, but you can also read it on Quick Brown Fox with way better images here.


Hi, Brian.

Great news! I just wanted to let you know that my five minutes of life in 100 words piece “Swimming Lesson” has been accepted for Five Minute Lit’s June publication. 

Thank you for your workshops and the help they have provided.  

Kind regards,

Evena Gottschalk

For information on submitting to Five Minute Lit {and other interesting places}, see here.


Writer to Writer

Hi, Brian.

I would love it if you would post something on your blog asking if there are any other children's writers out there who would like to join a critique group.

There are currently two of us who share our writing bi-weekly. We are both in the greater Hamilton area and have remained hopeful that in person meetings will become a regular thing again. However, if someone is interested and not local, we do meet on Zoom and would be happy to continue doing so.

I'm still working on my Middle Grade novel and the other member of the group writes picture books and is currently working on a YA novel.

Your help would be most appreciated!

Warm regards,

Stacey Moffat

If you’re interested, email me at:


See Brian Henry’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.


Friday, March 25, 2022

“Bathing Beauties” by Laurie Childs


At the height of the second summer of the pandemic, feeling beaten down by waves of bad news, endless restrictions and dull repetition, I found my refuge where I least expected it – our local swimming pool.

 Swimming has never been something I sought out for recreation or exercise. Growing up there were swimming lessons every summer, and I could handle myself in the water. Other than family vacations and trips to the pool with the kids it was just never one of my favourite activities. It was too wet, too cold, too inconvenient, and public change rooms made me uncomfortable. I was indifferent to the backyard pool at our last home; it was unheated and until the odd week in late July or early August when the kids would shout “it’s 85!” I was reluctant to take the plunge.

That Covid summer had been especially hot and boring. We were relative newcomers to town so I had few close friends and I missed my old ones. With most social activities cancelled or restricted and suffering from an overload of spousal togetherness the aquafit classes offered by the City seemed a relaxing way to get a little exercise, cool off and meet safely with other people. And it wouldn’t really be swimming.

If you have only ever visited Stratford for our famous theatre and fine-dining restaurants or to stroll by the chichi boutiques along the main drag, then you may have missed our best-kept secret.

Tucked away at the far end of the park and behind the downtown core, past the picnic spots and art show, beyond the boathouse where the ducks and swans compete for tossed grain, just where the river lazily makes its way over the dam and under the willow trees sits my oasis.

A fixture in the town since 1932 the Lions pool is not modern or fancy and the change rooms in the old building could use an upgrade. It’s all concrete floors and wooden benches with no lockers or cubbies but the pool itself has had multiple renovations. Instead of a shallow end there is a graduated children’s splash area with buckets that fill and empty over squealing kids and a palm tree that showers a dome-like waterfall over those beneath it. The deeper area can be converted for lane swims, lessons and Bronze Cross qualifiers and of course the twice-daily aquafit class. Best of all, it is heated. It became the highlight of my day.

Each morning from July onward found me making my way to the pool, bathing suit on under my cover-up and flip flops on my feet - my mother had instilled the fear of plantar warts in me from a young age. 

Emerging onto the pool deck, I was met by the sight of 10 or so women, floating and fluttering around, chatting cheerfully, waiting for the instructor. Shyly removing my cover-up, I quickly immersed my less-than-fit, 66-year-old body in the water.

My fellow swimmers came in all shapes and sizes and none seemed to have the usual concern or embarrassment that comes with exposing oneself in a swimsuit. Mostly senior ladies, we came with an assortment of pallid flesh, chicken-wing arms, leg and butt flab and varicose veins. My own perceived deficiencies were minor and my shyness unnecessary.

There was one remarkable exception in this bevy of bathing belles.

About 78 years of age, Sandy wore her long silver hair tied up in a Barbie-doll ponytail. She was lithe, fit and tanned; a gold bangle sparkled on one wrist and she sported oversized Jackie Onassis sunglasses. Her bathing suit, a colourful strapless one-piece of large tropical flowers, fit her slim frame perfectly and accentuated every curve, and she walked and swam with the confidence of a 25-year-old. She flirted shamelessly with the young male lifeguards, calling to them by name in her charming British accent. She had a different bathing suit for every day of the week, each more spectacular than the last, and basked in our oohs and aahs each time she made her entrance. 

By contrast, my suit was a slightly faded, much stretched piece that I rinsed out daily.  She was the pretty, popular girl in high school around whom others buzzed like bees around a fragrant flower.

As the self-appointed aquafit greeter, whenever someone new entered the pool she swam over, introduced herself, and presented them to the other bathers. This was a group that had been getting together all, and indeed every, summer for a very long time. It was as though I had floundered into a meeting of a friendly but exclusive club. Newbies came and went but a very serious core of women formed the nucleus of the class.

Now, by serious I don’t mean their dedication to water exercise. While a few of them half-heartedly followed the instructor’s directions, there was more chatting than effort going on at the back of the class and it was clear that this group was there for the socializing. The young women who led the classes had obviously given up trying to control them and carried on cheerfully through the routines with an attitude of “well, they paid their money, I guess they can do what they like.” To more serious exercisers the chatter was likely annoying and a bit rude but it soon became obvious that this was a caring and supportive group who just happened to come together in the pool.

Absences were noticed and concern was raised. When one woman announced the death of her father, there was an outpouring of support. We followed and gave advice on the dating experiences of a much younger bather who sought our collective wisdom. News of grandchildren was celebrated and surgeries and illnesses were dissected. We evolved into a beautiful bubble of support and friendship. Never once did we discuss the pandemic. We laughed a lot, and as the summer progressed I felt my cares wash away in the water and in their camaraderie.

Every weekday morning for that entire summer I bounced, stretched, splashed and treaded water with those ladies. Beneath the stretch marks, surgery scars and jiggly flesh every one of us was beautiful and I felt part of something very special.

It is well-known that being in, on or around water has restorative properties. As my sagging body became a little fitter so did my flagging spirit. And for one golden hour out of each day the chaos of pandemic life was forgotten.


Laurie Childs retired as a financial services professional in 2014. She is a proud grandmother of 4 and a compulsive volunteer. Her other interests include travelling, rambling walks, music, theatre and the Sunday New York Times crossword. She has hundreds of stories in her head and is thrilled to finally have the time to write them down. Laurie lives in Stratford, Ontario where she is enthusiastically waiting for the pool to reopen.

See Brian Henry’s upcoming weekly writing classes, one-day workshops, and weekend retreats here.