There’s a novel in everybody

Over two years ago, I challenged myself to write a novel. I’d been thinking about it for a while, and was enamored with the idea that I could create a story with a plot, characters and setting.

Clark Hoskin writing

Clark Hoskin

Always a wannabe-creative type, I was stuck in that head space: reading a lot, enjoying certain writers and finding out how they wrote their stories. Then I’d buy Writer’s Digest magazine from time to time and surf on websites about writing. That’s when I found a podcast called Writing Excuses.

  • Writing Excuses: “Fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart.”

Inspiration

Listening to Writing Excuses while working out at the gym motivated me to move beyond thinking about writing, and to actually start writing. The podcast is aimed at aspiring writers who are always finding excuses to avoid writing. By offering up fifteen minutes of motivational chatter, you feel a certain guilt about not turning on the laptop.

It was on Writing Excuses that I learned about NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month, the annual worldwide grassroots effort that encourages people to write a novel in 30 days. So, I registered (no cost) and started writing. The month of November passed and I didn’t achieve the 50,000-word goal. Not even close. I tried again the next year, this time with a story outline prepared over the summer. The second time around, I achieved my goal. It felt good. Well … I almost achieved it. I wrote over 50,000 words, but it definitely was not a novel. Even so, I was hooked on fleshing out the new world I had created.

Method

While participating in NaNoWriMo and listening to Writing Excuses, I learned one basic thing about writing a book. Success is only possible if you follow the AIC Method. Many amateur writers complain about this demanding procedure. It’s torture, they insist. Others believe in the AIC Method theoretically, including me, but have difficulty putting it into action. All professional novelists absolutely insist that AIC is the only way to go. It’s a simple, universal rule that must be followed. Just sit your Ass In Chair and write.

You know what. AIC works. And it works with just about any kind of chair. Personally, I prefer something slightly uncomfortable: kitchen chair or lawn chair. It only works with your ass, though… no one else’s.

Atmosphere

Atmosphere, ambience, whatever you want to call it, is important for writing. If you’re going to sit on your ass for so long, it should be located in a supportive environment. I did most of my writing on the back deck in hot weather, which helped me a lot, given the setting of the novel. Also, I need focus… no noise. I think my brain has concentration issues. But I also like people to be around – but just not disturbing me. It’s a hard balance, because you may feel bad if you’re squirreled away from the rest of the world.

Direction

Some writers can just sit down and write a story from beginning to end. I can’t do that. I needed an outline — a beginning, middle and end. I wanted to incorporate my community into the novel … but the thought scared me, too. In the end, the basic premise for the novel came from a vacation. While on a dive trip on a Caribbean island, I thought, maybe a bunch of friends get caught up in a murder and end up risking life and limb.

Writing cards Clark Hoskin

Recipe cards and a small photo album helped keep track of plot and characters

So began the bulk of the process that took two years … figuring out the plot, creating a world half way between reality and fiction, developing a wide range of interesting characters, laying out the story on a calendar, researching everything from firearms to paper weights. It was fun — and distracting when I had writer’s block — to brainstorm about what kind of a car the love interest drove (an old Toyota Delica) or the drink my murder victim preferred (an Old Fashioned).

At this point, it also helped to tell a couple people what I was doing. “I’m working on a novel,” is all I’d say. I didn’t provide any more detail – none. As long as I knew they knew I was writing something, I couldn’t hide behind the secrecy of telling no one of my plans.

First Draft

Eventually, the basic first draft of the story appeared on my laptop — all 220,000 words of it. The complexity of the thing was overwhelming, and I had to insert headings within chapters to keep track of the twists and turns of the story. Then, reluctantly but proudly, I asked three people close to me to give it a read. A few weeks later, we gathered in a friend’s basement rec room and my “Alpha Readers” told me what they thought. For the most part, it was positive – which you should expect from family and friends – because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.

Around that time, I read Wired for Story by Lisa Cron, a self-help book for aspiring authors that is pretty dismissive about asking friends to read your work. I disagree. My readers were very frank about which characters stood out, what plot points were lost to them, and what they thought about my protagonist, and so much more. Their criticisms were very helpful, despite being shrouded in bubble wrap.

Second Draft

Narked novel cover Tracy Haskett

Draft novel cover by Tracy Haskett

I recorded the suggestions of my readers and tried my best to tackle those issues head on. Meanwhile, from a technical perspective, I explored a few rabbit holes that were important to ensure the story was as believable as possible. A family vacation to the setting of my novel helped facilitate this. Ahead of the trip, I reached out to several people on the island, and a few responded. I set up appointments, and they generously met face-to-face and answered my questions. Then, through winter and spring, I hunkered down and cleaned up the second draft. Characters got melded together, names changed, and writing was tightened up. Setting goals was important (“I’ll have it done by Easter”; “I’ll have it done by Father’s Day”; “It will be done by Canada Day”…) and eventually I triumphed. Encouragement from those you love is very, very helpful, too. (Thanks Tracy for pushing me to keep at it, and for designing the cool book cover!)

The Way Forward

So, what now? My second draft is back in the hands of my readers, and I await their feedback. Others have expressed interest in reading the novel but, sorry, no. My goal now is to get it published, and then the others can buy it! I’ve decided against self-publishing so the search for an agent has begun. Yesterday, I sent out my first query, including bio, synopsis, and first ten pages of the novel. I expect a rejection eventually, but will keep shopping it around. In the meantime, I’ll continue to tinker with it, fix typos, and incorporate any feedback I receive. I’ve already started thinking what the next story will be.

Your Novel

So, what is your story? Over the past two years, I’ve spoken to many people who have the desire to write a novel. Everyone has a story to tell. It’s up to you to decide what it is. And then … get your ass in a chair and write.

Clark Hoskin

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Simple things my Dad taught me

Simple things my Dad taught me

When I was a kid, my Dad would take me on his service calls to fix farm equipment. Walter Hoskin was a Badger dealer. In the 1970s, Badger Northland was a Wisconsin manufacturer that built silo unloaders, barn cleaners, forage boxes, bunk feeders, manure spreaders … and other “farm materials handling equipment” for farmers in the U.S. and Canada.

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Badger Northland logo

The Rolodex on my Dad’s service counter in the implement shed was thick with names and phone numbers of farmers across Haldimand and Norfolk counties. Those were the days when one hundred acres of clay soil could almost support a farm family. Back then, agriculture was a way of life for hundreds of families along dusty concession roads. Practically every kid at my elementary school grew up on a farm. Today, maybe six or eight cards would hang sadly from that Rolodex, given the farm amalgamations that have happened over the last two generations.

Selling the equipment meant repairing it, too. Cattle had to be fed, no matter the day of the week or the weather conditions. If the mechanical unloader inside the 100-foot silo broke down on a cold Christmas Eve, my Dad was called in to fix it, because without it, a dairy herd would go hungry.

Badger Silo Unloader

Badger silo unloader

The black rotary-dial phone on the wall at home would ring, and a farmer would ask my Dad to come out. He would push the tool box onto the back of his Ford 350 stake truck, along with a few metal parts, and we would drive to the Sowden dairy barn or the Breedyk beef feedlot. It was always cold and damp, and the wind would whip through the cracks in the buildings. Machinery broke down more in winter.

Little did I know I was learning things as I stood there in the barn, my feet freezing in my work boots.

Dad would climb up the dirty silo chute with the end of a rope, then I would attach a trouble light and a power cord to the other end and he would pull them up. Then, he sent the rope back down for the tool box, then the five-gallon pail full of parts, nuts and bolts.

Sometimes, I would climb up too. Usually, I would stay at the bottom of the chute and listen for instructions. He would fix the machine, then he would tell me to turn on the silo unloader for a few seconds to make sure it worked.

Funny how I didn’t argue with him, or question his judgement, or refuse to take direction. I trusted he knew what he was doing. I was a weird kid.

When the repairs were complete, tools went back in the 350. The electrical cord became a tangled mess at the bottom of the chute, and I had to roll it up and get it out of my Dad’s way before he climbed back down.

My Dad Walt Hoskin

My Dad

One of the things he taught me on those cold, dusty outings was how to roll up a cord. That may sound boring and mundane, but I am so glad I listened to him and learned.

At high school in Hagersville, I played trumpet in the band. The guys and I had to help set up equipment for concerts. Knowing how to roll a cord came in very handy.

At York University, where I studied film production, we worked in groups to produce short film projects. Lighting and sound equipment on film sets need cords and cables, so I could easily roll them up when we were done.

After my daughters were born and we were living in an old house, I needed to fix stuff around the place. You guessed it – more cords to roll up.

Years pass. I don’t play the trumpet any more. I didn’t become a film director. And we now live in a modern home that doesn’t require as much repair.

And now, in my day job as an economic developer and tourism promoter, trade shows and exhibits are part of the regular routine. That kind of work requires – that’s right – the ability to coil an extension cord properly. The last cord I rolled was at Eat & Drink Norfolk last month. It made me think of my Dad.

There are days when I wish for simpler times, when I just waited for instructions and did what I was told. When playing First Trumpet and being Band President was really cool. When I aspired to live in Hollywood and make movies.

Life moves on and becomes more complicated. Luckily, my Dad taught me the value of working hard, of enduring uncomfortable situations, of listening to instructions, of trusting people, and looking on the bright side.

And, yes, he taught me how to roll up a cord, so it would be ready for the next guy to use. Luckily, I didn’t resist taking his advice. I just learned how to do it. I didn’t try to design a better way, or criticize his old habits. I guess I had sense enough just to take his wisdom at face value, because it would make my life a lot easier.

Thanks, Dad.


© 2017 Clark Hoskin

Video: How to coil and extension cord (Source: YouTube This Old House)

Video: What is a silo unloader? (Source: YouTube FarmerSchneck)

Going mobile: rural opportunities

Going mobile: rural opportunities

Mobile third spaces are among the “trends you need to know to be relevant” in 2017, according to the ad agency sparks & honey.

Why should rural people give any thought to forecasting by urbanites? These ideas offer food for thought about rural opportunities. Many entrepreneurs in rural areas are already acting on these trends.

Food trucks are so 2016. There are many more business opportunities that can be located in an old VW bus, panel van or Airstream trailer. Shopping and leisure activities appear to be the focus when the vehicle isn’t just selling food.

Mobile Cigar Lounge

Mobile Cigar Lounge Co. / mobilecigarlounge.com

From a mobile knitting yarn boutique in California to a mobile cigar lounge in central Texas (“have cigars, will travel”), if you think of a business, you can probably put wheels under it. The American Mobile Retail Association offers tips to creating a new business in a vehicle.

In Norfolk County, Canada, there are many food trucks. But there are also two new mobile businesses that focus on promoting leisure. Red Apple Rides is a vehicle packed with bicycles ready to connect your group with amazing experiences. Ride the Bine is more than a tour bus. It is operated by two women with deep connections to local terroir, food and wine.

Sparks & honey predicts many more mobile third spaces will open.

“Third spaces like cafes – places that are neither home or office – provide us with opportunities for socializing and learning,” says the ad agency. “Expect to see growing numbers of mobile third spaces emerge.”

Some examples of new mobile third spaces include an art gallery in a car in Portland, Oregon. A spin class housed on a bus in the U.K. is currently still conceptual, but over 24,000 people have registered to use it when it launches.

For a mobile business to stay viable in a rural area, it is advisable to avoid wacky offerings. Instead, put a spin on an experience that is authentic to the region, one that will appeal to many demographics.

You can read more about the sparks & honey A-Z Culture Glossary here.

© 2017 Clark Hoskin

Lifting the curtain on tourism product development

Lifting the curtain on tourism product development

Imagine going to a theatre in any major city and paying for a seat, only to realize you need to write, direct and act in the play to entertain yourself.

Sounds ridiculous!

Now imagine that the theatre promoted itself on web, in print and on social media, without explaining that you were in for a do-it-yourself experience.

Crazy, right?

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This scone was a highlight of the Fab Food Trail walking tour. It melted in my mouth. Quality tourism experiences leave indelible memories that visitors recount to others. Photo: Clark Hoskin

Unfortunately, for many tourism businesses, this is exactly the kind of experience their customers are expected to enjoy – season after season.

And if business seems to be slowing down, many tourism operators will choose to re-design their website or print more brochures.

Wrong again.

Any tourist-oriented business needs to evaluate and, if need be, redesign the customer experience from top to bottom.

In my post 3 qualities needed for tourism success, I explained the basics. Your tourism product needs to be viable, reliable and buyable.

Many organizations choose to skip the last element – the ability to easily purchase your product.

What is tourism product? It is any location, experience or service that attracts tourists. A B&B, a restaurant, a scenic landscape, a campground: these are all tourism products.

So, what’s tourism product development? It is the bundling and monetization of a number of elements to increase the yield in terms of revenues, while respecting your carrying capacity.

Don’t jump to conclusions, thinking that you need to start developing packages with hotels and bus companies. Keep it simple. Just consider moving your current tourism product beyond a passive offering, to something active.

Moving to active tourism offerings is a challenge for some. For a heritage site or park, keeping things maintained within budget is the primary objective. Think how you could increasing the amount of money from an equal number of visitors through the gate so you won’t tax the resources available to serve them.

Let’s lift the curtain on tourism product development to maximize your revenue and minimize costs. To develop good tourism product, treat the process like producing a play.

I am going to compare one of my favourite travel experiences of 2016, Fab Food Trails in Ireland, to theatre production.

Stage (Property / Venue)

The first basic element is the empty stage. It’s your property. In the case of Fab Food Trails, the stage is the streets and small businesses of central Dublin.

Your stage – your business – is an empty experience without a good story, actors who know their lines, and a box office that sells tickets when the customer wants to buy them.

Story or Play (Tour / Experience / Package)

Write the script. What is the nature of the experience? Fab Food Trails offers a two to three hour guided walking tour of ten food stops. You get to meet and talk to chefs, baristas and cheesemongers, among others. You get to experience the neighbourhood culture of Dublin and receive insider knowledge about the flavours and personalities of Ireland’s foodie world.

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Audience (Tourist)

Who is your target market – the clientele who will want to experience this play? For Fab Food Trails, the target audience includes foodies and tourists, mainly mature and Millennial couples, willing to participate in a group experience and stretch their legs.

Actors (Guide / Front Line Staff)

Actors tell the story. They need to know their lines and the part they play. As for most tourism experiences, the property employs a paid or volunteer interpretive guide. Fab Food Trails uses a narrator, a walking-tour guide, pulled from a group of food-oriented people, including writers and journalists, chefs and others. Plus, at each of the ten stops along the way, there are more actors: speakers and presenters at the bakery, pub, outdoor market, cafe, etc. The photo at the top of this post features a worker at Sheridan’s Cheesemongers, who educated guests about Irish gouda cheese.

Stage Crew (Other Staff)

Like any quality theatre production, there is a professional support team working in the shadows. For Fab Food Trails, these people include the wait staff, chef and counter workers at the stops, plus the workers creating the food samples. These folks need to be prepared and knowledgeable about what is happening. They don’t need to know the script line-by-line, but they do need to change the set and have the props ready.

Producers (Tourism Business Owners)

Let’s take a reality check. Who’s backing this play? Who’s balancing the books? Without them, the play would not go on. This is the tourism business owner / operator. They oversee all the elements of the business, decide the quality of the product or service, and keep costs under control. For Fab Food Trails, the executive producer is founder Eveleen Coyle. But don’t forget her co-producers: the owners of all the stops along the trail.

Publicist (Marketing Plan)

Rehearsals are going well and dates for performances are arranged. Now to get the word out. This is the marketing plan, the promotional tactics. Theatres use digital, web, print and more to publicize the performances. Fab Food Trails runs a website and leverages the great TripAdvisor reviews (the critics) and awards received to garner attention.

Box Office (Reservation System)

Everyone knows you need to contact the box office to buy a theatre ticket – either online or in person. Where’s your box office? In this day and age, it better be online and easily accessible, 24 hours a day. Fab Food Trails has reservation and payment options available on the front page of their website.

Ticket Price (Experience / Package Price)

Don’t underprice your experience! The theatre producer wouldn’t. They need to pay their costs and make a profit. So do you. Fab Food Trails charges at least €55 ($80 Can) per person to experience their top-notch tour.

What taste does your business leave in the mouth of your customer?

After the show (Word of mouth / Bragging rights)

When the curtain goes down, audience members turn to one another and begin a conversation. Did you enjoy it? What was your favourite part? Along the Fab Food Trail, I learned about the Canadian owner of Camerino’s Bakery, who started her business from scratch based on a passion for baking. We tasted her scones slathered with Irish butter and black-currant jam. It melted in my mouth. For me, that was the most memorable scene in the show. My mouth is watering now. What taste does your business leave in the mouth of your customer?

Now it’s your turn. Take the stage (your venue) and create a production that will sell out.

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Sharon Judd (right) leads a Walk the Crop Tour at Meadow Lynn Farms (Photo: Meadow Lynn Farms)

Own a fruit or vegetable farm? Hold a “walk the crop” night and sample the various varieties. Bring in a real farmer, like Meadow Lynn Farms of Norfolk County does, to animate the experience. Charge a fee.

Operate a campground or nature park? Develop a guided tour where guests gather food from nature to create a meal. Catch fish or forage for mushrooms – such as the annual Mushroom Foray at Long Point Eco-Adventures in Norfolk County. Charge a fee.

Opportunities in tourism have never been more vibrant, and never have your new customers had such high expectations. Prove that you can put on a good show that audiences will rave about and critics will love. If all goes well, profits will follow.

Other reading:

© 2016 Clark Hoskin

3 qualities needed for tourism success

3 qualities needed for tourism success

Thinking of starting a business aimed at tourists? Here are three important qualities that your operation needs to have in place for any chance of tourism success.

Your offering needs to be viable, reliable and buyable.

Viable

Being viable is a basic element. Viability means you have a solid business plan behind what you are planning to do. Without a firm financial foundation, your business will not be viable.

You must have realistic expectations about revenue and a clear understanding of how to control your costs. You may need to operate your business in the red for a while, until you gain enough exposure and market share to sustain yourself over the long term.

Plus, what is your unique selling proposition? What’s your target market? Who’s your competition? Don’t know? You need to figure out these things immediately. Your local business resource centre or a website like SmallBizSurvival can help.

Reliable

Reliability is the next core element of tourism success (or any business success, for that matter). Is your product or experience of satisfactory quality? Is it consistently satisfactory?

Is your product or service available when the customer wants it? Consistently?

Do your staff offer good service? All the time? This is what reliability means.

Customers may not expect a “wow experience” of you. But if one of your staff provides “wow” service and the rest are ho-hum, then you have a reliability problem. It’s about meeting the expectations of your customer.

Buyable

Finally, the most important element of all: assuming your product or service is viable and reliable –  is it buyable? When the customer wants to purchase your offering, is it available for sale?

The ability of a customer to buy your product on impulse is extremely important. It will be the difference between your sale and your competitor’s sale.

Fab Food Trails of Dublin / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Fab Food Trails of Dublin / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Having a menu of opportunities on your website, linked to an on-line purchasing system, is key to success.

For example, Fab Food Trails in Ireland posts their available walking tours right on their front page, so you can easily buy them.

If your service is promoted in cooperation with your local tourism authority as well as other agencies and websites like TripAdvisor, customers may buy it easily.

For example, Long Point Eco Adventures may close its doors in the winter, but you can still book and pay for experiences next spring on their website.

Remember that we live in an anywhere, any when economy, thanks to technology. Some customers may want to book your experience at 1 a.m. because they live three time zones away and they finally got the kids to bed.

There are many online tools you can use to create an online booking system, from Eventbrite to Resmark Systems.

Even if you don’t plan to sell online – is your business buyable? Is your store open when tourists are passing it? 70% of all consumer retail spending in bricks-and-mortar stores takes place after 6pm, according to tourism guru Roger Brooks. If you’re not open, you are turning away a lot of business.

Make sure your tourism product or experience is viable, reliable and buyable. If it is, you are making huge strides toward business success.

 

 

On the bright side: Sunny Point

On the bright side: Sunny Point

Small but mighty Yates County in upstate New York has many inspirational stories for rural advocates. In this case, art lovers and culture mavens can learn from Sunny Point – a property and a program coordinated by the local arts centre.

Sunny Point, located on Keuka Lake south of Penn Yan, is owned by the Arts Centre of Yates County. During our Finger Lakes study tour last spring, we met Kris Pearson, Executive Director, and Sandy Murrin, Board President, who explained that the property was bequeathed to ACYC by Dr. Annie Smith of Toronto, a former cottager on the lake.

The Host Residency program allows artists to host their own students for a week at a time. The Artist in Residence program is open to professional visual, literary and performance artists. The ten-day residency is an award made by ACYC twice per year. Residence and studio space are provided at no cost to the artist, but travel and meals are not included.

Sunny Point ACYC

The Red Barn at Sunny Point

When we visited, the “red barn” was undergoing interior renovation to expand the space for workshops. The “white cottage” provides accommodation for up to eight people, is offered as an Artist Retreat on an as-available basis, and includes linens and full kitchen. There is a rental charge and a non-refundable deposit. The boathouse will be used as a seasonal ceramics studio. By summer 2016, Sunny Point had hosted many classes.

ACYC’s artist-in-residence program encourages artists to come to the area, which adds depth to the cultural tourism product on offer in this community. Sunny Point also provides an additional revenue stream for the Arts Centre, which hopefully will help the program sustain itself.

Gifts for your favourite EDO

Gifts for your favourite EDO

Originally published on economicdevelopment.org in November 2012

As the snow begins to fly, it is time to think about a gift for the economic development officer in your life.

A magic wand would make a great gift ($15 to $100, Merlin’s Realm) if it could guarantee to lure a major employer to town. Once a few spells are mastered with the VooDoo Doll Spellbook ($16, CreateSpace Independent Publishing), EDOs might better influence clients, stakeholders and elected officials.

For the more cynical economic developer, a bulletproof vest ($465, Hagor Industries) might be as effective at dealing with criticisms from local skeptics as a gift certificate for the Liquor Store ($50, LCBO).

Seriously, when hard-working economic development officials arrive home from work on Christmas Eve, they would be satisfied simply to curl up on the sofa and watch a movie with family. So, here are a few suggestions for gifts of DVDs for your favourite EDO: movies they may appreciate because the storylines appeal to the viewer who works tirelessly to energize their community and its economy.

  • Cinema Paradiso (1988): A boy befriends the projectionist at the local movie theatre, which competes with the church for the soul of the village. The film explores the growth of the boy and the decline of the town. Imdb score 8.5/10.
  • Jaws (1975): Tourism is threatened in a New England beach town when a Great White shark terrorizes swimmers. Politics and egos get in the way of dealing with the threat. Score: 8.2.
  • Local Hero (1983): When the site selector for an American oil company arrives in a Scottish village with the intent to buy up land for a refinery, the locals try to thwart him at every turn. Score: 7.4.
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011): A young entrepreneur promotes an old hotel in India as a retirement community, attracting clients from Britain. The venture flounders as the expectations of the businessman and the retirees intertwine. Score: 7.3.
  • The Full Monty (1997): Best known as a tale of middle-aged men who strip to raise money, the story is layered with the complexities of a community in transition. There are no easy answers or happy endings, just a celebration of human resilience. Score: 7.2.
  • Working Girl (1988): Enthusiasm, perseverance and integrity are rewarded in this office-jungle movie. The storyline will be secretly delicious for EDOs, who so often must step to the back and allow others to take credit for their work. Score: 6.6.
  • Gung Ho (1986): A Japanese automaker buys a plant in Ohio, setting up the ultimate clash of cultures. Apparently Asian car company executives have used this movie as as a training film on how NOT to manage American workers. Score: 5.9.
Bridge scene from It's a Wonderful Life

Give a gift to your favourited Economic Development professional / Photo: It’s A Wonderful Life

And then there is my favourite film for economic developers, which has become a Christmas tradition on TVs across North America.

  • It’s a Wonderful Life (1946): George Bailey spends his life doing good deeds, supporting and enriching the lives of his family and neighbours. He battles greed and apathy manifested by the local real estate baron and business tycoon. As a youth, George yearns to leave the “crummy little town … and see the world” but time passes by as fast as his lofty dreams. Bad luck on Christmas Eve threatens to tarnish his modest family’s name, and he wishes he were never born. It’s funnier than I’ve made it sound. This film was adapted from a short story called The Greatest Gift. Score: 8.7.

If none of these gift ideas inspire, then try a basket of local food products, a coupon for a local restaurant or gift shop, or a donation to the local food bank. Your favourite EDO will be delighted.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from all of us in Norfolk County.