Tracy's blog

I’m Tracy Au and I have graduated from the Professional Writing program from university. I am an aspiring screenwriter, so this blog is used to promote my writing and attract people who will hire me to write for your TV show or movie. I write a lot about writing, TV, movies, jokes, and my daily life and opinions. I have another blog promoting my TV project at

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"Magna Carta"/ "Ain't nothin' like the real thing"

Oct. 10, 2016 "Author examines the storied history of magna carta": I cut out this article by Michael Hingston in the Edmonton Journal on Nov. 27, 2015:

Unsure about visiting the Magna Carta exhibit, currently on display on the legislature grounds on the final stop in its four-date Canadian tour? Perhaps this conversation, overheard between two kids on a field trip during my visit earlier this week, will help convince you.

“Is this it?” one asked, rushing to the display case in the centre of the temperature-, light-, and humidity-controlled Borealis Gallery, and then looking a little crestfallen once he got there. “It’s a piece of paper.”

His classmate, frowning, swiftly corrected him: “It’s an 800-year-old piece of paper.”

Technically, the version of Magna Carta on display here in Edmonton is only 715 years old. It’s one of the seven surviving copies reissued by Edward I in 1300, 85 years after his grandfather, King John, sealed the original, and it has spent nearly all of those years inside Durham Cathedral. But you don’t keep a piece of parchment around that long unless it means something — and wrinkled old documents don’t come much more interesting than the Great Charter. Especially when you can see it with your own eyes.

“A lot of people find it fascinating to be in the presence of such historic documents,” agrees Carolyn Harris, author of the official tie-in volume to the exhibit, Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada (Dundurn). “It’s not often you have the opportunity to see Magna Carta on Canadian soil.”

In 2012, Harris, a historian and author who teaches at the University of Toronto, delivered a series of public lectures about British royalty, during which she was approached by a woman who was also co-chairperson of the group that was in the process of bringing Magna Carta to Canada. The woman asked if Harris would write an article for the group’s website.

From there, Harris says, “One article became a series of articles, which became an opportunity to write a book. So it’s been a pretty incredible process.”
The Magna Carta exhibit — which also features a copy of the similarly elderly and similarly influential Charter of the Forest
— includes a good primer on the charters, the circumstances under which they were drafted, and their unlikely influence on the modern world. For the full experience, however, I recommend delaying your trip by a couple of days, and first spending some time with Harris’s thorough and thoroughly enjoyable book.

It begins with the context in which the charter was first sealed by King John (you know, the thumb sucker from Robin Hood?), and the very limited application it was intended to have.

“English society, in 1215, operated according to a very strict social hierarchy,” Harris says. “The ideas of democracy were viewed with some degree of suspicion — democracy was seen as almost synonymous with mob rule.”

In other words, the barons who pressured King John to sign the charter weren’t imagining a utopian document that would guarantee universal human rights; they were gunning for a protection of their rights, as well as those of similarly privileged groups such as the clergy. It wasn’t until centuries later, after a long period of relative obscurity, that legal scholars such as Sir Edward Coke saw the potential of the Great Charter and began to argue its relevance for the general population: “Magna Carta,” Coke famously said to the British Parliament, “is such a fellow, that he will have no sovereign.”

Coke’s championing had a massive snowball effect, which Harris’s book also documents, influencing the American Declaration of Independence, France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among others.

None of which was on anyone’s mind back in the 13th century.

“The barons, who envisioned the document as applying to a comparatively small social elite, would be surprised by the degree to which it’s become a touchstone for universal rights in various parts of the world,” Harris says.

Here in Canada, Magna Carta’s influence has been more symbolic than literal. Foundational documents such as the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are certainly inspired by it, and it has been cited in all kinds of court cases, but it’s no longer considered a legally binding document — as was made clear, Harris points out, by a ruling by the British Columbia Court of Appeal in 2003. Neither does the Canadian constitution contain language plucked straight from Magna Carta, or at least Coke’s interpretation of it, as happened in the United States (with clauses about arbitrary taxation and property law seeming particularly useful).

Precise legal applications are beside the point, anyway. Regardless of its original intent, Magna Carta has become international shorthand for human rights, and it remains one of a handful of pieces of legislation that pretty much everyone recognizes — even if they don’t know what’s written on the page (and not just because they aren’t fluent in Medieval Latin).

“What’s interesting is that many people have heard the name ‘Magna Carta,’ but they don’t necessarily know what was in the document,” Harris says. “They know it was historic, but not exactly how the origins of the common-law system came out of Magna Carta, or the fact that this was the first instance of a king of England accepting limits on his power imposed by his subjects.

“It’s become a cultural touchstone, as well as a political and legal touchstone.”

Carolyn Harris will be signing copies of Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada at Audreys Books (10702 Jasper Ave.) on Friday, Nov. 27 at from noon to 1:30 p.m.

Oct. 29, 2016 "Ain't nothin' like the real thing": Today I found this article by David Sax in the Globe and Mail.  It's about publishing and how there is so many things going digital like the newspaper:

David Sax, author of The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, on the endangered pleasures of tangible culture
The first story I ever published as a journalist ended up on the front page of The Globe and Mail. It was a short article about Tel Aviv’s vibrant nightlife in the midst of war, and how young Israelis were steadfastly dancing in discos, despite the threat of suicide bombings. By some sheer stroke of beautiful luck the paper not only accepted my story, but printed it on my birthday.

I can still remember my mother screaming over the phone. After all, this was the paper she read each morning, and she had run out at dawn, to buy up every copy in the neighbourhood. Two days later, a courier arrived at my friend’s apartment in Tel Aviv, Isreal with an envelope. I tore it open, and pulled out the neatly folded front page my mother had cut out, which smelled like my family’s kitchen table. There was my story, and name, sealed in ink before my very eyes, in a newspaper I’d been brought up to revere. Not a bad start to a career.

I have written countless stories since then, as well as three books, and nothing has ever graced any publication’s front page since that first one. But each time I see my name in print, I experience a small version of that initial thrill, which seems to justify everything it takes to make it happen: the fruitless pitches to editors, interviews that go nowhere, countless drafts and a constant cloud of self-doubt that hangs over me right until the moment when I see my idea in its finished state.

These days, that moment is something I largely experience virtually. As the journalism business has tilted increasingly toward digital over the past decades, the opportunities to actually hold my work in my hands are quickly diminishing.

Online publishing has its advantages. When a story goes “live” on the Internet, I can watch its reception in real time. Within minutes, I’ll receive messages of praise and scorn from total strangers, compelled to reach out because something I wrote struck a nerve. Each message and comment delivers another hit of adrenalin, buoying my fragile ego for one second, before smacking it around the next.

But one thing has become clear: The more my work moves online, the more I crave the fleeting sense of accomplishment that only print can deliver. Why? For one thing, online journal- ism pays terribly. Digital offers the promise of great riches and limitless exposure, but most of the time it compensates in pennies, if anything at all. All the advertising dollars that were supposed to flee print publications for their online equivalents have instead been dispersed more widely. The classifieds money went to Kijiji and Craigslist, dating ads went to dating apps, and the rest was swallowed by Google and Facebook, which collectively take in threequarters of all online advertising dollars. Pay rates for print publications may not be what they once were, but they remain vastly higher than what I get paid online, even though the work is identical. Digital offers sizzle, but sizzle doesn’t feed a family. I need steak to survive.

Print, meanwhile, remains a stubbornly steady beast. Though bloodied and bruised, most of the newspapers and magazines that were supposed to die off are still selling ads and publishing regularly, including this one. People will still pay money for something they can hold in their hands, and even if that group of readers is smaller than it once was, the dollars they spend (at the newsstand, with subscriptions, and through ads) are undeniably real, and consistently make up the bulk of most publications’ revenues. Magazines and newspapers that ditched a certain paper present for a dreamy digital future have come to realize how costly this can be.

But there’s something deeper and more emotionally significant to those moments when I see my name in print. The sense of accomplishment feels more real … a physical translation of my ideas and toil, sprayed and pressed onto dead trees, and carried by truck, plane and human being into the hands of someone who cares enough to pay for it. A final product, put out into the world at a set time and price. An object of consequence with quantifiable heft.

Our world is awash in simulations, virtual experiences and products that don’t actually exist. Our music, our culture, our news and even our memories largely live as invisible lines of code on distant servers, accessed through the same flat glass surfaces. When digital goods and ideas are ubiquitous in pretty much every aspect of our personal and professional lives, the archaic slices of analog reality we once dismissed are becoming increasingly valuable again.

You see it in the revival of vinyl records and cassette tapes, books and bookstores, and even instantfilm cameras, all of which have been growing in recent years, despite the widespread assumption that they would simply be extinct. The more endangered real things have become, the more we seem to want them around.

This is not a logical, practical choice, but it is a deeply human, romantic one. There’s no shame in that. I know that the days of seeing my work in print will be even more rare. But that doesn’t lessen the pleasure I get when I hold a book I have written in my hands for the first time, see my name embossed on the cover, and think, for one fleeting moment, that once again, it was worth it. David Sax’s latest book, The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, will be published, in print, on Nov. 8 by Public Affairs. His mother has reserved several dozen copies.


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