Remembering Dorothy – more than 20 years with the GWG
Attending the 10th Geneva Writers’ Conference, this time on a weekend of sunshine, had me thinking back to before the first conference and when I came to writing at forty in the Geneva Writers’ Group, where Susan Tiberghien “gave me the right to write”. This “right” is a prevailing link with Geneva and the group and its conferences, and the effect of those words and that gift, I feel, influence how I go about things still today.
Back then the group was small and we´d meet upstairs in the Café du Soleil where we´d also lunch together. Learning to write opened my eyes to many things I’d taken for granted in what I thought was an international career. Learning to write allowed me to turn my back on career and find a voice. I remember an elderly American woman called Dorothy. She would make photo poems and hand them around. Dorothy had an apple—not to eat, but to stay in contact with her grandson in California. She was the first wired and networked grandmother and the first wired and networked writer in the GWG. Dorothy was irreverent. I still remember her rendering of The Lord´s Prayer, with the “Lord” replaced by her “hard drive”. She was way ahead of her time. I also remember a chilling story she wrote about descending into the soundproofed cellars of the UBS bank. Things were not always as they seemed when one scratched the surface. With these insights, I started scratching the surface of my “career” and the organisation I worked for, where the higher I rose on the ladder, the more privy I became to what lay beneath. I did not like what I saw. Writing helped me move on.
I moved to the Internet before the web days and then to online magazines. Friends from those days are still some of my closest today. I was on the cutting edge. Writing took me to conferences around the world and online conferences and workshops with people from any and everywhere. After many rejections, stories were published. I was learning. I am still learning. Writing brought me my agent in Australia. Writing brought me in contact with writers whose names I hardly recognised, but were ones others dropped. The “networking” was serendipitous: we were making friends, letting the spice flow. And I was learning to attend to my craft. Writing led me to do a PhD in Creative Writing, for which I had ulterior motives. I wanted feedback on a novel in progress. In exchange, I had to learn how to analyse and write an academic paper, no mean feat for a renegade. The research stretched me, gave me new insights. The PhD, awarded at 60, saved our financial situation and allowed me to work with young doctoral students in Vienna as their “English washing machine”. Writing saved and is saving my life.
I was privileged to be able to be mentored by the late Canadian writer, Timothy Findley. When I asked how I might thank him for his guidance, he said I could not, that I could only give on what I’ve learned through my passion for writing. So here and there, I hold workshops, where I do not teach, but share all the things I have learnt along the way. I try and bring like-minded people together in the way I did at the 13th International Conference on the Short Story in English, held in Vienna in 2014, and which the GWG generously supported. I participate in community gigs in Vienna where I write only in English but am organically included because I understand the dialect even when I can´t get my tongue around it.
My early days in the Geneva Writers’ Group, due to encouragement by the group, sharing of stories, learning to scratch even beneath the surface were not about publishing, but about attending to the craft, becoming a better writer, making words count. Word counts and publishing came much, much, later.
So, it was with mixed feelings that I came back to the Geneva I had left ten years ago. I wanted the link with the work of Susan Tiberghien; I wanted to honour the GWG´s support of my doings in writing; but I also wanted to play on my heartstrings and have quality time with special friends from the old days. It was tricky balancing it all, but I managed. And I enjoyed the workshops I attended. Ann Hood, one of the presenters, hinted that the how-to stuff had all been said before, just in different ways by different writers; but sometimes that difference is what one needs at a given time, and if it gets light bulbs glowing and bells ringing, then it´s a win-win. Light bulbs glowed for me unexpectedly even though I´m bogged down in my NineP (novel in never-ending progress). I gained insights, new tricks, to take back to Vienna, where I´ll be sharing them in a community writing project at Magdas Hotel in May.
So, although publication now comes with thanks to what started more than twenty years ago in the GWG, what is rewarding for me is sharing and making the spice flow. This all comes round and helps me to keep on writing and, in whatever medium, scratch the surface, and below it.
Yes, Dorothy, onwards!