Life Writing courses provide participants with the tools to discover their individual writing strengths and begin the delicious process of constructing a memoir. These courses also draw together a group of like-minded people, united in a common goal, to record their life experience and share their stories. Following each course, participants establish their own writing groups and meet monthly to continue the writing projects and provide friendship and support. There are now a number of life writing communities dotted around Auckland City and the stories are flowing and leading to publication and further education. One student has just completed an MA in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters, Victoria University of Wellington.
The first writing group was established following Deborah’s inaugural life writing course in 2006. A vigorous and tight knit group they are committed to writing and publishing their work. One writer, Colin Radford, has published his memoir and there are more in the pipeline. Elizabeth McCrae wrote a wonderfully reflective essay on ageing, drawing on memories from throughout her life, in “Return to Sender,“ published in Loving All of It (2010).
Between 2008 and 2010 Colin Radford, worked with Deborah as editor, and later Jocelyn Watkin as self-publishing consultant and finally with Ocean Reeve at PublishMe, to produce his memoir The Boy from Mokau River. The book has sold well in Taranaki and is now in its third printing. Colin remarks, ‘I think you could say it has been a regional success.’
Colin’s story spans eighty years beginning with an untroubled and serene childhood in a beautiful natural setting by the Mokau River in the Waikato region bordering Taranaki, where the only access to and from the outside world was on a launch, The Cygnet. The book was released in Auckland and then at Colin’s invitation, Deborah and members of his life writing group accompanied him to Mokau township for the second launch. The highlight of the weekend was a trip, up the Mokau River on the The Cygnet, to visit the site of Colin’s childhood home.
On docking at the site of the old wharf we had to fight our way through a thick tangle of thicket up towards the house site. The home is no longer standing but on the terrace, where it once nestled, we found evidence of its former existence in worn, terracotta bricks and a clump of snowdrops just pushing through. This is how Colin described his home in the memoir:
From the river… the house could be glimpsed nestling among fruit trees, a large, lone blue gum and a variety of native trees. To reach the house from the wharf you walked across the flat, climbed the stile over the fence and ascended a ponga-stepped pathway to the house. On both sides of the path there were flowerbeds of hollyhocks, cosmos, hydrangeas, sweet williams, pansies and the humble forget-me-not. On the right side of the house amongst an area of scythe-controlled prairie grass there was a clothesline and a huge old rimu stump covered by a vast Dorothy Perkins rambling rose... To the left of the house by the wood heap, where firewood was stored and chopped, there was a large vegetable garden surrounded by more fruit trees… The house built in 1919-1920 with meagre resources had a corrugated iron roof and corrugated iron walls. It was basic but extremely functional. The front verandah provided a view of the river and was a suntrap for the afternoon sunshine.
When everyone was gathered at the site Colin asked for a moment’s stillness to ‘listen to the silence.’ We stopped. We felt the air moving softly. We heard the distant baaing of sheep, the calling of birds and the shudder of heron wings in flight. Did we hear the ghosts of children playing, spades tilling the soil, a young Colin whistling on his way to feed the dogs and shut up the hens for the night? As we stood quietly, I became aware of each individual taking the time to feel Colin’s world. I marvelled at how an otherwise dispirit group had been brought together through a love of writing and a friendship with a remarkable man who at the age of eighty had the energy and persuasive skills to take us on his journey. An interest in writing can open up a world of possibilities...