On a warm January morning in 2011 I drove to the Auckland Teachers’ College with a keen sense of anticipation. I was about to start a three-day Life Writing Course led by Deborah Shepard: five days of freedom doing just what I had chosen to do.
In her gentle way Deborah led us through various free writing exercises that we each read aloud to the group. I enjoyed writing my stories and hearing the other participants read theirs. The course turned out to be one of the most liberating experiences of my life and it led on to other things.
In the corridor on the first day I heard a voice call, “Jeanette!” It was an old ski club friend, Maris O’Rourke who was attending a Poetry Workshop. We arranged to meet afterwards. As we sat in the afternoon sunshine at a café in Mt Eden, Maris told me about her walking trip the previous year across England. I had never travelled overseas on my own. Maris’s tale inspired me. A few weeks later I booked a flight to Europe. I stayed with relatives in Holland and England, spent some time in London and went on two tours, one to Scotland and another visiting battlefields of World War One. I loved the whole trip.
Some years before Deborah’s course I’d read Margaret Atwood’s book Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing and been inspired to scribble down a short piece called ‘My World as a Child’. It was about some of the people I’d known, as a child growing up in Onehunga. On Deborah’s course I realised that your own life is a valid subject to write about and so I subsequently wrote and self-published a memoir of my childhood.
There was something else that Deborah’s course led on to. At the conclusion she helped us form a writing group. Our first meeting was at John’s apartment in a building at the top of Shortland Street. That was the beginning of monthly meetings to read aloud the stories we’d written on a topic set the previous month. This would be followed, after morning tea, with a rapid write for ten minutes using the technique Deborah had taught us. We'd read those pieces aloud too. That Group continues meeting today though Jim, who entertained us with his whimsical and gently ironic stories, sadly died in November 2017.
The Life Writing Group is the best group I’ve ever belonged to. It makes me write a story each month and I get to enjoy the company of other writers and their stories. Now after seven years of life writing I have a collection of stories that some day I will revise and rewrite and publish in another book. Thank you Deborah and my Life Writing companions.
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