Anthology Launch – A New Beginning

Yesterday the Writing Group I belong to launched their first anthology and one of my stories is in it!

Women Who Write Melbourne is a wonderfully supportive group of over 600 women who are all interested in writing. We have a Facebook page where we can connect and discuss all aspects of writing, and we have regular meet-ups around Melbourne. Our Anthology, titled “A New Beginning”, is made up of short stories, memoir and poetry and was the culmination of many months of hard work by the committee, led expertly by Lee-Ann Hawe, the founder of the group.

Yesterday, together with friends and family, we gathered at Lulu’s Café and Gallery in North Melbourne, to celebrate the result of the hard work. There were plenty of compliments when the books were unveiled, they look fantastic. It wasn’t long before we sold out of copies! But those who missed out shouldn’t be unhappy as the digital version will be released soon.

There were speeches, readings, wine, food, chatter and laughter, but above all there was a sense of achievement. I for one am proud of all the women who contributed to, worked on and supported this anthology. I am proud to be a member of this group. We are proof that no matter how diverse we are, or the differences between us, we can all pull together for a successful outcome.

That’s me, signing copies of our anthology!

 

 

Grandchildren

I’m not sure there is anything more wonderful than holding a sleeping baby, especially when their fingers curl around the top of your shirt and they relax into the deepest of sleeps with a sigh. Unless it is the sudden rush of a toddler as he appears from nowhere and unexpectedly jumps into your arms, sending you rolling backward on the couch. There are always moments to cherish; the splashes at bath time, the food covered face, reading the same book twenty two times and then just one more, baby feet kicking your stomach, the six week old head butting you when you put him on your shoulder, the tears and tantrums, the cuddles, the baby smells, the kisses, I could go on and on.

I’ve been missing from blogging while I’ve been spending time with my adorable grandsons, one nearly two and the other six weeks old. The older one with so much energy and the younger with colicky pains, that by the end of each day all I wanted to do was crawl into bed and recover. Writing certainly took a backward role for the last twelve days. To be honest, it had no role at all.

I had never imagined the pure joy grandchildren would bring me. I was an impatient parent who was simply trying to survive. Now I can enjoy every minute I spend with my grandsons. Those small arms reaching up to you, asking to be lifted and held; that sudden grin; those chuckles; the grumpy look which turns into smiles with a story, and that’s just the toddler. I had to work hard for smiles from the six week old, but every one of them was precious, and his frowns were just as cute. I can’t wait till he is old enough to jump on me too.

It’s hard to leave them. Difficult to know they will have changed so much by the time I get to see them again, not until next year sometime. But I’m so happy I had this time with them making memories.

Phone down, but I’m not out

Bergen is a beautiful city, which I hope to visit again one day. Unfortunately, it will remain in my memory as the place where my phone crashed and I lost photos, videos and Apps.

I have a confession to make. Not only do I have a Windows phone, but I also love it. I realise it has disadvantages. I cannot access some of the Apps available to other phones, so I miss out on the Snapchats my family send to each other. But I can overlook that. I am comfortable with my phone. I know how to use it and, sometimes it even surprises me with an extra bit of functionality I hadn’t realised was there. My relationship with my Windows phone is a bit like that with my children. I know they all have shortcomings, but I love them regardless.

I am very rarely disappointed with my phone but in Bergen I got furious with it, threatening to replace it. In retrospect, it was probably my fault for not performing a hard reset when I upgraded to Windows 10. In my defence, that wasn’t clear in the instructions. Move forward several months, in a foreign country with no phone access and suddenly I can no longer contact anyone on WhatsApp as apparently there is no storage left on my phone. Why didn’t I have an SD card, you ask. I did, I say. However, although I made sure everything new was stored on the SD card and everything I could move to it was moved, I still ran out of storage.

Thankfully, I had also brought my Surface Pro with me, so off to Google I went. Most of the websites I found recommended performing a hard reset. Half of them suggested taking the SD card out first, which is exactly what I did. The hard reset fixed the storage issue, but the phone no longer recognised the SD card, even after performing another hard reset with the SD card in place. This was a problem as I had all my photos, videos and apps, including WhatsApp – my main communication source for this trip – on the SD card. All of it was lost.

What about OneDrive you ask? Some of my photos and videos were uploaded, but then, being slightly suspicious of saving things in the cloud, I changed the settings.

I searched everywhere for some sort of help which I didn’t have to pay for. Eventually I tweeted Microsoft help and they suggested I try the SD card in a different phone to see if it was still working. Unfortunately, none of my fellow travellers could help. I tried downloading WhatsApp and Viber again, but they require phone connections for SMS codes, so it is out of the question until I return to Australia and have my phone again.

Consequently, here I am on a train to Berlin, having managed to travel from Bergen to Amsterdam and stay there a few days, still alive, still well and still enjoying my trip despite the loss of communication capability. Instead of texting my fellow travellers with my whereabouts, in the mornings we arrange a time and place to meet for dinner. I still have Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and Twitter – what more do I need?

And, despite my threats to find a replacement, I’m going to keep my Windows phone. After all, you can’t exchange your children if they disappoint you, can you?

Stress less, travel more

But what do you do when the travel stresses you? For a holiday which was meant to alleviate my stress, I’m feeling more stressed than when I left!

First our flight from Cologne to Riga was cancelled. When I requested a refund, they rescheduled our flight to leave from Munich. Which is great, unless you are staying in Bonn, approximately 557kms away from Munich. And the airline refused to change our flight to leave from Dusseldorf instead. So, we had to book our own flights from Dusseldorf to Munich and a hotel at the airport in Dusseldorf to get to Munich in time for the morning flight.

Then, when we arrived in Riga, my suitcase was split open along one of the seams. So, I had to buy a new suitcase. Given that we didn’t know Riga at all, we stopped at the first shopping centre we found and bought a suitcase from the only shop selling suitcases. It set me back $329 which I hadn’t counted on.

On with the journey, still looking forward to our Scandinavian adventure. Riga was beautiful, as was Helsinki and Stockholm. Each city was special in their own way, I’ll try to write about our trip in greater detail down the track.

From Stockholm, we flew to Tromsø in Northern Norway. We had a transit stop in Oslo. When we arrived in Tromsø, we discovered two of our suitcases, mine included, had been lost in transit, presumably at Oslo airport. The staff at Tromsø airport were decidedly unsympathetic. Thankfully, the staff at the Radisson Blu were as helpful as they could be. We checked in, the two of us without luggage did what we could to freshen up and we headed to the Tromsø Safari desk to find out about our Northern Lights tour that night. They told us it had been cancelled.

Now, I totally understand that weather conditions cannot be controlled and it would have been wrong of them to take us on a tour when they knew we would be unable to see the lights. But coming straight after lost luggage, I was distraught.

The next day, our luggage had arrived at the airport but apparently the staff there had to wait six hours after 11.30am to deliver it to us. When the lady at the front desk of the hotel told me this, I did burst into tears. She was fantastic. She organised the airport to put our suitcases in a taxi there and then. Even though I had to pay for the taxi, I was grateful to finally have clean clothes to change into and the use of my Natio products. Lesson learned – always pack a few things in your backpack just in case.

Up till this point, although being tired and slightly grumpy, I still felt in control of the situation and determined to enjoy the rest of our journey. Tromsø was fantastic. On our second night we went on a Northern Lights tour to a husky farm and managed to see the lights. Then off to Bergen, which is truly a beautiful place and one I hope to visit again.

Except it was in Bergen my phone crashed and I lost all my apps, my photos, videos and all connection to any means of contacting anyone except through Facebook messenger. But that’s a story for next week’s post.

Travel Writing

I admire the travel writer who can discipline themselves to write while they are travelling. Those whose very passion for a destination can enthuse complete strangers to visit it, in the hope of enjoying the same experiences. The likes of Bill Bryson and Paul Theroux come to mind, along with the iconic Geoff Dyer who always entertains. There are also myriads of travel blogs, many of which I read before I booked our current European adventure.

In the days leading up to our journey, I had high hopes of filling this blog with the sights and sounds of the many cities we are stopping at over our six week visit to Europe. All of my hopes have now faded into nonexistence.

The fact is there is too much to write about. Each city or town we visit is filled with sights, sounds, architecture, food and culture foreign to those we see every day in Australia. There is simply too much which is different, or beautiful, or amazing, a complete sensual overload which is difficult to process on the spot. Then, after two or three nights, we have moved on and the experiences overlay each other until I’m no longer certain of where I saw that magnificent building, or tasted the wonderful dish or saw the wonderful murals.

Of course, there are some sights I can never forget. The palace of Versailles, the cathedral at Cologne, Riga’s streets filled with incredible Art Nouveau buildings will stay with me forever. But a few cities down the track and, I’m ashamed to admit, I am loathe to see yet another church or palace. Instead I try to find different experiences. Here in Stockholm, I’m lucky enough to have both friends and cousins. Yesterday was pleasantly spent at lunch with friends in a part of Stockholm I would never have visited on my own. Tonight, we will have dinner with my cousins.

Tomorrow we leave again, this time away from the big cities, to northern Norway where we hope to see the northern lights. It will be cold, much colder than I have experienced for many years, probably wet and no doubt extremely beautiful. As far as I know, there are no churches or palaces to be seen. It promises to be a very different adventure, one which I am both looking forward to and dreading. You ask, why dreading? To put it simply, I am not the outdoors type. My idea of camping is lazing around a glittering pool at a 5-star resort. Therefore, chasing the northern lights in a mini bus through the countryside in the dead of night, without a bathroom in sight, causes me to feel slightly anxious.

On the bright side, it will be very different from any other experience so far and one which I am certain I can write about!

A Story Told

There is something special about listening to someone tell a story, especially if their story relates to their own experience.

Over the last five years I have spent a lot of time researching World War II from the German point of view, to try to understand my father’s experience of the war. I have read books and essays; watched documentaries and movies; and read personal accounts I have found on the internet. I have travelled to Germany a couple of times and traced my father’s footsteps, all in the name of researching the book I am currently rewriting.

But the first time I went to Germany, it was purely for pleasure and to meet my family. It was 1987 and the Berlin Wall was still standing. In order to reach Berlin, one had to cross East Germany, in my case by train. For someone who has been brought up in democracies, it was a huge culture shock to see patrols of policemen with machine guns striding through the train carriages, checking passports. What a difference the western zone of Berlin was! But forever in sight or in mind was that wall dividing the city and the country. Still, I fell in love with the city.

In 1989, together with the rest of the world, I watched the Berlin Wall being torn down.

Three years ago I revisited Berlin. This time I stayed in what had been the eastern zone. Again, I toured what remains of the Wall. Every time I see it I am reminded of the attempts so many people made to get to the West, so many lives lost, so many families destroyed. Yet, until last weekend at our family reunion, I had never realised the true impact on my own family. In fact, I never knew that some of my family had lived in the Soviet zone.

Last weekend Germany celebrated reunification. It is a big holiday, which is celebrated each year in a different German city. This year it just happened to be held in Mainz, where we also had the family reunion.

On our last night together, although many of our family had already left, the ones who were still there gathered for dinner and a last few shots of vodka. Suddenly, one of the family got up to speak. In German, and then in English, he told his story of the night the Berlin Wall came down. When he finished another family member stood up and told their story, then another and another. If they didn’t speak English, someone translated for them, so we could all share in the moment.

As I said at the beginning of this post, there is something special about listening to someone tell a story. That night, the stories we heard were extraordinary, poignant and still raw. They made real a time in history I only knew through movies, documentaries or the news. I will never forget those stories, or those who had the courage both to live them and to stand up and tell them.

Family

My father’s extended family is scattered around the world. Most of them are from Europe, but I can boast distant cousins in America, South Africa, England, Ireland and even Indonesia. Every two years a family reunion weekend is organised and held in different places throughout Europe, which is exactly why I am sitting cross legged on a hotel bed in Mainz tapping out this post on my laptop.

Fifty-five family members, from babies to retirees, have gathered in Mainz, Germany for this weekend. Originally around a hundred had indicated they were coming but, for various reasons, nearly half had to pull out. The weekend has been planned, the schedule circulated and each of us have been eager to catch up from the last time we attended, in my case four years ago. There have been tours of local churches, a cloister, a rose garden and the Rhein river. Each night there will be wine and food, no doubt a few vodka shots, and plenty of conversation and fun. Coincidentally, Mainz is also hosting festivities to celebrate the reunification of Germany.

But to me this extended family of mine means far more than a weekend gathering. Each member of the family is another connection to my past, a thread which joins me to my family’s history. And our histories, although similar in many ways, also differ. We all have stories to tell. In one way or another we, or our ancestors, have all been migrants. Some have been both migrant and refugee. Some have lived in two countries, some more. Some, like myself, have had parents from different countries and even cultures.

And as I search for stories of my father’s family, I have discovered I am not the only one interested in the past. I’m not the only one struggling with identity and belonging. Yet another thing which binds me to this family. Where I thought I was alone in wondering where I fit into this world, which country I could claim as my own, which heritage to identify with, there are others in my family who feel the same. In a strange way, this is comforting.

Those of us who wonder about identity and belonging might never get the answer we search for. But as one of my cousins put it, we can simply consider ourselves to be citizens of the world. And we will always be part of our family.

The importance of research

As I pack for a family trip to Europe, part of me is planning how to fit some research for my book into the trip. On my last visit, I went to some of the towns and cities my father had lived in or visited. This visit, I would like to delve further into my family’s history and some of the history and strategies of WW2.

We are spending a few days in Latvia, where I will show my sons the estate which used to belong to my father’s family. I hope to discover stories about the family, anecdotes or remembrances, although I doubt there is anyone still alive who would remember them.

We will also stay a few days in Berlin, where I hope to learn more about division and unit movements during WW2. I have emailed an organisation which I am optimistic can assist me with my research. Even if they cannot help, I will continue to look for those who can.

I find research fascinating. I often get sidetracked when hunting down facts, only to discover myself lost in a completely different area. Although there are writers who have been quoted as saying that research is not writing, I tend to agree with Leon Uris who said, “Research to me is as important or more important than the writing. It is the foundation upon which the book is built.”

This is very true of the book I am presently rewriting. If I hadn’t researched the incidents which prompted Latvia’s fight for independence, the events leading up to WW2, the conditions of prisoner of war camps, and the destruction and despair of the German people after their surrender, I would never have been able to write about my father and his experiences. The research in this case has truly been the foundation of my work. Without it I would have been left with disjointed notes in my father’s hand, letters from a young girl he met during the war, letters from my parents to each other and memories of the rather fraught relationship between me and my father. It wouldn’t have been enough.

Over the next few weeks I hope to fill in the remaining gaps in the research I have already completed. Put the cement between the bricks, so to speak. What better way to do it than to travel to where my book began. In the words of Michael Scott, “The research. It is always the best part of writing. And, of course, it is the great excuse to travel.”

#Anthology17

Writing is a solitary and often lonely. Even if you set your laptop up on the corner table of a busy café, you are most likely still writing alone. If you are like me, you are probably sitting alone in front of your computer, in your pyjamas. So, it is a wonderful moment when you find a group of likeminded writers who you can bounce ideas off and meet, in real life, every now and again.

I was lucky enough to find just such a group when I stumbled across Women Who Write, Melbourne. With a Facebook membership of over 500 fabulous women, who write in a variety of genres, this group is one of the most supportive I have come across. I felt welcome from the first time I joined one of their meetings. This group of women is happy to answer questions, critique writing and make suggestions and I have never heard any negative or derisive comments.

This year Women Who Write decided to put together and publish their first anthology of short stories and poetry. The call went out and I submitted a story which I felt suited the theme of “New Beginnings”. I was so excited when my story was selected.

Compiling, editing, publishing and marketing a book does not come easily, nor is it an inexpensive process. So, a crowd funding campaign has been launched. You can find it here: https://pozible.com/project/women-who-write-anthology The monies pledged will help us pay for professional editing, graphic design, production costs, printing of 170 copies of the anthology and our book launch.

If you like to read, if you enjoy discovering new authors, if you have enjoyed my blog posts, or if you simply would like to donate a few dollars to a help us out, please do so. Your contribution will be appreciated, not only by the twenty authors included in this, our first anthology, but also by all of the members of Women Who Write, Melbourne.

Everybody has a story to tell, but…

If you think of it, our lives are built on stories. Our stories begin with our birth, our mothers relate tales of various levels of pain in labour; often our details are written down or at least discussed with family and friends, our length, weight, the colour of our eyes, how we fed, how we slept. Our stories continue as we grow, our first tooth, first word, first step, first day at school.

Our stories also rest on the building blocks of our ancestor’s stories. If our great great great grandparents hadn’t done this, or moved here, or worked in this job or the other, we might not exist. For example, if my father had immigrated to Canada as he had originally planned, instead of America where he ended up, I might not exist. If the Russian Revolution hadn’t taken place, my grandparents would have stayed in Russia and I probably would never have been born.

Similarly, our future is a product of our stories. Our decisions in life form the pathways for our future; what we study, the jobs we accept, the moral choices we make, all construct our future stories.

Most of us want to share or tell or write our stories. We firmly believe our stories will be interesting enough for everyone to hear. As a writer, I would love to know my stories are so fascinating that they will draw in a large audience. There are plenty of writers in the world whose stories do just this; JK Rowling, Stephen King, John Grisham, Dan Brown, to name a few. Their stories are popular, their books sell and are often turned into movies or television series. I can only dream of ever being as admired.

But here’s the catch, although we all have stories to tell, not everyone wants to hear them. Our family and friends might be interested in our birth and childhood, although I doubt repeated tales about how your mother barely made it through labour or how you were clever enough to walk early, would manage to hold your audience for very long. But I somehow doubt the rest of the world would care.

It is the same for other stories. Take the memoir I’m struggling to finish which deals with the rather fraught relationship I had with my father. I hope my sons will be keen to read about their grandfather, some of my friends will no doubt want to hear my story, there might even be others out there who have had similar issues with their parents who will pick up my book; but I doubt my story will ever make it to a best sellers list. I can always hope, but I also must be a realist. Yet I often hear of writers who complain about the lack of readers or interest in their story. Not everyone will be eager to read about the disease you fought, your efforts to rise above situations, your battles with racism, sexism, ageism, or your relationships. There is not likely to be a huge audience for yet another take on child wizards, supernatural horror or quests for the holy grail, especially if these stories are badly disguised copies. This is just how it is.

If you feel your story must be told or written, then please tell it or write it. A story which begs to be told or written, is an important story. But don’t expect anyone else to be interested. Write it for yourself. Because you are not only the writer of your story, you are also its most valuable reader.