The joint was hopping on Sunday, 12th July 2015, for the launch celebration of I Belong to No One. I had been so lost in planning and organising, that I had not left any time to daydream about how it might actually look. It wouldn’t have mattered if I had, as there was no way I could have envisaged just how successfully it took off!
The morning kicked off with setting up the community lounge and last minute grocery shopping, and before I knew it, the assembly line of sandwich makers and cake cutters were knocking at my front door. Thank you ladies – you know who you are – without your efficient help the 160 attendees would have left very hungry. Also to the great men who manned the bar – we may have had a riot on our hands if the guests who had braved the cold and windy conditions did not have a welcome drink pressed into their hands on arrival.
All hail to independent bookshops – may they live long and prosper! The wonderful people at DeanSwift Books of Nowra demonstrated a huge leap of faith in me by bringing along 120 copies of I Belong to No One.
The Master of Ceremonies, (who often doubles as my husband, Bill), had the guests seated just about on time, which was a feat in itself . . .
The Lord Mayor of Wollongong, Gordon Bradbery, gave an impromptu, touching and entertaining opening speech:
Then on to Lilly Hawkins, introduced by Bill with these words . . . “As well as being an editor, Lilly has taught academic and creative writing in Australia, and is now teaching at Universities and Colleges in the United States. Lilly and Gwen lived at Guildford and met in infant’s school at age 6. They have known each other for more than 50 years. Lilly ran off to the US 15 years ago and has made the journey to Australia to be with us today for the launch of Gwen’s book.”
To which Lilly opened with that she had not just come in from anywhere in the States, but from Dallas, Texas. She may have gone on to say that it may be the best state in the USA, or I may have just made that part up 🙂 One thing is for sure, my USA followers, she loves her life in the States too much to be coming back to live in OZ anytime soon 🙂
Next up was friend, neighbour and (unpaid) editor, Helen Harrison (Woolcott) who “was born and raised in the Illawarra and has lived at the Links Seaside for over five years. As a mature age student, in her early 50’s, Helen graduated from Macquarie University with a Bachelor of Arts and a Diploma of Education, majoring in English and History. Having held a variety of jobs in the publishing industry, Helen finished her working career as the Australian Sales Manager and Christian Books Editor of Hodder and Stoughton, UK.”
Helen was holding my FIRST book, a novel, written in 1967, the last year of primary school. I had begged all my speakers to keep me in the dark about what they were going to say, and Helen delighted by pointing out that my use of superlatives was born at a very early age. By the time we had finished with I Belong to No One, Helen and I had developed a short-hand way of speaking. If she emailed back a comment saying, “Gwen, you have gone all Jane Austen again – then I knew that she was telling me, in the nicest possible way, to stop “doffing caps” and just “take our hats off!”. She was particularly challenged by my use of the word “roiling”, but eventually conceded that a word which could be defined in many ways, including “mixing – as in cement” could be used in the sense I was conveying (naive authors 1, editors 0 🙂 ). – Actually, that is a joke, Helen was extremely aware of the dangers of mixing friendship and editorial advice – (which reminds me of a very wise old saying – “before borrowing money from a friend – decide which you need more.”)
Of course, I am summarising what Helen had to say, and some were particularly taken with the idea that we can see the lights on in each other’s apartments, and we are both night owls, so there were many occasions when emails flew back and forth well after midnight. Helen is in the process of compiling them, and is considering publishing a Wollongong version of 84 Charing Cross Road .
Helen brought tears to my eyes when she paralleled my life’s journey with Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken, . . . “I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Most of all, though, for me, was the appreciation of Helen’s sensitivity to my work, best expressed in her opening quote from Yeats . . . “tread softly, for you tread on my dreams“.
. . . Ohh, getting a little teary again just in the proof-reading. This is a VERY LONG blog post, and I really should break it in two, but just in case I get side-tracked with other things, I will push on . . .
The keynote speaker was Professor Ian Brown, who was: amusing, insightful, relevant, thought-provoking, – and that is before I start using superlatives . . .
He had so much to say, too much to repeat here, however, he came along with three story board interpretations of the front cover of my book, the kind of thing you see when someone endorses a book cover with a testimonial. I will give you all the headline without the explanatory background (mmmm . . . there’s a thought for a book give-away . . . to the closest guess of what he said next 🙂 )
1. Gwen Wilson and I have so much in common . . . overnight our private lives became public . . . Hillary Clinton.
2. Men can be real bastards. . . . it takes guts to stand up and tell people . . . Julia Gillard, former PM (Australia).
3. Education is a human right with immense power to transform . . . I Belong to No One demonstrates this power . . . Kofi Annan UN.
Then the moment everyone was waiting for. The absolute headline act, who had been so busy in the weeks leading to this moment, that she arrived “speechless”. As in . . . speech . . . less.
Thanks though, to my alter-ego wearing the new glasses that were a cross between Dame Edna Everage and Jenny Kee, I pulled that off, with a couple of readings from I Belong to No One. Then it was a rush to the signing table and everything after that is just a blur . . .
Some of the following photos feature my Italian family, and if you wish to work out where they fit in, well, . . . I guess you will just have to read the book 🙂 More on my web-site, which is now up and running at www.gwenwilson.com.au
NOTE TO SELF: Get a chin tuck!