In 1996, I was a young law lecturer, overburdened with first year law exams to mark, and I looked longingly at an application form for a residency at Hedgebrook (a womens’ writers centre on Whidbey Island, off the coast of Seattle) that had been hanging patiently on the board above my computer for over a year.
I’d been secretly writing stories late into the night after I’d finished preparing for my lectures. But on that day, something in me yielded. I yanked that form down and filled it in like I was applying for an organ transplant.
One friend I confided in said, ‘That’s brave. You’re not a writer… are you?’ ‘No,’I conceded. ‘Not a real one.’
But I wanted to write so badly it verged on the obsessional. Sometimes I’d look in the mirror and say out loud to myself, ‘I’m an author, yes, thank you, I’m so pleased you enjoyed my book.’ It felt dirty and delicious. I kept writing late into the night.
Some weeks later when the letter arrived offering me a spot at Hedgebrook, I cried and kissed it, because there it was: the moment that changed everything. I don’t know how destiny works, but I know I curved the arc of my life that day when my longing to write out muscled my fear that I couldn’t.
I spent six weeks at Hedgebrook in the spring of 1996 writing the first draft of what would become my first published book, The Dreamcloth.
Since then, I’ve written many books, some of which have been translated into different languages and become international bestsellers. Fairytale stuff.
What makes me different from other writing mentors
- I’ve written and published nine books in five different genres (literary fiction, commercial fiction, memoir, narrative non-fiction and self-help);
- my books have sold over 600 000 copies worldwide;
- I’ve been teaching, writing and mentoring writers for ten years;
- most writing mentors focus on craft. I focus on consciousness – who you are as a writer and what message you have to share. The way I see it, consciousness fuels craft – only when we know why we want to write and what we want to write, do we need to learn how to do it perfectly for our genre and market;
- I help writers connect with the soul of their book- we find the heartbeat together;
- my years as a counsellor for abused women equipped me to listen deeply to what people say and to feel for the story hiding in their words;
- my legal training gave me solid training in logic and structure (essential in writing);
- as a women’s rights advocate and CEO of a not-for-profit legal advocacy centre, I learned to be a practical strategist: how do we get our message into the market and call people to action (i.e buy books)?;
- I am a B1G1 (buy one, give one – business for good) life-partner. When you come on a writing retreat, you’re also choosing to donate to a life-changing and life-giving B1G1 project. If specific issues are close to your heart (hunger, literacy, educating girls, HIV, saving rainforests) we can work out which causes you’d like to support;
- In 2014 I did a year long business programme for entrepreneurs to master the fundamentals of branding, marketing, pitching, profile and platform (which are essential for commercial success);
- I’ll bet no other writing mentor has ever appeared in Hustler magazine – in 1994 Hustler magazine made me Asshole of the Month because of my advocacy work against violent pornography (in truth, it was a great honour).