Author Interview: Gwen Wilson

I Belong to No One is the memoir of Gwen Wilson. The story of her life, from family violence, teenage pregnancy and forced adoption, how she dealt with all of that and became the woman she is today. The book is published on June 30, 2015. I hesitate to use the word ‘gritty’; although Gwen’s story is harsh and at times difficult to read about, at the same time her flowing writing style makes the pages turn. How many years did it take you to write your book, and what was the trigger that made you start? The initial trigger was my 50th birthday party, way back in 2005. Part way through my speech, it dawned on me that each of the guests represented a distinct part of my life. Family, friends, and colleagues – it was like a map of my life’s journey. The fact that I was even there – well-dressed, financially secure, a successful career woman, with a supportive husband at my side – was a source of wonder. My life could so easily have gone a different way. As I spoke, I felt the spiritual presence of those people – particularly the women -who had supported and guided me in my early years. I had triumphed over adversity and I had reclaimed my life – but part of the credit belonged to them. I went home determined to document my story as a way of acknowledging what they had done for me. Whenever I had a spare Saturday afternoon, I wrote down my memories, using triggers such as letters, photographs and miscellaneous receipts. It was slow work, though, and I bogged myself down trying to hone each chapter to perfection. Three years later I had ten chapters, and still hadn’t had my seventh birthday. As well, the style and tone was like a family history account – nothing like the book it is now. And the working title, by the way, was: Tried Poor: Didn’t Like It. In late 2008 my husband retired and we moved away from Sydney. I expected to go straight into another logistics role but our move co-incided with the global financial crisis. So I found myself living extremely comfortably in a five-star complex, marvelling again at how I even came to be here, promising myself I would get back to writing, and daily finding an excuse to procrastinate. A short while later my cousin died unexpectedly, and in the midst of mourning him, and reflecting on the role he had played in the woman I became, I chanced across this quote from Sandra Day O’Connor: “We don’t accomplish anything in the world alone, and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one’s life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that create something.” I opened the laptop, started typing, and continued writing without editing until I had a coherent story with a beginning, middle and An End. You could say that I Belong to No One took 30 years to create: 20 to live it, and ten to write it. There must have been occasions when you wondered if things should be written about, or left private. How did you approach those decisions? No, not when I was in the creation phase of the writing. I wrote everything I remembered, the good times and the bad times. The more I wrote, the more I remembered. Everyone in my circle knew I was writing, yet I doubt that anyone, including me, ever seriously considered I would get published, so I didn’t feel the need to censor myself. There was a horrible moment though when I lost the document which contained the rape scene. It had been hard to write, but I had persevered because my story didn’t make sense if I left it out. It was another month before I could bring myself to write about it again. In the editing phases though (and there were many!), especially once I knew I had a publishing contract, I did ask myself whether including certain sections added any value to the overall story, and if the answer was no, I cut them out. That includes many “nice” stories, as well as the delicate ones. I refused a request to include a few paragraphs about one family member. There was no pressing purpose to say anything, and I felt that anything I said, good or bad, would not have been appreciated by that person. There are some paragraphs, also, where I toned down the language slightly. Words such as “belt” and “thrash” can come through on the printed page more strongly than intended, and I had to think of alternative descriptions, not in order to condone, but rather to ensure that I hadn’t inadvertently embellished a situation. I have resigned myself to expecting that some people will find my memoir confrontational, and one of those people will be me. Imagine me writing about the rape and continuing to live in a village-like complex with all my neighbours knowing. What was I thinking! Lilly Hawkins, a friend who lives in the States and who features in the book is very supportive. She said to me, “Gwen, this will start a discussion. People don’t talk about these things.” I said, “Which bit?” and she said – “All of it Gwen!” Are you afraid that your book will upset people who perhaps didn’t know the whole truth at the time? And how do you deal with that? Yes. I cannot think of one person who knew me at the time who will know everything there is in the book. I asked myself many times whether I was sure I was writing the truth, and cross-checked my accounts with other people and source documents. The truth though, still has the capacity to hurt. Along the way, I showed relevant sections to friends for their permission to proceed, particularly one whose personal story I was exposing. When I was offered the publishing contract … Continue reading Author Interview: Gwen Wilson