Frequently Asked Questions
What inspired you to write this book?
As I stood to make an impromptu speech at my 50th birthday party, I suddenly realised that each group of guests represented a distinct part of my life. It was like seeing my life’s journey mapped out in front of me. Now I stood in front of my guests as a well-dressed, financially secure, successful career woman, with a supportive husband beside me, and family, friends and colleagues all around me.
My life could so easily have gone a different way, and as I spoke, I felt the spiritual presence of those people – particularly the women- who had supported me and guided me in my early years.
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 and photographs, but it was slow work, 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. At that time it was a family history document, nothing like the book it is now.
How did it move along then?
My husband retired in the second half of 2008 and we moved away from Sydney. I expected to go into another logistics role; however our move co-incided with the Global Financial Crisis and the job did not proceed. Suddenly I found myself living in a five-star complex with time on my hands, and once again marvelling at how I came to be here at all. I promised myself I would get back to writing, but kept procrastinating, until suddenly my cousin died. I opened the laptop, started typing, and continued writing without editing until I had a coherent story with a beginning, middle and An End.
Although it was edited out along the way, what I wrote that first day was critical to giving me direction, and here is an excerpt:
“And now this week Cousin Brian died – five days short of his sixty-seventh birthday. He is the first of our generation to pass. He was the fittest, the fastest, and the kindest.
When he fell sick, he told me he had many stories he wanted to tell.
But Brian was a man who worked with his hands, not his words.
And yet he told me he had words he wanted to share. I offered to write them for him. He believed, however, that he had lived long enough to learn the way to tell them for himself. He believed he had the time and the future to do it.
Brian died with his stories inside him.
Only his spoken words will live on, in the memories of those who listened, and those who understood.”
Why do you quote Sandra Day O'Connor on this website?
I was still mourning my cousin’s death, reflecting on his life, and pondering the role he played in the woman I became, when I received an email with the
quote at the end.
It resonated strongly with me! I decided to write about the tapestry of my life. I wanted it to be a story of achievement, of triumph over adversity. I wanted it be a story of those who made the journey with me, to paint a picture of them that would endure to the next generation. Above all, I was still determined to continue what my 50th birthday had started. I wanted to lay tribute to all those who supported and guided me through my childhood, who helped me to achieve who, and where, I am today. It was not to be.
As one draft followed another, my story was overwhelmed with loss. It became the story of those whom I lost along life’s journey. My story spoke of the loss of the father that I did not know, the mother with whom I never bonded, the friends who went away, the cousin who committed suicide, the shredding of sibling love – even the loss of the husband that I left. Finally it spoke of the deepest cut of all – the loss of my child.
Was it cathartic?
Not in the commonly held belief that writing personal stories allows a release of long held-back emotion, or makes sense of a recent trauma, or allows the author to “vent”.
The narrative that is I Belong to No One is a story I have lived with all my life and spoken freely of in conversation and at various forums. I didn’t feel as if I had “put it all behind me”, but nor did I feel that I couldn’t move forward with my own life on account of it. It was what it was.
Again, a contemporaneous piece best expresses my feeling as I was writing, and muses on the concept of loss and emotion:
“As these threads weaved from one to another it became clear to me. Loss is a part of the tapestry of life, we cannot avoid it, and we cannot change it. All we can change is how we react to it, and in that decision lies the creation of something. Loss can destroy, and it can build.”
So are you saying it wasn't emotionally difficult to write?
I found that as I wrote, I remembered more and more, and in the beginning, I was absorbed in capturing and recording all those memories whatever they were. So, in the early drafts, distressing stories were interspersed with happier stories such a being my cousin’s flower girl, or getting my first camera, or commenting on social history. It was in the editing drafts, as I worked towards the core of the story, deleting anecdotes and delving deeper, that it became more difficult emotionally. However, I was still so focused on the task of writing that it wasn’t until the proof-reading stage, when I had my “reader’s” cap on, that the full emotion really hit me.
I also became very emotional when I was shown the cover for the first time. I had been writing for so long, managing to remain objective and keep my feelings in check, but when I saw that image – so haunting, and with such personal meaning – I was instantly struck to the core. The flood-gate was open. It was twenty-four hours before I regained my calm.
I would like to stress, however, that in the end, the book did turn out to be a story of triumph over adversity, and it is, in some small way, a dedication to all those who nurtured and guided me.
How did you choose the title: I Belong to No One?
The manuscript had many titles along the way, until one day I had a consultation with Vicki Morrison, of Strategic Solutions. I passed her some of the final pages to read, and within a few minutes she pointed to a phrase, “There,” she said, “That’s your title sitting right there.” And so it was.
Are you writing another book?
I would like to. In writing I Belong to No One, I made the discovery, or realisation, that the last legitimate birth on my maternal line was my great-grandmother in 1854. I would like to retrace her steps in an effort to understand how a woman from a middle-class English Victorian family dies in an asylum for destitute people in Sydney. Is there something in her life history that laid the seed for the instability and family turmoil that was daily life for the subsequent three generations?
FAQs with Gwen Wilson