Mentoring, Mintees and Hazelnuts
by Hazel Edwards
Did you always want to be a writer?
Did you have a mentor?
The short answer is yes, to both questions.
I wanted to be an author from aged six, but I was unsure how.
The longer answer is that I had never met a writer personally until I was 23 and shared a cupboard-office at Frankston Teachers’ College with a charismatic educator who was also internationally published. George Pappas was the first ‘real’ author whose workstyle I could observe. Even now I’m wary of using ‘real’ and go quiet when I am introduced by well meaning hosts as ‘A real live author’, considering the alternative.
Often people ask whether I have had any mentors. I did enjoy reading biographies of literary female lifestyles in my teens, but they all seemed to live in Europe and have wealthy parents or multiple lovers. Not much applied to me. Later I read about Australians Charmian Clift, Miles Franklin, Nettie Palmer, Ruth Park, Mary Grant Bruce and Dame Mary Gilmore. Those who were married to writers, seemed to do ‘hack work’ in order to support the loftier literary work of their partner. Less than ideal. If you wanted to be a writer, it seemed that marriage was out.
‘Being a writer’ was always my aim, but I lacked role models of women artists who could combine family life and sustained literary work and the breadth of experience I imagined was essential outside suburbia or country Victoria. So meeting George was a start, in creative time management, even if he didn’t have children, lived alone and was male.
Watching dramatic George was my education in the creative business of ideas. George co-authored big-selling drama textbooks, but his life was the real drama. Officially, his ‘day-job’ was as a lecturer in drama to primary trainee teachers. A master teacher, he also produced & directed large scale theatrical productions with trainees, as well as doing commercial voice-overs, co-scripting and television acting.
George was my first experience of an author-educator who was a practitioner in the arts. He mentored many young people and lived crammed 24 hour days, not driver-licensed, so he could have the bonus of talking with the ‘chauffeur’ until he would ‘crash’ periodically. In bed, not crash the car! You wouldn’t see him for several days and then he’d reappear, refreshed. So George also taught me that the creative’s timetable could work differently from bureaucrats and was partly the reason I became self-employed and also unemployable!
“Have one of these.”
George would hand me chocolate covered gingers.
I don’t like ginger, but I liked George’s mentoring. So I ate them as a peace offering. The first of many adaptations in order to be in the company of an interesting mind.
Who else would have an Egyptian head of Queen Nefertiti in his entrance, a photocopier instead of a kitchen table and bookshelves across ALL walls, even his doorways where visitors slipped a clip under Egyptology in order to enter the bedroom and leave their coats on the bed?
George was a mentor to many aspiring creators, but he was also conventionally ‘Greek’ and family orientated, in theory.
“Get married and have children,” George advised me. He was a bachelor until his fifties when he married a psychiatrist and they maintained separate book-lined households, commuting by taxi at weekends as neither drove. I was already married but knew that having children would curtail writing time and energy. I didn’t anticipate family would provide writing inspiration (from when things went domestically wrong), emotional support, and experiences like getting lost orienteering.
Living as a teenager in rural Gippsland, there were not many literary role models. Few read, especially if you had to be up at 4 am for the milking. Some people are too busy ‘living’ to write or read and that’s a fact, not a criticism
As a child, I surreptitiously read under the bedclothes with a torch and later I started my lifelong reading- in-the-bath habit, adding more hot water if the plot were engrossing. Aqua-readaholic was a term I later started using when asked about my ‘bad’ habits.
I’d buy the School Friend magazines, which all had a very English boarding school emphasis which was a long way from my ‘real life’ serving behind the general store counter seven days a week before and after school. In between I’d read all the magazines ‘for free’ and fold them back into their creases.
My mother read Mills and Boon romances. My self-educated father read philosophy and worked his way through the major thinkers, so I remember books of philosophy like the Roman Marcus Aurelius and the Persian Rubiayat of Omar Khyam on the kitchen table. In between he read the racing guide. My librarian grandfather constantly read volumes of ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” When he’d finished, he went back to the beginning. It was he who started me on espionage and mystery novels like Agatha Christie after I finished the children’s section, as he didn’t think romances were suitable for my youth. Apart from the Bible, my Grandma read me Sunday School Prize books, which had strongly didactic messages about ‘being good’ and saving heathens in remote Polynesian islands or in China.
When my children were teenagers, George’s biographer contacted me, wanting to interview me. His questions brought back memories and gratitude for my first writing ‘mentor’.
George’s funeral was private and friends found out about his death later. So we had a ‘wake’ telling George stories, like when he drew a sheaf of large denomination notes out of the bank, and while he was crossing the highway they blew away!
So that’s the ‘long answer’ to ‘Did you always want to be a writer?’
‘Mintee’ is the affectionate name for those who are mentored, but I have a group of self-named ‘Hazelnuts’ whom I have mentored into publication. Now eight of the twelve have been mainstream or indie published and each help workshop and launch the others’ work. I’ve also collaborated on various fiction and factual books and help ‘genis’ writing their non-boring family histories. Important to capture the extraordinary behind the so-called ordinary lives.