The Canberra launch of Jenny Sheldon’s memoir, ‘I Will’ was recently hosted by Paperchain Bookstore in Manuka with great good spirits.
Along with celebrating the success of the print book, the launch also included the publication of the ebook, and an audiobook which has been serialised for podcast. Which makes three bites of the cherry!
Proceedings commenced with a serenade by an a capella choir, led by Rachel Hore, which gave a harmonious rendition of ‘Stand By Me’.
It seems that one lyric in particular from the song is a fitting description of Jenny’s personality: ‘I Won’t Give In’.
After the musical performance, Barbara Sullivan from community radio Station 2RPH, took to the stage. Barbara spoke about the audio book which is being broadcast on 2RPH in Sydney and 1RPH in Canberra.
The publisher of I Will, Dr Christine Williams, Director of Sydney School of Arts & Humanities (SSOA), was unable to attend the evening, but she prepared a speech which Barbara shared with the audience.
Christine and Jenny’s initial meeting had been at a weekly writing group meet up at SSOA. These informal gatherings are designed for people who are serious about their writing, and members are encouraged to share their own writing and give as much gentle and positive feedback as possible. Jenny proved a natural in this setting and welcomed suggestions. She bathed in the light of others’ appreciation of her accounts of getting back to a new normal following a stroke.
‘Jenny’s memoir was born out of a wish to share her experience of a stroke in the hope that others, both those who’ve suffered a similar fate and the families and friends of stroke victims, can come to a greater understanding of the potential for recovery,’ Christine Williams explained.
‘People may be ‘struck down but not out,’ she said.
Following the stroke, Jenny had to learn how to speak and walk again. She threw herself into a regime of rehabilitation which included working with a physiotherapist, occupational therapist and a speech pathologist.
In order to engage in complex conversations, Jenny took courses at TAFE that helped push her forward and maintain friendships.
Her love of singing also proved a lifesaver and she joined choirs and was delighted to be able to sing again!
Christine recognised Jenny’s natural story-telling style and the potential to turn her writing into a memoir.
Jenny would write her accounts of different stages and events post-stroke – dealing with relationships, physical limitations and emotional lows. However, her main frustration was about how to structure a book around those experiences. She’d been an English teacher before her stroke so she knew she’d need some help to build a solid narrative structure for her writing to shine.
This is where Sharon Dean, a former journalist, academic and one of SSOA’s writer-mentors came into the picture. Christine approached Sharon about mentoring Jenny and a successful collaboration was forged. The two women clicked and were surprised to find that they had both been members of the same choir in Northern Rivers region of NSW!
They were a great fit for each other, and Sharon has done Jenny’s story justice. Many strong bonds have been forged throughout the process. Firstly, those between Jenny and Christine and members of the writing group who encouraged her every week. Also, Sharon Dean, her mentor and co-author and, more recently, Barbara Sullivan from 2RPH, who has been totally committed to producing a quality audio book.
When it was Jenny’s turn to speak, she explained that after her stroke, the only words she was able to say were, ‘Yes’, ‘No’, and ‘I don’t think so’.
She was determined to write this book, starting it when she was first in rehab. She recommends the book to stroke victims as well as carers and anyone else who wants to understand the perspective of a person who has suffered stroke.
To close the launch, the a capella choir gave a haunting rendition of ‘The River’, written by Coco Love Alcorn. The song is about healing and wisdom and the lyrics of the first verse are as follows:
‘The river is a healer
The river is a sage …
And it always finds a way’
On behalf of everyone involved, we’ve sent the book out into the big wide world and hope it will prove an inspiration! You can buy the book for yourself or someone else who’s experienced the effects of stroke on an individual or family on the SSOA website here.
Copyright: text Therese Warfield; photos supplied by Jenny Sheldon.