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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Time with my tribe...RWAus12

At her breakfast talk on Sunday, Eloisa James, Romance Writers of Australia Conference key note speaker gave a talk on  the "Ten Things I know Now".  While it was not specifically one of the "Ten things", she spoke about the importance of friends and of finding your tribe .

What do we mean by "Tribe":
The Oxford dictionary definition is "..a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect, typically having a recognized leader.."

It is our most basic human instinct, the need to gather in groups with a shared interest...which began with the instinct of survival. A group of hominids gathered together for food and protection. You can still see groups of hominids at your football match on a weekend - they are called Collingwood supporters (sorry, Australian Rules Football joke!).
Collingwood supporters on their way to the game...

Throughout our life we find ourselves drawn to different tribes. At school it was probably the "nerdy group" or the "cool group". Whichever group you belonged to (hands up here for the "nerdy" group), there was a shared collective interest and yes, inevitably, someone within that group would assume, generally by unspoken common agreement, a leadership role.

I lived in Singapore, as an Aussie expat in 2000-03. During that time I became acutely aware of the importance of my tribe. I was an Australian and the tribe would gather at the Australian High Commission to celebrate as a tribe (the opening of the Sydney Olympics and the Melbourne Cup celebrations).  Then came to September 2001 and more personally for the Australians, the Bali Bombings of Oct 2002. It was this latter event that drew us back to the High Commission to mourn as a tribe (and those exact words were used by the High Commissioner in his address). We all knew someone who had been affected by that terrible event. The school choir sang "We are Australian" and I still cannot hear that song without tears. I have never been so acutely conscious of the need for the tribe to gather together.

The stereotype of the lonely writer in a cold garret with the single guttering candle is a myth, at least as far as I am concerned. I wrote my first book in isolation and in 1997 I attended my first Romance Writers of Australia conference. I can still remember every workshop I attended, every writer I met...even asking the renowned Valerie Parv if she was a writer when I met her in the lift (I have come a LONG way!). Like Eloisa James at her first conference I met people at that conference who I have grown up with as a writer. Bronwyn Jamieson and I were the finalists in the Emma Darcy Award that year.  We both swore we would be published within the took us both a little longer than a year but we made it eventually and once again shared our traditional post conference Margeritas and reflected on our writing careers.

The "Historical" tribe at RWAus 12
Within the tribe there are sub tribes:  The friends I made during my time as President of RWA, the Conference Committees, the Historical writers (who meet for their traditional lunch on the Saturday), the published authors group - they are all my tribes.

The ANZA Writers group at the launch of Pink Gins 2003
In Singapore I found a wonderful tribe of writers - the ANZA Writers Group, a shared experience that resulted in the publication of two successful anthologies of short stories. It is only in the last eighteen months that I have found a new Writers Group.  Over the last twelve months we have met together regularly over numerous cups of coffee, shared our writing,  our disappointments and celebrated our successes.

And then there is social media which has opened up the whole world. I have writer friends on Facebook and Twitter from all corners of the world.  As a result my recent foray to RWA National in Anaheim felt like a coming home because I could instantly slot into my tribal groups - Hearts through History and the Beaumonde.

Meeting my new tribe...the Beaumonde...Anaheim 2012. Note the tribal uniform.

Fiona Lowe, winner of this year's  RITA commented that after the RITA awards ceremony she felt quite confident leaving RITA with the Australians gathered in Anaheim because they were her people. I'm not sure if she said "my tribe" but we were her tribe. Those Australians present at the Anaheim conference brought the roof down when her name was announced. She was one of US and we were fit to burst with pride. I have never been sporting but I am sure for those Australians (or whatever country) competing at the recent Olympics, the feeling must have been the same.

Far from being an isolating profession, my writing life is rich and full (maybe a little too full!) of social interaction. I call Facebook my "cyber water cooler" (or if I am continuing the tribal metaphor)...our campfire...where the members of the tribe gather and share not only their lives but where the good places are for our sustenance as writers - blogs, publishers, editors, agents. The twenty first century tribal lair.

But there is nothing, NOTHING, in this world like that annual gathering, our tribal corroboree. It is punctuated with shrieks of delight as we meet up, alcohol flows freely, we dance, we party and we celebrate our successes. At the end of each Annual Awards Dinner, Anne Gracie conducts the "stand up", where one by one each great and small achievement is publicly acknowledged.

Thank you to all my writing tribes, great and small. I couldn't be a writer without you.

The video below is a tribute to the memory of those Bali Bombings and the time the Australian expats in Singapore clung together as a tribe mourning the loss of their own. I defy you to watch it without a tear...