Monday, January 16, 2012

The Write Mentor

Peggy Fletcher passed away January 12, 2012.  I mourn the loss of a mentor, inspirational leader, and sympathetic friend. 

A professional writer since 1970, and  member of The Writer’s Union of Canada, she and a couple of colleagues founded Writers in Transition, Sarnia/Lambton (WIT) many years ago.  She was affiliated with a number of other literary groups that I will not go into here.  Neither will I list her multitude of awards and accolades, or the number of plays, poetry books, and novels to her credit.  That information is readily available online.  Right now, I would like to share how she touched my life.

Early on I realized the privilege of knowing Peggy.  I admit to being in awe of her but I was never more comfortable than in her presence.  Yes, she was a caring individual who made each person she knew feel special.

My November 28th blog post, The Write Connection, explains how we came to know each other.  I was given her phone number as a contact for a local writers group.  She answered on the first ring.  Any apprehension I might have had about ‘coming out’ as a writer dissolved during that initial conversation. 

When I joined the writing group, WIT, I had already completed my first novel.  It is set in a tiny hamlet on the southern shore of Conception Bay, Newfoundland.  Peggy was delighted.  She was from Brigus, a skip away from Chapel’s Cove where my main character, Sylvia Kramer, settled.  Due to my research for the novel, I was quite familiar with this area. 

It was nerve-wracking when she read my manuscript.  As a Newfoundlander and prolific writer, she would be my biggest critic.  I worried that I might have failed in my attempt to paint a true picture of life on The Rock.  Reassured by her praise, my confidence swelled. 

She preserved her reputation as a tough editor by listing not only the strengths of my writing but pointing out weaknesses, as well.  I value her review.  I learned a great deal from Peggy. 

She was a dogged and concise editor.  She was kind but to the point when it came to analyzing our writing.  Invariably, after listening to our stories around the table, she would offer each of us suggestions as to which journal might publish our works.  She was genuinely happy for us−of that I have no doubt− with each successful submission.  She instilled confidence through our trust in her critiques.

An uncommonly energetic eighty-one-year-old, she kept abreast of everything in the literary and arts world.  I asked for her secret.  She replied, keep active, Phyllis, keep busy. 

I am not sure how many events packed her agenda in a month. I know she never missed the weekly WIT meeting until recently due to her illness, and she belonged to several other groups, as well. Peggy attended every book launch and actively supported poetry and prose groups, local and out-of-town.     

Her passion for life spilled over into all forms of creativity.  Sculpting, painting, poetry, novels...  She excelled at everything.  At each meeting she attended, she shared something creative:  a short story, a new chapter from her current novel, several newly penned haiku, or perhaps a new painting to pass around the circle. 

It was after a WIT meeting that she heard me lament about not having enough time to write.  She chided me, though not in an unkind way.  I raised five girls, she said, and I never stopped writing.  At least one of them was constantly tugging on my sweater sleeve as I worked, she joked.

I would be remiss in not mentioning a rare attribute.  Peggy had synaesthesia.  It is a neurological condition in which two or more senses combine.  She had the ability to taste colours.  I know.  I had not heard of it either.  Christmas before last, I knit bookmarks for the members.  I carefully chose a brilliant red yarn in an effort to appeal to her unique senses.  I hoped she would find the colour ‘delicious’.

She had a wonderful sense of humour.  It was fun to be with her.  She regaled us with stories of back-in-the-day partying with well-known authors and publishers.  It is not my place to share those stories here.  However, be assured that they were very noisy. 

She influenced my writing in many ways.  She encouraged me to express myself in poetry as well as prose.  Each time I share a poem, I offer the disclaimer I am not a poet.  However, she−along with a couple of other writer friends− actually convinced me to share my poetry at a public reading one evening at The Book keeper.  I was totally out of my comfort zone but appreciated the experience.  Peggy had a way of instilling confidence in each of us.

At the end of every meeting, she was the first to call out, Is everyone going back to the pub?  She made it a point to personally invite new members or guests; immediately welcoming them as part of our group.  On the odd night that I begged off, she would not let me away with it.  C’mon, she would say, you are not that tired. 

She and her husband, writer John Drage, would each sip on a Rickard’s Red and share an order of wings.  I loved that part of the evening.  Without fail, Peggy asked about my husband, a fellow Newfoundlander−how is the fishing going or has he caught any salmon lately. 

Once, I emailed a picture of Marv holding up his big catch of the day and that night took some of the fresh salmon to the meeting for Peggy and John.  The following week, she wasted no time in telling me how much they enjoyed their fish dinner.
I have lost a person I admired in every way.  I will miss my friend.

The passing of Peggy Fletcher creates a huge void in the literary world and in our small circle of writers at WIT.  Peggy died the morning of a scheduled meeting.  We went ahead with the meeting.  Peggy would want it that way. 

Twenty sad faces crowded the table.  Twenty pair of tear stung eyes.  We loved her.  We mourned together− as family.  

At the end of the meeting someone called out, are we all going to the pub.  I’m not, I said.  Yes, you are.  Again I heard, Peggy would want it that way.  And so, I went.  Still following Peggy’s lead. 

Peggy Fletcher’s sincerity, compassion, her influence, advice, words of encouragement, and her happy disposition will remain in my heart and thoughts.

She is my inspiration today, tomorrow...forever. 

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