Reality is over-rated. But words have the ability to transport and enchant us. Here is a little story I will share with you . . . A long time ago my lovely grade four teacher took me out of class. She removed her wristwatch and put it to her ear, moving it slowly away. Next she repeated this to the side of my head and asked me if I could hear the ‘tick-tick’. After repeating the process on my other ear I realised she was testing my hearing. I felt very important to receive such personal attention. My hearing it seemed, was OK. It was just that my nine-year-old mind had a habit of wandering off. Hasn’t changed much.
At the end-of-year diary-signing session at this country school, the teacher wrote in my autograph book, ‘To Mark with his head in the clouds, may he have lots of nice dreams and maybe one day bring one back’.
Later my ‘absent-mindfulness’ paid off when I was awarded the school’s book prize for writing and designing a cut-out book with words and pictures.
So I have my feet firmly planted in mid-air.
Early jobs included fruit picking, house painting, milking cows. I trained as a teacher and took up professional tennis coaching. I travelled and explored the Franklin River in Tasmania’s south-west wilderness. To document the adventure I bought an old Remington cast-iron typewriter and started thumping away at the keys – to ‘enlighten the world’.
I studied journalism at the University of Canberra and was awarded a Bachelor of Education in Professional Writing in 1991, majoring in journalism and freelance writing.
Along the way, a wife appeared, followed by three fantastic kids. Then I blinked a few times and the kids turned into grand-kids. The elasticity of time becomes apparent as one advances chronologically. There are times when it slingshots us along our journey. But age is only a number.
I worked as a journalist and photographer for country newspapers, writing news, feature stories and business profiles. I started a small business and became a freelance journalist and professional photographer. The Canberra Photographic Society awarded me Photographer of the Year in 2001. I staged a couple of exhibitions and published thousands of images.
I wrote corporate and government reports; handled media for a couple of CEOs and wrote on business, medical, environmental and social justice issues.
I wrote a book on health for the government called the Australian Government Directory of Services for Older People.
I published another two books: a coffee table book entitled Fiji and Tavewa – In Search of Robinson Crusoe; also my dear old mum’s life story, This That and the Other, which set the ball rolling on memoir. I wrote personal profiles for people and was amazed at the fascinating lives ordinary folk can have; and the way people transform their lives. I wrote a book called Majura Parkway – Gateway to a Capital, for the ACT Government.
More recently I’ve been helping people create their memoirs through editing and ghostwriting, which is what the LifeStory Writing project is all about. I coach and mentor people and conduct seminars. It’s exhilarating and inspiring to see the stories come together, and develop into publishable memoirs.
Somewhere along the line I disposed of the cast-iron typewriter. One bloke reckoned it might make a decent boat anchor. The country ‘strine’ speaking voice is still with me, as is my predisposition for a dream world – the one my kindly teacher was so concerned about. But there are more important things. There are just too many good stories out there to be entranced by.
Mark Koehler, founder LifeStory Writing
BA Professional Writing
Member Australian Society of Authors
Member Life Stories Australia