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’.
My enduring memory of that year was listening to Enid Blyton’s fantasy stories from The Magic Faraway Tree. My love of words and disposition for dodging reality was born. A while later my ‘absent-mindfulness’ paid off though, 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 and house painting; after a stint on a dairy farm milking cows, enrolling at Uni seemed like an easier option. I trained as a school teacher, then took up professional tennis coaching instead. It bought me into contact with a wide range of Australians and I thoroughly enjoyed the teaching process and the travel. I explored the Franklin River in Tasmania’s south-west wilderness. To document the adventure I bought an old Remington cast-iron typewriter and wrote a story about it – 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 two regional 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 and I conducted two photographic exhibitions and published thousands of images.
Next was corporate and government work for twelve years. I wrote and edited research reports, speeches and media releases; handled media for a couple of CEOs and published hundreds of stories on business, medical, environmental and social justice issues.
At the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office I edited investigation reports focusing on the public’s concern for government accountability. Later, a major book project promoting health and services came my way – called the Australian Government Directory of Services for Older People.
In my spare time 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. 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, documenting the largest ever road infrastructure project in Canberra.
More recently I’ve been helping people create their memoir through editing and ghostwriting, which is what the LifeStory Writing project is all about. I coach and mentor people and conduct seminars on the subject. It is exhilarating to see stories come together, and develop into intriguing and publishable life stories. I am inspired.
Somewhere along the line I disposed of the cast-iron typewriter when someone told me it wouldn’t 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 to read and edit and be entranced by.
Mark Koehler, founder LifeStory Writing
BA Professional Writing
Member Australian Society of Authors
Member Life Stories Australia