Joan Songaila – Reflections of 25 years
Reflections on 25 years of Writing on the Gold Coast
By Joan Songaila
1990 – The year the Gold Coast Writers’ Association was formed. It was known as the Writers at the Fair then and held meetings at Pacific Fair. It was an important year for me, too. I married my Lithuanian-Australian man, and came from Auckland to live on the Gold Coast. The following year I discovered the Writers at the Fair, joined up and learnt how I should have written the articles I wrote for the New Zealand Herald for years. I had relied on the Herald’s team of subeditors to check and correct my work. It was a relief for everyone when they presented me with a copy of the Herald’s own Style Book.
For several years I was given the job of organising the afternoon tea for the GCWA meetings. I instigated the tradition of making sandwiches instead of buying packets of biscuits. This was appreciated by committee members who had already spent the morning on committee business.
2000 – The year the president, Margaret Nettle formed the GCWA’s first support group. It was held on the northern end of the Gold Coast and took me over an hour to drive each way to the monthly meetings.
2002 – The GCWA secretary gave me the names of members living on the southern end of the Gold Coast, and so started the Southern Short Story Writers’ Group – a support group of the Gold Coast Writers’ Association. We limited our membership to ten and held our twice-monthly meetings in our unit in Coolangatta. The late John O’Reilly joined us and soon became president of the GCWA. A more recent president, Julie Boyd, was another of our special members. We set a topic to write about for each meeting and printed enough copies for everyone to check as we read out our work. A highlight of each meeting was Fay O’Neill’s home cooking for our morning tea.
2010 – Eight of us polished up our best short stories and published ‘Love, Lies, Laughter and a Few Little Tears’. Fay supplied the tears; John Clark, the laughter. Julie Baythorpe’s painting of Coolangatta Beach became our cover. George Lewis and Owen Clement added their wonderful illustrations and art work. Julie Boyd used her IT expertise on the layout, and we sent off an order for 150 copies to the printer. The president of GCWA at the time, Jeannie Barker, wrote, ‘The book launch presented by the Southern Short Story Group was entertaining, innovative and extremely memorable. They brought along balloons and streamers, and even offered celebratory cakes that were colour coordinated with the book cover! Congratulations on a fabulous effort to all involved: Julie Baythorpe, Julie Boyd, John G. Clark, Owen R. Clement, Douglas Fraser, George Lewis, Fay O’Neill and Joan Songaila.’
Several of our members had already published their own books in the meantime and the following month, John Clark organised a display of all our books for sale, including ‘Love, Lies, Laughter’, at Borders Book Shop in Robina.
2014 – Six of us spent a year producing our ‘swan song’ – ‘Exploring Anzac: In the Wake of Gallipoli’, which won $1000 of editing as second prize in the GCWA competition, announced early in 2015. This time our stories were not just a collection of individual efforts, but our characters’ families interacted, showing the effects of all the wars since Gallipoli, as the build up to the Centennial caused tensions and disagreements. Having survived the stress of getting the book published by Anzac Day 2015, we are proud of the finished product. It has been liberally illustrated by Karen Knight-Mudie, who has written the introductory story and designed the cover and the layout.
Old age and failing eyesight is catching up with some of us. And so the time has come for our beloved ‘Shorties’ Group to disband after 13 years of striving for perfection of the written word, mixed with a liberal helping of love and laughter.
- The co-authors of ‘Love, Lies. Laughter and a Few Little Tears’ at the book launch, 2010. From left: Julie Baythorpe, George Lewis, John G. Clark, Fay O’Neill, Owen Clement, Julie Boyd and Joan Songaila. Absent: Doug Fraser.
- Winners of GCWA dress-up competition, 2013. Shorties dressed up as Wizard of Oz characters on the Yellow Brick Road.
- The final get-together of the Shorties, 2015. From left at back: John Clark, George Lewis, Owen Clement, and John Tassell. In front: Joan Songaila, Julie Baythorpe, Fay O’Neill and Karen Knight-Mudie.