Category Archives: Memoir writing course

Only Child on research for your memoir

Grandpa’s farm back when

“Have you found Grandpa’s farm?” my cousin Leona asked me when I called her just after arriving in Walkerton, Ontario.”

This is all part of my research for my family history on my mother’s side.

Today’s class is on doing research for your memoir and beginning your memoir. In this post we will briefly focus on the research part.

Research can vary depending on your memoir’s content. For example, if you were born in another country from the one you now live in – you will be doing research in different countries. And if you are going back to your ancestors, that likely means another country.

I’m in Toronto, Canada, so some of the points I cover below will be from that perspective.

Last week’s post on family photos and how to use them to write your memoir, have another purpose. They not only can kick-start memories, but can provide possible people to interview about your shared past – and in the case of family – your ancestors. When I first began researching for my memoir, I went to my cousin Anne who is the family genealogist (on  my mother’s side). Anne and I went to visit her father – my uncle and godfather – in the nursing home. Now, I’m a former journalist, but Anne did most of the work, showing her dad old photos (which I did supply) and asking him who was in it and to tell us a bit about what was going on. The photo showed a group of then young women, including my mother’s older sister who appeared to be waving a book around. At any suggestion that this aunt of mine was being frivolous, my uncle basically said that no, she was a good girl.

So photos can lead you to point people to interview and in turn they can lead you to others to interview, a good thing with me as only two uncles remained alive then (both since died) to interview. But another cousin, Anita, who used to go with her mother to visit extended family, put me on to one of her mother’s best friends who was still living. Got a lot of family information from her.

Besides photos of family and friends, there are diaries (maybe like me, you kept one or two or more). I went through most of them (I keep them in a box) and pulled out one or two with excerpts that could be used. You might also have access to family letters and documents such as wills and house sales. I have some of the latter.

Anita was a big help in my search for Grandpa’s farm where I used to visit with my parents every summer. They could drive there – the two miles from Mildmay, Ontario, but didn’t know the exact lot and plot numbers. You need that to find out who currently owns the property. And we had no intention of just landing at the farmhouse and banging on the door.

The search taught me two things.  Serendipity plays a big role and your research is never all online or all in person and phone.

Churches and the area assessment office often have records. So I phoned both – no luck with either. So onto the Internet and to the area’s main library branch in nearby Walkerton, Ontario. Yes, they had land registry info so I booked a day’s use for the micro fiche machine, contacted cousins Anita and Leona for our actual visit to the farm after, b00ked a motel room in the main area of Walkerton (no hotels), got a bus ticket, packed my bags and off I went.

The librarian who booked the micro fiche wasn’t in that day and the librarian who was didn’t know how to work the micro fiche machine. Neither did I, but she figured it out and handed me six possible micro fiche rolls. If you have ever used micro fiche, it is labour-intensive, not easy like digital (Note: some larger libraries in big cities have their daily newspapers digitized from when the newspaper began to up to two years ag0 and with a library card you can access it from your laptop anywhere). I found the info in the sixth roll but did discover another couple of properties that my grandfather owned. I was so excited until I discovered the info went up to the early 1980s  and we were now in the 21st. century.

So I asked a librarian for the Land Registry phone number, phoned them for their hours and location.

They were still open for half an hour and were one block from the library.

I paid for the micro fiche copies, gathered my belongings and ran out the door. And stood on the corner.

Which way to go? I asked somebody and charged down the street, just in time to get inside, look at the latest piece of information, get it photocopied and pay for that. Then it was back to the motel to make some phone calls to the current owners and my cousins.

I had an answer to Leona’s question and she and Anita met me at the motel the next morning. And we were off. But that’s another research story.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

 

 

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Family and Friends, Memoir writing, Memoir writing course

Only Child says focus and it might happen

Only child in doorway to her office

Only child in doorway to her office

Last week I blogged about Karma – what goes around comes around, something I firmly believe in even if I don’t see it. But there is also the belief that if you put it out there, the Universe, God or whomever might deliver.

No, I’m not turning into a believer here, but by accident I discovered a twist to this.

As many of you know I have turned into a very cranky angry person, thanks to all the crap that has been shoved my way and thanks to that, all the areas in my life where I feel cheated. So it has made me push a lot in my complaining. Besides the health area (which I will stay off this time), I have been complaining loud and clear about my financial position, about living below the poverty level. I just did my income taxes for 2015 and that confirms it – even lower income then for 2014 and 2016 was looking even worse, what with the powers that be at Service Ontario cum CPP, cutting back on my monthly CPP income and adding insult to injury by deciding to take off all the “extra” in May. Of course, I filed a dispute.

Along with this bad financial situation is the lack of sufficient work coming in for the first part of this year. I am teaching a fiction writing workshop at the S. Walter Stewart Library branch later this year in October.

So, I’ve been yelling about these two – financial and lack of work to bring in money – but also putting my invisible money where my mouth is, so to speak. I’ve been pitching both my writing workshops and speaking engagements for my Beyond fiction books to various branches.

Voila.

Late last Friday afternoon I received an email from a librarian at the North York Public Library branch. The writer/editor who usually teaches their four-session Memoir Writing Course in June has had to suddenly cancel (why is her business). So the librarian who looks after programing there emailed me and asked if I would like to teach the course and there would be financial compensation.

He had received my name from another librarian, Janet Nanos (and I don’t mind mentioning her name and you’ll see why in a sec) who is instrumental in my East End Writers’ Group meeting almost monthly at the S. Walter Stewart branch and also for that October fiction writing workshop. Turns out the NYCC librarian and Janet used to work together so he emailed her and she recommended me. And yes, I thanked her.

I have since talked with Val, the NYCC librarian and we have firmed up what I am to teach (pretty much up to me for the content) and he confirmed my fee (same as I get at other library branches per hour). This is for June. The write-up about it will soon go on their website and I’ll post that in future when that happens in case anyone is interested in taking this course. It is free to library patrons – the only catch being you can’t have taken another version of the course previously at that library branch.

So, sometimes putting it out there will bring in some help. Sometimes you just have to yell and complain a lot to be heard.

Now, I just have to figure out how to afford to get through May with no extra income and less CPP. I have gardening and yard supplies to get, trees to be trimmed, and one of my handyman to be here to do some tasks.

Plus I have a horrendous water bill – over $230. and a lot of that has to do with the City not billing often enough. Last bill was in December and this one that just came is due May 9. Plus there is a property tax bill, etc. etc. etc.

Looks like a few health-related issues may have to be put on hold.

But all that is for another post.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

 

 

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Filed under finances, God, Home and Garden, Librarians, Libraries, Memoir writing, Memoir writing course, Only child, Poverty

Only Child roars about sleep deprivation

Only Child catching some much-needed zzzzs.

Only Child catching some much-needed zzzzs.

In this fast-paced overwhelm world getting enough sleep is a pipe dream for many of us. I’m at the point now where if anyone – expert or so-called well-meaning “friend” suggests I need more sleep, I will hand over my “to do” list (or rattle it off) and say,

“Here, take care of all this and maybe I might just enough sleep.”

Maybe is the key word here. I have other sleep stealers going on. I’m a senior and as you age your quantity and quality of sleep diminishes. Copy that – at least in the sleep beyond 7.30 a.m. or 8 a.m. area. That is if I don’t get woken up by the boarder getting up from her room to feed her cat anywhere from 5.30 a.m. to 6.30 a.m. I don’t hear them every morning.

Or one of my many medical conditions either keeps me awake or wakes me up early. Or something unknown – maybe a bad dream – wakes me up during the night. If I don’t get back to sleep within 10 minutes it’s a lost cause as my mind starts thinking of my too many problems, some of which are on that “to do” list.

I’ve tried getting to bed earlier but between what I call housework shit (no, not dusting, just the routine daily stuff like lock doors, make the coffee and set it up for the next day, etc.) and the bedtime rituals (shower and sometimes washing and drying hair) I’m lucky if I make it to bed by 12.30.

Amount of sleep needed each night is different for each individual. I need at least seven and a half hours sleep each night for my health and I would love to get it. Sometimes I think about when I was a child sleeping in my room and hearing the comfort of my parents talking about budgets of all things down the hall in the kitchen. Or sleeping in on weekends until I heard my mother yelling, “get out, get out,” not to me or Dad, but to the roast stuck in the very small freezer atop the small fridge.

I know all my nights in childhood didn’t have 100 percent sleeping with no worries. In high school I would worry about finishing studying for exams and get up really early for more studying. Life as a kid and teenager was not stress-free.

Somehow, over the many decades since, the stress has piled up and up and turned into a constant overwhelm – even when one problem gets solved another one pops up.

And it all affects my sleep.

I’m not alone here – we are a sleep-deprived society with our hurry-rush-rush lifestyles. Smart phones (what a misnomer) and all the other technology that keeps us “connected” 24/7 is partly to blame. Although maybe not in my case as I don’t have a smart phone; I don’t do “Twitter” (for the birds is my take on that), and I make sure I have off-the-computer time where I actually shut the computers off. I do have an e-reader but reading is one of my so-called relaxing pastimes (whether print or e). I say “so-called” because finding time to read for pleasure is almost as hard as finding time to sleep.

Despite my dig at sleep experts and other health experts above, they are right about the downsides of not getting enough sleep. I do agree, but sometimes I feel like shouting “stop the world I want to get off.”

Check out these articles on sleep deprivation.

Insufficient Sleep is a Public Health Epidemic http://www.cdc.gov/features/dssleep/
Sleep Centers Increase to Highest Number Ever http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/03/sleep-centers-highest-number-american-academy-of-sleep-medicine_n_2366719.html

We are a sleep-deprived world and we resent it.

How do you get enough sleep or do you get enough sleep? Comments please.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

Sharon A. Crawford teaches memoir writing workshops and courses in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Her next workshop, Getting Your Memoir off the Ground is Saturday, May 10, 2014 at Hugh’s Books and the Studio @ Hughs in east end Toronto. If you are in the Toronto area and want to learn more about writing memoir, this might be the workshop for you. More details on at http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/SpeakersBureau.html

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Filed under Memoir writing course, Mom and Dad, Only child, Overwhelm, Problems, Sharon Crawford, Uncategorized

Only Child on naming names in memoirs

Only Child reads excerpt from her memoir You Can Go Home - Deconstructing the Demons

Anyone who has or is writing a memoir has run into it – the “do I name names dilemma.” This topic has come up in the Women’s Memoir Writing group I belong to on Linked In as well as in the Crafting the Personal Memoir course I am currently teaching. And the Internet is full of ideas about what to do and what others did.

Some of these ideas are wild. Wait to write you memoir until everybody in it (except you, of course) is dead. Well, if you wait, your spirit may have to come back to earth to do so. Show what you have written to everybody in it. That can just make matters worse as I can personally relate to from just showing one chapter to cousins.  Change the names. Don’t tell anybody you are writing a memoir (except your writing critique group and swear them to secrecy) until it is published. Do you really think no one will blab about it?

A few years back when writing the original version of my memoir, I emailed one chapter to a cousin who had helped me with family background information. She must have passed it on to her siblings. But it wasn’t this chapter that stuck in the craw of one of her sisters. Nope. This cousin was upset because she didn’t want her children reading in a published book about the mental illness of a dead uncle. Our parents had “hidden” this uncle from us until one summer he showed up visiting another aunt and uncle and then our parents had to open up. Except their stories didn’t jibe. Flash forward to years later where some of us cousins discussed just what was the story with this uncle. The objecting cousin was not one of this bunch although she probably heard about it from her siblings. She later said she “would be very angry” if the book was published but wouldn’t sue me (I asked her). However, she had no problems with me writing it and publishing it as fiction, names changed, of course.

Which I’m doing. One family story became the basis of a fictional short story  I wrote and had published in an anthology. The details and family situation changed – only the theme remained. And no, it wasn’t about my late uncle with the mental illness. Not yet…

At the same time I had done a manuscript evaluation exchange with another author and he said that my story was the most interesting in my memoir.

So, I changed it, including the title to You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons. I deleted all the old family history (except for my parents and my grandfather) and wrote more of my story – the whole focus and theme changed. I also used pseudonyms (and state that in a Disclaimer at the beginning) for all but my parents and myself. That won’t hide it all but I felt it was the best way for me to handle the situation.  Did I do it because of this cousin’s objections? Partly. But more so, from reader feedback.

The bottom line is when writing a memoir you have to decide for yourself whether to name names or not, what to show to family members or if to show anything to family members; only chapter excerpts for fact-checking might work best. If someone has a different take on something, why not include their take (but give them their credit)? Remember everyone sees a situation differently. You can always show the draft to a lawyer if you are really worried about libel.

And here are some of those websites I checked out.

http://en.allexperts.com/q/Writing-Books-675/2009/10/Using-real-names-memoirs.htm

http://100memoirs.com/2010/03/24/how-to-write-your-memoir-and-still-go-home-for-the-holidays-a-guest-blog/

http://www.avvo.com/legal-answers/i-am-contemplating-writing-a-memoir–to-do-so-requ-397127.html

Do a Google search for “naming names memoir” and see what you find.

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Family Flak Memoirs, Libel in Memoir Writing, Memoir writing, Memoir writing course, Naming Names in Memoirs, Only child, Only child memoir, Sharon Crawford

Only Child on too much research in memoir

Only Child's Dad when he worked for the railway

In last week’s session  in my Crafting the Personal Memoir taught in my home, I covered incorporating research information to the actual memoir without overdoing it. I used an example from my memoir and the old version is a doozie.

Old version beginning of Chapter  Riding the Rails with Dad:

If you’re going to travel on the train with my Dad, be prepared to get up early and arrive at the station long before the steam engine is fired up, long before the conductor and trainman arrive, and long before anyone else stands in line for Platform 7 or 9 for Guelph. Dad had to be first in line at Union Station and that dictated our family schedule during the late 1950s and early 1960s when we travelled by train to my Grandpa’s and Aunt Rita’s farms.

What did I expect when Dad worked as a timekeeper for Canadian National Railways since 1918? Just before the 20th century, Canada had three transcontinental railways: the Canadian Pacific Railway – the one tied in with Confederation, the Grand Trunk Railway and the Canadian Northern Railway. From 1900, railway lines had increased from 27,000 to 77,760 km (16,777.02 to 48,317.82 miles) but the extra construction and World War I had the latter two railway companies rolling on shaky financial tracks. So, in 1917, the federal government followed a Royal Commission recommendation and joined the Canadian Northern Railway with the Canadian Government Railways. The year my Dad Joined CNR, this amalgamated railway took on the moniker of Canadian National Railways. One year later another railway, the Grand Trunk Pacific jumped tracks to become part of this federal family.[i]

As timekeeper, Dad must’ve had his work cut out for him. Sure, the merger had reduced railway operating expenses, but the equipment to keep the railway running needed a big overhaul. The purchase of 8,450 new cars, 163 locomotives and 200 passenger cars,[ii] required much re-scheduling of train runs, both freight and passenger. Dad didn’t actually stand outside on the platforms and time trains coming in and going out – not like a bus inspector. He worked in the CNR Office on Front St. West, adjacent to Union Station in Toronto. He kept track and analyzed train run times from reports. Railway schedules were based on the Uniform Code of Operating Rules, until 1990 when the Canadian Rail Operations Rules came into effect. Despite “Rules,” train accidents occurred, and in 1907, the year my Mom was born, nearly 600 people, most of them railway employees, died in train accidents. Again, Dad entered the CNR workforce at an ideal time for him, as the total number of railway accidents declined after the Frst World War. [iii] But his clerk’s salary was lower than that of the more skilled engineers or conductors who actually rode the rails as part of their jobs.

(Copyright 2005 Sharon Crawford, excerpted from You Can Go Home: Deconstructing the Demons earlier version)

Yawn. As you can see it even included footnotes (which I’ve deleted here.) Too much information and while I tried to connect it with my Dad it just doesn’t work. After the feedback from the summer workshop with Ken McGoogan at the University of Toronto in 2005, I made several changes. Below is the version in the manuscript I’m now pitching to agents.

Chapter 7 – Riding the Rails with Dad

If you’re going to travel on the train with Albert Langevin, be prepared to get up early and arrive at the station long before the steam engine is fired up, long before the conductor and trainman arrive, and long before anyone else stands in line at Platform 9 for Guelph, Ontario. My Dad has to be first in line at Toronto’s Union Station. His “typical CNR” style dictated our family schedule during the late 1950s and early 1960s when we travelled by train to my Grandpa’s and my godmother’s farms.

On the way to Union Station, Dad sits in the front seat of the taxi, the better to play navigator. Mom and I, with my doll Darlene, sit in the back. 

“The best way to get to Union Station,” Dad says, looking down at his watch, “is to take Broadview down to Eastern Avenue, then take Eastern Avenue to Front Street.” He scowls over at the driver. “We don’t want to miss our train.”

Not likely. Unless we get stuck in traffic on this pre-Don Valley Parkway day in the late 1950s, we will arrive an hour and a half early at Union Station.

The driver makes a right turn and Dad jumps into attack mode.

“I said to take Broadview to Eastern. We’re on Gerrard St. now. Turn left at Parliament and go down Parliament to Front Street.” Dad removes his watch and is practically shaking it at the driver.

(Copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford, excerpted from You Can Go Home: Deconstructing the Demons).

As you can see I deleted all the railway history here – some of the other history is still in the chapter later on but in narrative as I saw it back then, not as my research now stated it. The watch was incorporated as narrative in this version and more on the watch and Dad as timekeeper is incorporated into narrative in Chapter 1. The rest is as they say, history.

The idea is not only to connect the history to you but to do it in a way that is more in story-telling mode than lecture-mode. Also make sure that the history you are including is really relevant and necessary to your story. For example, does the reader really care how many railway accidents occurred when my Dad started working for the (then) CNR?

I welcome any comments on this and how others deal with research in their memoir or have difficulty dealing with the research. I call too much research “researchitis.”

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes



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Filed under Albert Langevin, Canadian National Railway, Memoir writing, Memoir writing course, Only child, Only child memoir, Railways, Research memoir writing, Sharon Crawford, Union Station Toronto, Vacations

Only Child teaches writing course at home

Only Child learns course prep and practice makes a good session

On Saturday, I taught the first two sessions of my Memoir Writing Course from my home and it worked out great. Probably one of the 5 per cent of what goes on in my life that didn’t get messed up with snafus. Today is just the opposite and I hope that doesn’t continue into this evening’s course session. Everyone and everything is “jumping” at me today with demands, snafus – you name it. So, maybe there is a lesson to be learned from the first day’s sessions (besides the memoir writing content).

First of all I finally decided on the room – my kitchen. Yes, all five of us crammed into my small kitchen. I pulled out the medium-sized table, cleared off the top, positioned five chairs around the table, made coffee, had fresh strawberries, muffins and cookies available. I cleared off the top of the radiator and put memoir books I planned to use on the radiator. We did go into my office (next door to the kitchen) for part of  Session 2, to do research online on my desktop computer, but that was already planned.

I was also prepared with course materials for the first three sessions and laid those out in folders around the table, one folder per participant. I had three folders for me, one for each session. When I added pens, paper and that bowl of strawberries, we were ready to go.

All who signed up showed up. That meant a few emails or phone calls back and forth beforehand. All paid their fee promptly, too.

I did a dry run the evening before to refresh my memory and make sure I had all handouts, etc. I needed.

I didn’t make any apologize for the room except to say it wasn’t warm enough in the rec room downstairs. So, we worked in the kitchen and took our lunches into the living room where we carried on memoir writing and other writing discussions.

The course itself is geared to the participants with many practical exercises, including getting them started and continuing writing their memoir, some lecture, but lots of time for them to talk about their memoir projects, ask questions and get a real discussion going. All five of us seemed to bond. And one participant sent me a thank you email afterwards.

Why did it work? Gearing the course to the participants, sharing my experiences and knowledge, the food and coffee, and being prepared.

But the big factor, I think, is I focused and I also didn’t have everyone and everything else not connected with the course jumping at me with their demands. Therein lies the big answer. I have to tune out all this “static” and focus on what I am doing in the moment. I have to get rid of any guilt of not jumping to attention at all these distractions. They (people and things) will just have to wait their turn.

Easier said than done, but one can try.

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Life demands, Memoir writing, Memoir writing course, Only child, Only child memoir, Problem solving, Sharon Crawford, Teaching, Teaching courses from home, Writing courses from home, Writing workshops

Only Child on preparing a memoir writing course

Only Child with some of the books for her Crafting a Memoir Writing Course

I decided to expand my mini-workshop on Crafting a Personal Memoir. I’ve been teaching this one (and still am) for a year at branches of the Toronto Public Library. Many participants wanted something more and longer, so I’m doing it on my own, through my East End Writers’ Group (a writing critique group which also runs workshops) as an experiment. So for those who have signed up – I guess you are “guinea pigs.” So am I.

I’m running it from my home. I’ve done this before for day-long workshops and used my large rec room for the location. However, with six sessions, two in the evenings and in October, there is the temperature of the rec room to consider. True, I have a radiator and a heater down there and have used them before. And the lighting is fine. But I’m playing it by ear. We will probably be at my kitchen table for the two evening sessions but I’m hoping to put the two double sessions on two Saturdays in the rec room. For the Saturday sessions I ask participants to bring a lunch (they can put it in my fridge, use my micro wave) or they can go up the street to the local chicken take-out or Pizza Pizza. Heck for the last Saturday, I might be generous and order in a pizza (if we all eat pizza and it will have to be gluten-free thanks to my allergy).

The advantages: cheaper to run so I don’t have to bump up the fee. I’m also offering a fee reduction for those who sign up by Sept. 28 and so far it is working.

And I didn’t put all sessions on three consecutive Saturdays because I figured who would be able to make all three? Turns out I might be the only one who can’t because of a high school reunion on the middle Saturday. A few participants have to miss evening sessions or part of evening sessions so they get their session outline and handouts ahead of time. And in the last session we do a review as well as having extra writing time, so some catch-up can be done then.

I’ve had to do the prep work for the actual course – in between all my editing work (I’m a freelance book editor) plus all the house stuff (see my previous posts). Here’s how I did it.

I expanded the content from the mini-library workshops – basically what I taught there made up parts of Session One and Two. Then I did a brief summary of what I wanted to cover in each session, considering lecture, discussion, exercises, writing time and handouts – an outline and extra-related material. Most are available electronically but all will be in hard copy. From the outline I expanded what to cover. And I use published memoirs as well as my memoir You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons which is now in the “pitch to literary agents” stage (more on that in future blogs). We can all learn from what others have already done as well as our own mistakes/wrong turns (one of mine deals with family flak, another blog posting from last year).

So, I’m looking forward to doing this. And anyone in the Toronto, Ontario, Canada area, who is interested can post a comment and I’ll send you the course outline – it is less than a page but here’s the shorter blurb I post online.

The East End Writers’ Group presents…

Like Your Family Before You – Crafting a Personal Memoir – the course.

Always wanted to write your story – how you overcame an addiction, growing up in a large (or small) family, your mom and dad’s life story, a unique travel experience, sailing solo around the word? Whatever your life experience, if you want to write a memoir about it, writing instructor and Canadian Authors Association Toronto branch Writer in Residence  Sharon Crawford will show you how. This six-session course is expanded from Sharon’s introductory Crafting a Personal Memoir workshop taught at several Toronto Public Library branches and will include: getting started on your memoir; doing research and how to use it in your memoir; writing a killer beginning to hook your readers; writing your story so it reads like fiction but remains your truth (characters and dialogue, point of view, creating scenes and character); naming names and dealing with family flak. Each session will consist of instruction, discussions, and some hands-on writing including exercises connected to each session’s topic as well as in-class time to work on your memoir. Some critique of participants’ memoir excerpts will be given. E-mail contact with course-related questions is welcome between sessions.

It starts this Saturday, Oct. 1, with evening sessions Tuesday, Oct. 4, Wednesday, Oct. 19 and then the final two sessions, Saturday Oct. 22.

Who knows? Maybe next year I’ll expand to Webinars.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under East End Writers' Group, Memoir writing, Memoir writing course, Only child, Only child memoir, Research memoir writing, Sharon Crawford, Writing courses Toronto, Writing groups, Writing workshops