December 9 - 15, 2012: Issue 88
Robyn McWilliam, a regular contributor of articles to Pittwater Online News on subjects as wide ranging as bush walking in Pittwater to travelling in China, is generous with her time and insights on how to write so others can actually read your words. Editor for Pam Bayfield, a keen sailor and member of the Royal Motor Yacht Club Broken Bay, Robyn also makes time for her grandchildren. After so many queries about this wonderful lady we are pleased to share a small insight and list her as a definite Summer lady.
Robyn was born in Manly and has an older brother and younger sister. Her father, after the war, was a commercial photographer and her mother a kindergarten teacher.
We lived in Turramurra then moved to the bush – New England area when I was seven. Country childhood was great. We moved back to Balgowlah Heights in my first year of high school at Manly Girls High. I won a scholarship to Sydney Teachers College and trained as science teacher. Taught at number of state schools – favourite Narrabeen Girls High, also taught full time at Queenwood.
Married young but did not travel as had to work for three years to achieve teaching certificate. Had a son and daughter. While they were young completed a BA at Macquarie University then went back to teaching part time. Learnt golf. Weekends spent on Pittwater water skiing and sailing Hobies as father-in-law had a weekender at Palm Beach.
Mid-life crisis resigned from Queenwood to sail on friend’s boat to Lord Howe. Began writing for sailing magazines then short stories. Breast cancer at 38 changed my life. Felt going back to teaching too stressful with a husband and family. Continued writing – won many awards for short stories and articles.
Following a Diploma in Book Editing and Publishing was offered two jobs as Creative Writing Tutor. In 1992 began with Community College at Narrabeen and still there 20 years later. Love teaching writing and helping others achieve their goals. Self-published my first crime novel in 2002 – it was shortlisted in a competition. Two years ago finished Malevolent Desire and have been trying to find a publisher.
When my husband retired we moved to Avalon and built a new house to have access to Pittwater.
Interests: a reader all my life. With husband owned, stayed on and raced yachts (only sporting trophy twice on Lady Skippers RMYC) for 30 years on Pittwater, bushwalked last 25 years, play tennis and always put money in the travel budget to indulge my passion for travelling the world and have nine years caravanning in Australia. Also have three gorgeous grandchildren.
What is the greatest difference you notice between the Northern Beaches of your childhood and today?
The greatest difference on the Northern Beaches from my teen years and today is traffic. I resent the time spent in cars just getting around the Peninsula but I listen to talking books to make it bearable.
You have a passion for communicating in written word, where does this stem from?
I didn’t realise my passion for the written word until my thirties. I’d resigned from teaching to sail to Lord Howe Island. After the trip, Jeff Toghill, who’d taught me celestial navigation, said, “What are you going to do now?” I replied, “I’ve always wanted to write.” Only later did I recall as a child writing stories and tying the pages together with ribbon.
What genre of stories do you write ?
I started with conventional short stories but found the most success with crime stories. After entering the dark side, I quite liked killing off the badies on paper.
Who is your favourite writer of all time and why?
I can’t say I have a favourite writer of all time as it depends on the stage of life you’re in and who you’ve just discovered. But in my earlier years I adored the novels of E V Timms and credit them with awakening my love of Australian history.
Please describe your ultimate day of sailing if you were in charge of the weather, where you were and what kind of vessel you are on;
My ultimate day of sailing would be on my own yacht heading up the Hawkesbury River on a sunny day in a steady ten knot breeze. Alone at the helm, with just the headsail unfurled and without the noise of an engine, I’d be drifting lazily along watching the bush and perhaps a sea eagle gliding. Magical and relaxing.
Bushwalking is a passion of yours. Having travelled extensively overseas; what is the difference that is most stark to you between our landscape/wild areas and those of other countries?
Landscapes, whether local or overseas are a drawcard for me. Losing the trail across a mountain in Majorca brought home its rocky barren nature. Train travel through France with its lush green fields was such a contrast when I arrived home and drove to Gulgong to present a workshop. I’ve never questioned Australia again as a wide brown land after seeing those searing brown paddocks.
What is your favourite Australian Bush Flower?
I guess my favourite Australian bush flower would be the Flannel Flower. These flowers with their creamy pointed petals and sage-green leaves somehow soften the bush. And I can remember a rhyme from aged seven, “Flannel flowers were only made for fairy babies’ sake …”
If you could be another creature for a day, furred, feathered or finned, what would you be and do?
If I could be another creature for a day it would be of the feathered variety. I like looking from a different perspective so imagine soaring skyward and peering down on life. Hot air ballooning can give you a glimpse of this.
What are your future plans for your writing?
As far as future plans for my writing, I’m working on a memoir and will be getting back to my third novel. If I don’t find a publisher for Malevolent Desire, my second crime novel, I’ll put it out as an e-book next year.
What is your favourite place in Pittwater and why?
My favourite place in Pittwater would be Careel Bay as I spend so much time watching it. The bay, through the gum trees with its smattering of boats, changes its mood with the weather: a grey shroud of rain, striped by moonlight or a sun-shimmering expanse.
What is your 'motto for life' or a favourite phrase you try to live by?
My motto for life – I enjoy making people laugh. Laughter destresses us and of course is life’s best medicine.
Robyn McWilliam 7.12.2012.
Copyright Robyn McWilliam, 2012. All Rights Reserved.
Careel Bay up close. Picture by A J Guesdon, 2012.