In this fifth episode of The Mindful Writer Grace Sammon talks about the advantages of writing novels later in life, and shares her wisdom on coming back from a dark place.
Before I introduce you, let me update you on my writing journey. I have been focusing on two important lessons as a mindful writer.
The first: Know yourself. This lesson found me through another writer’s blog post (I’m sorry I cannot find the source, despite searching for the past 20 mins), and was then reinforced in a yoga session the following day. I love this synchronicity – making sure we hear the message.
We are all unique individuals and we know ourselves better than anyone else can. So, listen to yourself, check in. This is why we should not compare our journey with others. How and when we write, what we write, what we need to thrive, our natural rhythm, our strengths and weaknesses – which can also work to our advantage. We have the greatest text book on being our best self, we just have to look inside.
And the second lesson I found through this interview with the inspirational Grace Sammon. When I felt a bit downhearted about my writing journey I did as Grace suggested and counted each and every blessing. There are so many! My writing journey has more joy than disappointment. This week’s guest, Grace Sammon, can explain this much better than me, so let me introduce her.
Grace Sammon, is an entrepreneur, educator, speaker, and author. She has written three non-fiction books and recently published her award-winning debut novel The Eves. Grace is a radio show presenter for The Story Tellers, and Launch Pad, and founder of Author Talk Network
In this episode Grace reflects on how being in a dark place taught her important life lessons.
How to manage unexpected or unwanted life transitions.
How to find purpose and joy however unlikely it seems.
The advantages of writing novels later in life.
You can listen to the podcast here: Episode four How to Find Meaning in the Moment
Or read the transcript below:
Deborah: I’m delighted to welcome Grace Sammon to The Mindful Writer podcast. Grace is the author of The Eves, and other stories. So welcome Grace.
Grace: Good morning and thank you for having me.
Deborah: It’s a delight. Whereabouts are you in the world? And what time is it where you are?
Grace: It is 8.30 in the morning in Sarasota, Florida.
Deborah: Excellent. I am just outside London in the UK and it’s afternoon here. So, Grace, you have been traditionally, independently, and hybrid published. You’ve written fiction, and nonfiction, which you describe as very different journeys. Like me, you write book club women’s fiction. Your radio show and Podcast for Storytellers captures the experience of those who choose to leave their mark on the world through the art of story.
So, let’s start by talking about leaving our mark on the world. You had a full and varied career founding and managing four companies – two of them not for profit, before you embarked on a career as an author. So, what led you to write.
Grace: I love that words magically appear on a page and speak to our hearts in ways that touch us and stay with us. And it gets to that question that you are asking about leaving our mark on the world. I’ve always written, you know, as a small child I wrote stories about my siblings. I wrote in each of my careers. What’s different now is that, I’ve switched to the world of novels.
So, I actually have three other books that are in the field of education. But this novel is a different journey to the three other books; they focused on education and how to improve the American High School. And they were both independently published, and traditionally published. This book is really a book that I wrote for myself thinking I was done.
I was at that in-between place in life where I wasn’t a full-time mom, because I had adult children. I wasn’t working the way I had been working traveling 200 days a year and my parents – one was deceased, and one was quite elderly. I asked the question, now what? And I wanted to solve that question the way I’ve done through many parts of my life.
Some people journal. I don’t regularly journal, but I wanted to sit down and write and pose a question for what does a woman – this woman, do to transition and leave their mark on the world. And suddenly it went from a small writing project to a novel. And then so many things that I did not anticipate.
Deborah: I find the transitions in our lives very interesting. People can take them two ways. Transitions come sometimes because of age, sometimes because of circumstance, sometimes they’re welcomed, and sometimes they come uninvited and unwanted, and there’s two ways you can deal with it. You can either be completely thrown off track and go into a depression or anxiety thinking, what am I going to do with my life?
Or, as you did, you can say, now what’s next? And see it as a great opportunity. What age were you when you came to write – fifties or sixties?
Grace: Well, I started writing in my forties for my profession, but when I switched to being a novelist, I was mid-fifties, I think.
Deborah: So, 10 years. It’s funny. It’s very similar to me. I’ve always written because I was writing papers for government, and reports, domestic homicide reviews, all sorts of things I was writing, but I started writing novels seriously in my mid-fifties. I think it’s a really good time to come to write – later in life, because I think that we come with so many advantages that we didn’t have when we were younger.
And it’s interesting because I’ve read debates on social media and in, and The Guardian newspaper, there was one where an award was being given for younger writers, not older writers. Or was it the other way around? Anyway, it stimulated a lot of debate, almost as if it was a competition.
Well, of course there’s no competition. Writing should cross all divides. It’s what connects us. But I personally I find there’s lots of advantages to writing later in life. What are your views on that?
Grace: I agree with you entirely, for several reasons. First, I think we have more life experience so we can reach back to our younger selves.
We have a different perspective on the older people that we’ve met and engaged with. So, we have a broader bandwidth of experience, but also, and this is, I think very true for me; I’m much more compassionate. I’m more compassionate for myself. I’m more compassionate for the younger me. I like that, that age experience has given us the gift of maybe not being as judgemental, so we can treat our characters differently.
Not that all of our characters are lovable and certainly my characters are very flawed, but I love that we can get into them in a way I don’t think I could have. I would’ve been pretending too much.
Deborah: It’s a really good point. It’s an emotional growth, and maturity, that you have later in life that you can bring into your stories.
I think there are other practical advantages too. If we are fortunate enough to be financially secure, we don’t have that, ‘I must earn a living through my writing.’ And having the time, if you’ve got young children. I have so much admiration for writers who are managing families and work, and still finding the time to write, because I don’t know that I could have done it.
I probably couldn’t, which is why I waited until I was able to manage my time better.
Grace: Oh, I agree with you entirely on that. I am involved with so many different author networks now. And to be watching these what I consider young moms who have kids and they’re still driving to soccer and they have that pressure of still having a regular job.
I find it amazing, the passion they can bring to the work that. When I was writing my books in my educational life, it was very tailored. It was a process. Also, when I was younger, we didn’t have the opportunities and the obligations of social media.
Deborah: That’s right. But you and I both have been successful business women and still are as authors. What we bring then from our work experience is: we are confident at public speaking, at marketing, at managing our finances. The list goes on. The different things that we’ve acquired through our work, which perhaps if you are younger, you haven’t got all that work experience either. I think the other thing is, is the confidence that we have in ourselves because we’ve already succeeded at things in our working life.
So, we perhaps have a bit more self-esteem and confidence about what we can achieve.
Grace: Yes. And I think with that, is that very real pressure that we don’t have. We do not need to make a business out of this, and that is a luxury. And I’m very aware that it is a luxury and to have the gift of self-confidence, but also to have the gift of not having to make it work and being delighted when you do get the royalty cheque or the speaker engagement. That is all now, at my age, a bonus. And I also want go back for a second to that idea of compassion, because I realize that this sense of self confidence is in part earned, but it’s also in part a gift in that I have been gifted with not having anxiety, not having chronic depression.
When I look at people in my sphere, whether they’re younger or older – that compassion I spoke about earlier. I used to poo poo quite honestly, you know? Oh, get over. It. Don’t be anxious. Or why are you depressed for this long? I think situational depression is something that I’m familiar with, as you alluded to in the beginning about, you know, sometimes these life changes come unexpected, but I’m very aware of the gift of not being anxious, not being chronically depressed.
So, it’s an opportunity to embrace the world every day in a way that not everyone can. And I want to be compassionate about that.
Deborah: Absolutely. A really good point. I think writing in a way is very cathartic and a really good way of helping people when they are in a dark place as well.
Have you always had a sense of purpose Grace?
Grace: That is a fabulous question because I don’t think I’ve always had a sense of purpose, but I do think what I had, and have, is always trying to find meaning in the moment. So even if it’s in a dark place, there’s that question of, How do I make this change? How do I get out of this? How do I learn from this? So, there have been many times, I think, where I don’t, or didn’t have a sense of purpose and meaning, but there were ways to find out about, How does that turn my life around? I’m not shy about expressing the fact that I was sexually abused as a child, and that was something certainly I wish I could have avoided, by a family friend.
But if I look at the ways that made me more compassionate, that it led me to my early work in education, to work with underserved communities that did not have a voice – their educational system, or in the volunteering that I have found always gives more back to me than I seem to give. So, I’ve done work with what we call here in the United States, Guardian ad Litem programs.
They’re basically. Programs where children are taken away from their families for neglect or abuse, and you don’t become their physical guardian, but you become their guardian for medical and legal, and the whole case management. So, I have found ways from a previous experience to give voice to a little girl that I was, who did not have a voice, but I’ve healed through that.
I’ve done a lot of work with Hospice. Giving voice to families as they release their loved one and giving love and support to that individual when they are in the process of dying. So, while there have been certainly many points in my life where I felt adrift, if I take that time to figure out, What is the meaning in this? What do I learn from that? Then, I begin to find purpose. And then I begin to find meaning, and then I find joy.
Deborah: That’s really interesting. Through your writing, you are giving voice to that child and I suspect you are giving voice to the people that you’ve spoken to and whose journeys you’ve shared professionally and throughout your life.
That connects us, doesn’t it. When you write something in a book and then somebody reads it and they respond to what you’ve expressed, that’s an amazing feeling. When you connect with readers.
Grace: That’s absolutely the best part of doing this. I love doing podcasts and, and you are so kind to have me on your new show, and I’m so excited about what you’re accomplishing here.
So, the opportunity to talk about writing, and our characters, because we all know that in our hearts, they’re very real people. I love it. Just this week, I got a letter, an email, and I love it when readers do that. And when I get that letter that says your book touched my soul on so many levels. Because what I try to accomplish in my book, The Eves is that the youngest character is 15. The oldest is 94. And there’s the main character who is hopelessly broken and she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life. She has no sense of purpose. Her children are gone from her life. And the subtitle of the book is, when our stories are told- everything changes. And Jessica, that main character goes and meets this group of older women who are living on a farm in Maryland, above the beautiful Chesapeake Bay. By telling their oral histories, she begins to find her footing. So, I got this beautiful email the other day that said, You know, my children don’t talk to me. I don’t think there’s hope. I feel so broken. Like the main character in your book, I drink too much. And it was such … I was weeping at the gift she had given me.
And that is something that you hope to accomplish. The other thing that I really wanted to accomplish with the book was that people value the stories of older people. And to listen to those and to not stereotype those older people. Whether they’re authors of our age, if you will, or whether they’re much older, I want us still to have value, to be able to leave our mark on that world.
Deborah: Absolutely. And that is where we started: Writers leaving their mark on the world. It sounds like that is exactly what you are doing with your beautiful books. I’m really looking forward to reading. As you talk about it, I want to read it more and more, because all of my career I’ve worked with older people and now I’m in my entering my 60th decay. I’m probably becoming an older person.
My l first novel was about an older woman, and a younger woman, and about a community. So, lots of parallels. And that yours sounds wonderful. I’m really looking forward to reading it.
Grace: We’ll have to exchange novels, my friend.
Deborah: Absolutely. Yes, most definitely.
So, where do you think all that courage and resilience you have comes from? Because your life is a life well lived from how you’ve described it. You’ve had such challenges in your life, but you have this sort of radiance, strength, and compassion – as you say, for yourself. Where has all that come from? And have you always been like that or have you had to nurture it within yourself?
Grace: Oh, you know, I think I’m just lucky. I don’t know the answer to that. It was interesting, at some point when I was abused, I was twelve, my sister unfortunately was seven and we decided to confront all of this when we were in our late twenties. It was not a positive experience at all. When we tried to go to an adult, it happened to be a priest. So that was at the height of the priest scandal here in the United States. But one of the things that was a real jewel that came out of it was that one of the people we were trying to litigate said to me, You have turned your scars to stars. And I loved. I don’t know that it was true, but I loved the idea that not me – but that someone, could turn (because it didn’t feel that way to me), but that someone, could turn their scars to stars.
I don’t know where that sense of resilience comes from. I don’t know if it’s, you know, my parents were a – pick yourself up by your bootstraps, as we might say here.
I think also I got divorced, very young. I had a three-year-old and a six-year-old and I went two weeks to the day before Christmas. And I put my little son on the counter at the post office. I thought I was picking up Christmas presents, and it was my husband who I was still living with and thought, all was okay. Married to. And it was our divorce papers. Oh! And I went, Oh my goodness. And I still had to go home and have dinner on the table and make it Christmassy for the children. I would be the first to admit, I probably have gotten through a large portion of my life by, not denial – repression. So, you know, you deal with that later because you’ve got stuff to do now. And I think, you know, sometimes that old saying of fake it till you make it. But there still has to be – and this is my older wisdom, you’ve got to find the joy in every day, even in the bleakest of moments you’ve got to find that at least I had a proper cup of tea or I got a phone call from someone.
I think now, that is one of my big life lessons to find that joy in every day.
Deborah: That’s amazing. I love that. Turn your scars to stars. I’ve not heard that expression before. It’s beautiful, amazing. And find joy in every day. Do you go through a gratitude meditation or anything every day – systematically? Or do you actually think to yourself, What is the joy from today?
Grace: I do. I didn’t always. Several years ago I had a friend and we sat down and we talked and she was talking about gratitude. And she makes gratitude lists. And she gave me a pad where I could write the 10 things I was grateful for. And she shared her story so beautifully.
She had talked about a point in her life where she had a very cantankerous divorce, and she would just go to the beach and cry. And someone told her she needed to find joy and gratitude every day. And she thought that was preposterous. So, on her list, she would write down sand. Sand. Water. Beach. But what she found just from that act of mindfulness, she was able to grow that list and cry less because it was that: Sand. Seagull. Bird. Wave. Sunlight. Cloud. Rainbow. People chatting. People walking. And her list, really unbeknownst and unplanned to her, grew.
And I find that I do, when I put my head on the pillow at night I think, What a day. I don’t want to paint a rosy picture. There are so many times where I am overstressed and there are family issues to deal with and health issues within the family. I am at an age where sadly we have had 10 people since the first of the year – and we’re recording here in early April, who have died. So, I am at that age where that is going to be more common. You know, when we were younger, we went to lots of weddings. Now we go to lots of celebrations of life. So, I think that I do – I do put my head on the pillow every day and say, Oh my goodness, look at the things that happen.
I’m also incredibly lucky. There’s a character in my book, The Eves, his name is Roy Gill. Roy is the most upbeat, always happy, walks in the door, going, Greetings. Greetings. And he’s just a delight. He is also the least fictional character in my book. He is my husband. It is very hard to have down moments when you live with someone who finds joy in every day.
So, we look out the window and we go, ‘Oh, look, the storks are here. Or, ‘Oh, look, the Cardinals are at the bird feeder.’ We live in this perpetual moment of finding joy, even in the midst of wrestling with something very, very difficult.
Deborah: You bring joy. Just listening to you fills me with joy. So, thank you for that gift.
Grace: Thank you.
Deborah: You’ve imparted, so many wonderful words of wisdom. I won’t ask you specifically for words to a younger self, because you’ve got so many here – unless is there anything else that you would say to people who are perhaps at a difficult time in their life struggling, perhaps creatives, or people who think that all sounds great, but how – How do I do that?
You’ve given some great tips, like using gratitude to build joy. I love that. Is there anything else you’d like to impart?
Grace: Well first, I would say I’m not a Sage at all. I’m not a Sage on the stage. This is me today. And you know, that could change tomorrow. I’m very aware of that. Well at any age, it can change in a moment. Right? But I want people to know to be patient with themselves.
On my website, http://www.grace salmon.net. There are life lessons. As I mentioned, Jessica in my book is so horribly broken. She writes down what she hears people say, because she wants to remember. So, on my life, on my website and in my back of my book, there’s things that I call Jessica’s life lessons. And some of them are so mundane, like: Be kinder than you need to be. First do no harm. There’s a doctor in the book that she learns that basic truth from.
But I want us to be compassionate for ourselves, to set realistic expectations, to realize we are all going to fall. ‘This too shall pass,’ is something both of my parents said all of the time. And I think that when you’re in that dark place you don’t know that – you really don’t believe that. I know after my dad died my fabulous husband now, he decided that we weren’t going be together any longer. We’d only been married, nine and a half years. So, when my dad died 12 years ago, I took to my bed for six weeks. Not entirely, but pretty close. And I had a bossy girlfriend who finally came at like week five and said, ‘Stop this. This is nonsense. You have a life to live.’ And there’s a similar character in my book who tells Jessica the same thing.
So, listen to your bossy friends. They will be a lifeline for you. But basically, just be gentle with yourself. This too shall pass.
Deborah: That’s lovely. I’m going to end there because it’s so such a beautiful statement to end on. You’ve shared with us some wonderful thoughts that I shall include in the show notes, so people can return to them. Also, links to your book, The Eves, and to your website.
And so, thank you so much, Grace. It was absolute pleasure meeting and talking to you today.
Grace: It was a gift to be with you and great luck on this important podcast.
Deborah: Thank you.
I hope that you enjoyed that interview as much as I did. I was really inspired by Grace’s words of wisdom:
Turn those scars into stars.
Name something to be glad about however small and add to it.
As I said at the beginning of this episode, I now do that with my writing journey. It is too easy to focus on the things that disappoint us and forget our achievements, and joys.
Please drop me a line to share the joys of your writing journey, I would love to hear from you. firstname.lastname@example.org
And so, until next week, take care of your beautiful self and trust the journey.
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