A writer’s journey

For Michele Gierck, the publication of her first book, 700 Days in El Salvador, is the culmination of a writing journey that began about seven years ago and was nurtured along the way by Eureka Street.

In 1999 she was interviewed by Age journalist Martin Flanagan about her life, and found the interview experience, which touched upon her work in El Salvador in the early 1990s, ‘incredibly cathartic’.

Six weeks later, despite severe pain caused by a spinal injury, she picked up a pen ‘and just didn’t stop writing for two months, over a thousand words a day … when my right arm stopped after a hundred pages my left arm took over. This thing was so powerful that it was going to override any physical incapacity.’

In 2001, when she didn’t know if her book would ever be published, and when it had become clear that she would have to endure ongoing pain from her back injury, Eureka Street editor Morag Fraser, who had seen two of Gierck’s unpublished articles, commissioned her to write three pieces for the magazine. She soon became a regular contributor.

‘Morag saw something in me that I hadn’t recognised,’ Gierck recalls. ‘A year and a half later I was awarded a mentorship from the Victorian Writers’ Centre to work on the manuscript, and the editor I got was Morag. It was brilliant! She believed in it. She has an eye.’

As did Brad Collis, of Melbourne publications company Coretext, who helped with the first edit of the book and decided eventually to publish it.

The result, according to author Michael McGirr, is ‘a powerful account of a woman’s awakening. Michele Gierck gave up a career to find a life. She left middle-class Australia to live in an El Salvador racked by violence, a story she tells with insight and a delightful sense of colour. Gierck is a traveller in the deepest and truest sense, one who knows how to be still. She was changed by her experiences and her readers will be too. This is one of those rare books which makes you see the world with fresh eyes. It is a work of tender beauty.’



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