Following the flow of words to a memoir Local writer celebrates the release of her book

A hiker, mother, educator, caregiver, community advocate, and Alberta Avenue resident enthusiast, Patricia Dunnigan followed the flow of words to see where the stories living inside her might lead. Working with editor Jannie Edwards served as the final catalyst to turn ramblings into a delicious and evocative memoir.

“I started writing these stories in 2014, wanting to see if I had enough for a book. I knew the themes were synchronicity and intuition. Only under Jannie’s guiding hand did they become a collection.”

More than a memoir, The Twisted Sisters: synchronicity and intuition evolved into a work of art. At a Christmas dinner, Dunnigan mentioned her stories were ready, but she needed a designer. Constanza Pacher, a designer dating Dunnigan’s son, piped up, “I would love to do that.”

Jannie Edwards (pictured) edited Dunnigan’s memoir. | Rusti L Lehay

Dunnigan, clueless about book design, had no idea of the skills and dedication Pacher would devote. “She read and re-read all of the material, falling in love with the stories.” Pacher became so intimate with the material, she used designs, symbols, and blurred images from Dunnigan’s journals to tell the stories through art.

Pacher’s colleagues at MacEwan University urged Dunnigan to submit her book to LitFest, Edmonton’s literary festival. Self-published books may be disparaged and/or labelled as amateur or vanity presses, but make no mistake—Dunnigan’s book is a work of art and qualifies on several counts as professional.

Hiring a professional editor and designer moves it well beyond the realm of vanity press.

At the June 3 launch, Edwards said, “A writer must learn how to accept and reject editorial feedback. An editor needs to be gentle in the shaping.” Dunnigan’s soul-driven stories found a safe place in Edwards’ editorial hands who was like a fairy godmother to the book. As the designer, Pacher was the wand that added the pizzazz.

Constanza Pacher (pictured) illustrated and designed the memoir. | Rusti L Lehay

Dunnigan said, “The illustrations are the gravy.”

Readers will likely fall into one of two groups. The first group may find it so rich, they will read small appetizer chunks, digesting slowly, living days on one story. The other group will gorge on the rich text, images, epiphanies, and the humanity Dunnigan brings to sharing her life on the page. Both groups may agree it is all gravy with no bland vegetables or plain spuds anywhere.

The art almost outshines the text. Almost. Then words like “Memories of our friendship drifted through my mind like a strip of negatives from an old camera,” starts “i like it here,” the story of seven-year-old Carrie. It’s stories like this and people like Dunnigan that make the Avenue revitalized and a community.

Being an intuitive and sensitive person, Dunnigan said, “I always felt like I was swimming against the current. I feel like I was able to have three lives: raising my family, education, and a business life.” Dunnigan left her teaching education early to care for her ill mother, then created her big dream family of six children. When her last child went to school, Dunnigan returned to her education plans. “That rocked the boat of a traditional marriage.” Her second marriage brought two stepchildren into her home and heart.

Dunnigan started writing her memoirs in 2014. | Rusti L Lehay

Dunnigan is a person who gathers hearts, cradles them softly, and sets them free, even when consumed by tremendous grief. In a moving set of vignettes focused on loss, she writes candidly of her son who died two days after a premature birth. Few can speak about the personal experience of grief in a way that invites others in to ask the big questions. She covers the gamut of the words offered up to those grieving from “It’s God’s will” to “Maybe there is no answer.” Dunnigan suggests, “answers are a lifeboat we cling to in the face of indifference and despair. Stories we hope will keep us safe from the howling dogs of madness.”

From musing over grief, to memories of standing in Argentinian rain with her husband, fearing their cab driver will leave, discovering later it was law to “kick” passengers out when refuelling the vehicle, and many more laughable moments, Dunnigan fulfills the key ingredients of a memoir with brutal honesty, moments of epiphany, outward searching, inner probing, and splashes it all on the pages.

“I’d like readers to be inspired to pursue their dreams, to trust their inner wisdom, and let themselves be inspired by the beauty of our planet in the cosmos.”

Readers may conclude Dunnigan already inspired the people around her. Long after Carrie moved away from Alberta Avenue, Dunnigan’s husband saw the girl’s father on a bus. The neighbour girl who “slowed” down Dunnigan’s mornings was in Grade 12 and doing well. The book is sure to inspire anyone who reads it.

Buy a copy of the memoir by emailing Dunnigan. | Rusti L Lehay

To buy your own copy or contact the author for book club readings, email hikingpatricia@gmail.com.

Twisted Sisters: synchronicity and intuition is written by Patricia Dunnigan, illustrated by Constanza Pacher, and edited by Jannie Edwards.

Featured Image: Editor Jannie Edwards (left), author Patricia Dunnigan (centre), and illustrator and designer Constanza Pacher (right) at the book release. | Rusti L Lehay

Rusti Lehay

A member of the Professional Writers Association of Canada since 2003, Rusti has been writing professionally since 1999. Her favourite word activity is immersion editing with memoir writers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *