In 1986 I finished the first draft of a fictional story about a woman carpenter. Actually, there wasn’t a lot of “fiction” to it; it was my own story about fifteen years in construction but I wasn’t about to tell people that. I was still “on the tools” and didn’t want to be that exposed. The writing itself went quickly, done in about six months of concentrated effort.
But I knew, when I read it over, it was no good. The characters were boring, the plot lagged, the language was stilted, so I put it away. Over the next twenty-five years I continued to rewrite that story – though I tried not to. Telling this tale was too hard, reminded me of events I’d rather forget. But it kept coming back, in dreams, ideas, notes. After about five years it switched to non-fiction. I started fresh, wrote another draft. No good. Another. I’d made a vow to myself at the beginning, that if I was going to write the story of being a woman in trades it was going to be honest or it wasn’t worth doing. One draft was too cheery. The next was too academic. Then there was the draft that reeked with preachiness. All of them I threw away, swearing I wasn’t going to – didn’t need to – write this book. But a few months later, another dream, another idea, maybe just a few pages…..
In 1978, soon after I’d started work as a construction labourer so I could pay for a Masters Degree at university, I’d done a thesis on women in what we then called non-traditional work, that showed the number of women in trades in British Columbia was two to three per cent. In 2007, I had the opportunity to revisit that research and found out the number of women in trades was still two to three per cent. It so shocked me that in thirty years, in spite of Human Rights legislation, role models and courses for women, nothing had changed, that I decided this book had to be written. In order to understand why there aren’t more women in trades, people had to know what it was like on a day-to-day basis. Suddenly I wasn’t writing this book for myself, I was writing it for every young woman who wasn’t getting an opportunity to do work she might love as passionately as I had.
So did that make the writing any easier? I wish. There followed the four hardest writing years of my career but I kept writing. I even went to a therapist.
When the book was finally finished, we couldn’t find a place to launch it until a friend stumbled on the Canadian Memorial Centre for Peace. On November 9, 2012, that’s where I finally launched Journeywoman: Swinging a Hammer in a Man’s World. I’d never felt so vulnerable, so revealed, in a book, but response from women as well as men, has been deeply gratifying. “Finally,” one of the first emails said, from a woman who’d worked in a northern mine and copper smelter. “Finally someone has told our story.”
In hindsight, a Centre for Peace for bringing this story to rest, was perfect. So was its long and difficult gestation. If I’d published that first poor work of fiction, or the lecture notes, or the preachy version, it would never have had the impact this book has already had. The story needed time. I needed time. I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t processed the experience enough, hadn’t learned to understand, to forgive, to see the bigger picture. Time has made it a far better, wiser book. I wonder what will come next?