WALLINGFORD — Ever since she was in high school, Katherine Birney has loved writing and recently, she published her first book, “The Bench: A Family Story.”
“Since I was in high school, I said, ‘Someday I’m going to write a book,’” said Birney, 83.
“Don’t say when you’re 65 it’s all over, it ends,” she added. “You’ve retired and that’s it for you. You can keep on going and that’s what this book really represents. It represents family, but it also represents the determination to persist.”
In 2015, Birney found an ad in the newspaper for the Wallingford Women’s Writers Group, which invited those who enjoy writing to come join. The group used to meet at the Wallingford Parks and Recreation building, where they would critique and complete timed exercises.
Eileen Lettick, the moderator of the group, would put up prompts and the group had to write something related to those prompts. Birney said the book was formulated through these exercises.
“You had to write what the prompt requested, your idea of what the prompt was that evening and it was always interesting,” Birney said. “I always found everyone’s prompt good.”
Members would also bring in chapters or sections of projects they were working on, and their group members would give them critiques.
In 2016 at a writer’s retreat, Birney presented for the first time a draft of her book to the Wallingford Women’s Writers Group.
“I presented various chapters, they critiqued it, they suggested wonderful things,” Birney said.
“The Bench: A Family Story” is based on her parents’ families and in her author’s note, Birney wrote that she is retelling the story as it was told to her by her older sister. Her parents’ families emigrated from Italy and Ireland to the United States in the 19th century.
“It’s about my sister’s life and the family involved with her, in her life,” Birney said.
This is not a memoir, “the story is historical creative nonfiction and the names of the hometown and characters have been renamed to avoid bringing attention to present-day descendants,” Birney wrote in her author’s note.
“It is a page turner and it keeps your attention,” said Donna Koons, member of the Wallingford Women’s Writers Group.
Birney said critiques and comments from friends and members of the group is what kept her going.
“It’s how a family, if they come together, they can accomplish a wonderful life,” Birney said.
Along with that, Birney’s family members encouraged her to keep writing, especially her husband who passed away. Before his death, she made sure to have the writing completed.
“He was the catalyst,” Birney said. “A couple of weeks before he passed away, he says, ‘You’re going to finish that book, aren’t you?’ And it was finished before he passed … The book is dedicated to him.”
Birney officially published “The Bench: A Family Story” on Jan. 3, with the help and support of Lettick. It is available on Amazon and she said she would love to do a book signing once spring comes.
The Wallingford Women’s Writers Group paused prior to COVID because members started to relocate. Now, the group members are planning to start meeting via Zoom once a month.
“We had just reached a point where our leader relocated and the others had things come up in their lives,” Koons said.
For her next steps, Birney said she is going to spend time with her four great-grandchildren, while still pursuing her love of writing.
“I will tell you, I will continue to write, I will,” Birney said.