Born in New Zealand in 1952, Gill Winter gained a degree in Art History and Anthropology and then wondered what to do next. After the obligatory OE (as Kiwis call their first venture abroad) she married and had two children, and spent three years living in Denmark. After returning to New Zealand in 1984, she worked for eleven years as publicist and public programmes organiser at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, one of New Zealand’s premier contemporary art museums.
Gill left the art world in 1999 to create Flying Piglets, a touring agency for folk and blues musicians. During the next few years she also worked as marketing manager for the Lake Taupo and Taranaki Arts Festivals, helped on the family pig farm and was a regular volunteer for Trade Aid, New Zealand’s largest Fair Trade organisation. In 2009, she wound up Flying Piglets and completed a CELTA course in teaching English as a second language. In 2010, she answered an advertisement on the Jobs page of Dave’s ESL Café website for volunteer teachers to work at Tibet Charity in McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, India.
In 2011 she self-published her first book, Between Monks and Monkeys, describing her experiences in India. She returned to Dharamshala for her second three-month teaching stint at Tibet Charity in March 2012. This inspired her to write a sequel, The Yeti in the Library, self– published as a paperback and e-book in March 2013.
She is married with two adult children and lives in Taranaki, New Zealand.
And now from the author herself:
In my previous existence as a publicist for artists and musicians I spent a lot of time writing, playing with words to achieve the best affect. Whenever we travelled I wrote a travel journal, and for around ten years I kept a diary. However, it had never occurred to me to attempt anything more ambitious until I went to Dharamshala in India to teach English as a volunteer at Tibet Charity (www.tibetcharity.in). While I was there I kept a diary and also wrote long, enthusiastic emails home. These became the basis for my first book, Between Monks and Monkeys.
Living in India, in the Tibetan community, was totally different from anything I had previously experienced. I met people whose outlook on life was very different from my own. Tibetan Buddhists have a mantra: “May all sentient beings be happy” – and they really mean it! It affects everything about their lives, including the fact that for the past sixty years they have been living either as an occupied people within Tibet or as exiles in other parts of the world.
When I came home from India the first time I missed it tremendously. Of course I was happy to be home and reunited with my family. I enjoyed using a clean sit-down toilet, walking down a road that wasn’t choked with gridlocked, tooting cars, and not having to boil my water. But I found life in New Zealand both over-materialistic and quite boring after the colour and bustle of Dharamshala.
And it was difficult to really tell people about what it had been like in India – about the people I met who were poor but gracious, or about the grandeur of the mountains and the monkeys in the forest. Above all, I wanted to tell people about the humour and positivity of my students, some of whom had walked through snow for three weeks to escape from Tibet, and whose families were still suffering under Chinese occupation.
I started writing the book because it was a way of thinking these things through for myself, as well as finding the most engaging way of painting a picture of Dharmashala and its people. It seems to have worked – the most frequent feedback I get from readers is that Between Monks and Monkeys is humorous, easy to read and paints a vivid picture of life in Dharamshala. I also know that the book has inspired at least two other people to travel overseas as volunteer teachers.
The Yeti in the Library arose out of my second teaching stint in Dharamshala. In the fifteen months between my first and second visits to India, much had changed in the Tibetan community in exile. Most significant was the dramatic rise in self-immolations, which were now happening on a regular basis within Tibet. Sadly, these protests were receiving very little attention from the international media or the wider world. However, it was impossible to interact with the Tibetan community in Dharamshala and not be aware of what was happening.
Although I went to Dharamshala as a teacher, I learned far more than I taught. I was exposed to the philosophy and practice of Tibetan Buddhism, about which I had previously known next to nothing. I met people for whom a genuine sense of compassion was a natural way of dealing with life. At the same time I gradually came to understand the hardship which Tibetans, both within Tibet and in exile, have endured over the past sixty years. While still describing day-to-day life and the many interesting, funny or even ridiculous things that happened during my stay, fundamentally The Yeti in the Library is an attempt to give readers a sense of the Tibetan people and their struggle. If it works, I will have achieved what I set out to do when I began the book.
You can find more about Gill and her writing via…
- Gill’s travel blog: http://journals.worldnomads.com/flyingpiglet
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17695917-the-yeti-in-the-library
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/theyetiinthelibrary
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