TMW Newsletter - January 2015



Before I go—and I am leaving East Tennessee, and thus, the newsletter—I’d like to introduce you to Mrs. B. Gegg.  I never knew what the B. stood for.  She’s probably long dead.  She was not young when she taught me, over 45 years ago, though I was, and the young can be quite wrong about age.

Mrs. Gegg was one of those teachers who ruled with the terror of her presence.  She uttered orders.  She never had to punish anyone.  She had no problem insulting anyone.  One wet, chill day, when we had spent break time in the classroom, her slim frame tapped in on her low, but pointed, heels over the parquet floor and demanded the big windows be opened.  “Girls, it stinks in here.”   So, we shivered, in silence, of course.  At least the aroma of cigarettes that hung around her disappeared along with the warmth.

I’m sure she didn’t smoke in the classroom, but I always have the image of her, walking along, her arm lifted like a twenties society woman, cigarette between her artfully arranged fingers.  Her handbag dangled from the crook of the same arm.  She carried books in the other.  That almost makes her sound glamorous.  She wasn’t. She did wear powder on her cheeks and bright red lipstick, but it seemed she was covering up the process of years rather than embracing fashion.  She had a posh voice, and if she called you, “My dear,” you didn’t necessarily feel she was going to say something nice, rather like Maggie Smith’s acerbic character in Downton Abbey.


Mrs. Gegg taught English Literature and English Language. Though she seemed to lack humor and carried an aura of strict discipline, she was the only teacher I “talked back “ to, because it seemed important to take a stand. She had taught both subjects to my elder sisters, at least a decade earlier.  From time to time, she would forget I wasn’t my sisters. She would call me Christine, or, more often, Pat.  After a few times, I said quietly but firmly, “I’m not Pat.  I’m Margaret.”  She admitted her error, including a “My dear,” and we moved on.  After that, whenever she did it, I made no reply, but stared back at her till she realized what she had done.  When she called me by my name, I answered the question.  The tingle of fear still races down by back when I think of my audaciousness.


I’d like to say Mrs. Gegg inspired me to love literature, but she didn’t.  Because of her choice of Barnaby Rudge, when we were about thirteen, I developed a deep hatred of Charles Dickens.  Thank goodness, she never gave us Jane Austen.  (Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. Another teacher, Miss “Shirley” Temple, tried to ruin Emma a few years later, but failed.)  But I do credit her with introducing me to Shakespeare, when I was twelve.  We read, out loud, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet that year, followed by The Tempest and Macbeth the year after. No, I did not understand everything I read then, but I reveled in it.  The sheer use of language mesmerized me.   I loved memorizing the monologues for homework, in front of the mirror, in readiness for performing it, in class the next day, and in my highly anticipated career on the stage.


I also acknowledge that she exposed me to much wonderful poetry.  She didn’t teach us well on critiquing or literary appreciation, which proved costly in external exams.  She provided the texts and asked us what they meant. She didn’t explain why it was good, or why we should think it was, as if we would automatically know that.  Again, she set poems to be learned off by heart, and recited in class.  Everyone else detested doing that, but not me.  I recognized much later, how recitation teaches rhythm, timing and tone.  At the time, it meant a quick homework exercise, as opposed to scratching out long pages of essays with an aching hand. I wrote slowly and always had too much to say.


Mrs. Gegg opened the door to Wildfred Owen and Seigfreid Sassoon, and I saw the power of brilliantly chosen and arranged words to set in motion a philosophy of life.  She bears much responsibility for my adopting the notion of pacifism, along with Neville Shute’s novel, On the Beach, and my studies in history.


She was frugal with her marks, as we called grading. If she gave you eight out ten, you’d written a masterpiece.  My nine, for an essay on the autobiography of Fred Astaire,Steps in Time, in response to the assignment, “Describe your favorite book of those you read during the summer holidays” knocked my socks off.


One day, in our fifth and last year in senior school, she carried our stack of brown composition exercise books to the teacher’s desk and dropped them there with a look of disgust.  I don’t recall all the words of the diatribe, but I do remember her saying she had been bored stiff reading our homework.  Then, she said something that changed my life. She told us we were too literal and lacked imagination.  This was far too long ago for her to say “creativity.”


“I had a girl, once,” she said, “who, when given the title of the composition, Dawn, wrote not about sunrise, but her horse of that name.”  She might have heard the clinking of hundreds of pennies dropping through my head. 


“Oh,” I thought.  “We’re allowed to do that?”  Liberation.


From then on, she made us read our compositions every Monday morning, to the whole class.  She wanted to shame us, shock us, into producing something better, because everyone would hear it.  Sadly, some girls could not rise to the task, and I cringed at their efforts, and for them too, but it didn’t stop them calling me “teacher’s pet”, and “swot”, because I did and loved it.


Mrs. Gegg taught me the difference between metaphors and similes, between subject and predicate, and the lovely word onomatopoeia.  One of her rules stipulated that the word “got” should never be used.  “A lot” and “nice” were also banned. She deducted marks, according to the extent of egregiousness, if they ever flowed in the ink from our fountain pens.  She insisted to use these words denoted laziness.  We should find other, more expressive words. I keep those rules even today, almost 50 years later. 


We learn good writing from many influences, from what we read and from teachers and mentors. We internalize the best ways to improve our writing and carry them with us. Often, we blossom with words of encouragement.  Advice that comes from someone we like and admire is easy to adopt.  Just now and then, decrees can irk, when they come from a person we dislike and can be hard to accept, but it doesn’t mean they are wrong.  Someone we dislike may actually be a very useful critic. During the years, attending TMW conferences, I have been fortunate to receive much positive and gentle guidance, both from speakers and attendees, and I believe I have learnt a great deal, but the foundation, to any good writing I might have produced, was laid by my domineering English teacher.


So, though this is the first time I have presented Mrs. Gegg to you, if you’ve read my articles here in the TMW newsletter, over the years, and enjoyed them just a smidgen, you’ve benefitted from her tutting between the lines, egging me on to try harder.  She will doubtless come with me to my next location, in Singapore.  I’d love so many of you to come too, and you will.  I hope you will keep in touch.  You have my email.


~ Margaret Pennycook



Happy New Year! TMW got 2015 off to a great start with January Jumpstart XV, held again this year at the Best Western Morristown Conference Center. Bill Brown led our poetry workshop, and our own (board member and secretary) Jane Sasser led fiction; both were awarded high marks. Some of the comments we received sum it up: “I had such a productive weekend. I’m impressed by the gathering of great minds and talents. The participants bring such a wealth of knowledge to the table.” … “Thanks to the committee and to Bill and Jane for a very inspiring weekend for myself and, I’m sure, for everyone else. Y’all did a great job.” …“Thank you all for your impact on my writing and ultimately my life.”


Thanks go of course to our crackerjack Special Events Committee – Sue Orr, chair; ably assisted by Vicki Brumback, Sue Dunlap and Joyce McDonald, whose hard work made this, another outstanding Jumpstart. The committee has already booked our speakers for Jumpstart XVI: Pamela Duncan, fiction; and Connie Green, poetry. Mark your calendars now for January 8-10, 2016.


I’m sorry to say that we were forced to cancel our 2014 Fall Workshop, “The Process of Self-Publishing,” due to our speaker’s health issues. We had a great signup for this workshop, and will attempt to find a comparable workshop leader for the same topic this fall.


Hard as it is to believe, our 2015 conference – “Not Now… I’m Writing” – is already right around the corner, with the opening reception scheduled for Thursday evening, April 9. Once again we have what we feel is a great lineup of workshop leaders. Evelyn Coleman, who led our Writing for Young People workshops in 2011, will return to that role and will also be our banquet speaker. Fiction, and our general session, will be led by best-selling author Gwyn Hyman Rubio. A full roster of speakers and topics, along with the tentative schedule, is available on our website, The deadlines for the contest (February 1) and manuscript evaluation submissions (March 1) are coming up soon, and the reduced-rate early registration deadline is March 28, so if you haven’t already registered, now’s the time.   

I look forward to seeing everyone at the conference!


 ~ Carol Grametbauer


 ***Important Reminder***

The deadline for competition entries for TMW’s 2015 conference is February 1st, 2015.

 Submit your entries to the address at the website—NOW





Tennessee Mountain Writers, Inc.

present their Annual Conference


April 9th--11th 2015

at The DoubleTree Hotel in Oak Ridge, TN 37830

Speakers include Evelyn Coleman, Lisa Coffman, Pamela Schoenewaldt, Dr Lin Stepp, Karen Reynolds, and more.  Click on events at this website to see the full details.






This member is leaving, but please keep sending your stories of writing success to me, at, until we know who is going to have the tremendous fun of editing the newsletter in the future.  I’ve had the privilege of working closely with a number of people at TMW, but I’d especially like to thank Carol Grametbauer, for producing a Chairman’s Message, whenever I snapped my fingers, Connie Green, for her always generous support, and K’Cindra Cavin for presenting the newsletter so beautifully on the website. Good luck and keep writing.