Writing Your Life Story
‘When I was very little,’ I sometimes say to my children, ’we didn’t have a colour television. It was black and white. There weren’t programmes all day long, either. And in the summer holidays, we didn’t go abroad because it was incredibly expensive to fly on a plane…’
By that time, my children’s eyes have glazed over in boredom, taking me back to the days when I would express similar disinterest in stories which my mother told me about her childhood. But it’s only since being a parent myself, that I realise how important it is to listen to stories about your family – especially now that my own mother is dead and there are very few people left who can remember family memories from the ‘old days’.
So I started writing things down. They began with early flashbacks such as my very first memory which is actually me in a cot, pretending that I was asleep when someone came into the room. I wrote about the swing in my back garden which miraculously appeared overnight as a birthday present from my Godmother (the magic still remains in my head!) and I wrote about being allowed to stay up late to watch the first man landing on the moon.
I also described the few anecdotes I can remember my mother telling me such as the time she saved her small brother from a Doodlebug bomb when she heard the tell-tale whistle and then the ominous silence (she pushed him under a disused bridge and miraculously, they both survived). I wrote down her memories of not knowing for three months whether her elder brother was alive or dead during the Second World War until a letter informed the family that he was a prisoner of war in Germany.
I know that my children may not be interested in reading these memories now but I do know that at some point, in the future, they will wish they had listened to my ramblings just as I wish I had listened to my mother’s. But this time, they will have something tangible to read so they can pass the stories on to the next generation and so on.
There’s something else too. When you lose a loved one, it’s very comforting to have something that they have left behind, whether it’s a necklace or a record of family memories. I would say that the latter is worth far more than a piece of jewellery. A life story contains the soul of the person who wrote it; its voice comforts the people who are left behind and it gives hope for the future.
Even better, you don’t have the exhaustive process which is so often required to find an agent or a publisher. Many life story writers self-publish their work; something that nowadays, can cost a few pounds per copy.
‘But nothing much has happened to me in my life,’ some people say.Really? Your future great granddaughter will be amazed to read about the elections in 2010 (real history) or how long it takes to fly to Australia (by her day, it should hopefully be much shorter).
Occasionally, a life story is so amazing that an agent or publisher will pick it up and publish it world-wide. But even if that doesn’t happen, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve left something behind you which could then be passed on and on in the future. And at least your descendants won’t be kicking themselves for not having listened to you in the first place…
By Sophie King, author of How to Write Your First Novel, visit www.how-to-write-your-first-novel.co.uk ; How to Write Short Stories for Magazines, visit www.howtowriteshortstoriesformagazines.co.uk ; and How to Write Your Life Story in Ten Easy Steps, visit www.writing-your-life-story-in-ten-easy-steps.co.uk