Old man or woman gets settled, comfy, in his/her chair with its high seat, the better to get easily out of; sighs reminiscently. Gazes into the middle distance, milky eyes slightly unfocused, lost in a warm fog of nostalgia. Audience of younger people waits expectantly.
‘Yes, when I was a child, before the War, I remember . . .’
That’s been the way our elders and betters recounted the stories of their lives since time immemorial; the oral tradition. And it was a noble tradition. Authenticity bestowed by no-frills, sometimes hard experience. But unless spoken into a microphone, the words were fleeting, impermanent.
That’s the beauty of capturing words, memories, and freezing them in some sort of media: they can be revisited time and time again, forever. And the highest form of record is still, arguably, for all our modern digital technology, autobiography. Of course, diary writing or autobiography used to be the prerogative of the highly educated, the literary, or those with little else to do. Think eighteenth-century elderly ladies and gentlemen, whiling away the long hours of idleness before high tea and concomitant polite entertaining.
Nowadays life stories are a nice extra earner for all manner of celebrities, ranging from the articulate who can fashion their own sentences to over-regarded footballers whose reminiscences are ghost written for them. But how much nicer would it be if ordinary folk wrote down their lives too? Or at any rate had someone write them down for them, as an honest social history. Most of us have something interesting to record. You don’t necessarily have to be someone off the telly or the movies or a sports hero to be chronicled for posterity.
So, in this spirit, four years ago I wrote my own life story, just for fun and as a better alternative to retirement daytime TV. It was my first attempt at a full-length book, before I began novel writing. It’s not yet published as a single self-contained work, but Wishing for the Better is available to read on this website, complete and entirely free, chapter by chapter, usually accompanying blogs on other subjects.
(If you’d like to sample it, click on the cover image at the bottom of this page. That will take you to a blog entitled Keeping some kind of record, which looks suspiciously similar to this post. I’m afraid I’ve been guilty of a little judicious recycling; sorry! The first part of it follows that and subsequent chapters mainly follow successive blogs.)
My second novel, Forebears, the mentioning of which is really the point of this blog, is also about diary keeping, although it’s entirely fictional. In it I have a pivotal character, June, keeping a journal for the greater part of her life, beginning at age eleven during the dark days of WW2. I intersperse extracts from her diary with a narrative telling the stories of both her predecessors and descendents, producing a family saga of five generations of one family following the female line, covering most of the twentieth century from Edwardian times almost up to the present day.
This coming weekend, beginning 10 October, it’s on free promotion at Amazon. More details can be had from the book page there by clicking here.
If family history is your passion, you might like it!