On the BBC website this week from Rebecca Seales, 'Letters to kids: why it's a good time to write to your children.'
Apparently the pain and privation of the pandemic has stimulated writing. Personal stuff which could give future generations insight into their ancestors has been especially popular. It's a touch more than recording memories and events. Expressing feelings and exposing other material previously hidden from view. This sounds a bit like bibliotherapy; writing as a means of getting your stuff out so you can have a good look and try and make some sense of it, or not. Why not?
Many of these pieces of writing are being collected by the Sociology department, Swansea University, for a project entitled 'Corona Diaries'. I've tried to track down this research online and failed.
I recently picked up 'Writing your life story,' by Philip Oke from a genealogy festival. A comprehensive guide to how to do it. Having written for thirty years, pieces everywhere, it's time I got my act together and maybe family stories is an organising principle. But, when writing for myself, I rarely stick to the point, always on a sidetrack.
Oke refers to autobiography, memoir, diary, journal, family history.
I have had a look at family lives - as a result of a present I received from my daughter. I wrote the following introduction.
'This last Christmas gone or maybe for my birthday when granny and I were 70 years of age, your mum and dad gave me a book to write to you about me, so you would have a record of things that could so easily get forgotten.
The book is called ‘Dear Grandad: from you to me - journal of a lifetime’
Please look after it, for yourself, and for any other grandchildren.
There have been a few problems. First is time. Serious writers allocate a daily writing routine which is deliberately selfish and excludes everything and everyone else. It needs your nearest and dearest, granny in my case, to agree. Broadly speaking she does let me get on with it, but things do creep in - like shopping and housework and social time. But as she says “That’s life”. So the project is taking a long time, especially as I like to keep up with my personal blog, but even that is an uphill struggle.
Second the headlines suggested in the book your mum and dad gave me. They seem to be in the wrong order. For example, the family trees come after my first memories. To make a coherent story, I have arranged the articles in chronological order.
Third duplication. Writing since 1990, I have a lot of archive material. It can get a bit muddled up. At best it is duplication, which can be no bad thing in a large piece of work. Bill Bryson tells us that no less a writer than Shakespeare made a fine mess of keeping his plays in some sort of order.
Fourth with pieces from different eras, there are different styles and voices. Factual stuff about family trees and history take on a matter of fact feel. Describing emotional events such as a funeral or illness. Or the pains of growing - either leaving home yourself or watching your own children leave home or struggling with getting old. All these have a different tone.
Fifth there could be problems with my memory - so a proportion of the writing could be inaccurate, though pieces written nearer 1990 are likely to be more valid than the recent ones.'
More complications, I am currently working on family members from the nineteenth century - the hand-loom weaver, the stoker and the railway porter. These cannot be memories - they are stories of how I imagine they fitted in with local events and national themes.
Oke does mention assistance - it's a thought, I still have a fighting fund.
A commitment? It's a purpose, a hobby, a record .....
It's already been at least a year and more. I'm 73 now.