I’ve been surprised, delighted and moved by the response to my memoir. In the last month so many people have written to me, and talked to me at book signings. They each tell variations of the same story. It seems that every family, if you dig just below the surface and go back a generation or two, has an amazing story to tell. We are all born and nurtured in a family, usually blood relatives, for better or worse, They, or fantasy versions of them, are inside us all our lives. I once remarked that you only become an adult when you’ve forgiven your parents, even if your childhood seems in retrospect happy. Having your own children helps that process.
It is revealing that the family is the arena of much fiction. Lear, Romeo and Juliet, so many novels are about families. It is our personal theatre, where we act out our lives, either in the actual world or in our psyches. I’ve told how I dreaded facing my own story and put it off for years. How painful it was to write. Then how the richness and the humour and the warmth in my family’s past were deepened as I wrote. How liberated I felt after setting it down. Something happens as one digs for the right words, in that struggle to precisely locate a memory. There is something in the separation from one’s inner self as you see them on paper, for others to see too. The act of writing is liberating.
I feel lighter, happier, more whole now.
Which is why I encourage others to recollect in tranquility and write down their own stories.
It is healing.
There is another reason, too. One I discussed with some friends in Wakefield recently. Many come from mining families, all have dramatic stories to tell. I put it to them that although neither they nor I were important individually, collectively we are. Our family stories are the future raw material for historians. History should not belong to those who rule over us, the rich and the powerful, the politicians and generals and monarchs. Because those who write the history command the narrative of the present, they create the framework and direct our thinking, our perceptions of what is desirable, even possible. Why, I argued, did they think that Mr Gove was so interested in the school history syllabus, in what their children were being taught?
My grandparents were Victorians. I preserved some memories of them. Those will not only be of interest to my grandchildren, but also to a social historian in the future.
Writing a memoir was a different experience from writing a screenplay or a novel.
There’s nowhere to hide.
But it’s much more rewarding, if you can bear the pain.