I’ve been feeling a little bit like a fraud. Bridie’s teacher asked me to come in and talk to Bridie’s class about narrative writing today; in fact at the very moment you read this, I could be standing in front of 40 year 5 students pretending I know about stories. Unless you’re reading at 6 in the morning. No one’s that keen.
The feelings of fraudulence come from so many places, including the fact that while I’ve self-published, I haven’t been published, and also the fact that there has been far too little writing in my days recently. But then, in preparing for today’s post I came across this in my draft folder and I feel slightly better. Still nervous, but better.
Storytelling runs in my blood — there’s nothing fraudulent about it.
When I was a little girl, every May, my dad would take me the cemetery to visit my grandmothers’ grave. There were two cemeteries with two Grans to visit. They had both died around the same time of year although in different years, and May just became the time we went to visit.
Our first stop was always my Dad’s mother, and after we paid our respects, usually with a homemade bouquet of sorts, we would wander to another part of the cemetery to visit a different grave. I cannot remember who this grave belonged to, nor can I remember the whole story of its inhabitant, but Dad used to tell me every year.
The occupant of said grave was a Swedish woman my grandmother had met… somewhere. She and her husband had moved to Australia, and while (from memory), he spoke English, she didn’t. My grandmother, who was Swedish, befriended her so that she would have someone to talk to.
The woman’s husband died. I’m not entirely sure how or when, but he did and my grandmother went to the funeral. Ostensibly, she was there as a translator, but apparently the funeral was so awful, and the words said so miserable, she was quite glad her friend had no idea what was said, and so she told her something else.
Eventually, the woman died too, and I assume my grandmother visited her grave. This part is quite foggy in my memory. I do know that Dad then took it upon himself to visit it. (Thinking about it, it’s highly likely that she died after Gran and Dad chose to visit her when he visited Gran.)
So he would tell me the story, as we dawdled to her grave, meandering through rows of headstones and stories left untold, and after we had paused at the tiny plaque that marked her final resting place — it didn’t even have a headstone — we would drive to the next cemetery to visit Mum’s Mum.
When Dad died, we visited the cemetery and I remembered this story thinking of the woman whose story I had heard every year for so many, the details of which had now faded. I wanted to find her grave; it seemed important. Like something Dad would have done.
I didn’t find it, which was not surprising. I have no idea of her name, the date of her birth or death, or even which denomination she was, (the cemetery being sectioned based on belief), and like I said, there was no headstone or plaque. I think she might have been identified simply by a number.
It bothered me that I couldn’t find her. It still does. She and her husband were people with a story that my grandmother knew, my father partly knew, and I heard about. Now all the people that I know who knew them have gone, and what if no one else exists to carry on their memory? What if there were no children or grandchildren or siblings who knew about the terrible English funeral? There was no one left to name their grave, so I have to assume there was no one left at all.
Not in this country at least.
Walking through the funeral, looking for an unknown, unmarked grave, I realised how wonderful my dad was at keeping stories. I had always grown up with him telling me stories, but I didn’t really consider how important it was to keep do so. The memories of so many people were held alive in my mind, because of Dad’s commitment to their importance.
My mum is a poet and I get much of my writing gift from her, but my dad was a storyteller. His tales of magical tins of pineapple, and the time Hitler chased my grandmother around Europe were what I grew up with and loved. ‘Tell me a story,’ I would beg him and it never bothered me he told the same ones over and over and over again.
I’ll talk to a bunch of kids about narratives this morning; how I get my ideas, what makes stories work, and how much fun the whole thing is. It will be easy because that kind of thing is where I’m most at home. And even though there’s no actual book deal yet, and most of my stories need a good, hard edit. I’m a storyteller by nature, and a writer by choice. There’s nothing fraudulent with being who you are. 🙂