Words, whether written or spoken, hold great power. The defamation twins are libel (written words) or slander (spoken), i.e. false or malicious statements that damage someone’s reputation. It’s a difficult balancing act to speak our truth without offending.
What might words uncover?
Author Kate Grenville SO inspires me. Her book The Secret River has been adapted to stage and screen. When her research about ancestors uncovered uncomfortable truths, she changed the names and turned to the novel genre. As I have been advised to do by relatives, as I write my discoveries of my family stories.
Who do you think you came from?
Ancestry.com habitués might envy my dilemma: a treasure trove of letters illuminated the heritage story. How to condense into a book? The insights gained from these letters and my research are so exciting that I gave up on efforts to condense: I’ll publish two books.
They’re close to publication and I’d appreciate your crowdfunding support.
Pass on heritage before it’s too late
What more precious gift to relatives and future generations than to write a family history or memoir? Do it now, before stories and insights are lost to dementia and coffins. But first consider: for whom do you write?
Will you circulate amongst family a few copies produced at the local print shop? Or might your stories resonate with Everyman and Everywoman?
Will you present facts as a historical document, with diligent footnotes and bibliography? Or through creative nonfiction put flesh on bones, words in mouths, and look under the surface to the motivations that drove actions? If so, one writes with relatives peering over the shoulder, while wondering what flack the finished book might draw. They caution: “Change the names, write a novel, and avoid offence.”
These are REAL people
My attempts to novelise felt stilted. Why waste my treasure trove of archival letters and diminish a great story? Let the characters speak for themselves. My narrative nonfiction morphed into memoir as I discovered and interpreted stories. Accepting my role as storyteller unlocked the cage to write freely.
Black sheep and white sheep
Some families draft ancestors into pens of white and black sheep, with little variegation between. What demons drove the reprobate to that more interesting story? Avoiding all conflict makes for dull reading and robs readers of the opportunities to learn from generational patterns.
Shame on the family!
What family tree doesn’t sprout illegitimate twigs? Recent generations shrug but Great Aunt Flossie concealed scandals with hushed euphemisms for 90 years. She threatens legal action if her family name is besmirched. Living relatives cannot sue on behalf of “defamed” deceased. Australian Society of Authors membership includes legal aid but avoid pitfalls with nonjudgmental, factual reporting.
What is truth?
Contradictions are inevitable when sifting truths from myths of oral history.
Relatives view my many-faceted Grandfather from varied kaleidoscope angles to mine. This is the paradox of history; the events of World War 1 written by people from Germany, France, England or Australia would differ, even contradict in some details.
My writing style is to look under the surface of dates, events and facts and find the persons beneath. What drove two brothers to flee their native Finland to settle at the far end of the earth? Did they struggle, away from the security of the nest?
After a decade of research, countless drafts and edits, my two books are close to publication. I hope they fulfil the calling of Psalm 102:18
“Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet unborn may praise the LORD.”