Writing Life Stories

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 how? HEAR TIPS IN COMING AUTHOR TALKS

  • EVERTON HILLS, Brisbane 21 September 7–8.30pm  Between the Lines Book Club – Hills Church 79 Queens Rd Everton Hills All welcome.
  • TOOWONG Library, Friday 22 September 10–11 am. Bookings: 3403 2590
  • CORINDA Library, Tuesday 26 September 10.30–11.30. Bookings: 3407 7701.

Consider: for whom do you write?

  • Will you circulate amongst family some copies produced at the local print shop?
  • Or might your stories resonate with Everyman and Everywoman?Back_family_collage.png

That challenging option, with good marketing and distribution, can reach more readers. If so, one writes with relatives peering over the shoulder, while wondering what flak the finished book might draw. They caution: “Change the names, write a novel, and avoid offence.” Kate Grenville took this sensible option with The Secret River.

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. Narrative nonfiction morphed into memoir as I discovered and interpreted stories. Accepting my role as storyteller unlocked the cage to write more freely. Others might write different books, equally valid.
(Photo shows my great-grandparents with Granddad front left, ca. 1895 in Finland.)

Spot the black 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? Perhaps perspectives were slanted against him or her? My research validated a black sheep dismissed by my family yet appreciated by those at the other end of the world–who understood what propelled his actions. 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 has concealed scandals with hushed euphemisms for her 90 years. She threatens legal action if her family name is besmirched. Living relatives cannot sue on behalf of “defamed” deceased. The defamation twins are libel (written words) and slander (spoken) false or malicious statements that damage someone’s reputation. Avoid pitfalls with nonjudgmental, factual reporting.
If you choose narrative nonfiction, cover yourself with upfront disclaimers:  “This is my interpretation…” and intersperse “I imagine that…” and “perhaps…” throughout. Endnotes can delineate fact from elaboration and acknowledge sources.

Dare to share?

Fact checking early drafts might elicit useful information–or invite criticism. Steel yourself for unsolicited advice: “Don’t include aspects that dishonour ancestors…”
Memorise a short but gracious mantra:
“Thank you. I hear what you say. I’ll choose appropriate content with care and prayer.”
Clamp your mouth on time-wasting justifications.

But 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 parts. Then, my emigre grandfather viewed “The Hun” as foe; back home in Finland, his brother fought in the Civil War backed by German training and weapons.Edvard_soldier_crop_NH
Relatives who share letters, documents, information and memories may envisage the book they would write and recoil if your version departs from their preconceptions.
My preferred style is life writing, 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? Of course.
After a decade of research, countless drafts and edits, Burn My Letters and its sequel Midnight Sun to Southern Cross face the world–to positive reviews.
Available on Amazon (hard copy and eBook). Order autographed copies with Paypal at the web store.
                       (Adapted from a blog in Christian Writers Downunder Blogspot)

Lift off then wind down

We throw everything into meeting that goal, whether a words or music performance, a publication or a submission. We’re powered by adrenalin, propped up by caffeine, alcohol or whatever. We must plan ahead to circumvent potential adrenal fatigue–as I did, in the last week before my launch of Midnight Sun to Southern Cross on 23 April.

Finnish touches

The launch was a buzz, including a short recital using the St Lucia Uniting Church organ that my Finnish grandfather W.A. Back donated in 1954. Finnish oboist Emily Salonen played The Swan of Tuonela by Sibelius. The Finn Choir sang a moving Finlandia. Sound and video footage of central characters were played.MS launch St L

Guests enjoyed delicious Finnish Pulla and Lihapiirakka baked by chef Bianca Kasurinen, who worked with Jamie Oliver and in NY restaurants. 

 

Praise for Midnight Sun to Southern Cross

“A fascinating story of lives disrupted by wars; of those who sought their fortune in foreign lands, and those who were left behind.”–Annika Wiklund-Engblom, PhD. Third generation of those who stayed and always wondered.

Tell me the story…

In the tradition of great family migration stories, Midnight Sun to Southern Cross continues the saga of the Back brothers’ flight from Russian-occupied Finland to Australia as the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth. From frozen Finland to the lush rainforests of northern New South Wales, to the dry and dusty sheep country of western Queensland, you follow the highs and lows of their new life under the Southern Cross.

PullaIt is an extraordinary tale of success, failure, hard work and dreaming. What drove the wheeler-dealer Wilhelm Anders Back, known as WA, to become in his time Australia’s richest Finn? And what stirred his eccentric writerly elder brother Karl Johan, KJ, pacifist and political dissenter? What of those who stayed behind in Finland, and bravely struggled to oust the Russians from their homeland? This book, and its predecessor, Burn My Letters, are timely in the centenary year of Finnish Independence.

WA’s granddaughter Ruth contrasts his and KJ’s formative years in Finland with her own upbringing in outback Queensland. Her voyage of discovery and self-discovery uncovers research in Finland and Australia, and interweaves her own transformation from shy bush girl to speaker and musician.

In the tradition of great family migration stories, Midnight Sun to Southern Cross continues the saga of the Back brothers’ flight from Russian-occupied Finland to Australia as the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth.

It is an extraordinary tale of success, failure, hard work and dreaming.

What drove the wheeler-dealer Wilhelm Anders Back, known as WA, to become in his time Australia’s richest Finn? And what stirred his eccentric writerly elder brother Karl Johan, KJ, pacifist and political dissenter? What of those who stayed behind in Finland, and bravely struggled to oust the Russians from their homeland? This book, and its predecessor, Burn My Letters, are timely in the centenary year of Finnish Independence.Covers-1

WA’s granddaughter Ruth contrasts his and KJ’s formative years in Finland with her own upbringing in outback Queensland. Her voyage of discovery and self-discovery uncovers research in Finland and Australia, and interweaves her own transformation from shy bush girl to speaker and musician.

 

Read more at http://www.ruthbonetti.com/burn-my-letters/

Both Midnight Sun to Southern Cross and its predecessor Burn My Letters are $28 each, or special price of $50 for both books via Web orders at http://www.ruthbonetti.com/

Hear more about the saga.

How can we plan to prevent adrenal fatigue?

  • Eat regular meals, especially a solid breakfast, or “graze” on healthy snacks every few hours to maintain blood sugar levels.
  • Consult with your doctor, naturopath or nutritionist in case certain supplements may boost your energy. 
  • Unwind in a warm bath with your mix of essential oils, bubbles and Epsom Salt (Magnesium Sulfate).
  • Schedule some ‘Me’ time each week and enough sleep.

Down-time to ease adrenal fatigue

That big event goes well. Relief (but you worked hard, didn’t you?) You read a chapter of a light book. Exhausted, sleep evades. Wriggly overcharge. Mind buzzes. Restless, aching legs. 

Or up-time

Thinks: I need shoulder stands, stretching exercises. A cobra or two, the ‘tranquility pose.’ Nah, too tired to get up. Maybe if I just lift my legs in bed, that’ll do. Maybe not.

So then I crawl out from the blankets, stretch, ‘lift the mountain’ with my arms. Touch my toes. Elevate my legs. Muscles creak gratefully. Breathe. Sleep.

Word Power–written, spoken & sung

Think of all the words we read, speak and write in a week, a year, a lifetime. What might encapsulate your output, by which people remember you? Politicians know a word, phrase or speech that can fast track their career. Or batter it (as in “things that batter” from Alexander Downer). Remember these?

  • I have a dream…” Revisit Martin Luther King Jnr.’s words in light of recent world events.
  • Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”
  • Julia Gillard’s “misogyny” 
  • Paul Keating’s “the recession we had to have” 
  • “Drain the swamp”…

Do your words speak vision – or derision?

Freedom of speech is much debated at present. It’s allied with freedom of religion, seen through a kaleidoscope. Political perspectives and stances are volatile. We reel from the terrorist attack on tolerant Sweden, which welcomed so many refugees.

What of regimes where words are censored?

Many who enjoy freedom of speech and religion cannot imagine life under repression. Between 1987-1991, hundreds of thousands of Estonians expressed their patriotism in the only way they could – singing. Their Singing Revolution joined with fellow Baltic Republics of Latvia and Lithuania in nonviolent protests that gained their independence from the Soviet regime in 1991. See a documentary and SBS Great Continental Train Journeys: Riga to Tampere. (Where my great-uncle Edvard Back fought in the Civil War, as you can read in Midnight Sun to Southern Cross.)

Edvard Back soldier 2_NH

Finland fought for Independence with war and music

in 1899 (the year my great-uncle fled Finland, pursued by Russians at Suez), Jean Sibelius composed “Finland Awakens” (later renamed “Finlandia”) for a benefit concert to aid journalists repressed by the regime. Growling tremolo and biting brass chords paint in sound the “Great Hate” for Finland’s oppressors that contrast with a plaintive hymn tune. As Finns also expressed patriotism in choral groups, they added vocal lyrics: “Finland, behold, thy daylight now is dawning” and “Be still my soul, the Lord is on your side.”

The Finn Choir sings this at my book launch 23 April, 2–4.30pm

“Midnight Sun to Southern Cross” tells much of Finland’s struggle for Independence, whose centenary is celebrated this year.Midnight Sun front cover

Dr Bill Glasson, AO, who shares similar heritage, will launch the book at St Lucia Uniting Church, Brisbane. A recital of Finnish music will use the organ that my grandfather W.A. Back donated in 1954. Finnish oboist Emily Salonen plays The Swan of Tuonela by Sibelius on cor anglais.
Hear relevant passages from the book and footage of voices from the past.
It’s a free event and all welcome, but do let me know for space and catering.

Finnish pastries!

Afternoon tea will be catered by Finnish chef Bianca Kasurinen, who worked with Jamie Oliver. So please RSVP by reply email, or (61)411782404.

Where to order copies?

Autographed copies are available at the launch, or pre-order copies online.

Cheques can be mailed to PO Box 422, The Gap, Qld 4061 Australia. Or email for direct banking details. Like its predecessor, Burn My Letters, this second book of the saga, Midnight Sun to Southern Cross will be available as eBook (Kobo, Amazon, Book Depository).

So what’s it about?

In the tradition of great family migration stories, Midnight Sun to Southern Crosscontinues the saga of the Back brothers’ flight from Russian-occupied Finland to Australia as the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth.

From frozen Finland to the lush rainforests of northern New South Wales, to the dry and dusty sheep country of western Queensland, you follow the highs and lows of their new life under the Southern Cross.

It is an extraordinary tale of success, failure, hard work and dreaming. What drove the wheeler-dealer Wilhelm Anders Back, known as WA, to became in his time Australia’s richest Finn? And what stirred his eccentric writerly elder brother Karl Johan, KJ, pacifist and political dissenter? What sustained those who stayed behind in Finland, as they bravely struggled to oust the Russians from their homeland? This book, and its predecessor, Burn My Letters, are timely in the centenary year of Finnish Independence.Inside Cover F

Ruth Bonetti, WA’s granddaughter, also contrasts his and Karl Johan’s formative years in Finland with her own upbringing in outback Queensland. For her, it is a voyage of discovery and self-discovery as she tells of her extensive search in Finland and Australia for the broad Back family history and weaves the story of her own life from shy bush girl to musician and writer, wife and mother.

Enjoy the Saga!

PS. To attend the launch, bookings (email, Facebook or phone) are essential.

 

Socks, jocks or books for Christmas?

Each Christmas, my dear departed mother gave shirts to the men in her life. Mine know they’ll receive books for the coming holidays. At writers festivals, I choose likely books, queue up for authors’ autographs. Don’t people love that personalised touch?

Some of these gifts become dog-eared, I confess. Because, er, I do check that the books and recipients are matched. Recycling helps save the planet. That’s one excuse.

Also, I buy many books written by writing buddies and colleagues. And help them by posting reviews on Goodreads.com – an addictive site where one can check out readers’ reviews of books before deciding whether to buy or borrow. Reviews are pure gold to authors hoping to be noticed amidst millions of competing titles. Especially as Indie publishers don’t have advertising budgets of the big imprints.

See Goodreads 5-star reviews of my recent book

Burn My LettersTwoCovers

There is nothing dull about this historical search, from the start I was drawinto the story, entertained, amused, challenged and moved.’

 

…a charming blend of well-researched narrative non-fiction and creative imagination. Ruth’s writing is cohesive and easy to read.’

Order on Amazon, as hardcopy and eBook. For autographed copies order here. There, buy Book 2 of the series at pre-publication special price.

Or send cheques to Words and Music, PO Box 422 The Gap Qld 4061 Australia.

Thanks for the great reviews! Feel free to add your own comments on Goodreads.com

Book 2 Midnight Sun to Southern Cross launches March 2017

It marks the centenary of the Russian Revolution, which spread to Finland and on to Finnish Independence.

WA St Lucia view LRIn March 1937, 70 years ago, the University of Queensland foundation stone was laid. Book 2 of the Back Saga documents the development of St Lucia, and my grandfather W. A. Back’s part in the Coronation Park Ltd syndicate. This developed 148 acres of which the University resumed 200 blocks of land bought with The Mayne Inheritance. (Now, there’s a tale!) See him surveying his domain from his ‘Big House’ in 1950s Hawken Drive–and my contribution in Brisbane Art Deco

Book 2 moves between Australia and Finland to contrast Granddad’s formative years in Europe and my own upbringing in outback Queensland and in St Lucia, the iconic Brisbane suburb he developed. And of my own studies at that same university, after the culture shock of Ironside State School – a big stretch from correspondence school – and then Somerville House.

Edvard_c

What of family members who remained in Finland? Read the parts they played in the struggle to oust Russian overlords from their homeland. (My father’s uncle Edvard on right)

Granddad’s story is bookended by ‘Those who go, those who stay.’ In 1920, Sister Anna Sanna (Ny)Holm joined her brothers, the first complete Finnish family to emigrate to Australia. Holms leave Finland_LR

 

 

What better Christmas holiday than to relax with a book?

Enjoy reading!