MEMORY BOOKS!

Memory books are a great way to write your way through grief and to help yourself and others to heal. This year I’ve already done one for my father who died forty years ago, and am presently working on another for an uncle who only recently passed away.

My father. Michael Arthur Shaw as an 18 year old – sparkling!

The first memory book I ever created was for my son Teddy who died a few days after birth in 2006. My dear friend Helena had sent a handmade blanket for my new baby but we never got to use it for that purpose. Instead, I covered a big scrap book with the material and set about filling every page inside with stories, photos and cards.

All these scraps of memory added together, create something solid to hang on to, to make his coming and going more than just a hazy dream. With the book we always have something concrete to prove his existence. Writing or the urge to write is often driven by this impetus — to make a permanent mark for those who leave before us.

I wrote the story of Teddy’s birth to include, and encouraged my children to write their own stories and draw pictures too. Friends all wrote in the book at his funeral and afterwards I glued their cards in to remind us of the love that surrounded us at that terrible time.

Every year on his birthday we display the book and light candles, and for many years we made cards or wrote stories or drew pictures to add to the book. It’s pages are filled now, fourteen years have passed, but we still remember him and the book is there to show us just how much love was in his presence.

My father as a young teacher

Early this year, as the fortieth anniversary of my father’s death approached, I was overwhelmed by an inner prompting to make a mark for him too. I wanted to create a book of memories to share with my youngest sister who was only four when he died and for my children and my siblings’ children, so they have an idea of the man who was their grandfather, even though they never got to meet him.

I started by writing my own. I was fourteen when he died so I had more memories than my younger siblings. I then asked my brother and sisters for their stories, and my father’s siblings and his best friend as well. Some stories came from interviews I did, either on the phone or in person, which I then transcribed and made into stories. Then I set about collecting photos to add.

Family Christmas in 1975

The result is a marvellous tapestry of stories and images that create a multi-dimensional portrait of a wonderful, creative man. Each story adds its own special colour to that portrait, different reflections of the same person, a kaleidoscope of love.

At the moment I’m working on a similar collection of stories and images for my Uncle Danny who only died recently. Some people are afraid of telling their stories or don’t know where to start. I found that once others started contributing and these stories were shared, the others gained confidence and eventually were able to write their own pieces – if only to contradict what they saw as factual errors in other stories! 🙂

Every experience is subjective, we all see things differently through our own lens of perception, coloured by our own lives. This is the best thing about collections like this, the differences in perceptions of the person we are commemorating.

Writing your own memories, especially if you focus on the good times, the moments of joy you shared, is a powerful healing tool. To add those memories to the memories of others creates a community of shared love and loss which is precious. I learnt from my father’s siblings that my father had a naughty side, but mainly I learnt that we all found him quite wonderful. That he was, in fact, the very special person I’d always believed him to be.

If you have lost someone you loved, either recently or decades ago, I highly recommend creating a memory book to help record your memories for future generations. But, even more importantly than that, is the healing that will come for your own heart in the act of creation.

If you are struggling to cope with the loss of someone you love, even if they died 60 years ago, you may find my book A Guide Through Grief – First Aid for Your Heart and Soul of use.

A Guide Through Grief

You can buy direct from Amazon as an ebook or Print on Demand everywhere but in Australia.

If you live in Australia and would like a hard copy, contact me and I’ll post one out.

With lots of love

Edwina

FINDING THE HEART OF YOUR STORY – GO DEEPER

What is your story about?

What is it really about?

These are the important questions, writer and teacher of writing, Robin Hemley  gets writers of memoir and non-fiction to ask themselves. Seven times. Each.

So, what is your story about? What is it really about? Write your way down to find the hidden depths and themes of your work. It’s not just for non-fiction writers either, fiction writers benefit from exactly the same process. If you ever get the editorial comment, “Go deeper”, you need to ask yourself these questions and delve into the emotional and spiritual heart of your story.

Dig deep!

You can try doing this before you’ve written a first draft but for me it always works best once that crappy first draft is on the page. 

Amanda Lohrey, esteemed Australian author, who I was lucky enough to have as an advisor for my Masters Degree in Creative Writing at the University of Queensland, calls this initial stage of writing, that shitty but all important first draft, EXCAVATING. And that’s just what we’re doing, digging around, digging deeper and wider, throwing everything in until somewhere along the line, maybe two or three drafts later, we strike gold. But we can’t find that gold until we do the messy work of delving deep.

It’s messy work!

For me this process works best if I sit and focus first, clear my mind and send that troublesome inner-critic from the room. See my guided meditation on how to do this.

Once you’re centred and settled, tune into your body and the emotions that are stirring and wanting to be expressed in your story. Sit with that story or scene or section, FEEL it, then plunge into a big free write around it. Throw in everything that floats to the top of your consciousness. Anything. Everything. Write fast and furiously until you have exhausted the topic.

Keep digging!

Usually I’m a big believer in less is more, but in this case more and more and more is better. Sometimes there’s a whole mountain of scrap metal, rocks and dirt that has to be cleared away before you strike that shining vein of gold. 

Find your vein of gold

Write your way deeper and deeper, right around it and through it and you’ll eventually find your gems. Then you extract your precious jewels from all the detritus and insert only the very best, polished stones into your story. 

Don’t worry about all those wasted words. I keep files of offcuts, just to soothe my anxious self, and though most of the time all that trash stays in the trash, sometimes I fossick out another hidden gem to use in a different story.

Are you shying away from the emotional heart of your story? Don’t. Dig deep. Mine your body and life for feelings and meaning and allow them space in your writing. 

Find your gold and jewels then go and celebrate with your writing buddies 🙂

After all, what are we writing for? I don’t know about you, but I write to move people. To make them feel something. To give them a chance to walk in someone else’s shoes. As writers we have the greatest tool for spreading compassion at our fingertips. Through story we get as close as is possible to the world experience, life, and heart of another human.

That is a great gift.

Don’t be afraid to write your heart onto the page. It is what creates connection. And in these challenging times, we need connection more than ever.

So, what is your story about? What is it really about?

Have a go and let me know what you come up with!

Our Inside Voices launches this weekend!

In other news, we’re launching Our Inside Voices, this Sunday 23 August 2020 10:30 – 12 at Orleigh Park West End, opposite the entrance to Montague Rd. Come along and say hi. I’ll be doing a reading along with a few of my fellow contributors.

Take care and keep smiling through all this madness. The world is still a beautiful place full of joy and wonder.

Nasturtiums and Hibiscus

Lots of love

Edwina xxx