Memory can be a fickle business and everyone will have their own version of history, depending on their age, gender, where they sit amongst siblings in age, and the way they feel within a family. In my family of two brothers and one sister, one event from our childhood will have four different versions of the ‘truth’.
So who does your story belong to when you’re writing your family history? Should you consult your siblings, or any other members of the family before you put something out there in the public forum?
There is no right or wrong answer and I’m sure we could have a great debate about it.
Last week, when I was at the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival, I had the pleasure of listening to many writers about their writing of memoirs. One panel, ‘The Secret Lives of Mothers and Fathers’, had Kate Grenville, Ramona Koval and Barrie Cassidy. Each one of them has written about their parents and the secrets that many families might hide.
Ramona believes that Bloodhound: Searching For My Father is her story to tell, despite her sister not wanting to know the truth when a DNA test showed that they are half sisters. From hearing her speak, you could tell that she would have been like a dog with a bone (pun intended) in her search for answers. Kate Grenville, One Life: My Mother’s Story, on the other hand believes that family stories belong to everyone and that the writer needs to respect this when sharing the story.
As you can tell, this topic had both women polarized. Barrie on the other hand had consulted with his siblings and they all felt that the story needed to be told. Maybe it depends on what secrets are being shared. Either way, out of respect for anyone who might be connected to your story, you should let them know about what you’re doing and maybe let them be involved in the process. You might also find that they will add value to the story by putting forward their own memories, experiences and opinions.
Thanks to the Byron Bay Writer’s Festival, I have a few more books on my ‘to read’ list now …