Home! Hiraeth! A fantastic few days running Your Life Your Story as part of National Care Leavers Week 2017. A trauma informed writing workshop with Lisa Cherry and organised by Amanda Knowles, Trustee and Director of The Consortium for Therapeutic Communities and Richard Rollinson, The Barns Centre Executive Director, in Toddington. We had 14 care-experienced adults with an age range from 18-59. They were described as: “…extraordinary, and courageous people”. They were this and much more. Inspiring and inspirational. Warm and funny. Resilient. Beautiful human beings giving to the world and living truly exceptional lives.
It was a strange feeling running a workshop for care experienced individuals in a building that was once a children’s home. This was our Hiraeth, we had come home and the air was filled with expectation.
Writing our personal stories is the most vulnerable kind of writing we can do. We fear being laughed at, rejected, or that our words will be met with silence. And in turn, we ourselves remain silent. There is also a history of those looked after, of others writing our narrative.
And yet there are a lot of care-experienced people who want to share their stories, for all sorts of reasons. Personal, therapeutic, for family, for history and publication. When I first started the PhD, looking at the representation of care leavers in fiction, there was very little published about care leavers, but over the last few years there has been an explosion of new stories, new voices, often finally being heard after years of being invisible.
Some of the books I used or referenced in no particular order, included:
My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal
Island by Jane Rogers
The Panoptican by Jenni Fagan
All the Good Things by Clare Fisher
When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
The Seven Sister by Alex Wheatle
Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland
Plot 29 by Allan Jenkins
The Looked After Kid by Paolo Hewitt
Fifty-One Moves by Ben Ashcroft
Non-fiction or Informational Text:
The Brightness of Stars by Lisa Cherry
Books about writing:
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson
Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott
A Novel in a Year by Doughty, Louise
We tell bits of our story in order to have relationships. It would be difficult to have relationships and friendships without having some version of a life story floating around. The act of telling our story acts as a framing method or even a re-framing of previous life experience.
I’m interested in re-framing, whether that is fictional, autobiographical, memoir, or nonfictional. It gives a semblance of making sense of the chaos left behind. Stories are life, life is stories. A life story is written in pencil, not ink and can be rubbed out and changed. You’re both the narrator and the main character of your story.
It’s also important to realize that you’re not just living out your story, you’re actually in charge of it. Even if it is a terrible story, which is hard to share; the act of sharing, writing and rewriting gives a new realisation and possible resolution. That awful sense of being unable to change what went before can suddenly be lifted. For example, a simple act of changing point of view, can suddenly release a narrator and give them a distance and freedom to write their story.
We can take control of our narratives – our stories, by how they are told, what’s included, what’s left out. We can change the ‘single story’, the single narrative. And the truly exciting thing about this is that you can put out a new version of yourself and live your way into it.
A young man who didn’t want to hold a pen, let alone write his story, transformed into a confident person who stood up and read out his writing.
Watching people change their ‘I’ into ‘he’ or ‘she’, third person narratives and finding their voices and freedom from their pasts.
Hearing a woman and mother, give herself the words that meant she finally found the words to write about her inability to honour her mother’s tragic death.
Seeing a man who could only doodle his thoughts and feelings suddenly break through and not only put together sentences, but paragraphs, chapters and is now half way through a novel.
#NCLW2017 Your Life Your Story. The story starts now and is written in chalk not ink. Changing the narrative.