• Judith Barrow Author

Memories - Who We Were... Who We Are

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Memory is a record of your personal experience. It is a record of trial and error, defeat and success. Past failures will warn you against repeating them. Past victories will inspire you to set new marks of achievement. Through memory you can focus the things you've learned in the past on the life you are living today. Quote: Wilferd Peterson - author

So, as Wiferd Peterson says, we are what our memories instil in us. They lead us to what we accept as true, what we say, what we do. Our actions are often prompted by something that happened in the past. Our experiences then often influence the way we react to a situation, how we work out what we will do, whether immediately or in the the future.

But, for me, it's the cues that bring the memories: smells, images, photographs, music, phrases, certain sounds that instantly evoke a thought. The small blue bottle with the silver top and the label “Evening in Paris” that sits on the shelf in my study, always brings an image of my mother when she was in her forties; dark hair, stunning blue eyes, slender. The sound of the old steam engine that ran along the line through Pembrokeshire last year reminded me of the stone bridge that led from the house we lived in to the fields and moors. A bridge we dangled precariously from to shout and wave to the engine driver; a memory that evoked the choking smell of the smoke from the funnel - and mucky faces! People shouting in another room, where I can’t see them; the adults in my childhood, arguing, elicits a vague fear. The smell of freshly cut grass - the freedom of playing out all day, until dusk drove us inside.

I use many memories in my books. Sometimes they are, as I said, of my upbringing. The things I remember, what I experienced: Whit Friday (as it was then): the flapping of the church banner we walked behind; the playing of the brass bands, the hymns, the words I find myself singing along to even though it's decades since I had any faith in religions. And then there's the sound of certain bells which sometimes bring back the ring of the school bell, my reluctance to going back into lessons after the break times. A song, a tune, that immediately takes me to a time, a place where I was, when I first heard it. Sometimes a book I'm reading, recall the stories of life in the twenties and thirties told to me by my grandmother: times of hardship, of my grandfather and uncles, "black as the Ace of Spades", she would say, from a shift down the coal mine; of boiling water in kettles and tin baths, of strikes and hunger. Often they are the reminiscences of my mother, shared in the last years of her life before she succumbed to dementia. Those were the times when I learned the truth of the marriage between her and my father, the truth of the woman she had been in her youth, of her experiences in the Second World War, hidden for many years. It was then I was tempted to tell her that I'd discovered as a child, the truth of a sister I'd always been told was a full sibling. But didn't.

But it's not only personal memories that are needed for my books. Writing historical family sagas necessitates much research. This is what I enjoy. It's fun discovering the fashions of an era, the hairstyles and cosmetics. The toys, the games that occupied the children tell a lot about the times. Mostly I research late nineteenth and early twentieth century when children had less time to play; childhood often ended before the age of twelve, with chores and work to bring in money for the family. I researched the kind of employment given to them, unbelievable in this days and age. And it has made me see how far society has changed when it comes to the houses built: from terraces to high-rise flats to housing estates. And how there are differences in the furniture, the ways people cooked, the food, the way clothes were washed. How life was lived.

But of course, there is also the background to those lives, the environments: the state of the towns, the countryside, the country I'm researching. And that's when politics play a huge part in the lives of the characters that have formed in my mind. Because I mostly write about early twentieth century I've explored a time of two major world wars, of smaller but no less dangerous conflicts between maybe two or three countries, of internal strife in Britain, in Ireland. And, trying to understand the effects on populations, on ordinary people, I read as many memoirs I can find and, so often, when I read about life in the past, of figures from history, I realise that little has changed in the human psyche. Emotions don’t change; we react to situations, to others’ actions, in much the same way now as they did in the past, depending on our own personalities. On our own memories.

Often these memoirs are the hardest to read. It's difficult not to feel, to empathise with the emotions of the women who fought and suffered for the right to vote, the soldiers in the trenches and battlefields, the women left behind to worry, to fill in the gaps in the workplace and to run a home, with the despair of unemployment and despair. But then there are also the success stories, of overcoming all the odds, of adventures, of peace and fulfilment to lift the spirits. I enjoy those reminiscences and it brings back to me the quote above: "Memory is a record of your personal experience. It is a record of trial and error, defeat and success." Both the sad and the happy, the good and the bad.

But as for Wilferd Peterson's assertion that "Past failures will warn you against repeating them." I'm not so sure; that's not always been my experience. But perhaps I'm just a slow learner.

Once, some time ago, when I had no confidence in my work, I took heart in the following quote (again by Peterson) and I wrote my first book. It's well hidden! I can admit now it really was rubbish!

You may plan to write a book someday but you are living a book every day.” Wilferd Peterson.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

It took me long enough to gather all the memories I had, of my life and of the lives of others, and of books I had read, to finally take courage to write my first family saga. I hope that quote also helps anyone who is hesitating to make this year they start to write their own story.

Thinking about, and writing this post, has made me wonder how other authors research. I have over twenty files of my findings: notes, maps, old photos, copies of newspapers of the eras and societies I have delved into and the places I visited in order to give my stories a sense of place. Perhaps I should bring myself up to date and 'file' it all on the computer. But then, as a complete technophobe, perhaps not...



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