Grandmother chronicles: What’s the story?

Posted on 5 April 2011


One of the things delaying my working on my grandma’s biography is that I’ve had trouble with the idea of writing about a real person. I have trouble with what’s true, what’s important, how to tell a story that other people actually remember bits of. Once I transcribed that first lot of tapes of my grandma talking, I thought that she had told it the best it could be told. It’s a great read and it sounds just like her. She thought I was crazy when I said I wanted to use parts of it verbatim.

In the first lot of interviews, she told things in order. I have become suspicious of this. Not of her telling the truth. I think anyone who knew her was always pretty suspicious of that. Also, I don’t believe that human beings are capable of objectivity. I’m extra suspicious of her having told me discrete segments of her story and lined them up in a row for me because I can’t see what’s missing from in between them.

I’ll never find out what I’m missing. I’m going to use my transcription directly in some way—I’m not exactly sure how—because it is her telling her own story. I can’t tell her story for her. What I can tell is my story about her. I think what I end up telling will be the story of me finding her story, trying to fill in the missing bits with research and guessing.

Grandma’s grandma Alphonsine’s story on the other hand, I’m out-and-out novelising. For her, I’m using the details I have as a kind of join-the-dots map and making up the spaces between the dots based on a combination of research, logic and hunches. (I run my life according to my hunches. They’ve worked out pretty well so far so I think a work of fiction should be fine.)

Sorry this month it’s a story about me rather than Grandma. So, family, what sort of things do you guys want to know? I’m not sure whether to try to keep things consecutive or just throw down vignettes as I remember them. Probably the second one given what I said earlier. What do you think?