Every cloud has a silver lining. Yes, even a little light can be found in the wake of a pandemic. Let me try and explain why I believe this...
I know a lady who celebrated her 80th birthday this year. This lady (let's call her Alice) has always wanted to write a book, but she soon discovered that writing a novel is more difficult than she thought it would be. She has discovered that writing fiction requires skill, stubborn perseverance and an understanding of the craft. Some of this is learnt through trial and error, and some of it by study, but there is also an element of, dare I say it, natural born talent. Alice is the first to acknowledge this and she admits herself that she is not great at "imagining plots". However, even I, a writer, could not imagine the real-life plot that was about to unfold during March, 2020.
The spring/summer lockdown was particularly difficult for the older generation. They are often retired, some less able than they used to be, with a declining circle of friends and relatives from their generation. This results in any positive social contact being particularly welcomed. At the beginning of lockdown, Dame Esther Rantzen, T.V. presenter, producer, director and the founder of the charity The Silver Line, made a guest appearance on a radio station and suggested lockdown was the perfect time for the older generation to write their memoirs. The memoir didn't have to be long and the writer didn't have to had led an exciting life, she reassured the listeners, as the normal day to day routines of their childhood would differ from the lives children lead today and be interesting to read about in years to come. I listened with growing excitement. This sounded perfect for Alice. When I delivered her food shopping the following week, socially distanced of course, I gave her an A4 lined notebook and pen, and suggested she wrote her memoir for her grandchildren and great grandchildren. "You have always wanted to write a book", I said, "Try a non-fiction book instead".
Although Alice threw me a sceptical look, I am glad to say that she took up the challenge and wrote her short memoir during the strict lockdown phase. I have just spent the last few weeks researching self publishing software, typing and editing her work, scanning suitable photographs and uploading it all onto a suitable software. I have learnt a lot about the Alice's life. She did not become a spy, travel the world or fight in any wars (far too young in WW2). In fact Alice's life was unremarkable and very normal for the time. However, she lived in a different era, a time when her mother believed that by cutting off her daughter's beautiful long hair, it would reserve her strength to fight the illness that was threatening to kill her. It has also made me realise how lucky we are today... no outside toilets, no schoolteachers who think it is okay to slap a child as young as five, easier access to transport... need I go on? Her "unremarkable" life is more remarkable than one would have first thought.
The book arrived last week and I gave it to Alice. She was delighted with the book and amazed that it was possible for her handwritten memories to be made into a hardback, professional-looking book (I hadn't told her about the software available today as I wanted to surprise her). Her memoir will never be for sale, but it will be her lasting legacy, a gift from one generation to another and hopefully handed down through her family.
So, the silver lining of this tale is twofold. The first, Alice has finally written a book at the grand age of 80. She even undertook her first book signing, as I asked her to sign her great grandchildren's copies. The second, her great grandchildren (who are too young to appreciate the memoir at the moment), will one day come to know Alice through her own words... words that were written when the world was fighting a global pandemic. Hopefully the memoir of an ordinary child learning how to become an adult in the 40's, and navigate life as an adult and mother in the 50's and 60's, will also transcend the generations to come.
I am so glad that I took the time to help grant someone's quietly abandoned dream. This experience has also taught me that every cloud can have a silver lining, its just that sometimes we have to look a little harder to find it.
This blog post was first published on the Novel Points of View blog on 19th September, 2020