The Serendipity of a Hospital Stay
My entry into the world of Biography Writing began with misfortune.
With acute pain and a weakening arm, a trapped nerve in my spine was the diagnosis, and the resulting operation and hospital stay had me on the mailing list for the hospital’s newsletter.
‘Volunteers needed’, it said. So volunteer I did.
Two months later, I found myself on a training course, then doing hand and foot massages for patients undergoing chemotherapy. The Day Oncology unit was a friendly oasis of calm, where I spent one day a week, over the course of a year, chatting and massaging, and hearing many unique stories as patients whiled away the hours.
Then bending and lifting took its toll on my back, so I needed a new role. Through their ‘Palliative Care in the Home Patient Biography Service’, I was privileged to be in the first group of six volunteers. Immediately, I looked on the internet for help, where I discovered the APH, an American/Worldwide organisation for Biography Writers. I joined up, was able to browse their information and go to my first ‘client’ with at least a show of confidence!
M…. was an elderly lady. She said, ‘I don’t know what you’ll write... I haven’t done anything – I’ve never worked'. BUT... she grew up on a farm in the midst of the Depression; married in wartime; had several children; coped with the death of a child - and more! Everyone has a story, and once triggered, memories of a full life came tumbling out. After six one-hour sessions and some coaxing for photographs, two ring bound books and a CD-RW were presented to the lady. My first ever Biography was finished!
After that, I had other hospital clients, male and female, who had had very different lives. Some were born in exotic countries, with novel tales of Elephant rides to school, or Civil War and fleeing the country, but... that first lady taught me that there is no such thing as a mundane life. One thing we all have in common is the desire to pass on where we lived, what we lived, and how we lived.
The benefits of ‘Palliative Care in the Home Biographies’ are many; they share the same common threads with biographies commissioned for healthier and active people:
Picture from the front cover of a privately commissioned Personal History, 'Born Into the Shadow of War'. The photograph was taken around 1919. The subject, Sarah, was (from Left) the first little girl sitting on the windowsill , aged three.
When friends found out about my hospital volunteer work, some asked if I could write a Biography for a relative. Since transcribing is the most time consuming task for me, I found a transcriber and charged for her fee, and my expenses. Even she asked me to record her mum’s story, which I loved doing. Her mother was ‘Born into the Shadow of War’ in London in 1916. You can see the Book Cover above, reproduced here with their permission. What a fabulous old photograph!
For one person, five hours of chat, produced a fifty page thermally bound book with many photos; for another three hours was enough.
Within my family I decided to use a 'one page, two column' format, to capture the essence of our family history. I’ve now recorded the lives of my parents, and several aunts and uncles in this way, before their memories flag... Please, don’t leave it too late!
Through the APH, I found an online course in Guided Autobiography (GAB), run by Anita Reyes, and went on to use my former teaching skills to help groups of enthusiastic writers record their own life stories. The first venue was the local Yacht Club, with amazing views and fantastic coffee; then the quaint rooms at my friendly local Historical Society. Now, I am continuing, as a writing member of the group; we meet in a local retirement village. How often do we biographers fail to record our own lives?
So what is next for me? My misfortune of five years ago led to the happy accident of finding a completely new interest and direction. I now publish stories through CreateSpace and Amazon, Ingram Spark and Draft2Digital (Kobo, Nook etc). I have finished a Log Book 'Running for a Cause' for Charity Marathoners, whom I hope will save their stories to share with future generations; a Children's novella 'The Truth About Amber'; and a Non-Fiction book - 'Headscarves, Headwraps & More', aimed not just at women undergoing chemo, but all women who want to wrap, for any reason.
And what's next? Click on my Coming Soon page to find out!