Where is the line between story and memory? Our Year of the Novel blogger, Caro, has some thoughts…
Nowadays, the years fly by. But for a seven year old, a year represents a substantial portion of life, or at least life-so-far. So when I arrived at a new primary school a year after most of the other students, it became clear I’d missed a lot. Two students were already married (a brief peck on the cheek had taken place in the corner of the playground and afterwards everyone present had celebrated with lamingtons), the class had gained – and lost – a pet bird (who met with a traumatic and public end) and there had been two high-profile instances of pant-wetting.
My new friends told me these stories, over and over, until they became part of the mythology of the playground. Sometimes the storyteller would forget that I wasn’t there that year and include me in their account anyway. After a while, I knew the stories so well they became almost my own – I still think about them as part of my narrative. They’re like adopted memories.
Now, I’m writing about a character who is unable to forget, and as part of this process I need to create a lifetime of memories for someone else. It’s a process that keeps taking me back to that arrival at a new school and the way the class shared their collective recollection of events with me. As I’m writing Nick’s history, little elements of my own experience invariably creep in, intertwine with his. Memory is unreliable at the best of times and, just like all those years ago, it’s becoming harder and harder to tell the difference between which stories are mine. Which I’ve appropriated. And which I’ve loaned to someone else.
It makes me wonder: Is it possible to write without investing yourself and your experiences in your stories? Feel free to comment – I’d love to know what you think!