Letters, laughter and family stories

A few weeks ago, I received a proper, old fashioned letter through the post. ┬áIt was from my uncle, whose laugh I can hear clearly in my head although we’ve only seen each other a handful of times over the past couple of decades.

Knowing that I’m studying ‘Writing for Young People,’ he wrote of his favourite children’s story: The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico. In it, Phillip takes his small sailing boat to aid in the rescue of the British troops trapped on the beaches at Dunkirk. It has a resonance for our family, because my uncle’s uncle – my own Great Uncle John – was one of those soldiers.

dunkirk 1

Despite his rescue that day, Great Uncle John’s story did not end well. He became institutionalised as a result of mental illness and eventually took his own life. Long after the war was over, he was still a victim of it.

I recently wrote a piece for my course, the prompt being ‘an object lost’. I’d chosen my late grandmother’s house and, the more I wrote the more memories came back. It got me thinking about the stories we hear from our families when we are children and how they interweave with our own memories to become part of us. It’s made me think about the stories in my fictional characters’ pasts. I need to know what has made them who they are.

My uncle’s letter was full of lighter family news, too, including a photo of his first grandchild. Looking at her sweet round face and the distinct lack of hair, I could see the resemblance to my cousins when they were small.

Last week he sent me a video clip of her laughing. Light in the darkness.