The Keeper of Stories

by Bonnie Meekums

I thought I had finally completed my second novel in 2020, but on sending it out to agents I received no actual takers (one did ask for a full manuscript, and even gave feedback, but the trail went cold when I resubmitted). It’s a historical novel, set in the Second World War. Quite recently, I had a lightbulb moment when I realised my pitch to agents has been very dry. What’s missing is an impassioned statement about why I needed to write this particular story. The novel is, in many ways, a homage to my mother, starting as it does with a mother trying to cope during the London Blitz. Whilst Lili’s experiences are sometimes different from the stories my mother told me about her experiences, they are richly coloured by those personal tales. 

Which leads me on to another literary itch that has been asking to be scratched. I have been thinking a lot lately about how the things we get attached to hold symbolic significance for us, because of the personal stories they represent (Think The Keeper of Lost Things). It’s my age. I don’t want to turn my toes up without letting my family know exactly why I have that little arrow in a box, or that lump of white rock with the green line running through it, or indeed that bit of brown pottery that looks like a chipped off piece of something. Each one of them could very well be thrown out on my demise (Yay! At last, we can clear out the batty old bint’s stuff she’s been hoarding!), unless you know that the arrow is in fact from an archaeological dig in the states, sent to me in a tiny box that was itself wrapped in brown paper bearing the address and appropriate postage, from a very dear friend called Bill who I had met on a British archaeological dig in the UK some years previously. I have known Bill since 1974. We still video call each other every now and then. My kids have met him. We have visited and stayed in each other’s houses over the years. It was on that first dig in Baldock, Hertfordshire, I dug up the brown bit of fired clay. It is, in fact, a bit of Roman Samian pottery. Not to be thrown in the bin. And the lump of rock? That is Iona marble, carried home by me from the remains of the quarry there, in 1968. 

And so, my writing tasks for 2021 include another bash at finalising my second novel, writing a slightly different and more personal pitch about a story that needed to be told, and consulting the Writers and Artists Year Book once more, for another round of queries. Sigh. 

But it is to memoir that I find myself increasingly pulled. It tends not to attract a lot of interest from agents unless you are already famous, but that’s not the point. The recent loss of one of my cousins has shown me how much people crave their parents’ stories after they have gone. Right now, no-one sits me down and asks me about my life, but that’s OK. One day, they might just want to know. And so, my joint childhood memoir with my sister, Jackie Hales, will be self-published in the spring. But there are many more personal stories to tell, some of which won’t ever make it into the public domain. Still, I might just enure they are there for my children and grandchildren to read, as they joyously ditch my stuff.

2 thoughts on “The Keeper of Stories

  1. This strikes a cord, Bonnie. We lost my father-in-law last year and we know hardly anything about his side of the family. There isn’t really anyone we can ask. He had started trying to find out about his dad who died when he was still quite a young child, but had hit a brick wall trying to identify his army record as there was some doubt about his year of birth. I guess we’ll never know now if he really was of mixed race, as he looks in his black and white photo. There had been a scandal on his side of the family when a not far removed female ancestor married someone ‘from Spain’, which could mean all sorts of things! I’d love to know, though.

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  2. I’ve been trying to do my family history which is very difficult as there is no one to ask about it. Wished I’d paid more attention to family stories when I was younger as trying to figure out which John Hughes in Flint is my ancestor is quite hard. They really weren’t imaginative with their names back then. When we’re young those stories seem boring but when you get older they can be priceless. Nice blog, Bonnie.

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