Stealing Memories: 2013 365 Challenge #132

Dad in Mount Vernon receiving chemo

Dad in Mount Vernon receiving chemo

As a writer it is difficult to know how much to borrow from the people around you. I often have stabs of conscience regarding writing about the children on my blog, particularly as I use their names (I’m not a big fan of calling them child 1 / child 2 or anything).

I rarely share stuff about my husband or friends, particularly not names or specifics. But utilising stories, that’s different. I need other people’s lives and experiences. I have a great set of my own memories to draw upon – I’ve had a varied and not always easy life – but there are also many things I haven’t done that my friends have.

I have a doctor friend, two teacher friends, a nurse. They share titbits about their lives that I end up weaving into stories. Never the exact tale, certainly never exact people, but definitely flavours. And it does make me feel uncomfortable. How else to find stories though?

My Dad how I like to remember him

My Dad how I like to remember him

Right now I am borrowing my husband’s memories, combined with my own, to write Ruth’s story in Two-Hundred Steps Home. My father suffered from cancer and eventually lost his battle (not specifically with cancer, but associated complications). My relationship with my father was rocky, though, and I live more with the guilt of not doing enough, than with the memories of caring for him. If I’m honest I could have done more and been with him more, but he didn’t want to burden us with how bad it really was and it was too easy to take him at his word.

My husband lost his mother to a brain tumour, a year or two before I met him. They were very close and he felt the loss deeply. He has spoken of it many times and the memories of his last few months with her are raw and beautiful.

I haven’t recreated either scenario completely in Two-Hundred Steps Home (or in the Nanowrimo manuscript I wrote last November, that also features hospital scenes), but I do ask Hubbie about details to make my stories authentic. It feels wrong, though, to ask personal questions just for the sake of my writing. When does it stop being acceptable and become a bit icky? I suppose that’s one of the many unanswerable questions that comes with being a writer.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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“Mummy, Auntie Claire says she’ll pay for me to go to ballet again, can I go, can I, please?”

Sky’s rush of words made Claire’s tummy squirm. She looked up guiltily at Ruth, remembering her thoughts about why the ballet lessons had stopped. Don’t say anything spiteful about the ballet teacher, for goodness sake. Then Sky is bound to tell you she met up with her father and said ballet teacher’s baby.  

The morning with Sky and Ruth had not been an easy one. Sky’s chatter, irritating at the best of times, came with the added burden of fear, worrying what titbit from her ten days with Claire she might toss out for Ruth’s entertainment. On top of that, Claire could see her sister was sagging under the weight of endless words, but didn’t want to let her daughter out of her sight.

Mouthing, “Sorry,” at Ruth, Claire fished in her handbag for the iPad. “Sky, poppet, would you like to play that word game I downloaded for you, so your Mummy can have a rest?”

Sky’s head spun quickly, her hair whipping Ruth across the face. She scrambled off the bed and climbed onto the pull-down mattress next to Claire. “Can I paint nails instead? Pleeeeease.”

Claire’s cheeks flushed red-hot in the stuffy room. Great, now Ruth’s going to blame me for letting Sky play silly computer games. This isn’t how it was supposed to go: I was meant to drop her back home and carry on with my assignment, not sit and listen to all my Auntie-Fails being revealed.

She studied Ruth’s face to see what level of censure it contained, and exhaled in relief at the sight of her closed eyes. Poor thing. I find Sky exhausting, and I’m not sick.

Silence spread through the room, punctuated only by the buzzing light and the whir of technology monitoring Ruth’s life-signs. Claire let her mind drift, wondering where Robert had disappeared to, and whether Carl had noticed yet that she hadn’t blogged a new hostel.

I’ll have to call in and book this week as holiday. I have no idea how long Ruth is going to be in here and it doesn’t seem right to dash off to whatever remote destination boasts the nearest hostel. Carl will just have to sod off.

Settling back against the wall, Claire shifted until she was vaguely comfortable, then she followed Ruth’s example and closed her eyes.

When Claire woke, Sky was no longer sat next to her on the bed. Heart hammering in panic, she flicked her gaze towards Ruth’s bed. Ruth was still sleeping, but her daughter wasn’t with her. Rising slowly, trying not to disturb her sister, Claire crept from the room and prayed her niece was out in the corridor.

Maybe she’s gone for a wee. Yes, that must be it. Claire trotted to the ladies and called out for Sky. When there was no answer, she went back to the nurses’ station and asked if they’d seen a blonde child.

“Yes, she went up to the canteen with the man that came in this morning. Mr Carleton? Is that Ms Carleton’s husband?”

Claire frowned, wondering if Chris had come to the hospital. How would he know? I can’t believe Ruth would have called him. Then the penny dropped. Mr Carleton. Robert, of course.

With a smile she shook her head at the nurse’s assumption. “No, that’s our brother. He flew in from Geneva this morning.” Another thought teased into her brain, scratching at her mind like a briar. Mr Carleton? Not Mr Carleton-Bise? Since when did he drop Francesca’s surname? I thought they loved that whole double-barrelled thing.

Claire’s mind whirled with conjecture as she walked the now-familiar route to the canteen. I wonder if everything is alright with him and Francesca. She recalled their conversation over coffee what seemed like days ago but in reality was only that morning. Now I think about it, he was acting a bit odd. It made the knots in her stomach tighten even more. Robert and Francesca had been together since she was a teenager. The idea that anything could shake their marriage gave her the shivers.

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4 thoughts on “Stealing Memories: 2013 365 Challenge #132

  1. I don’t think asking others about their experiences to make your characters feelings and reactions more real is icky. I think using real life to recreate that emotional scene helps others to understand those who have gone through these difficult situations.

    I’m sorry for your loss, and your husbands. Cancer is horrible. 😦

  2. I’m totally hooked on this story now…sigh.
    As to “borrowing” from others stories, I think that’s research. We want to write authentically, and having someone tell their experiences allows us to be real when we write them. Of course, letting the person know what your intent is would be good, if at all possible, in my opinion.
    Tina @ Life is Good
    Co-host, April 2013 A-Z Challenge Blog
    @TinaLifeisGood, #atozchallenge

    • Thanks Tina. It’s the telling them bit that makes me feel icky because I’ve borrowed stuff from a friend and not told her. It was very vague, and I haven’t deliberately concealed it, I just haven’t had a chance to mention it (my friends aren’t that interested in my writing so it doesn’t come up in conversation often!)

      Glad you’re enjoying the story…

  3. Pingback: Calming Coffee Shops: 2013 365 Challenge #133 | writermummy

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