Now that I’ve Got Bits and Pieces of Nanny A’s Story, What Do I Do with Them?
Last September I embarked on a project to document my Nanny Antoinette’s story of survival, from pre-WWII Poland, through the Holocaust, emigration to Canada, and eventual establishment and success as a Canadian. Nanny left for the winter in Florida in early December, and with her went our weekly visits and my inspiration.
Actually, I’m not sure it was my inspiration that left, but more my purpose. The only thing I knew I needed to do to get the story documented was ask questions. That is obvious. What is not as simple is the process of organizing the story and telling it so it does her justice. The interviews are the easy part. Nanny is interesting and funny and I got some great material. But how do I write it? I was stalled.
Thankfully, at the end of last month I took a workshop entitled Writing Family History and Memoir – Even If You’re Not a Writer: Write It So They’ll Read It. It was given be a lovely woman named Lee Ann Eckhardt Smith. Lee Ann wrote her own family history, The Granger Chronicles, and she had experience, insight, examples, and anecdotes to share about the process.
It is no secret that I am not a writer. I remember the basics from high school English, but not much beyond that. The workshop was perfect. It broke down the following topics:
1) Choosing the right form, biography versus memoir: Nanny’s story is definitely a memoir. This is defined as “stories from a life” rather than “the story of a life”.
2) Choosing the right structure. There are many ways to tell a story. We heard about some really interesting and creative ideas, but I think I’m going to be fairly conventional. I will most likely be using a chronological narrative timeline beginning right before the German occupation up to today with flashbacks to earlier. There will also be bits of oral history with Nanny describing things in her own words. I would also like to include some character profile sidebars throughout the story, and some recipes since food is so important to Nanny. I was contemplating how much of my grandfather’s story should be part of this document. At this point, I think I will include him as part Nanny’s story, and I will have an Appendix which will include his family history and his story of survival.
3) Writing Compelling Narrative. This is my big source of anxiety. The printed handout page on this page is covered in my chicken scratch notes. I am working on developing several of the techniques, but I feel like such an amateur.
4) Resources. I have a reading list that I have yet to conquer.
Voila! A summary of what I have ahead of me on this project. Nanny comes home from the sunny south in less than a month. I would really like to have something to show her, an outline at the very least. And so the real work begins.