It is a bit awkward really, I want to write and the main mode I am attracted to is creative non-fiction – either poetry or prose – but I have a small problem; I don’t remember much. In order to write about my life or events therein, particularly if it is not recent, I need to have a catalogue of memories to call on, to populate the page and to lend realism and depth to my stories. I am lucky as I have kept a journal for many years, and so can go back to those volumes to flesh out that shimmering gossamer of recollection that I would like to capture more firmly on the page, but for those things I haven’t recorded in my journal it is a bit trickier.
Visual records too may help with remembering, but I harbour this doubt; do I remember the occasion or just the picture? Over the years I have looked through the family photos many times, and I wonder, would I be able to recall some events if I weren’t so familiar with the photos?
When mum died I became the repository for our family photographs. By unspoken consent all the pictures that mum or dad had kept got passed to me. Dad announced that they were to be mine, and then handed me an overflowing box when I arrived for mum’s ashes scattering; I inherited a heap of ancient snapshots to file or discard. I have always loved looking at these pictures and now I have them for safekeeping but still I wonder, what do I actually remember?
As I was reviewing and sorting the ones that ended up in my new album collection, I came across a photo that was of me, I was clearly present, I am in it, no dispute it is me. It is in colour and shows the four of us lined up against what I imagine is dad’s car. Remarkably, and this is a notable event in photos of my childhood, my mother is the only one attempting a smile. We are all, except dad, clutching rocks in our hands, and on the back, in mum’s handwriting it says Kimmeridge Aug 76. And so it is, on one of our many trips to Dorset to visit Granny, we must have had a day out to go fossil hunting. Mum is wearing a dress of hers that I loved, very 1970s with white diamonds on a moss coloured patterned background; it eventually got turned into a pinny, I do remember that! I am in a very twee mainly white frock overlaid with garish red/blue flowers (I am put in mind of Laura Ashley wallpaper), it has short cap sleeves revealing very thin arms – I am nine. Dad and Chris are in non-descript yellow tops, mum has on a yellow cardigan over the dress, the sea and sky is our backdrop, flat and slightly washed out on the picture, really not an exceptional image.
As I look at it I try to dredge up what I recall of that day. I don’t remember the picture being taken, I have vague memories of being on the beach and scouring the cliffs for fossils, but then I worry that this is a mix up with a day where I thought we went to Lyme Regis, where Mary Anning, the fossil hunter, lived – and I got a book about her so that must have happened! This past feels faint and very fuzzy.
I stare at the representation that is me, I am not sure what she was feeling or thinking; she doesn’t look very happy but this doesn’t surprise me; I was not over familiar with happiness as a child. What sort of day was she having? And did she like fossil hunting?
I am left with more questions than recollections that I am happy to pin down as factual but I do think that I can use these graphic sources to produce some interesting writing. This work may veer more to the creative side of the genre than the non-fiction, but that’s OK!