Creating connections through life story telling

By Felicity Lenehan

Once there was a time, dare I say its name, when there were two thing’s I couldn’t do due to lockdowns.  The first was conduct life story interviews in person with my lovely clients. The other heartbreaking activity I could not do was take my children to see their grandparents. I came up with an idea that could satisfy both wants: Life Story Writing Kits.

My children and their grandparents were the guinea pigs. I compiled a list of the topics and questions covered across all the life stories I’ve written – such as homes, hobbies, the teen years, holidays and so on. I tried to keep it simple, yet cover a lifespan. I made a supporting video with examples and inspiration for each question or prompt on the cards.

Then, I got the grandies and the kids together on Zoom: the kids asked the life story prompt questions I’d compiled, and the grandparent stories flowed. The older children wrote and they video recorded it as well.

It was a raging success. Where conversations could have been stilted and awkward across the age and technological divide, instead they had focus and expressed a deep interest in each other. The kids were fascinated to hear all about Poppy’s war service; how Nanny used to wear beautiful dresses her mother made to dances in the local hall; and how they both traveled by car from England to Australia, through Iran, Iraq and other places no longer on the safe to travel list. Nanny and Poppy were delighted to have their most adored grandchildren so intently interested in them, and to see the laughter, sometimes shock, and genuine love on the children’s faces as they listened.

The added bonuses were that I had my parent’s life stories recorded, and a way to help others who wanted to do the same.

The card prompts and videos proved immensely popular beyond my family. People took the idea up with gusto during lockdowns. It was a great way for families to connect then – and still is, even though we are free to roam again. Children have used the life story writing prompt cards to record their grandparent’s tales from the other side of the world. A mum gave it to her kids for Christmas as a fun exercise to do together about her life. Friends have compiled their travel stories into a book using the writing prompt cards. Many have also written their own life story, without the help of a friend or loved one, using the cards and videos.

After the writing is complete, some people hire a life story professional. They might need help editing or a mentor to finish off their final product. Some need help with book design and publishing, or to take their recording and have it professionally edited into a life story video or audio. Others are happy with their story and feel no need for further professional help. Whether they seek additional life story help or not, the valuable act of recording a life story has been achieved. This is important for family heritage archives, for personal posterity, for connection and therapy, or simply because it’s a wonderful, fun activity.

Life Stories Australia has a wide selection of skills in our membership base, from professional editors and writers, to mentors running workshops and courses on life story writing, to DIY writing kits, to videographers and aural offerings. How will you tell your story?

Contact us today if you’d like to discuss the available options.