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Raw Literature: Writing with Mother

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By Robbie Cheadle

About mid last year, my Mother and I decided we should write the story of her growing up during the Second World War in the small town of Bungay in East Anglia, Britain.

I had listened to my Mother’s childhood stories for my whole life. I thought her tales of chamber pots and an outhouse, food, coal and clothing rationing, icicles inside the scullery windows, washing using a copper tub and a mangle and children being sewn into their vests called stays, were very interesting. The additional overlay of war conditions only added to the excitement as she spoke of buzz bombs that suddenly dropped out of the sky, wreaking devastation on the area below, American soldiers billeted in canvas tents on the common, and the family hiding in bomb shelters during air raids.

I thought my Mother’s story was interesting enough to warrant writing down and I also thought it would be a good way of preserving some of the histories of life in a small English village during WWII and allowing people, especially children, to gain knowledge of the hardships experienced by people living through a war. My rather optimistic reasoning was that if children were made aware of the horrors and hardships of war, they would be more inclined to ensure such a state of affairs never occurs again.

Mother and I embarked on this interesting journey of writing down her history. Initially, I wrote a series of essays based on her different life experiences. These essays were not in any particular order but were written more as she remembered and thought about different events and happenings in her early life. My Mother was only one year old when the war broke out in 1939 and six and a half years old when the war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945. The idea was that we would write the basic information and order and edit it afterward. This process of writing essays took from May until November 2017. Once the basic writing was done, I put the various pieces together and ordered them in a way I thought was appropriate.

We went on holiday for four days after Christmas and my Mother, and I spent a couple of hours a day editing the manuscript and adding pieces of information. It was quite amazing to me how my Mother kept remembering new things as we went through the draft book. The manuscript grew by approximately 3,000 words during those few days. Writing with my Mother was not all plain sailing. She had very exacting ideas about how the story had to be written, and she didn’t want anything that wasn’t “entirely” true included. In other words, it had to be written exactly as it happened and no minor poetic license was to be applied.

At that point, we had a fairly good draft, and I turned my attention to creating the illustrations out of fondant. We had discussed illustrations, and we both thought that keeping to my usual style of fondant figures for the new book was a good idea. We also agreed on the inclusion of a few of our family recipes that were appropriate for the time period and style of the book.

By March 2018 the new book was in a sufficiently good form for me to send it to a few proof-readers/editors. I received good feedback from all three, but Charli gave me two great pieces of advice.

The first was to include dialogue in the manuscript. Strangely, I had included very little dialogue. I am used to writing non-fiction publications on investment in Africa which don’t need to include any “warmer” tones. My Mother had said she thought I needed to make it “warmer” but she wasn’t able to explain what she thought I should do so when Charli mentioned including dialogue I understood what she meant immediately.

The other great idea Charli gave me was to include a timeline of the events of WWII as they pertained to Britain and to overlay my Mother’s childhood over this timeline. This was a stroke of genius as far as I was concerned. I created a detailed timeline, and this led to my including all sorts of additional titbits of historical information. As the advice came from an editor, my Mother was then willing to accept a bit of poetic license so long as I didn’t stray too far from the facts. An editor, of course, must know far more about book writing than me. Letting an older sibling do something which she had done when she was older but which fitted nicely in at a certain point in the story became acceptable.

We are now nearly at the end of the re-write and editing which has actually resulted in me revising most of the original ordering of the book, and I am very happy with it. We are hoping to finalize the manuscript for a final proofing by the end of May.

It has been a wonderful journey of discovery with my Mother, and I have enjoyed it so much we are talking about writing another two books to cover the next two phases of her life. The gradual changes that took place in England after the war and her decision to come out to South Africa.

***

Robbie Cheadle was born in London in the United Kingdom. Her father died when she was three months old, and her mother immigrated to South Africa with her tiny baby girl. Robbie has lived in Johannesburg, George and Cape Town in South Africa and attended fourteen different schools. This gave her lots of opportunities to meet new people and learn lots of social skills as she was frequently “the new girl.”

Robbie is a qualified Chartered Accountant and specialises in corporate finance with a specific interest in listed entities and stock markets. Robbie has written a number of publications on listing equities and debt instruments in Africa and foreign direct investment into Africa.

Robbie is married to Terence Cheadle, and they have two lovely boys, Gregory and Michael. Michael (aged 11) is the co-author of the Sir Chocolate series of books and attends school in Johannesburg. Gregory (aged 14) is an avid reader and assists Robbie and Michael with filming and editing their YouTube videos and editing their books. Robbie is also the author of the new Silly Willy series the first of which, Silly Willy goes to Cape Town, will be available in early July 2017.

<<♦>>

Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.


100 Comments

  1. […] Source: Raw Literature: Writing with Mother […]

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ritu says:

    Wonderful piece Robbie! I am looking forward to reading this when it’s finished!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Charli Mills says:

    It’s full of great details about a side of life not often covered in the WWII era. I think it’s amazing that you worked on developing this book with your mother, and honoring her vision for it. Thanks for sharing your work here, Robbie!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. TanGental says:

    This is such a perfect task to do. Before mum died I managed to squeeze from her some family tree history but this sort of detail passed me by. I think it’s brilliant and another two books would be fascinating especially around the decision to emigrate. Good luck with this Robbie.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. calmkate says:

    delightfully written and what an interesting journey for mother and daughter to make together!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Annecdotist says:

    Interesting to read about your experience of writing with your mother, Robbie. I smiled at the idea of her accepting amendments on the advice of an editor but not from you – I think many would recognise that mother-daughter dynamic! I also wondered whether from your point of view you were ever sceptical about the accuracy of her memories?

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Anne, that you for your comment. I have researched and checked the detail of any historical events and the mechanics of any equipment and cooking methods mentioned as she was only 7 when the war ended. I visited my Uncle last year and chatted to him about some of the details and he confirmed a lot of her memories (he is 7 years older).

      Liked by 3 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      An interesting question, Anne. It can feel doubtful at times with one’s own memory! And yet, I’m interested to know that Robbie talked with an older uncle. Recently, I’ve reunited with an older cousin with whom I hadn’t seen since I was 7. He’s four years older and in that small age difference, he remembers so much more. Memory (and family) is a fickle thing.

      Liked by 3 people

      • The family are all very interested in this book, Charli. My Uncle Reggie and Aunt Edna both gave input and even my Uncle Allan, who was born after the war, has given insight for the next book. It is very collaborative.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. susansleggs says:

    What a treasure, to be able to spend time with your Mum on such a project. I know it will be an interesting, educational read. I’m looking forward to adding it to my collection of books by people I “know” from my internet circle of friends.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Such a gift, not only for each of you, but for your families, and the rest of the world. We can read all we like in history books, but there is something to be said for information as presented through the memories of those who were there. ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Reblogged this on Robbie's inspiration and commented:
    My Mom and I are visiting Charli at Carrot Ranch today to talk about our writing experience together for While the Buzz Bombs Fell. Thank you, Charli for hosting us.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Thank you, Charli, for sharing my Mom and my writing experience. It is such a wonderful experience to write your Mother’s memories.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Aweni says:

    What an amazing project to take on.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. […] Source: Raw Literature: Writing with Mother […]

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I can’t wait to check this book out!

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Hi Charli. Thanks for hosting Robbie. This was fascinating.

    It was exciting just to learn about how it came together, Robbie. I know the story will be wonderful. I like the timeline element too. I remember reading something years ago that was done that way. As someone who enjoys a bit of history (but not getting too far into the weeds), it added to the story for me.

    I’m looking forward to this one. It will be grand! Hugs to you and to your mom.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. LucciaGray says:

    What a wonderful post. It must have been an emotional writing journey with your mother. Lovely to know more about you! I’m looking forward to reading your mother’s memoir.
    My mother also lived through a war, the Spanish civil war (36-39) and has told me about many events, but I have a problem with writing about such personal information. I’ve often suggested writing a fictional version because I don’t like the idea of writing non-fiction, but my mother, like yours insists on her ‘true version.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Luccia. My mother was very young during the war so there is a fictional element to the story as I had to fill in the missing details. The events that relate directly to her family are all real but I have fleshed them out a bit and worked the history into the tale. I found with my Mom that it was best to write the essays exactly as she told me the story and get her to approve it. I then wove it together and gradually worked in the historical and fictional elements afterwards. She then saw how all hung together and endorsed it. Baby steps with elderly people.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Oh, wow, Lucy, that could be a difficult one to write. Have you thought about doing an oral history? At least recording the stories for future use? Interesting how both women insist on the “true” versions.

      Liked by 3 people

      • For my Mom, Charli, it is because she sees this book as a tribute to her Mother and Father. Her Father died of appendicitis when she was only 16 years old. She wants them, and her other family members, recognizable in the book.

        Liked by 2 people

  16. Mae Clair says:

    I think it’s wonderful that you’re undertaking this with your mother, Robbie. You’ve got your Sir Chocolate books with your son and now this with your mom. A family act, indeed!

    I liked the look into the creative process and those old photos (something I love) are fantastic!

    Liked by 4 people

  17. A fantastic post, Robbie! Love the great tips you shared from Charli too… How absolutely marvelous that you and your mom are working on this historical memoir together!

    Liked by 3 people

  18. lbeth1950 says:

    I wrote my mother’s memoirs with her help. I learned so much. Looking forward to reading yours.

    Liked by 3 people

  19. willowdot21 says:

    Yes a really interesting sounding book I am looking forward to its release! 💜💜

    Liked by 3 people

  20. dgkaye says:

    What a wonderful experience to be able to do this with your mom. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  21. Jennie says:

    I love this! Reading about the entire writing process with your mom, and then Charli Mills adding her terrific advice was a pleasure!

    Liked by 3 people

  22. Congrats Robbie. It sounds like a wonderful book and experience for you and your mother. Most of us have stories to share, but don’t in our modern lives.

    Liked by 3 people

  23. Writing is a very interesting process and it sounds like the book is taking shape quite nicely.

    Liked by 3 people

  24. Jules says:

    Robbie – how lucky you are to share this writing experience with your mother.
    I too had a loss of a parent while young. And the rest of the family felt it was better to say nothing than to relate any stories at all about my mother.

    Only a step-mom is still about and unfortunately in another state. I did try to ask my Mother-in-law (may her memory be for a blessing) about some photos she had of younger life. But she got too sad, and then too old – She lived through the war in the states while her hubby fought overseas for WWII.
    And once he returned he only spoke of good experiences – never of the bad. It wasn’t until he passed that my hubby (as family historian by default) inherited his ‘war chest of memories’ that had never been opened while his father was alive.

    Continued success in all of your writing ventures. ~Jules

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Jules. I think I am lucky too. It sounds like you have a great book possibility in your own family. The war was hugely traumatic for many people which is probably why your father-in-law didn’t want to speak about the bad things.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Wow, Jules — a war chest of memories! I inherited one, too from my Grandpa Sonny. I was helping him write a book when I was in college. He passed away before I graduated, and two years later family finally got me these boxes he set aside. It was all his notes, research, and memories from WWII. It blew me away. I still am uncertain what to do with it all, but I’m letting it simmer. Did your husband have any unexpected surprises?

      Liked by 3 people

  25. How wonderful to collaborate with your mother in this manner. I too will look forward to reading it when it comes out.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. It will be a pleasure to read. “First hand information” not only the “global thing”. Thank you Robbie! Michael

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Norah says:

    What a fascinating post, Robbie. I didn’t write with my Dad, but I typed up a lot of his stories for him and compiled them into a book for family members. Many of his stories were of his participation in the war. What a horrible experience it was for so many. He also wrote many poems. A couple of verses of one of his poems is engraved in marble on a war memorial in his home town. I saw it when I visited there recently. It’s quite an honour, I think.
    This is wonderful that you get to write your mother’s story with her and I’m pleased that you’ve had such good feedback and are almost ready to publish. How affirming it is for your mother too. What a treat for both of you, and for others then to read.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Oh, wow, Norah. That must have been emotional to see your father’s words in marble. How good of you to get his stories collected and shared, too.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your lovely comment, Norah. I wonder if a larger audience wouldn’t be interested in your Dad’s stories and poems. The war was a terrible time for so many. My Mother is doing a final read of the edited book and it is amazing how diligent and interested she is.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Norah says:

        I think Dad’s stories and poems are worthy of a wider audience, Robbie. I’m just not sure how to go about it yet. He didn’t give permission before he passed and I haven’t checked to see what may be possible – yet. Too much of my own to do first. 🙂
        I’m pleased to hear your Mum’s story is nearing completion.

        Liked by 1 person

  28. Teri Polen says:

    How wonderful you could share this experience with your mother and learn so much about her past, Robbie.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Tina Frisco says:

    Robbie, you are so fortunate to be taking this fantastic journey with your mother. I’m sure the book will be amazing ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Annika Perry says:

    Robbie, what an incredible journey for you and your mother! It must be an emotional one for her and tasking for you to balance her wishes with the needs of a book. It seems you have it brilliantly thought and I can’t wait to read the final book! A joy to read this detailed description of the creative journey!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Annika. It has been interesting walking this path with my Mom. She is quite set in her ways in some respects so I have had to coax her a bit to try different things. On the whole though, it has been fabulous.

      Liked by 1 person

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