The Story Behind The Story – ON WRITING ‘IDA’S CHILDREN’ by Louise Allan

IMG_5598

Welcome back to ‘The Story Behind The Story’ series. Today’s post is by Louise Allan. I’ve been following her blog for over a year. Her words touch my heart and her gentle wisdom inspires me.

My novel, ‘Ida’s Children’, has evolved and that’s the only way to describe how it came into being. It’s nothing at all like what I set out to write, and this draft, Final Draft 3.0, is very different to Final Drafts 1.0 and 2.0. The beginning, the ending, and the middle have all changed. Even the theme has changed.

It’s changed as I’ve changed. Or it’s changed me. Or maybe we’ve evolved together—helping each other develop in a positively reinforcing spiral.

THE BEGINNINGS OF IDA’S CHILDREN

I didn’t start writing until I was in my forties. I used to work as a medical practitioner, but with four children, it was becoming too difficult to keep all the balls in the air. I was constantly running late and constantly running. I reached the point where I felt I wasn’t doing a good job of being either mother or doctor, and I had absolutely no time to just be me.

At the same time, I didn’t want to stop work. Being a doctor wasn’t just a profession for me—it was an identity, and it was a part of me from before I became a mother. I’d given so much of myself up to the role of mother, almost everything except my doctoring, and it took me a long time before I could give that up, too.

I knew I’d have to find a substitute, something fulfilling and something for me, but something that would fit within mothering hours. I chose an online writing course, but I had no idea of the joy that course would unleash. I began to lose myself in my writing world in the way I’d lost myself in imaginary games as a child. The creativity of my youth, which I’d forgotten I even had, returned, and I began to look forward to each day again.

During one of the first writing courses I completed in 2010, I wrote a short story set in the 1960s. It was about a good girl who’d been abused by her mother. (If you read this series of posts on my blog about my childhood, you’ll know where this theme comes from.) The short story kept growing, rapidly and without much effort on my part, and soon reached 16, 000 words, and I felt there was even more …

In 2011, I homeschooled my sons, so I didn’t get much of a chance to work on it. Nevertheless, I squeezed in a writing course or two, read lots of how-to-write texts, and whenever the boys did creative writing, I worked on my own writing. All year, it simmered in the back of my mind, and in 2012, I was ready to tackle it seriously.

OLD FAMILY PHOTOS AND STORIES

At this stage, my novel was in third person, had no title, and contained thousands of words, most of which I didn’t like. Then one of the characters visited an elderly aunt named Ida. As soon as Ida began talking, the story took off.

Finding Ida coincided with rediscovering old family photos, and these provided inspiration for some of the scenes in the novel.

Photo

This photo was the inspiration for the one of the first scenes in the novel.

ll Nan and Grandpop Allan - Version 2

This is Ida with her husband, Len.

zzz Nan Allan and unknown people - possibly Michael McIntee on Left

Here’s Ida with her sister, Nora, and the kids.

Not only did I find inspiration from the photos, but I also remembered family stories I’d heard growing up. Like the three stillbirths my grandmother had endured before she gave birth to my uncle and father by caesarian. As a child, I’d just accepted such things without thinking about them too deeply, then one day in 2012, I found the cemetery record of one my father’s stillborn brothers.

Image 1

This record is from March, 1937, and on the 22nd (in the middle of the photo), you can see ‘ALLAN (BABY) MRS L. D. PARENT’ and then ‘Still born’ in the next column.

Seeing it made it real, and I imagined how hard it must have been for my grandmother to feel her baby alive inside of her for nine months, only for him to be crushed on the way out. Three times.

Other memories came to mind, too. Like the time when as a young gyneacology resident, I found a baby in a bassinette out the back of the ward. I thought it was sleeping, but as I crept closer, I saw it was very still, too still, and its chest wasn’t rising and falling. I leaned in, to see if I could feel its breath against my cheek, but I couldn’t. The nurses later told me that it had been stillborn.

CHILD ABUSE

Early drafts of Ida’s Children were all about child abuse and how the abuse baton is passed from one damaged generation to the next. The story was very black, one abusive incident after another, and very depressing.

Looking back, I see that I had to write that fictionalized version of my own childhood to work through it and towards finding some meaning in it. Some incidents were drawn directly from my memory, and while others were completely fictional, they had an emotional truth.

This version of Ida’s Children was shortlisted for the 2015 City of Fremantle-TAG Hungerford Award. It didn’t win, which was disappointing at the time, but since then, I’ve rewritten it and I think it’s now a much better story.

WOMEN AND DREAMS

The current draft is not so much about child abuse, although that’s a significant part of it, but more about women and motherhood, and the way our dreams and our biology often conflict. This was true in the first half of the 20th century, when the novel is set, and I believe it remains true today. Nature has conspired against us—we want children, and we love them and want to nurture them, yet we still have our dreams, too. From the moment we become mothers, we’re torn between the two.

Before I had children, I thought I could have it all—a career and a family. I had no idea of the love I would feel for my child, or that the umbilical cord would never really be severed. I found it hard to leave my kids, and I felt selfish when I did. At the same time, I had my own aspirations, and being a mother wasn’t the only thing I wanted from my life. My personal dreams and desires constantly battled, and still battle, with my desire to be with my children.

So, Ida’s Children is still a very personal story, but different to the one I originally wrote. It’s personal, yet, I hope, universal, too.

I think of Ida’s Children as my fifth child. I chose to have children, and I helped nurture and shape them, but this is the only one over which I’ve ever had any real control.

It’s still in the womb—a four-year gestation, and counting—but I’m hoping there’ll come a time when it’ll reach maturity and we’ll separate. Yet again, I’ll probably have difficulty severing the umbilical cord, but, as with my other children, it’ll be its own independent and unique thing, and I’ll have to let it go.

But this child will be different, too, because not only does it contain all that I’ve dreamed up over the past four years, but it is my dream.

Facebook: Louise Allan—Writer
Twitter: @louisejallan
Instagram: @louisejallan

 

19 thoughts on “The Story Behind The Story – ON WRITING ‘IDA’S CHILDREN’ by Louise Allan

  1. Pingback: I’m Guest Blogging Today | LOUISE ALLAN

  2. Louise, I SO can relate to your interesting story. You are juggling a lot of balls, but I’m so delighted that you have pulled this story from your past and shaped it into a heart-felt story. You have definitely moved beyond your past. I do look forward to reading Ida’s Story.

    Plus, thank you Gulara for letting people share their stories here. You provide a wealth of support. A positive way to help us grow.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. “Nature has conspired against us—we want children, and we love them and want to nurture them, yet we still have our dreams, too. From the moment we become mothers, we’re torn between the two.” This alone compels me to want to read Louise’s novel. I am greatly looking forward to its publication.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks, Pinky! That quote, ‘Nature has conspired against us,’ comes directly from my novel and it’s how I’ve felt every day since I became a mother. I don’t know if you felt the same, but from the moment I saw my firstborn, I felt torn between what Nature wanted me to do, and in fact set my body up to do by giving me a uterus and flushing me full of hormones, and what I wanted for myself, for which the pull was equally as compelling. I remember the thrill of holding my baby, feeling as if I was Woman (with a deliberate capital!), and loving the fact I’d given into Nature and become a mother. I also remember watching my husband go off to work and wanting it to be me escaping out the front gate, free to continue my career. But I also knew I couldn’t do it—I couldn’t leave my baby. Those feelings have returned in some form or another ever since, and my eldest is now nearly twenty. I suspect I’ll feel forever torn because, really, I want both! At least I’ve had a very full and enriching life!

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you Gwynn! It’s funny how a story changes—I thought I knew what I wanted to say, so I wrote a very bleak and depressing story, and thought, Yep, that’s what I want to say. Then, through the writing of that story, much of my sadness lifted, and I discovered I didn’t want to tell a bleak and depressing story after all! Writing is a powerful transformer, and I’ll be forever indebted to it!

    Liked by 3 people

    • That’s exactly how I feel about my memoir. I wrote the first draft and it felt unbearably dark and heavy. Who would want to read this, I kept telling myself. But as I revised, I can see light in it. It’s tragicomical in places, but at least there is a bit of humour in there… Thank you for sharing your journey so generously!

      Liked by 3 people

      • I heard an interview with an author recently and she was asked if she preferred writing Fiction or Non-fiction, to which she answered, ‘Aren’t they the same?’
        And tragicomedy really moves readers. There’s some saying about if you can make readers cry or laugh, that’s good, but if you can do both, that’s great.

        Liked by 3 people

  5. It’s lovely to meet you, Louise, here at Gulara’s place. Thank you for sharing so openly about your process, which obviously involves the development of more than just writing. How sad it was to read of your grandmother’s three stillborn children, and so true that as children we cannot comprehend. It is just something that happened. I think many still find it difficult to understand the pain suffered by others who have been unable to conceive, to bear a child to full-term, to birth a live baby, or see it grow to adulthood. For me, my children created my life, are my life. I cannot imagine life without them. If I had to change anything about my life, I would never change my children (now adults). I wish you much joy and success with your fifth child, “Ida’s Children”.

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s