I come from a story telling people.
The Irish – the Celts – didn’t retain their personalities, their cultures, for as long as they did by simply painting themselves blue and waving their arses at invaders*. They did it by telling stories; by turning the everyday into the magical; by transforming victory into ecstasy and failure into an almost-victory.
They did it by rewriting the everyday into, as Joyce** might have put it, somethingmorethanwasreallythere***.
I come from a story telling family.
The first time my Very English Boyfriend met my Very Catholic Irish Family he got stories. Some of the stories were told to stave off the silence; to swerve the discomfort. Some were told to make us laugh – because laughter is when my family is at its best. Some stories were there to normalise the situation or to explain who we were, where we were, why we were; but they were all stories.
Because I come from a story telling family.
My father reads voraciously, and with a deliberate lack of snobbery. He’s read Dumas countless times, loves Dickens, and worked his way through many of the classics, but he’s also, often, asked for Jackie Collins in his Christmas stocking (the novels of, not the racy author herself) and he’s at his happiest with Golden Age British crime writers like Gerald Vernon Edgar Wallace, or Agatha Christie.
My mother – when I was growing up – didn’t read much. But she told stories. More than that; she lived stories. Going to the Grocers with her; watching her challenge the Butcher as to why the Mince yesterday was less than ideal; making the Christmas cake; learning a dance routine to “Me & My Shadow”. They were stories filled with excitement, danger, camaraderie, and the basic cliff hanging suspense that all good stories contain.
You listened to these stories and wondered whether the Butcher had slipped her an extra kidney by way of recompense, or been gifted with a raised nose and banishment to the B-List of purveyors for his cheapness.
And she did all of this with a sense of humour that was wicked, surreal, cynical and brilliant.
Whilst I may have acquired my love of books from my father, I learned my love of what-happens-next stories from my mother.
And my baby brother, while I stayed indoors reading books, and dreaming of being smart enough to be able to tell stories that people would want to listen to, went out into the world, met people, talked to them, came home, and talked to us about his life his friends and his understanding of the world.
Because I come from a story telling family.
So my Very English Boyfriend met my Very Catholic Irish Family, and waited for the silence, the staring, the muttered recriminations and the anger.
Instead, he got his worst nightmare.
He got stories that wove out, into, and over each other; that faded into a mist, stopped abruptly, vanished and were replaced by reminiscences of the time a bullock ran up our city street, then digressed to “The State of Sandra Bullock,” before passing on to the fact that the escaped cow happened the summer that my brother and I had been using discarded fluorescent lighting tubes as Light Sabres (don’t try this, kids; no, really, don’t…) and blended into an observation that I’d always been the family story teller, which left him stunned and close to terrified.
This – his state of overwhelm at the tidal wave of stories coming his way – left me bemused. Because, as I may have mentioned before…
I come from a family that have never – as long as I have known them – done anything other than tell stories.
Because all stories are about love (or its absence). And the people I choose to talk to, to sit with, all have something in common.
Can you guess what it is?
I come from a culture and a family that – I am both wonderfully lucky and proud to admit – tells stories. We do this to make sense of then, now and tomorrow; to make laughter the prevailing mood; to take sadness and alchemise it into something more beautiful and powerful than it was ever expected to be; to get, gain, and deserve attention; to warm, enthral, reward enervate and challenge each other.
The only thing that matters, I believe, is who loves you, and who you love. And I’m stealing a concept from Armistead Maupin when I point out that family is both the Family you are born into, and the Family you acquire as you go through the tale of life. And I have been lucky to be part of many brilliant families who tell many wonderful stories.
Because the truth is, I don’t really write: I tell stories. And I tell stories because I come from a story telling family.
Welcome to the family.
*Though even Henry Sidney was known to comment on the pert, indigo derrieres of the locals. “Lyke a coupul of Feeral Cats in a sacke made from th’ Serge de Nimes,” he reported to Elizabeth I in 1540.
**James, not Grenfell, who was – clearly – English, as evidenced by her obsession with ensuring children behaved correctly.
***Little known fact: James Joyce invented the Hashtag Sentence.