Reclaiming our narrative: How writing a memoir freed me from my family's secrets

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Have you ever thought about writing your story? Wonder where you might begin? Author Helen Garlick will be at the Festival of Chichester on Monday, July 1 to give you tips and inspiration about how to get your story on the page, and the real life benefits this will give you. Plus there will be cake.

Helen says: "Penning my family story in my memoir No Place to Lie, enabled me to share family secrets, meeting a promise I made to myself back in 1981, to tell the truth of what happened to my younger brother David and then later what happened with the secret my Mum took to her grave. I worked out

"To explain better, I’d need to tell you more about my family. My mum was not what you might describe as a typical Mum, if that even exists.

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"An ice queen beauty with corn coloured hair, she was a private, secretive person with a dazzling smile. When my father met her, he a Cambridge University classics scholar, the only one in his family to go to university, she a secretary working in his father’s office furniture salesroom, it was love at first sight.

Helen Garlick with her mum Monica.Helen Garlick with her mum Monica.
Helen Garlick with her mum Monica.

"Or so the story went.

"Tensions between my parents simmered, silences hid what was really going on. One thing I always remember was that my mother used to like to have her hair cut short at the hairdressers. Whenever she got her hair cut, my father wouldn’t talk to her for four days. That was the rule, we all knew the consequences.

"My parents rarely touched one another unless there was a camera pointing at them. Then they smiled: Dad might even put his arm over Mum’s shoulder. I can’t ever remember them cuddling up on the sofa when my brother and I were growing up. But then we didn’t talk much about feelings, more ‘What would you like to drink?’

"My parents stayed married for nearly 59 years until my father’s death in 2014. My Mum died three years later, only six days after she’d moved into a care home.

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Helen Garlick with her pup Ziggy.Helen Garlick with her pup Ziggy.
Helen Garlick with her pup Ziggy.

"When clearing her things, I’d found a white envelope with her handwriting on it. She’d written, ‘I am and will always not be the same but be different – not the norm’. I read on, transfixed. ‘I don’t understand why I’m different. It’s not a talked about subject’.

"Mum named women she had relationships with, including her old school friend Gwen, whom I’d always known as a close family friend. After talking with my kids (who incidentally thought it was really cool to have a gay Grannie) and my aunt, who likewise knew nothing, I wrote to Gwen by email and asked her if I could talk to her about something. She responded that she had been waiting for my question all her life and she would be happy to answer any questions I had.

"Those conversations gave me a completely different window into my family life and writing the book I confronted my family’s hidden secrets, brought them out into the open and banished shame. Writing No Place to Lie helped me see my past through different, clearer eyes.

"As they say, the truth will always out.

!Your own story is likely to be very different from mine – we are each unique. But I’ve found over time that telling my story helps others to share theirs, and these ripples can keep building. Would love to see you at the Friends Meeting House in Chichester on July 1 to have a chat about everything to do with telling your story. And did I mention there will be cake?"

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Helen Garlick is a courage builder, writing, training and speaking about the healing power of talking and telling your story. Tickets available online through thenovium.org/boxoffice Telephone 01243 816525

No Place to Lie is published by whitefox, available from Waterstones, Foyles and Amazon.

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