Thursday, January 21, 2010

Truth STRONGER than Fiction?

Mary is a multi-published Australian author, especially in Christian romance novels. After being published by Harlequin Mills and Boon medicals and Barbour Publishing with inspirational (Christian) romance in America, her most recent novels are being released by Ark House Press, a Christian publisher in Sydney, Australia. Book One in this new series, Return to Baragula, has been released in America with Book Two scheduled for 2010. The third in this series, Justice at Baragula will be released in Australasia in 2010. Read more about Mary and her minister husband on

Already amazing stories are coming out of the tragedy in Haiti. There are stories of miraculous escapes, rescues, people who risk their own lives searching for survivors in the rubble – like the young man who risked his own life to dig a tunnel for days to reach his next door neighbour’s little girl many days after the earthquake, but also stories of people driven by desperation to looting, rioting, grabbing and doing what they can to survive. In the weeks, months and years to come there will be many, many more stories in our newspapers, magazines, on the news, TV documentaries. However I can’t help but think of all the other stories that will never be told simply because no one bothered to record them. Sadly, only a comparatively few of the multitude of good and the bad events from these days will anyone in generations to come every know. Some of course over time may be best forgotten perhaps but shouldn’t families at least know their own families’ personal stories? After everything that can be is restored once more, how many of the survivors and rescue workers will eventually write down their own private experiences for their children and generations to come.

Over the years my husband and I have talked about how sad we are that our elderly relatives never wrote down their stories for us, our children, grandchildren and the generations to come. Strange as it may seem to many in this modern era of communication such as the world has never known before, in this day of the I pods, internet, email – even blogs! – we are in danger of losing permanent records. How many of us print off an email from a friend that once would have been in a letter form? One hit on the delete button and that information is lost, gone.

A couple of years ago I had the privilege of sorting out cupboards in my mother’s house before she had to go into a retirement home. My sister and I found a wealth of old letters she had kept going back to the late 1930s after she and my Dad left their parents and families in South Australia to start a new life thousands of miles away in Queensland. There were even several from one of my grandmothers to my sister and I, written in her own hand-writing. We have always been glad that a few years ago my mother was persuaded to write down the story of that very difficult trip from Eyre’s Peninsula across the harsh outback of New South Wales. Of course, over the years we’d heard some of the stories like the time my eldest brother, then only six months old nearly died of heat exhaustion in that harsh January which I’ve recently discovered was during one of the worst heat waves ever recorded. Also some years ago, I managed to use a mini-recorder and get my father’s brother to tell me some stories of my Dad who died when I was sixteen years old. Now somehow I have to transport that old cassette to a CD – or should it be an MP3 disc nowadays!

It is a cliché we all know that ‘truth is stranger than fiction.’ Many novelists have been told by readers – yes, and even editors especially – that an incident the writer knows really happened is considered too ‘unbelievable’ in their novel. I believe truth can be not only ‘stranger’ it can be even ‘stronger’ than the novels we try to write! But the truth does need to be recorded faithfully by eye witnesses.

Have you encouraged your family members to write down their personal experiences for the sake of future generations? Have you written down your own? And let us never make the mistake of thinking or saying ‘my life is too boring.’ For those who love you, who are related to you, in years to come it may bring you and your circumstances alive for them – yes, perhaps even the difficult days and the seemingly ‘boring’ times!


  1. Great post, Mary. I love doing genealogy research. I used to think people who did that must be bored. But once I began, I was so fascinated by it. I've learned so much about my family history, and now I'd like to travel to all of the places where they lived.

    God bless the people in Haiti. My heart still breaks every time I see or hear a news report. They will need our help and prayers for a very long time.

  2. Some time ago my cousin sat down with his father, my dad and their sister and asked questions in front of a video camera. I need to get that moved to a DVD or it will be lost.

    I agree, Suzie. Haiti should not be allowed to be a two week story before we move on to the next big thing.

  3. One of my sisters and I began the daunting task of scrapbooking our family history a few years ago. Good thing we started when we did (though sooner would have been better!) because my mom had a debilitating stroke about the time my sis and I had the family scrapbook up to the years our oldest sibs could recall (and argue about...)

    Many things about my parents make much more sense now that they're in context. Thanks for sharing, Mary.

  4. The art of letter writing is disappearing so I echo Mary's advice to print off special e-mails. When I cleaned out my Mom's cupboards after her death I found a big packet of letters from my grandmother. what a treasury! I'd also encourage people to print their best pictures. My brothers and i have found endless pleasure looking through my Mom's old photo albums.

  5. Thanks for a beautiful and challenging post, Mary. When my father-in-law died, my husband found, tucked in a tin box, a medal from the 1st World War.
    My husband and his brother had gone through their school years embarrassed that their father hadn't ever fought in any war. Yet he'd won a medal. How sad. We'll never know what it was for.
    So yes, we need to make records now, before it's too late.

  6. Mary, great post! When I was younger I'd listen to my grandfather tell us stories from WW2 and I look back now and wish one of us had written down his war stories.

  7. It is interesting that in this world of technology, some things remain the same. There is a far different feel to opening a letter box and retrieving a brightly colored envelope with a loved one's handwriting on the front than to clicking open an email. I wouldn't despair. My 20 year old daughter loves to write letters, and my 16 year old son just put a handwritten letter in the mail to his girlfriend the other day. No, I didn't tell him to. So I guess he also realizes there is magic there in the written word.
    My father-in-law is a retired pastor and he's started writing down his memoirs. I am sure that will be fascinating reading! I save everything, letters and emails (important ones). I print them out because you never know when everything on the computer will just disappear!

  8. I can see I struck a cord with you all about those written letters. Perhaps I also should confess to finding it harder these days to do hand-writing after being spoilt by the ease of correcting mistakes on the computer. A great idea about that video camera, Le-Anne. My husband and I have decided our next project is to buy that thingie to use with our old 35mm slides to convert to photos. And I guess to save on a DVD and not a CD now. Progress! Wonderful but does have a few traps. We also have cassettes of our children when they were small we need to save elsewhere too.

  9. Haven't heard the news this morning yet, but our prayers are with the peoples of Haiti. Have heard some writers in the US have lost friends and missonaries there too.

  10. I'm the youngest of twelve children, orphaned at eight years of age and I know very little about my parents, so keeping the old letters, photographs, emails and all other communication is important.
    Three years ago one of my nieces organised for a book for each of the twelve siblings. We all contributed photos, full names, birth dates, dates of marriage and deaths, etc. It is an interesting read and a wonderful record of my brothers and sisters. I'm glad we did it because one of my sisters passed on eighteen months ago. Our nephews and nieces and their children will have a record of what happened in the generation prior to theirs and I encourage my son by giving him a folder of the bits and pieces I collected over his school years and until he was eighteen. He was thrilled that he had such a great record of his childhood years.
    Sadly, there will be people of Haiti who can't do this. My prayers are with these people as they look for a way forward.
    Thanks Mary, for also reminding us about the importance of family history.

  11. What a wonderful idea aout that book for each sibling, Noela. My brother has actually written a large book that has a lot of photos and information about our parents and his own life as a farmer in Queensland. However my sister and I both think his memory of a couple of things isn't quite correct. This would be a great idea to put those 'memories' together. It made me thing of the four gospels written by four different 'witnesses' to the life of Christ - but apparently they were written closer to the events my brother recorded so we can be sure they are more accurate than his.