Guest Post by Louise Beech, Author of How to be Brave
During Remembrance Week we do just that – we remember. We honour the bravery of serviceman and women during the two World Wars, and later conflicts, by wearing our poppies, holding ceremonies across the UK, ringing half-muffled church bells and holding respectful silences on the eleventh hour. Many of us think of our own family. Of ancestors long gone, perhaps never met.
I think of both my grandfathers, men who died long before I was born, whose DNA courses through my veins, whose stories dance in my head. One of them – merchant seaman Colin Armitage – has been in my thoughts for a long time. Since I sensed his ghostly presence as a child. Since I told his heroic true sea survival tale to my ten-year-old-daughter Katy when she refused her life-saving insulin injections during a horribly difficult time with her Type 1 Diabetes.
Katy had been diagnosed aged seven and done very well. But one day she decided she ‘didn’t want diabetes anymore.’ The only way I could get her to eventually have her injections was by telling her a story in exchange for one. And so I told her about Grandad Colin’s ship being torpedoed during World War 2, how he and thirteen other men managed to get to a tiny lifeboat, how they struggled there to survive on minimal rations, surrounded by sharks, under a blazing sun.
I began to think this huge story should be a novel. That the two narratives so beautifully complemented one another. A little girl learning how to be brave via her long-gone ancestor. And so, in How to be Brave, I fictionalised a mum and daughter coping with a new diabetes diagnosis by sharing a sea survival story, but I tried to stick as closely to the facts as possible when writing about my grandfather, Colin. I read newspaper clippings about his heroism, talked to family members, read letters, and watched documentaries.
But most of all I remembered – because his story is in my DNA. I just had to open up to it. I dreamt of him often while writing the book, so vividly that his words became some of the lines in my chapters. He was at my side, this I knew.
The brave men and women who fought so valiantly during the wars never die if we remember them. In How to be Brave I wrote – “And by sharing his story he never died; he lived on in my words, in Rose’s captivated face, in the sparkle of the lights, in the darkness, in the ocean, in the sky, forever.” And so it should always be that bravery of those now gone should teach us still here how to live.
Louise Beech is an East Yorkshire author who has always been haunted by the sea. She regularly writes travel pieces for the Hull Daily Mail, where she was a columnist for ten years. Her short fiction has won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting for the Bridport Prize twice and being published in a variety of UK magazines. Louise lives with her husband and children on the outskirts of Hull – the UK’s 2017 City of Culture – and loves her job as a Front of House Usher at Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play was performed in 2012. She is also part of the Mums’ Army on Lizzie and Carl’s BBC Radio Humberside Breakfast Show.
How to be Brave, her debut novel, is out now in paperback, on Kindle and as an audiobook.
Follow Louise on Twitter – @LouiseWriter
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