I’ve started to forget things. How many days did I pine for that boy after my first kiss? Did I send that email? Which sister put soap on my toothbrush when I was six?
They don’t really matter, these lost memories. Most of them have been shunted to a hidden place in my brain to make room for the moments I met each of my children or the feeling of having my first novel published. But I wonder what I’m missing, what things I can’t even remember I’ve forgotten.
My first novel, Ink, is about a world where your life story is tattooed on your skin. Some tattoos you have no choice in: your name, your family tree, your attainments, failures and crimes. Other tattoos you pick specially: to mark a moment or embed a memory. When you die, your skin is removed and your tattoos are preserved in a book for your loved ones to read so you can be remembered when you are gone.
As well as each member of society having their history inked on their skin, there is a community storyteller. She doesn’t have her own tale on her skin, but instead she wears the fairy tales, myths and fables that make up the town’s history and faith.
I wrote Ink because I am passionate that stories matter and I believe that passing on stories, whether they are our own or a part of our community, is an essential part of being known and being connected.
I grew up in a house full of books. Not books made of my ancestor’s skin (thank goodness) but books that belonged to me and my sisters and books that were my parents’ (mainly Mum’s) but were within easy reach, arranged on the shelves by the colours of their spines. As a small child, I wasn’t sure why my Mum would spend so much time looking at books that didn’t have pictures, but there was something about the peacefulness of watching her read that made me desperate to have that for myself.
I remember the first moment reading clicked – when I read fluently rather than word by word. At that moment I felt ‘oh, this is it. This is reading, and it’s amazing!’. And I didn’t stop. I rarely read the same books as my mum – many of the books on the shelves just never called out to me to be read. But she passed on that feeling – that quiet, tented sensation of being hidden in plain sight when reading a great book.
And now, as a mother myself, I can guarantee that if I tell my nine-year-old son ‘I loved this book when I was your age’, he will refuse to read it or claim it’s not his thing. But I see the legacy of story-love passed down when he falls asleep with his bedside lamp still on and a book tucked under his fingers. I see it when we change his sheets and he has six books under his pillow. And I am beginning to see it in my six-year-old who squirms with delight at being read to and who thinks that she is being rebellious by reading a magazine out loud after she has been kissed goodnight. I see it too in my eleven-year-old who is unable to read but who loves story – I see it in his desire to re-watch the same movie, to sing familiar songs, to tell the same joke so we can all laugh together.
We don’t necessarily pass on the same stories, and my children may not know all the memories I wish I could share with them. But if I can pass on the magic of story to my children in the way my mother did to me, it will be a legacy that counts and continues in magical, beautiful ways.