Saturday, 8 September 2012

Recording Dad's story for posterity

My Dad’s Story

My Dad has decided to write a book about his life. I am very encouraging of this plan, as you can imagine, and I told him I would help him to organise the material for him. He has had an interesting life, in Fiji and Australia, and has mixed with a lot of interesting people in both countries.

At first I think he thought that he had to sit down and write the whole thing from beginning to end, ready to be published. He got up one morning and said he had been thinking about how to start it. He wanted to start with the funeral of his late wife, my step-mother, and then go back to the beginning, a time-honoured structure which is none the worse for having been used before.

Write first, rearrange later

I suggested to him that he didn’t have to write it from beginning to end in one go, but should just write episodes as he thought of them. If he remembered something that happened when he was a boy he should write that bit down, and so on. I would then help him to put it all together afterwards; we could rearrange the bits into suitable chapters, and so on. He seemed greatly relieved.

Once the decision to write a book has been made many peopple think that the process is to sit down and write it all at once, from beginning to end. Perhaps fiction is written that way, but factual accounts need not be. A lot of editing and rearranging is usually done on the material before it is ready for publication. He went back to Fiji and no more was said.

Talking instead of writing

Then he rang me and reminded me of our conversation in which he had said he would write a bit each day, every morning. I don’t remember him saying anything so detailed but I was pleased that he still wanted to go ahead and was committed to that extent.

His idea was that he would prefer to talk into a tape recorder. Every morning he could lie in bed and tape his memories, and then label and send me the tapes. I suggested that tape recorders might be rather thin on the ground these days, and he reminded me of his almost-total inability to deal with technology. I said I would look into something for him to record his stories, and send it to him. Although this would mean more work for me I don’t mind.

To have his voice recorded for posterity would be just as valuable as having his stories written down. I’m sure I can get help with the transcribing from other family members. Well, I hope I can.

Recording devices

So I needed to find something that he can manage and that I can play back. He was imagining a little tape recorder like you see in old movies, with little cassette tapes. Even if I could find such a thing, I’d need two so I could play them back.

These days most options are digital, and there is no way that I can see him downloading files to his computer and emailing them to me. He only uses a computer to read the news on a couple of websites, and email is beyond him, despite some lessons from me and others.

I bought a little voice recorder that I could download the file to my computer whenever I see him. I had been going to buy two so that I could send the other one off with him while I took the one he'd just used, but I thought I'd wait and see how he went with the first one.

Plan B

I don't think he's ever taken it out of the box.

So what I do now is sit him down at the dining table and tell him I'm going to record his story. I ask him questions and I record the whole thing on my phone. Smartphones these days have such excellent recording abilities.

He gets tired easily so I have to be careful. Short, frequent conversations are best. I've already learned much about his father and grandparents that I didn't know before.

We haven't really resolved the issue of giving him something to record his story on every day, but he hasn't mentioned it lately and realistically I don't think it was ever going to happen.