Elsie is my paternal grandmother. Our family has been on an adventure to uncover her life story, while I’ve made a commitment to write her story as a novel.
For 12 years, from 1950 to 1962, Elsie was in involuntary confinement at the Parkside Lunatic Asylum (later renamed Glenside Hospital) in South Australia.
Thanks to David, the President of the Glenside Historical Society, we discovered we could apply for Elsie’s medical records through SA Health under the Freedom of Information Act.
Astonishingly, we now have in our possession 300 pages of her records. Most of the handwritten notes, however, are illegible and there’s no account of her 12 years in confinement (most records were post 1962 after her release back into society).
While there were some interesting snippets in the files, to be honest, I’m a little disappointed. Perhaps I’d hoped to find something more shocking and revealing.
Some months later, it occurred to me to reconnect with David and let him know about the records. Little did I know David had also been a psychologist at Glenside from 1973 to 1998.
Long story short, he has now transcribed the records for us and will soon offer us his insights into Elsie’s condition and diagnosis, the treatments she might have endured and what daily life might have been like for her in confinement.
As we began pulling at the threads of our family story, we have found it unraveling in mysterious ways. People, events and opportunities appear from nowhere, and everywhere, to help us piece together my grandmother’s life.
Our connection with David is just one example of the many synchronous things that have occurred since beginning our investigations.
Elsie’s story is one of the most exciting and scary writing projects I’ve embarked upon. First, there’s a whole new set of creative writing skills to learn. Second, it’s a little unnerving uncovering family secrets that have, until now, remained hidden. Last, there are the expectations (real or imagined) of my family on how to write Elsie’s story and if they will like what I write.
There is so much uncertainty around this project and how it will unfold — which is perhaps the whole point of any creative act. To embrace uncertainty, and begin anyway.
And, so I can do justice to my grandmother and help her story find its rightful place in our family history.
Every family has a story like Elsie’s in it. Is 2024 the year you will commit to writing it?
If you’re keen for a creativity boost to kickstart your writing in 2024, consider booking a place at the next Brave Women Writers’ Circle (commencing Friday 2 February).
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Commencing Friday 2 February 2024
Are you a woman who yearns to share your story with the world? Do you often find yourself suppressing your inner voice and waiting for that perfect day to start writing? Or perhaps you’ve begun writing and are feeling stuck? If so, the Brave Women Writers’ Circle is the right place for you.
As an experienced author, writer and educator, the Brave Women Writers’ Circle will be led and facilitated by Carolyn Tate. With only 12 places available, the 12-week program is designed to guide you in bringing your writing project to life while connecting you to a courageous community of other women writers.