Saturday, June 07, 2008

Truth in Family Stories - Michelle Styles

Family stories fascinate me. I love hearing them and getting snippets of history. However, with my family, I am always aware of the tendency to embroider.
As my father used to say -- never let the truth stand in the way of a good story. And one of the great things for me is try unpick the truth from the story. What actually happened? Sometimes, it is downplayed, or sometimes exaggerated. And the reasons for both are fascinating.
One of the great collections of family stories are the Icelandic sagas. They were meant to entertain and educate. Besides being good stories, they do contain an element of truth about what happened. But how much truth? How much legend? And what are the reasons behind it.
It is a subject that fascinates me, and I think sometimes people are far too quick to say -- oh that did not happen. I think it is fun to look for the truth behind the myth. And yes, I do have a certain fondness for Indiana Jones. Until Dr. Heinrich Schliemann discovered the remains of what he claimed was Troy, many of the ancient cities were assumed to be more myth than anything. Then you had Sir Arthur Evans who discovered Knossos and the Minoan civilisation. How much of the story of King Minos is myth and legend? The remains of the truth were in the legend.
When I started to write Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife, I wanted to explore the connection between truth and legend in family stories. The heroine, Sela, knows or thinks she knows that most of the stories about her father are legend and distorted beyond all recognition. After their hall falls to her ex-husband, Sela discovers the sometimes uncomfortable truth that perhaps the stories were not as distorted and far fetched as she first thought.
Have you ever heard a family story that you thought was a legend only to discover it was in fact the truth or a dark mirror of the truth?
To celebrate the UK publication of the paperback edition of Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife, I am having a contest for Totebag readers. VWUW is the second book in my Viken series. You can read an extract here. What I would like to know is the year in which story takes place and where. Send the answer to me with Totebag June Contest in the email. The winner will get a signed copy of the Viking Warrior, Unwilling Wife (or if you already have it, another from my backlist). I will draw the winner on 14 June.

** Update: Nicole Price's name was the first out the hat. I have contacted Nicole to ask if she wnats VWUW or another book of mine. Many thanks to all who entered.**


Jane said...

Nothing exciting about our family history. I do like to read about the family intrigue with the Egyptian pharoahs and Roman emperors. They played out like modern day soap operas with mureder, adultery, incest and political plots.

Michelle Styles said...

The Icelandic sagas are a bit like that as well Jane. Lots of murder, revenge etc etc. Most families thankfully are a little less dysfunctional.
But I think family history is exciting, but sometimes the heartache gets forgotten. My grandmother always regretted not paying more attention to hergrandmother's stories.
I know I was surprised when one of my cousins said that my aunt never spoke about her childhood. My cousin was very surprised about the stories I knew!

Maureen said...

My grandmother insisted that her great grandfather or great great grandfather had married a Native American woman.

Michelle Styles said...

Maureen --
Yes we have that sort of story as well. My grandmother's father was French Canadian and my grandmother always insisted that he was more Canadian than French -- ie Native American.
I think it happened far more than people like to talk about.
The other great one from my grandmother's family was that her mother was adopted. However, when you look at pictures of her mother and grandfather, the ears and nose are the same. Apparently he went to the orphanage and chose the child with the grandmother's sister. They would only look at the one child and the records have vanished. The grandmother had lost several children prior to the adoption. The child also has a vague family resemblance to the grandmother. I would love to know the actual truth!

sher said...

The only interesting thing I know from my family's history is that on my dad's side they were involved in a feud in Kentucky & were driven out & then they ended up in Ohio.

Michelle Styles said...

Sher --
Being involved in a feud is very interesting. I know such things really affected people. And you can imagine the having to move because you were just so sick of the violence.
I also love the little stories that give insight to how life was. For example, my g great grandmother wrote a book about her seven children and detailed their doings and how my great aunt would cook long distance and keep sending others back to check. Or how she caught typhoid just after giving birth to her fourth and they had to bring blocks of ice in.