Ian McMillan: Don't stay mum

I hope this doesn't come as a shock to any of you, but it's Mother's Day this weekend. I hope you now won't be chucking The Yorkshire Post down and rushing round to the garage to see if they've got any flowers and overpriced cards left. I hope you've planned well in advance and bought the imaginative gift and/or handcrafted the handcrafted objet d'art. This is the day when you see mams who'd rather be sat in front of the telly dragged to loud pubs full of other mams to eat shop-bought Yorkshire puddings when they'd prefer to be at home mixing their own.

Ian McMillan

Well, stop worrying. I’ve got a plan that there’s still time to execute. Buy your mam a notebook, preferably one of those nice posh-looking hardbacked ones. Buy her a lovely pen, too; or if she’s the kind of person who, like me, loses pens, buy her half-a-dozen cheap ones.

Then on Mother’s Day, give her the notebook and the pen or pens and say: “Here you are, Mam; these are for you to tell your story.” She’ll be surprised to start with, and she might even look a little disappointed, but I bet she’ll grow to love the notebook and the pens, and if you encourage her she’ll start filling the book with the tales she’s told so often but which, if they don’t get written down, will one day disappear.

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Let’s face it, we’ve all got a story to tell, we’ve all got a book in us and many, many people never get to write theirs down. I think of the anecdotes my mother used to tell about growing up in Great Houghton and joining the WAAFs in the war and meeting my dad as a pen-pal and marrying him on a 48-hour pass and when she died a few years ago the stories died with her. The oral tradition is a great thing but it just hangs in the air; words on paper or, yes, on the screen, are more permanent, less likely to fly away.

Your mother might say that she isn’t a writer, that her spelling isn’t great and that her grammar is freeform. Tell her that it doesn’t matter, that this is her story and she can tell it just as she wants to, and that the self-appointed Grammar Police have no powers to make house arrests.

Encourage her. Get her to start at the beginning; get her to write about the street she lived in, the school she went to, the teachers she had, her first boyfriend. If she really feels that she can’t write these epics then you write them down for her. Sit and listen and write and then read them back to her.

I call myself a writer and I wish I’d done that with my mam (and my dad, for that matter, but we’re not talking about Father’s Day here) and gently nudged them both to commit their lives to paper, but I didn’t and that’s a source of great regret to me.

The notebook and pen: far better than wilting flowers, if you ask me.