This weekend I’m going to be attending the launch event for my mum, Felicity Davis’, new book, which explores my family history. Over the last few weeks I’ve started thinking about how my family struggled for years to reach this point, inspiring this post. If I’ve learned anything recently, it’s that we all have to come to terms with the sins of our families, to come to terms with ourselves.
Normal in comparison
My family are a colourful bunch. My mum constantly strived to impart a love of knowledge inside of me and my brothers. My childhood was spent completing independent home-based reports on Buddhism, casually discussing the nature of communist China and engaging in fiery political debate around the dinner table. But throughout my formative years, I gradually came to learn that as far as we go, my generation of the family is fairly tame, compared to the ones who came before us.
During my childhood, my mum started furiously researching our family history, stumbling upon new information gradually, each time adding a small piece to the larger puzzle. By the time I left for university, I was very aware that my mum had it far tougher than me as a child, while her mother and her mother’s mother had it far tougher still. I knew that my Great, Great Grandmother Emily Swan had been hanged, along with her lover, for murdering her abusive husband. See what I mean!
Guard a Silver Sixpence
Fast forward to the summer of 2010. My nana had been diagnosed with cancer two years prior and by the end of this summer, she passed away. During this period, my mum researched the family history with refreshed zeal, eventually using it for her entry into the ‘Woman of Substance’ competition. This event honoured women who had overcome adversity to do great things in their lives and on the back of her compelling entry, mum became a finalist. I’ve never been prouder.
Mum didn’t win the competition, but it served as her springboard to commercial literary success. Capitalising on contacts she made during the ‘Woman of Substance’ event, mum penned a book about the family history called Guard a Silver Sixpence. Following its launch at the Scarborough-based Stephen Joseph Theatre, Guard a Silver Sixpence went on to become a roaring success.
The book’s blurb bills it as “the inspirational story of a woman who finally learned how to put the past behind her.” On some level, I’d always known that my mum had a difficult childhood. But after cracking open that book, I soon realised that there was so much that I didn’t know, or that perhaps I had just been too blind to see. I won’t spoil the plot. Let’s just say that abuse was a major factor in my mum’s childhood, due to my great grandmother Elsie. She has spent her adult years coming to terms with and overcoming the pain and anger which infected her earliest years.
Sins of my family
Guard a Silver Sixpence broke the dam; throughout the intervening years, me and my mum have had plenty of conversations about her past. She readily admits that the process of writing the book was somewhat cathartic, allowing her to work through her conflicted feelings over both my nana, who often stood by silent and hers. In recent years, my mum has even come to sympathise with Elsie, the woman who once upon a time, served as the darkest shadow at the back of her mind.
Sometime last year, my mum told me that her publishers wanted to re-release Guard a Silver Sixpence in Canada, which is apparently a big market for family history-inspired books right now. Of course she jumped at the chance, extensively re-writing her debut work and re-christening it Sins of the Family. It recently occurred to me that this is a pretty apt title. Not for the sins which have plagued my loved ones across the ages, but because this book very much serves as our collective redemption, allowing us to leave the past and clasp our bright, shiny futures with both hands.
Learn about yourself
I honestly can’t wait to dive into Sins of the Family. I’m excited to see how the years since Guard a Silver Sixpence have re-shaped my mother’s perception of her life, as well as how this plays out on the page. I’d advise anybody who’s reading this post to research their family history. Over the course of this process I’ve noticed how my mother’s past has influenced my own, both positively and negatively, driving me towards a far brighter future than at one point, Felicity could have ever dared to dream for me. Find out where you came from, so you can determine where you’re going.