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Tell Your Own Story

A DNA Test that Rekindled a Passion for Writing by Sally James

Article by Sally James ©.
Posted in the Magazine (Tell Your Own Story: , ).
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Have you ever watched one of those long-lost family programmes that brings a tear to your eye and imagined what it would be like to find family members for the first time, that you never knew existed? Well I did exactly that, with the help of a DNA test, but only after nearly a decade of fruitless searching for my mother’s family that lead nowhere.

My mother, Phyllis Little, was born in Dublin in 1937. She started life in the now, notorious Bethany Mother and Baby Home, before being transferred to a Protestant orphanage in North Dublin and had always longed to know who her mother was. Uncovering the truth was a phenomenal experience, not just from the emotional perspective of finding my mother’s brothers only four months before she died, but also enticed me participate in different forms of media, that I would never have dreamt of even contemplating a few years ago.

More importantly though, the whole experience stimulated a desire inside me to write again, something that had laid dormant in me for the last 40 years, when I was last at school.

My mother’s life story was of such tragic proportions, that I felt moved and compelled to write and tell her story in my own words and hopefully motivate and inspire people who are as desperate as I was, to find their family and not to give up. Anything and everything is possible.

I started writing back in November last year and I have to say it is the most cathartic thing I have ever done. I had no idea where, or how to begin, as this is going to be the first book, (and hopefully not the last), that I have ever written. After all, I am only a novice, who never attended school much and only read the odd biography when on holiday. Now I have developed a real, all-consuming, devouring passion for both reading and writing, concentrating mainly on the non-fiction and memoirs market.

To gain some stimulus and to test my writing ability, I took myself back to a time when I was just 6 years old. My mother had fled to Ireland to escape her desperately unhappy marriage. She suffered the first one of her many nervous breakdowns and ended up being confined to a mental hospital, whilst my brother and I were stranded in children’s home in Dun Laoghaire, in what seemed a strange country to us. The separation was traumatic and unbearable and neither of us knew if we would ever see our mother or father again. I have never forgotten it, but it gave me an idea of the loneliness, that my poor mother must have suffered as an innocent child in that orphanage.

As I re-lived the whole experience, I broke down and cried. And then, felt strangely better and re-energised. Maybe it is something I should have done years ago, but whatever its therapeutic purposes were, it created a desire in me to carry on and write more and more. Now I can’t stop thinking about words and what I am going to say, even when I go to bed.

A few weeks ago, I attended some local classes in autobiographical writing which were also beneficial. My tutor has now become my mentor and is going to guide me through the process of how put a book together for the first time. She suggested a plan, which I found quite tricky at first to assimilate, but now have mapped out the number of chapters needed, their contents and proposed a timescale for completion, which will be this time, next summer. I have even booked someone who is well experienced in the field of writing, to do a substantial edit and proofreading for when I am ready.

Another year, I’m sure will come around very quickly. If you were to ask me where I think I will be this time next August, I would say that I would have hoped to have finished my project completely and will be about to get the editing process underway. Very ambitious I know, but as someone once said to me a long time ago, ‘Don’t reach for the sky, reach for the stars.’ Stranger things have happened, as I know. You just have to be tenacious and not give up.

One thing is for sure, now I’ve started writing, I’m not going to stop.

(c) Sally James

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My name is Sally, I'm hurtling towards 55 and I reside in a semi rural village in East Sussex, in England. I live with my partner and my cat - The Big Boy, who is my substitute son, (although really they both are!) I work for an animal charity and have spent the last 11 years tracing my family's ancestry. Just over two years ago I discovered my mother's long lost family in Ireland and other parts of the world. The story was so heart-rendering, that it appeared in an online newspaper and was also featured in a television programme for the BBC. Last December I was also interviewed by Sir Tony Robinson for a podcast, in which I told the story again. Now it is my plan to write a book and to carry on writing for as long as I can.

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