Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Writing A Book: The Stories Of Your Lives

I want to tell you a story. It's a good one. I hope it will inspire you. You'll see the point of it very soon.

Last Friday morning, on a crowded Eurostar train from London to Paris, as the landscape morphed from Kent fields to Normandy farmlets, I heard the most incredible life story. It was the story of the woman sitting next to me. Well, the story of her father, really.

And what a story it was.

Her father, now 92, had just begun working in the Diplomatic Corps in London. He was only 19. One night, at a summer reception, he met a beautiful young French girl. She was just 15. Unperturbed by the age difference, they spoke of their dreams, their hopes and ambitions, and their lives in London. It turned out they lived just streets apart.  The love, he said, was instantaneous. "I couldn't imagine my life without her," he explained. The date was June 2, 1939. The Second World War was just around the corner.

When France declared war on Germany three months later, the French Girl's parents sent a telegram requesting that she come home. They needed her, they said. So she said a tearful goodbye to The Diplomat, wiped her eyes, and courageously took a train back to Cherbourg.

For the next four years, The Diplomat worked in the war offices, wondering if he'd ever see her again. Eventually, he met an English girl, and – not knowing if the war would ever end – married her. It was a quiet affair. His heart, you see, was still in Cherbourg. The French Girl, meanwhile, had started witnessing atrocities that a teenager should never see. By then, the Germans had brought in the Mongolians to do their dirty work and the deaths were horrendous. After she'd witnessed an infant being crucified, she decided to join the French Resistance. She was only 19. Her uncle was already in the Resistance, and high up by that point in time, and when he heard that her name was on a German 'hit list', he smuggled her out of the country. She was sent to London, where she was given a safe house. It was two streets away from The Diplomat. Unbeknown to them both, they lived just metres apart.

For the next 10 years, she worked, settled down, married an Englishman, had four children (The Diplomat also had four), and tried to forget the war. And a young dashing Englishman she'd met at the age of 15. But she couldn't. Haunted by her memories of love and loss, she told her husband everything. He simply said that he loved her all the more.

Fast forward 40 years. In an ironic twist, the French Woman's husband had also become a diplomat, and had decided to attend a conference in Geneva. By chance, he saw The Diplomat's name on the seating chart. He decided to say hello. "Why don't you visit us one day?" he said generously. "My wife would really love to see you again." The two couples met for dinner.  The conversation was warm, polite, quietly sentimental, dignified. They decided to stay in touch. A letter here and there.

Both couples grew old, as people do. The French Woman's husband passed away. So she moved back to France, to the town of her birth. But still she kept in touch with her first love. The letters continued for the next 20 years.

Two decades later, The Diplomat's wife died also. He waited for a respectable length of time. And then he bought a ring, and took the first train to Cherboug.

The Diplomat and the French Woman were married under a lemon tree in her garden, on a bright sunny day in June. The year was 2005. He was 85 years old. She was 81. It had been 66 years since they'd last kissed.

They haven't stopped kissing since.

I'm telling you this story because this month, November, is NaNoWriMo Month. It's that time of year when would-be writers are challenged to begin writing a book. A book of 50,000 words. To be written in a month. It's a tough challenge, but thousands attempt it. It's a fantastic way to begin writing, with a deadline looming in front of you. The pressure usually forces the words to come.

Everybody has a story inside them. Everybody has a narrative of their own to tell. Perhaps you can begin writing yours down?

Go on. You've got a month to do it.


  1. What a lovely story - it really has everything, love, war, distance, chance meetings, new beginnings.
    I have a story from my family, but I doubt that I can write it in a month. I think it's the work of a few years (with a lot of research, which I have started, but need to do a lot more to do the story justice). One day..... xx

  2. What an exquisite story. 50,000 words? I can barely muster 100.

  3. Hi H and C, I feel rather guilty now. I wonder if I should have kept this lovely story secret, as I didn't know the woman, nor her family? But I've tried to change enough details so that she wouldn't be identified. (It's called fictionalising!) And it was such a magical narrative. I believe The French Woman has already written the full story down, for the benefit of her family. I do hope she turns it into a book one day. xx

  4. I couldnt write that story as you did ..dont worry about telling it were told it by a stranger and I have a feeling the couple in question wouldn't be upset by others knowing and of course marvelling at their story.

  5. Thank you for this magical story. I think you were chosen to share it. It brought tears to my eyes. Perfect reading for All Saints day.

  6. oh my goodness - was it a true story, or embellished just a little? It has brought a tear to my eye...xx

    1. It's exactly as it was told to me on the train to Paris. The only thing I've changed was the French location, to protect the family's anonymity. All the ages are exactly as they were told to me.
      I felt a little guilty writing about it but I doubt anyone will recognise the family. And it all happened so long ago that it doesn't really matter.
      I just wish people would record these sorts of stories for future generations. They're far more interesting the modern tales, don't you think? It brought a tear to my eye too, when I heard it! xx

  7. Thank you for sharing such an amazing story.Itwas meant to be shared , the family will never know.I felt so sad when I was reading the story but the ending made up for the sadness.I can not imagine writing so many words for a story maybe we should try !!!!!!!
    I always say that everyone has a story and often just a simple question will lead to an amazing story.That is the joy of people and life everyone is different and has some kind of story.i just love talking to people and hearing their stories and often it is perfect strangers.Enjoy a restful weekend.x Trish

  8. That story brought tears to my eyes. True love is an amazing thing. Though I can't imagine how painful it must have been to love someone for so long yet not be with then.

  9. What a lovely story. I find blog posts daunting, so I'll stick at that level!

  10. That was such a beautiful story! My 17 year old daughter is taking that challenge and I'm so proud of her!

  11. Just hello
    I have a lot of catching
    up to do.
    Maybe I should try this!!! xxx

  12. What a wonderful story! I know of a couple of young lovers who were forced to part by circumstances, lived their lives thousands of miles away, marrying and having children, and, re-united their relationship after their spouses died, but I couldn't have told it as well as you have done. But you're right - so many people have great stories to tell.


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