Talking storytelling with V.G Lee

At the begin­ning of the project we iden­ti­fied a show don’t tell’ strat­e­gy for HC One with sto­ry­telling a key com­po­nent. We had some­one in mind to tell the sto­ries and we were thrilled when she agreed to be part of the project.

VG Lee is an award win­ning author whose books have ensured her a secure and ever-expand­ing fan base. Since dis­cov­er­ing a knack for writ­ing in her 40s, VG Lee has been cre­at­ing hilar­i­ous, crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed nov­els and short sto­ries. We knew that her beau­ti­ful craft­ed sen­si­tiv­i­ty and trade­mark sense of humour would be a per­fect match for cap­tur­ing authen­tic life in the home, and kind­ness in action.

We caught up with VG to ask about how she approached the project.

How did you approach the project…?

…ini­tial­ly from a per­son­al per­spec­tive, as if I would be stay­ing in the res­i­den­tial care home rather than check­ing it out for a loved one. Before­hand, Sarah dis­cussed the project with me: she want­ed absolute hon­esty – not just my thoughts on the facil­i­ties, décor etc although these are impor­tant – but the atmos­phere of each home: was it pos­i­tive, car­ing, happy?

As a writer, I’m nat­u­ral­ly obser­vant and I hope empa­thet­ic. Also, I believe that being elder­ly myself – in fact not too dis­sim­i­lar in age to many of the res­i­dents – worked in my favour and peo­ple found it easy to con­fide in me on quite a deep and emo­tion­al level.

At each home I was for­tu­nate enough to be able to spend some time on my own to observe, make notes and talk infor­mal­ly to res­i­dents, mem­bers of fam­i­ly and staff.

The role of storytelling…

A short sto­ry, even just a few lines, can say so much about how a per­son feels, what mat­tered to them. It is far more than just words, it con­veys someone’s his­to­ry, their emo­tions – a short sto­ry brings the sub­ject to life. This was so impor­tant for the project. We want­ed the res­i­dents, the vul­ner­a­ble, to be seen as human beings with a his­to­ry as good and as great as our own.

Hav­ing spent time with my own moth­er dur­ing the last years of her life, I know that many old­er peo­ple miss some­one show­ing a gen­uine inter­est in them and their mem­o­ries. With gen­tle prompts and real­ly lis­ten­ing to the answers – often with­in a few some­times frac­tured sen­tences – a mean­ing­ful anec­dote emerged. Some­one had loved to sing in pubs, anoth­er had been a seam­stress and yet anoth­er built his own house.

Then then there were the sto­ries from close rela­tions; daugh­ters, hus­bands, wives, sto­ries from staff mem­bers. Sev­er­al of the vignettes moved me to tears, mak­ing me aware of my own mor­tal­i­ty while oth­ers were fun­ny and told with great affection.

Tone of voice and words and language

While putting togeth­er both the short sto­ries and my feed­back regard­ing HC One I fre­quent­ly referred myself back to how I’d felt lis­ten­ing and observ­ing because I didn’t want to write ana­lyt­i­cal­ly. Cold clin­i­cal lan­guage may give all the facts that are required to keep some­one healthy but they bypass the emo­tion­al sto­ry of what we need to main­tain con­fi­dence and hap­pi­ness. This has to be spelt out in warm, famil­iar lan­guage that we not only under­stand in our heads, but for­give me for sound­ing sen­ti­men­tal, that we feel in our hearts.

I, you, they – are turn­ing their back on all that is famil­iar and safe when enter­ing a care home, there has to be hope that they will receive affec­tion and kind­ness – some­one to lis­ten to their stories.

VG Lee can be found on http://​www​.vglee​.co​.uk