Following my initial meeting with Mrs Dunn on the cliff top, a new sort of panic overtook me. I was no longer concerned with having little to occupy myself with over the summer vacation instead I stood on the brink of a lengthy project. My despair at having empty head space morphed into a fresh form of anxiety. While I sat on the rocks contemplating the magnitude of the task I had spontaneously initiated without any consideration, I realised I was now committed on this path; committed to Mrs Dunn and to the completion of this project with no option, or desire, to turn back.
I am fully aware, and extremely daunted by the knowing feeling that I had experienced that day and am still feeling and moving in the security of this as I follow this path. Previously I have attempted many ideas and angles with my writing; started and abandoned many narratives – none of which have felt ‘right’, sustainable, or have provided enough meat into which to sink my teeth. But this, this feels meaty. This could be many things and go many ways – all of which, if I handle and execute well, will be succulent to savour; tasty for both myself and the reader to feast on. Perhaps you may think I have chosen an easy option? It’s fine if you do, I understand your thinking. My protagonist already exists. The plot is already devised, for her story, in the most part, has already happened. Yet, while those elements are pre-existing I feel there is still room for some creativity here, without deviation from the truth of her story, by way of narrative framework construction and stylistic delivery of honest content
In the days leading up to our first meeting I began to deliberate how best to manage the interviews and how I should go about extracting further information from Mrs Dunn in order to build on that which she would willingly disclose. I did not wish to probe her too far or apply too much rigidity to our meetings. In order for her to open up and trust me with anything below the surface level of her life I needed her to be at ease; comfortable and trusting of me as a listener, as a receiver of her tales, and as her friend and confident. I did not want to approach her with an authoritative, rushed or hungry attitude, nor did I want to fire questions at her which may divert or distract her train of thought from unravelling.
If our meetings were to be an experience in delving into and revelling in recollection for her then initially she must be free to traverse through her memories as she pleases, for now at least. I therefore decided that for our first meeting I would let her lead the way only prompted by the request of an initial overview. We would discuss my aims and her limitations then she would talk, while I listened and simultaneously made notes on my observations (mannerisms, body language, environment, appearance) that the voice recorder could not capture, and any aspects mentioned that would require research. I would then digest the contents of the voice recording slowly, replay it if I needed then align its details with my observations, merging both methods into one typed document. From there, permit myself to form only a few reasonably open questions in one particular area of her life in preparation for our next meeting so as to prompt her to zoom in and focus on that part.
The day I met Mrs Dunn for the first time she was in good spirits drinking coffee with her friends up on the cliff top. It very quickly became apparent to me that my instincts, alerted by the vibrancy I immediately witnessed sparkling in her eyes and heard in the elegance of her voice, had served me well in that instance. Amongst her initial excitement of my offer she briefly and proudly skimmed over what she considered to be the main and significant events of her life that would be worthy of inclusion. This swift taster of juicy morsels was met by two pairs of rolling yet friendly eyes accompanied by ears that had heard it all before, many times no doubt.
Her friends, both extremely amiable and exhibiting a sense of playfulness of their own, mocked their friend lovingly. With wide grins they asked if I had any idea what I had let myself in for. I smiled at them, told them I had no idea but I was sure it was going to be fun and returned their playfulness with a wide smile that equalled theirs but the truth was I had no idea whatsoever. While the snippets of ninety-nine years had without doubt excited me I had no idea of Mrs Dunn’s heath or state of mind at this point. Anyone fortunate to have made it the age of ninety-nine could be entirely forgiven for any discrepancy or distortion of memory; haziness is to be expected certainly? In fact, my unqualified assumptions would gravitate to the conclusion that no loss or deficiency in memory would be very unusual for someone of this magnificent age. Two days after our meeting, as I dialled the telephone number she had written on the scrap of paper torn from her diary I held no certainty that she would even remember who I was, what I had proposed, or even that our meeting had occurred at all.
But she most certainly did.
And it seems her excitement had only increased. Immediately, after declaring that her Tuesday mornings were free from commitments, Mrs Dunn invited me to join her for lunch. It was arranged I would collect her and from the nursing home, which she cheekily referred to as the ‘hotel’, we would return to the local café on the cliff where we met to begin our first interview.