Nigel, a volunteer biographer since 2019, was asked to tell us what led him to Beyond Words. If you are interested in becoming a volunteer biographer, please see the Volunteer page for more information.
What inspired you to want to write biographies?
My childhood neighbour, Thomas, was ninety-three years old and a veteran Gallipoli Vickers Machine Gunner. He helped me to appreciate stories, get lost in them, and learn from hard-won experiences. Thomas sat outside his garage on a narrow blue wooden bench in his blue dungarees and cream Panama hat each day, and most days, after school I sat next to him and listened.
‘When I go’, he often said, ‘they’ll recycle me for scrap metal.’
He still kept a small top pocket paybook that stopped a bullet heading to his heart. Shrapnel jutted out from his closed eyelid; another fragment was lodged in his shoulder and a bullet exit wound scarred his back. He talked about a bomb that landed in front of his machine gun position and he was stretchered through miles of dark, wet trenches. I loved those days sitting on the wooden bench and listening to each story.
As I grew older, developed an interest in writing. Combining listening to stories and writing seemed like a natural progression. So, when I found Beyond Words, I was excited by the opportunity to combine listening and writing to record life stories for future generations.
What have you learned from hearing stories about the past?
I used to think the past was something we lived through and moved on, but through listening to stories I have learnt that the past is not the past. We carry it with us in the form of experiences, warm memories, and complex traumas. We can learn from it, take pleasure in recalling it or struggle with the burden of it.
When I listen to clients, I often see them light up or laugh when they recall a pleasant memory or tighten and grimace with a challenging one.
I enjoy the Beyond Words process of listening, recording and transcribing biographies and I know the client enjoys it too. Writing biographies has provided an opportunity for personal reflection and a chance to connect in the present through stories of the past.
Nigel, volunteer biographer, editor and board member