There’s more than one way to tell a story effectively, and some of them are almost timeless. Just such a one is The Girl on the Wall: One Life’s Rich Tapestry by Jean Baggott, an intricate autobiographical piece of embroidery consisting of seventy-three interlocking circles, one for every year of the author’s life.
Baggott, who was born and raised in the industrial town of West Bromwich, and describes having lived her life feeling ‘completely unimportant’, took 16 months to complete the tapestry, which depicts the major events of the second half of the twentieth century as well as the minutiae of her own life, demonstrating in the process that even the most ‘ordinary’ person has an interesting story to tell.
Some of the most vivid stories within the story are those depicting the austerity of the war years of her childhood, a mother whose inverted snobbery prevented her from taking up the grammar school place she had been offered, her subsequent attendance at the local secondary modern which she generously describes as ‘OK’ but where she was assessed by her PE teacher as ‘a great useless lump of lard’, and the story of the local war veteran, held prisoner by the Japanese, whose elation on returning home to his loyal wife quickly turns into an inability to cope with the psychological damage, and ends in a sad tale of domestic abuse.
It would be understandable if this were to turn into a grim memoir of difficult times, but Baggott, who started the tapestry after the death of her husband and the departure of her two grown-up children (the idea came to her on a visit to a stately home while studying for the university degree which had been denied her in her youth) never allows the hardship to overshadow what is effectively a celebration of the ordinary pleasures in life.
The video clip of the the author talking about her life and the making of the tapestry would make an excellent starter for discussion or creative writing.