Over the past 25+ years I’ve written a lot of stories. I still have the scrapbook I started when I left school of the articles I wrote for various regional newspapers and Hawkesbury Ag College’s student newspaper. During these early days I even covered the Tiananmen Square massacre from an Australian student perspective.
After many years of wearing many hats (the one in the pic at left was my grandfather’s old Stetson), I’m finally comfortable simply calling myself a storyteller. I know of no other title that conveys the telling of other people’s stories (and occasionally my own) across all forms of media – in words, still and moving pictures, and over recent years via the senses (see my art website for details of this work).
I’ve done stories with the then Prime Minister Paul Keating and Premier Bob Carr, Ministers and MPs, a few semi-famous musicians (whose names escape me), and more farmers, artists (famous and not so famous), scientists, agronomists and industry experts than you can poke a stick at – some are memorable but few have really touched me. I’ve communicated these in news stories, feature editorials, media releases, case studies, radio news, radio documentary, video news, video documentary, photo essays, social media posts, blogs and more.
However, I believe that except for live radio interviews, the Q&A editorial format is one of the most powerful print forms of first person storytelling. I made the decision to use this format for my old school friend Mandy Newton (Brown) to tell her story in Dubbo Weekender, the weekly regional news magazine I freelance for.
Mandy’s story is one of a family coming to terms with being dealt a cruel ticket in life, in the shape of a genetic form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD). CJD recently made headlines across Australia for all the wrong reasons. So, Mandy agreed to talk to me at this time in the hope of setting the record straight about the disease and the impact it has had on her family, and more importantly (as this is her story), on her. It was a brave thing to do; the emotions are raw, and will possibly always be so.
This is probably the toughest story I’ve ever had to write. Making the decision to use the Q&A format (which technically should allow the story to not only be told in first person, but be pulled together quickly) was more about letting her use her words. However, given the raw emotions and the sensitivities of the story it was anything but.
More than once I had to stop typing and walk away to breath. I listened back over the transcript several times and every time there were certain points where the emotion in Mandy’s voice grabbed at my throat. Even when we had a laugh, it wasn’t for the right reasons.
My experience of writing this story is superficial compared to what the Brown family and Mandy have had to endure over the past 11 years. Their fight isn’t over yet. I hope that you read this story, share it with others and understand that when you read the sensational headlines about the lives of others, you might stop to question what you’re reading and enquire about the facts.