“Write what should not be forgotten” Isabel Allende
My maternal grandmother
Annie Ridley was my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. She loomed large in my life as a kid – but through stories alone. She died a few years before I was born – at the desperately young age of 59.
When I started blogging and tweeting in 2011 it was just after my own mum died. It seems like an odd thing now but in using the handle RidleyWrites I was paying homage to what I saw as a maternal legacy that needed to be kept alive in words.
So many words had been spoken and shared about Annie Ridley in the day to day discourse course of my family life.
My dad thought she was possibly the most amazing woman he had ever met (apart from my mum of course). He talked with great admiration about her cooking and baking, reminiscing late night suppers and chats in her kitchen when he and mum were first dating.
Mum’s tales were always of my grandma’s unbending ways, of having to do things ‘the right way’. But they were tales that conveyed the power of a woman who gave her all to that which she did. Her stubbornness was also her strength.
The last in what had once been a wealthy family line, she looked out for everyone. She moved elderly relatives in with her to give them the care they needed. She brought family, friends and lost souls together regularly, ensuring that the larder and the drinks cabinet were stocked with each person’s favourite food and tipple. Noone was left out or left on their own unnecessarily if Annie had anything to do with it.
When my grandad left her for a year in the 1950s, she took all the household responsibilities in her stride. She wall-papered bedrooms single-handedly, managed the financial needs of the family and held herself with dignity and grace, despite the scandal.
In her fifties she developed blood clots. First in one leg which had to be amputated, and then the other, also duly removed. To help out after the operations my mum would would bring groceries and clean for her. She’d work against a constant backdrop of instructions from my grandma. Directives issued close at hand whilst on the ground floor and then hollered up the stairs.
If unconvinced by my mum’s replies about her efforts, there would be the thud, thud, thud of stumps on stairs as Annie made her ascent to inspect the job at hand.
As a child there were so many stories about her she became a mythical, magical figure in my mind. A sort of personal, family Boudica. A legendary warrior woman for whom I too felt the highest level of respect and awe. Inspired by her, early on in my fantasy writing life I decided that if were to ever use a pen name it would be Anna Ridley.
…Storyteller by nature?
Somehow I’ve always suspected that Annie Ridley was a natural storyteller.
There’s something in those stories handed down to me, of a woman making space for the stories of others. Of Annie opening her kitchen up to other people, bringing them together around food, drink and stories. Of her entertaining them in the same absorbing way I witnessed my own mother, also a born storyteller, do as I was growing up.
And it’s this connection – to a maternal network of storytelling – that I particularly hold to in my writing endeavours.
Through Ridley Writes I’m working to correct the course of at least two generations of women. Women who enthralled friends, family and strangers alike with their stories, but never took the time to put them on paper.
By making the time to write myself, and by supporting others in their journeys of writing their stories, I’m getting us all beyond the blank page, ensuring that things that should not be forgotten are written.