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My Life in Stories: How stories have shaped my career

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Stories have been a consistent theme throughout my career and over time have come to define who I am.

Storytelling was an important part of my early career in the 1980s, when I was a nursery nurse working with pre-school children. At the end of each session was story time, a magical time and an important element in the children's development and learning, providing the opportunity to expand creative thought, comprehension, use of language and memory. They could become lost in the story and develop their imaginations.

The next part of my life in stories came when I moved into social care and began managing a family support service. Here I shifted from telling stories to listening to them, my role often involving listening to parents who were referred to the service as they spoke about their concerns and fears. They were telling me bits about their lives that were key to how they were feeling. It was my job to listen, but also to help them think about what the next bit of the story might look like and what my service might do to help them reach this.

Some of my experiences in family support shaped the next part of my career and, inadvertently, my next encounter with stories. The families' stories often had a theme and that began to spark my curiosity. I became increasingly interested in connecting their stories of childhood, significant bereavements and the impact on adult life. This curiosity led me back to university, where I studied for a PhD which explored children's experiences when a parent is at the end of their life. This study again was based on listening to people's stories and analysing what those stories might mean.

we see the consequences of not being open with children

I now work as an independent researcher and trainer specialising in children's lives when a parent has a life-limiting illness. An important part of this role is raising awareness about the impact of a parent's illness on children.

To this end, I completed the story cycle when I wrote and self-published my debut novel in 2018. Our Family and IT is the story of an ordinary Yorkshire family faced with extraordinary challenges following the mother's diagnosis of 'IT', a non-specific life-limiting illness. The book hears from each of the family members, including the three children, as they tell their stories about the illness and how it impacts on their lives.

Within the plot we hear how the parents are challenged when thinking about whether they should tell the children about 'IT'. Later we see the consequences of not being open with children and how they are affected when they know something is wrong but don't know what. The book explores issues around the frequent lack of support for children living in this situation and asks whether there is more we could do as a society to help during such a profound life crisis.

Rachel Fearnley

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