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Guest Post: Naneh V H

I'm joined on the blog today by fellow writer @Naneh_V_H. We met recently at a writing event, and I was struck by her heart wrenching journey to creative writing:

Although I was born in the 70s, mine was nothing like your imagined, Western experience of the decade. My native country of Armenia, to the south-east of European frontiers, was part of the Soviet Union then. One good thing about it was that by virtue of association, I’d say domination, alongside my native, Armenian language, I also learnt Russian, the lingua franca of the empire, and grew up bilingual as a result.

I am proud of the fact that apart from reading centuries-old Armenian literature, I also studied Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, Pushkin and Chekhov in the original. Being a bookish pupil, I wrote poems and essays in school - in Armenian and Russian - but I began writing in earnest as Arts and Culture Correspondent in the post-Soviet Armenian media; first, there was a newspaper, then TV and Radio, where I’d interview prominent artists, report daily on the arts and write scripts for travel, youth and music shows.

One ambition of mine then was to read Jayne Eyre in English. It would be decades till I could do that, years after the collapse of the USSR, following my move to the UK as a twenty-something year-old.
Considering that in addition to Armenian and Russian, I majored in Arabic at Yerevan State University, it could be said that English is my second or third foreign language. I love it - its agility and nuances - and I use it as a tool for understanding my experience of life.

The contemporary American writer Dani Shapiro once said that she didn’t have access to her thoughts unless and until she started writing, and I identify with that. Writing non-fiction, which I do, particularly short stories and memoir, I seek to sort through the upheavals that my generation or family have gone through.

And there is a lot to grasp! For example, it’s little-discussed these days, but the break-up of the Soviet Union, whilst inevitable and desirable, brought upheaval and chaos to ordinary people’s lives, who, on the one hand, had to overcome the trauma of having lived in a totalitarian country, and on the other hand, needed to adjust to the new political and economic reality. Many of those I grew up watching and loving didn’t make the transition and succumbed to a desperate existence.

On a personal level, through my writing I aim to voice my devastation about my four-year-old son’s sudden death and make sense of or find hope in life. In fact, it was following that crushing loss that I finally sat down to do creative writing in English. When Samuel died in his sleep, while I was pregnant with our daughter, my previous life disappeared overnight. As a way to cope with the tragedy, I began dedicating pieces to Sam and charting our years together, so I didn’t forget.

But anyone who knows anything about coping with a loss knows that how we deal with it is a lot to do with how we deal with life. So I began to expand into creating written tributes to other things I missed. I had been working in vibrant offices in Central London until then, feeling accepted in the sea of foreign faces, but all the while thinking of people back in my home country. So, I started interviewing fellow immigrants, writing and speaking about cross-cultural identity, including at Ignite Liverpool, in order to bring my past and present together. In recent years, I’ve also spoken at Nursery World Awards for the national charity Home-Start about child loss. These subjects have a lot in common: belonging, trauma and transformation.

I am a part-time Community Centre Manager, as well as a busy mum and wife. This year I am also working on my collection of autobiographical non-fiction, emboldened by terrific feedback from published authors and experiences agents. In it, I am documenting the personal stories of those people I grew up watching and loving. I was wrong: I hadn’t left them behind.  

Twitter: @Naneh_V_H

©Naneh V H, 2018