This morning, by chance, I came across the blog of Mara Wilson – the actress who played Natalie Hillard in Mrs Doubtfire and the title-role of Matilda in the film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s wonderful book. After not much reading (there will certainly be more), I was struck by the enormous value of real human stories.
It’s hardly the first time this has happened to me. It’s been a recurring theme of my adult life – human beings are interesting, all of them. It’s one of the greatest gifts I’ve received from my father – the idea that everyone has a story that is worth telling (fittingly, he’s a biographer and historian).
The human story that struck me today was in Mara Wilson’s blog post about Robin Williams, following his death in 2014. They worked together on Mrs Doubtfire, which was released when Mara was just 6 years old back in 1993.
Mara’s post is beautifully open and honest. She almost completely ignores the achievements and fame of Robin Williams and instead reveals the person she knew – the kind, caring, warm, nurturing man who put his energy into making people laugh. She also describes him as shy and vulnerable, which I would never have guessed just from seeing him as an actor and comedian.
She readily admits that she couldn’t face the prospect of being interviewed following Robin’s death. And doesn’t that speak volumes? She missed him, a man she hadn’t spoken to for a few years, to the extent that she couldn’t maintain her composure if she saw his face on TV.
I love stories. Reading fiction is a crucial part of my life. Writing fiction is slowly becoming part of my life too. So I appreciate the value of a well-formed fictional character. But I’m reminded sometimes, like today, that no-one can invent a character as compelling as a real human being. No made-up joy or sorrow can even begin to approach the depths of the real joys and sorrows experienced by real people relating to each other.
If I can find other people’s real stories so compelling, then it stands to reason that my own stories – the real stories of my life – must also have value. If Mara Wilson’s blog post about her friend Robin Williams can touch me, a stranger to both of them, then perhaps my stories can have a similar effect on those who might read them.