A Human Story is a collection of first-hand recollections gathered by “storyteller and facilitator of sharing space” Matt Hopwood, with a brief foreword by Clare Balding. They are unified by the theme of love “made and given” – love for another, the land, a parent, child, or the self. Simple and intimate, these monologues and conversations are touching and, at times, wonderful.
Setting out with only a few possessions and his beard, Matt walked 500 miles from Lindisfarne across the border into and around Scotland to Callanish, the home of the famous standing stones on the Isle of Lewis. “Scotland…where the hard lines dissolve a little and the beauty and spirit of the earth finds an essential space,” he writes. He trained in Applied Anthropology at Goldsmith’s, University of London, and is more of listener and transcriber than a writer, inviting his contributors to speak from the heart and taking care not to overwhelm their words with his.
This spacious book, with its high quality paper and gently informal photos, is divided into thirty-four chapters, each with an account of love, varied in tone and often entertaining, and a brief piece by Hopwood himself. He describes listening as “an act of profound compassion”. As a reference to his profession there is a chapter on the art of listening.
Travel writing is on-trend at the moment, particularly accounts of treks taken on foot in the ancient tradition of the pilgrim or Camino traveller, and this book falls into that category. We walk alongside the author as he delights in the landscape, relying on local kindnesses for his accommodation and seeking stories.
The book’s publishers, Birlinn, state that Hopwood “admits to having struggled to feel or express any emotions at all until he reached his thirties”, and many of the storytellers address this subject or recount events which demonstrate love without having to spell it out. There is the hospice worker who spent a final fifteen-hour day with someone, went home to bake a cake, and returned to leave it on the relative’s doorstep; the reluctant father’s intense feelings for his child who writes “It’s the first forever”; and in the last chapter, “When you connect to that other person’s essence, … you’re not alone anymore”. This thoughtfully presented lexicon of love contains honest accounts from men and women of all ages and offers an antidote to a life where it can be surprisingly hard to say “I love you”.