Friday, September 11, 2015

Q. What made you decide to write a memoir? What an interesting question I thought,

Someone on Twitter asked me this question and as it's now the day of my
BOOK LAUNCH at the Big Green Bookshop, N22 7BG at 7 pm, ie September 11th 2015

Click here for full address etc
The Big Green Bookshop -events 
Nearest tubes Wood Green or Turnpike Lane (Piccadilly line)

 I decided to answer it ...

...  no one's asked me such a deceptively simple question before.- on Twitter (briefly - I felt I had a story to tell) and here's the long answer...

A. When we got back from South Africa in late 1977, our life changed so much and I kept remembering all the people we'd met and the things that had happened. I was afraid I'd forget it all. Then a few years after we moved into our flat in Archway, I got pneumonia.  I couldn't get out of bed for a week.  I was so weak.  All I could move was my wrists and hands.  So someone brought me a pen and an A4 pad and I just started writing it all down, the story of our time there. 

I spent the next few years sporadically writing down bits I remembered.  Eventually I organised it into chapters and began to think it would make a good book, there were some good stories in there, maybe stories that would interest people. My main creative writing outlet was writing poetry though.  I joined a writing group and stayed with them for about 7-8 years - they were at my Buddhist centre.  I belong to a Western Buddhist sangha (community), there were a few of us aspiring writers there. I concentrated on my poetry and started doing open mic slots in a variety of venues. But from time to time I read out a chapter from the memoir.

I tentatively sent off the first few chapters eventually and got very polite rejections which I kind of expected as I didn't have any confidence and it probably wasn't very good anyway.  I carried on, as the years passed, improving and developing from the feedback I was getting , mostly from the writer's group.  There was one published writer in my group whose writing style was all dialogue, so she encouraged me to turn lots of my prose into dialogue, so I did.  Then when I went to college to do an MA in Professional Writing in 2009 my tutor said - your strength is in your descriptive passages, they're the best feature of this book, why have you got all this dialogue?  Cut it down - this helped me to learn to listen to my own voice, not other peoples - they have their style and I have mine.

People kept saying quite patronising things suggesting I was writing a few stories for the kids, like I would put it away in a drawer and forget about it, like it was  'therapy', the implication being not that I was a writer, writing a book for publication, but I was tootling about and it was a nice little 'hobby' for me and it would help me deal with past stuff.. Inside I felt a kind of rage when they said these things, like 'we'll see about that', one day I WILL get published, you'll see, this is NOT a HOBBY you'll see.

It is really hard writing memoir, I had to write about two very painful episodes. Someone said it must have been cathartic, writing it all down. NO IT WASN'T CATHARTIC.  But it was painful - reliving those events was extremely painful. I still have difficulty reading and editing those chapters even now. I can't say it ever gets any easier. Every time I read those chapters it's like reliving the events, like post traumatic stress, I have to force myself to read about it again. I try and focus on the grammar and the spelling, but the events break through... 

Then you have to keep thinking about the people you're writing about - these are not fictional characters, these are real people most still alive, who will be affected by what I write.  The daughter of a dear friend (who is central to the memoir), who I barely knew in those days as she was a teenager, has reacted with a lot of anguish to this book being published as one chapter focuses on a shocking event of her childhood history. When I started writing the book it never occurred to me she would be so upset.  She's someone I'm very fond of now, so it's hard.  Should I tell my story or should I leave out bits that might upset this person or that?  And don't start me on quoting lines from songs  ... just don't that's all I can say - or you might get a copyright lawsuit.

Maybe I'll write a book about 'writing memoir' one of these days - I've learnt so much from the years of feedback.  The last few years have been in writer's groups in Finchley with the Greenacre Writers.  So glad I found them - my current group (Finish That Novel 2) very kindly allowed a memoir writer into their group and although it's such a different genre to writing a novel they have been very accommodating. And they've made me up my game as they are ALL really good writers in that group.

Now I'm what's called an Indie Author, it's the great thing nowadays.  Now anyone can publish a book in theory (it's still an awful lot of work mind you and requires even more determination and commitment than doing it the conventional route ). You have to really learn your craft, you have to become a good editor and learn your way round all the publishing outlets.  Even if you do find a  publisher or a very small publisher (like mine) these days you're still required to do your own marketing and use social media.  But I like the independence of being an Indie author.  I chose my own cover, and content. I like being in control of the whole process myself.

It's non-stop if I'm going to get the sales, the marketing stuff I mean.  And of course there's the next memoir to work on - working title 'Beyond the Bounds' ... set in London and Indonesia.  I'm about to write Chapter Two for my writer's group. That's going to open another can of worms ... I can already feel it. Hopefully it won't take 20 years this time.

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