Writing Memoir, How to Tell a Story from your Life - book preview

Writing Memoir
How to tell a Story from your life 

If you weren't able to join my course as its the wrong time and date for you, or you don't live in London, never fear, I'm about to publish a 'how to' book on the subject, in a few weeks time.

Here's a preview - an extract

Chapter One         What is memoir?

 This is a big question and much discussed by writers, readers and the literati. Here’s a working definition – it’s a part of your life, not the whole life.  The whole life is an autobiography.  A memoir could cover two weeks, two months, two years or even five years of your life.  Something happened to you in your chosen period of time that you want to write about.  Something different, possibly something dramatic.  May be it changed your life in some way.
As a memoir writer, I have often been told, ‘Why don’t you just tell your story as fiction – many writers do?  You avoid lots of problems that way.’ Many writers decide it’s the only way to tell their story – they can anonymise it and change the story around and fictionalise the characters involved.  That’s one option.
But I’ve always liked to read memoirs, because I enjoy reading stories that are ‘true’.  Often they are breathtakingly extraordinary. When you’ve had something interesting, dramatic or extraordinary happen in your life, you want to tell the true story, put it on record. These stories are often better than fiction because you know they’re real. You may feel (as I do), that you have a duty to tell some of your stories – if only for historical reference for those born after many of the events. My first memoir - A Hippopotamus at the Table was set in 1970s South Africa, the apartheid era.  What was it like to be there and observe that time? As an outsider? Those who read my book might find that out.
What other reasons are there to write memoir not fiction? Writing my own memoir gave me an insight into the many pitfalls and challenges of the genre. 

If you want to buy my memoir A Hippopotamus At The Table it's on Amazon - click on the title to get the link.
Here's a travel short story I did recently, set in Bangalore, India when I was there a couple of years ago.  I'm in Morocco at the moment - I get about, hey! More of that next time.

Breakfast in India.
I looked up and down the dusty street - it was hotting up.  The cooler early morning mist had lifted and the sun was beginning to burn. I was wearing a thin loose cotton shirt, over knee-length, tan cotton trousers, because as the day wore on, I couldn’t bear anything but loose cotton next to my skin. My cotton army surplus hat shaded my face and dark sunglasses kept the glare away from my eyes. Crate laden horse drawn carts vied on the two way street with beat-up cars, vans, a few SUVs and bright yellow tuk-tuks, their tourist passengers hanging on grimly as they swerved through the traffic. I knew how it felt - like one more swerve and you’d tumble out from the wide open sides.  Horns honked and blasted, men shouted, crates rattled. India is rarely quiet and in the towns and cities it’s a mad cacophony of constant noise.

I went to cross the road and jumped back to avoid the large milky-brown cow,with long curved horns, that I hadn’t seen emerging from behind a van. Sacred cows wandered the streets and traffic untouched and whether you were a pedestrian or vehicle they’re another hazard to watch out for.

 I could see the street stall on the corner.  He sold fried eggs and chapatti.  He was fat, brown and smiley, wearing a grubby white vest that he wiped his hands on here and there. I could see him breaking an egg onto the hot, round griddle in front of him and pouring some floury white mix like a pancake, beside it. He spread the chapatti mix as thin as paper on the griddle and then expertly he flipped it over to brown the other side. Then the egg – breaking the yoke and swirling it with his spatula and flipping that over too.  A thin man wearing a blue and white dhoti and green shirt was waiting patiently.  I approached – I love Indian food, but the thought of another dhal curry and rice for breakfast – again …. I stepped over a big round splat of cow dung on the road side – you didn’t want to tread on one of those in sandals or you’d be watching the rich brown dung squirting in between your toes – and the aroma – phew!

I nodded to him and he nodded back – he knew what I wanted – I wanted that sizzling fried egg wrapped in a roti with the grease running down my bare arm as I bit into it –all for the equivalent of 25 pence. I could smell the hot chapati and egg being handed to the man in front of me, who was holding out a few rupees.  I smiled, as he broke MY egg and dumped a spoonful of the floury mix onto the hot plate which he was now spreading with his spatula. His face was impassive.  My turn I thought my eyes fixed on the griddle.