Friday 15 February 2013

Picture This: Ways of Writing About Yourself.

It might be fair to say that all writers write about themselves. Even biographers tell us about themselves – their attitudes and values - as they are writing about quite another person.

Poets write about themselves - sometimes in a deeply codified fashion sometimes quite directly. They reveal themselves to you as long as you know the code.

Look at Philip Larkin:

Life is first boredom, then fear. 
Whether or not we use it, it goes, 
And leaves what something hidden from us chose, 
And age, and then the only end of age.
                                       From Dockery and Son.

…And Ted Hughes:

She had too much so with a smile you 

took some.
Of everything she had you had
Absolutely nothing, so you took some.
At first, just a little
                                               From The Other

And novelists do this too, even if their subject matter is apparently distant from their own lives. When I was writing my writer’s memoir The Romancer (see sidebar) I was quite shocked, looking back over a dozen novels, to see  just how much of my own life is buried in there underneath the fiction, informing it and giving it a touchstone of reality,

In the Romancer I experimented with another approach to writing about myself  across the distance of years. This was a series of cameos called Picture This, where I wrote about this little girl and a  growing your woman (me) in the third person, ‘I’ becomes ‘she’.  This gave me a fictional distance but allows me to tell a truth.

And so I discovered that it’s a great way to write sketches which in later times can inspire and give life to further, longer fiction. A whole novel or a short story can grow out of a single 'Picture This'

Here is a new ‘Picture This’  just written:   

Picture This:

The girl was first a stranger, then a resident in this small town set in a necklace of dusty coal mines with a shiny new brooch of light industry on its lapel. In time she finds herself on a high corridor in a castle, in a room with a coal fire in an Adam fireplace and a bed in each corner where four nearly- grown girls sleep at night.

One of these girls kneels by her bed each night to say her prayers. Another has wonderful bright penny hair and skin like porridge, and tells tales of being punished by her father by being locked in a cupboard . The third, a very merry girl, is quite stout when clothed but looks better when she strips off, taking on the aspect of the prow of a sailing ship.

And then there is our girl under the covers with a torch, reading again and again a letter on yellow paper covered in small black writing: an academic hand. There are pathways in our lives and this might have been one of hers. That was one future that did not happen.

She didn’t cry when she left home to take a train and two buses to reach her castle. And she doesn’t cry when she feels lonely there and out of place. But after three months when she comes home for the first time and turns the corner onto her narrow street tears fall unbidden from her eyes.

 But when she opens her own door she wipes away her tears  with the back of her hand and says hello to her mother. They do not hug or kiss.

Who knows where this might lead?

Why not try a Picture This’ and become she or he in your writing?

Happy writing! W


  1. Your 'picture this,' is a wonderful way to translate memoir into the beginnings of fition and as you say to tell a truth. To write well we need distance from our past and yet we need to connect with who we are - this is a unique way of doing both of those things and a true gift to writers. I hope they'll try it.

  2. Thank you Avril for your welcome comment (and the RT). We could try the Picture This in our Back to Basics workshop maybe... Wx



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...