Saturday 9 February 2019

Remembering and Writing.

Recently I had the pleasure of delivering the first of four workshops on the relationship between writing, the nature of memoir, and the role that memories play in the creation of fictional work.

Memories bedded down deep in our subconscious are the raw material we draw on in creating characters, locations and the imperatives of narrative when we write fiction. Therein lies the essential truth of fiction – the element which allows a wide range of readers to identify with what might at first sight seem to be outside their personal experience.

Everyone has a story because everyone has a life – however dramatic, romantic, banal or exciting it might have seemed at the time. Or may seem so, even now.
As I asserted earlier – whether they are conscious of it are not – all writers interrogate their own lives to feed their fiction. In the first novels I think I did this intuitively. But now having been writing novels for more than 20 years but now in retrospect I am beginning to realise the degree to which I have done this. I can see that elements of my own life have found their place in the novels in terms of place, event, story, unique causes and unique consequences.

I was thinking that in some ways it’s as though experiences in my own life and quite complex experience   in terms of breadth and depth have been thrown up into the air and arrive back on the page in a unique shape which is original, sometimes unlooked for and offers even me fresh insight into those lived experiences.

In preparing for these workshop it has dawned on me that these reflections express the very relevant to the connection between memoir and the writing of fiction: within our own lives we have the sturdy clues to universal experiences which will strike a chord in readers across cultural boundaries and - These sturdy clues are the foundation of the universality of great fiction. Examples of this emerge throughout fiction. I was thinking of the work, for instance of Virginia Woolf, John le Carre, Catherine Cookson et al.

Reflections on the Sturdy CluesTo be human and to live in what might approximate to a family even under adverse conditions or within different cultures generates certain common experiences and emotions. Fiction and fictionalised memoirs can allow us to explore positives and negatives of personality which encapsulate an identity. (You find this in all kinds of fiction including thrillers, detective stories, mysteries, fantasy.)

We might refer to these as Rites Of Passage or Cycles of Life
 –for example
Birth. (As one of four children including two girls I only learned about the nature of childbirth when I was 14 years old and read Emile Zola’s Germinal in French,)
Childhood. (e.g Winnie the Pooh. Swallows and Amazons, James and The Giant Peach and many, fictions.)
Parenting. (All kinds of fiction) – especially now, with the rising popularity of so-called misery-memoirs. I also started to think about John Mortimer’s Clinging to the Wreckage – a very touching memoir of his father.
Friendship, Bonding , School, Life In Care, Life In Prison, Life In The Army  (Brideshead Revisited, Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Catch 22. Etc, etc.
Sexuality: - the inner experience of this universal drive can range from Romance to Pornography in fiction. See Diana Athill’s exquisite volumes of memoir for an honest and beautifully stated expression of this. ¶
Marriage, Close Partnerships across genders:  odysseys of success and failure. See Nora Ephron’s Heartburn
Death. The ritual significance of death and the funeral in all cultures. It is interesting how many short stories or novels begin with a funeral.

It is worth noting that we add such fictions – whether presented to us and experienced in story, lyric, or on screen – to our own emotional insight. They contribute to our sense of self in our daily life; they contribute to the way we learn who we are. In in this way we develop our own unique way of understanding what it is to be human as expressed in our community and incorporate this into our unique self. Such fictions help us filter our own lived experience and recognise the universal emotions which help us to process them: experiences such as love, fear, belonging, desire, loss, envy, hope, hate and revenge - the silver cord that runs through all good fiction and all good memoir.

All this is at the very forefront of my mind at the moment – not just because of the workshops although they are proving to be very exciting.  The fact is that I am working on the second novel in my Lifespan Trilogy  which began with my novel Becoming Alice.(Now On Amazon Kindle and in Paperback)

The Lifespan referred to is my own lifespan from 1941  and rounding up to the millennium. The second novel  in Lifespan begins in 1963 – not coincidentally a very important phase in my own life. However. Alice and her family are not me and my family, although the truths buried in these three novels are keyed into my own multilayered experiences  in those years. Alice and Ruth  are quite separate from me and are  distinct and whole. They are themselves.  

As a writer my task is to walk the line between truth and fiction. It's a bit like knitting  cobwebs - to create a  very beautiful thing with truth at its heart .

#fiction #memoir.


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