Memoirists and heavy duty thinking,
Saturday was the last event in the present series of Masterclass Memoir Workshops where more than twenty writers have met and worked and talked together. These writers were wonderful – joining me in focusing hard on what were quite heavy- duty ideas about the process of writing.
Part One: Poets and Free-fall Writing.
This last event began with some thoughts about how we as prose-writers can learn from great poets:
Our discussion started with Ted Hughes’ paradoxical advice on writing:
"If you do this you do not have to bother about commas. All that sort of thing. You do not look at the words either. You keep your eyes, your ears, your nose, your taste, your touch, your whole being on the thing you are turning into words. The minute you flinch, and take your mind off this thing, and begin to look at the words and worry about them then your worry goes into them and they set about killing each other."
'Words killing each other' – an amazing thought!
Reading these words reinforced something I had been saying throughout the workshops – that a writer has to develop the ambiguous skill of free flow writing (I call it free-fall writing) as the basis for memoir, which inhabits the gap between autobiography and fiction,
We have – I kept saying - to trust the world, the words and the logical syntax that emerge from our long lives lived – they are bedded there in our subconscious, waiting to flow onto the page.
I shared some writing which had eventually flowed onto my page;
Making Prisms of Meaning.
This family is a square:
at each corner is a child -
the hexagon at its centre
surrounds the lynch-pin -
the charismatic mother.
The sides of the hexagon
consist of the beloved dead.
and the generations to come,
who send their own stories
whispering onwards and
backwards in time..
Child One: Boy One
She wanted to make you brave like her -
but she should have loved you more.
You are the tender one, your bruised personality
springing out of injury and unintended hurt -
loving music, following fashion
playing out the role of victim
with justified conviction
your hesitancy hiding
a romantic heart
that crashed and broke too early.
Child Two: Girl One
You were the feisty one -
the most like her, with your hot temper
and your challenging demeanour.
She was bound to steal your cigarettes
and smoke them to teach you a lesson
You were bound to be the one to test her to the limits,
to call her grown-up bluff. In the end
you built your wall of worldly success and family life.
So, defeated, she was driven to surrender
her power and ultimately keep her distance.
Child Three Girl Two
You idolised and feared your mother
and tried to please her with cups of tea and
finally with stories inside real books
Needy and watchful, with your eagle-eyes
and bat-like ears, you tried to make sense of the words
and gestures all around you - at first with no understanding.
Even so they stayed with you. Your child-perceptions made solid
memories which you wove into stories that both hid
and revealed a difficult truth. To know you
the world needs to decode your stories -
fact or fiction – and fabricate its own prisms of meaning
Child Four: Boy Two
You were the last, the final product
of the soul-mated bond cut shattered too early.
You were her baby, her ewe lamb -
So clever and self-determined.
Normally frugal, she’d make any sacrifice for you -
sweets and bikes galore, showing her pride
and admiration. I remember the day when,
bold as ever, after diving with too much ardour
into the stony shallow river at the bottom of
the bank and came home with
your chest all bloody .
I watched our mother pick out the small stones
And wind the bandage gently, with a nurse’s care.