Writing down your memories…

I spent a couple of hours on Monday afternoon, in the library of the village of Walsden just outside Todmorden. This tiny but vital building, was stuffed with eleven folk who had signed up for my workshop on memoir writing, as part of the Calderdale Word of Mouth Festival.

Photo of Rose
The group ranged from their twenties to seventies [and perhaps beyond] but they were all there to record their stories, perhaps for their children and grandchildren before they were lost for ever, or perhaps just for themselves.

I had brought in a couple of old sepia photographs, which I had found at a car boot sale, for them to look at and then write about. I asked my writers to imagine the names and lives of the young man and woman in the two pictures. This felt like a ‘safe’ way to begin our thinking and writing, rather than diving straight into our own personal histories. When the group read out these first efforts it quickly became very apparent that there was real talent in the room.

Photo of Albert
I then asked them to think about a photograph of them from the past, and then write about what was happening in the picture. I wanted them to start thinking about themselves as a character in a story. I wanted to give them ways of beginning the process of sifting through their memories. We talked about a sense of place, and how to capture this in their writing. And we touched on ideas about ‘plot’ and the machinery that makes a reader want to carry on reading a story….

To illustrate these points I used my two pieces in Four Fathers [‘Exile’ and ‘In loco parentis’] not because I thought they were examples of the best memoir writing, but simply to show what I was trying to do in these pieces.

We also talked about great memoirs we had read. Mentioned were Bob Geldof’s autobiography and Sheila Hancock’s ’The Two of Us’, and we discussed how helpful it is to see how other writers tackle their own history.

It was a great privilege to be at the beginning of these writing journeys with such a talented and brilliant bunch of people!!