Writing and editing stories of people’s lives is a unique business, I’ll admit. When I am asked to define my work as a memoirist, I fumble around a little. The work is not as easily described as, say, that of a teacher, which I also am.
What I do know is that not everyone is cut out for this work of writing memories. Right from the beginning, it takes time, lots of time to write a book, the most part of a year. You have to want to spend time with someone new, to listen, and to get to know someone. Notetaking is sometimes upsetting to the individual at first, so you take along a tiny notebook and jot down important details as you go. You have to develop a good memory and write down the details of the conversation in the car later.
As I say, you have to want to get to know and understand what’s important to someone, to find the voice. I think it’s because of my experience as an actress that I can get into a person’s mind, and understand what they are trying to say to me. You have to know the back story of the character you are playing to be convincing on stage. The Same thing is true when writing a memoir. You learn about their values and find out what is important to them.
I listen to the language, the way they say things, the voice. That’s what makes a memoir best, hearing the words just as the person says them. Often those words are spoken as an aside (There I go again, with a theatrical term!) and not in conversation at all. But those words come from the heart and they are important to the story.
I really like transposing the thoughts that someone conveys into words. You have to be excited about developing the entity that is taking shape, the personal story of one unique individual. For me is very interesting and a challenge to get the time period right, and set the scene based on the person’s own descriptions.
And you have to feel excited about perfecting that entity, that story that gradually takes shape, until it emerges into a book. A metamorphosis! That’s what a memoirist does. It’s my work and I love it!
Four books published this year are From Then to Now, Sam’s Story, Monk’s Journey, and An Unexpected Life, a Memoir.