A few weeks ago, I started sharing my memoir writing journey. If you are thinking about starting to write about your life, please read my earlier post The Magic of Memoir Writing.
I recently visited the Sydney Writers’ Festival, which is a great opportunity to improve your writing skills in one of the numerous workshops or mingle with authors, journalists and readers at one of the diverse panel discussions. I attended the workshop Starting From Place, which looked at how setting, or place, influence the main character’s identity and behaviour. Places shape people – a saying that I tried to explore more with regard of my memoir: How did the places I lived, or visited, shaped me as a child, teenager, adult? A question, I admit, I had not investigated in detail before. One of the course outcomes that struck me most was that a place can become a character in itself.
Use Wide-Angle Shots
Originally, my intention was to attend the workshop and then write about some of the countries I had visited on holidays. Back home in front of my computer, I realised that there were many places in my life – starting with my family home – that influenced who I am today. So no need to travel far and wide. With my workshop materials next to me I started re-reading pieces that I had written – and realised how much more specific I can describe ordinary places. Specificity and writing less were the two most important outcomes of this workshop for me. I started working more on my relationships to certain places analysing conflict and harmony. ‘Like film directors, good writers know how to zoom in and out of a scene. Summaries – or wide angle shots – can be useful to describe a transition in your life. I used this technique to lead into 1998 and 2008 – the two years that I had identified as major turning points in my life.
Apart from this hands-on workshop I spent the final day at Walsh Bay to listen to a few panel discussions with authors. Although marked as ’Sold out’ on the website, I went to the box office on site and asked for tickets to a couple of panel discussions that appealed to me. “You are lucky,” the lady in the box office said, ”I have a few tickets left.” An hour later, I was sitting in the front row of the Richard Wherrett Studio in the Roslyn Packer Theatre to listen to Looking Inwards. Writing Out, a panel discussion about memoir writing with Patti Miller, Kate Howarth and Alan Sampson, the winner of the Finch Memoir Prize 2015. I especially liked Patti Miller's explanation that her memoirs are not about her, but rather a reflection of her sense of self, identity, and belonging. An exploration of how she perceives the world.
Become an Observer
This made me think how important the places and settings are that influenced my life. And that I need to explore my relationship to these places more deeply, to describe them more specifically. The most interesting thing I realised when researching my past is that I stepped away from being the main character of my life and rather became an observer – looking at my life from a bird’s perspective. This is a very powerful and healing process, as it helped me to understand how events from the past relate to what I do now.
In a few weeks, I am going to spend some time in my home country: Germany. I can't wait to interview my uncles to see what I can find out about the life of my mother as a child and my grandmother raising five children in during and after World War II in Germany. In the past weeks, I reconnected with an old friend of my mother, who has contributed to a book about the suburb I grew up. She helped me to get hold of another author, who has now provided me with a selection of photos from the book, which I can use to illustrate the memoir.
There is still a long way ahead, but writing about my life is one of the most exciting projects I have ever started. I would love to hear from you if you are on a similar journey!