Come sit next to me. I’ll tell you a story. When I was doing my Masters, there was a submission deadline each month of 3,000 words, plus an analysis document in which I was required to dissect my writing process. Those 3,000 words would emerge, reluctantly, from my head, and in amongst the other demands of life, there was a need to simply get them out. I never felt – and even now, continue to feel – that I had the time to devote to it. Maybe that is how writing is; always a furtive pursuit, one that I am indulging myself in. Although writing a novel, whilst immensely challenging, never felt as banal or dull as writing a project plan in my previous career, or any email I ever penned, no matter how long and involved. There was a flippancy in how it seemed to others, the fact that I’d taken two years out of life to study and write.
So, those deadlines would roll around, and I would have to draw on my own experiences to find the words. I might have known what I wanted to write about, or the scene I needed to give life to, but other than that, I made it up as I went along. I realised I was not a planner! This fact returned to me recently, when running a workshop on creative writing in which I’d added the instruction in capitals: FIND YOUR PLOT BEFORE YOU START! I didn’t, and I paid for it. In fact I wonder if I still pay, and that is why the headway in finalising my novel and submitting it to an agent is slow.
So, I would write about my own experience. I set my novel locally, as it was easier to muster up details when all I needed to do was walk by the water and notice the tides, the sheen, the flora edging the shore. But on a personal level, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t I draw on my own life to write. It’s a strange alchemy that takes place, surprising me as a much as it might anyone else who reads it. I took events and memories (I have an elephantine memory for detail) and would expand them, like a glassblower gently inflating the delicate, amorphous structure of a balloon of glass. Writing, to me, feels like a when you look at the horizon on a hot day and see that shimmer of heat. The words are in the heat! It’s just a case of capturing them; of not looking away.
I’ve thought a lot about whether the novel was indeed fiction, or whether it was just a version of my life, and I’ve felt guilt about my sources of inspiration. People’s lives – some close to me, some not – fed my imagination. On any given day, innocent school mums would say things to me, and I would store these nuggets up and use them later, as inspiration or even as direct quotes. My children would give me a glance, or make an utterance, that I would then repeat. In fact I’ve read that many children of writers, when they grow up and read their parent’s work, object when they see their childhood antics reflected back. Writers are magpies in that sense. This became a weighty responsibility for me, and has made me consider whether I am more suited to writing non-fiction, like this blog. For the simple reason: it’s the truth, within reason, and I own it. When writing fiction, I found it was possible to write deplorable things and then disown them as being ‘made up.’ When one has to present the truth, whilst it may be tempered, whilst I may be an unreliable narrator to my own life, at least we all know where we stand.
Therefore, and in conclusion: am I too young to write my memoir?!