This April's event included attendees from India, China, French-speaking Africa, South Africa and eastern Europe, and the subject? Well, one after my own heart of course: memoir writing.
|The panel of speakers|
|Jo Parfitt answering questions|
She also stressed the need for demonstrating your vulnerability when writing, a pertinent point if memoir writers hope to gain the empathy of their readers. For me this translates into self-deprecating humour; others might use candid honesty about fears and failings, but whatever technique we use, being vulnerable is an important aspect of memoir writing. Jo's presentation was a great start to the afternoon as she talked about the how to approach a memoir, as well as what to include (or not) and I have a feeling many of the participants will follow up her books and courses later on. Click here for her website and publishing and editing services.
Our next speaker was Carolyn Vines, whose memoir, Black and Abroad tells of her experiences and challenges in moving from the deep south in the US to the land of windmills and clogs. She spoke with eloquence on why not only can everyone (in principle) write their own life story, but should do so. By sharing the pain, feelings and experiences of traumatic, difficult and (conversely) inspiring periods in one's own life, we can find healing, hope and a positive way forward. However, she stressed, as did Jo, that not everything we do and feel should be included in the memoir; only that which is relevant to the story in question. This was the most important point for me: know your story, and be sure you have a focus. As a life coach too, she suggested that writing is not the only medium with which to relate our stories; both art and photography can be valid media as well.
|Carolyn answering the audience's questions |
following her talk
Niamh's talk began with a reading from the opening chapters of her book. It was a dramatic extract revealing the first emotional and physical abuse she suffered as a child and she used this to explain how important it is to be open and honest in revealing feelings and pain when writing such a personal memoir. For me, her use of dialogue and the visual descriptions were an arresting way to begin her story and emphasised the need for developing character, depth and even humour in what must have been a litany of horrific events. The dialogue involved the reader immediately in her experiences and showed us all how, whether completely authentic or not, it is such an important device in a personal memoir. There were, of course, questions from the audience regarding authenticity, but all the speakers agreed that a memoir is a personal truth and that is what matters more than complete accuracy of detail.
The last speaker of the day was Darya Danesh, a Canadian who has also transplanted herself by moving to the Netherlands. The link to her blog where she writes about her life in her new country is here.
|Darya's cheerful personality showing through|
Finally, at the end of the afternoon, we held a draw and three of the participants won a memoir to take home with them, a fitting close to an inspiring and rich event.
Other links readers might like to follow for the speakers are below:
The American Book Center events page with short biographies of each speaker
Carolyn Vines' Life Coach page
An interview with Niamh Ni Bhroin on the I am Expat page.
An overview webpage for Jo Parfitt
Now, of course I am looking forward to the next English Writing Festival!