Friday, 25 February 2011

My version of the truth

Many years ago, during a trip back to my native Scotland, I decided to visit some of the houses I’d lived in as a child. One of my sisters decided it would be fun to accompany me on my trip down memory lane, so I bundled my infant son  into the back of a hire car and headed off down the road, my sister with an old creased map in her hand, and me with a lot of old memories swirling in my head.

Half an hour later, I was looking out the car window at a cold, grey farm cottage. The broken windows and the peeling paint on the front door told me that it had been abandoned many years before. I half closed my eyes and tried to conjure up an image of what it had looked like when there were six people crammed into that one-bedroom house. The years slowly slipped away, and I was transported back in time, to when I was five years old.

We got out of the car, walked across to one of the windows and looked into the gloomy interior.

“Do you remember that horrible purple jumpsuit I used to have?” I said to my sister. “I remember swinging on it from a clothes hook in the coat cupboard. I had to stop when I almost tore the hood off.”

“The purple jumpsuit wasn’t yours, it was mine!” she said, in an unusually possessive tone. “And I was the one who used to swing from it.”

“I think you’re mistaken. It was mine.”

“I’m not mistaken,” she said, forcing a smile.

“Look! The old tree’s still there,” I said, pointing to a sycamore at the side of the house in an attempt to change the subject. “Do you remember when I fell out of it and gouged a huge hole in my leg?”

“Are you sure that wasn’t David?” she said, referring to my brother.

“No it was definitely me,” I said, as I rolled up my trouser leg to show her the old scar on my shin.

“You didn’t get that from the tree; you got it falling off a bike,” she said.

The excitement that I’d felt as we were driving up to the house began seeping out of my body; it trickled down to my shoes and then disappeared into the dark earth beneath my feet.

We drove to our second house in silence.

When we got out to inspect the newly renovated bungalow that looked nothing like the old house we’d lived in, I felt the cold wind tugging at my inadequate jacket. We stood there in silence for a few minutes, neither of us attempting to translate our memories into words for fear that the other would write them off as false.

That was twenty years ago. Now, as I attempt to write a memoir about my childhood in rural Scotland, I’m forced to re-examine my memories of those early years. I’ve often asked myself what I should do about those competing stories.

After much soul searching and talking with other people about their childhood memories, I now know that each person’s truth is unique. We all think differently and have our own version of the truth.

I can only be true to my version.  

Friday, 18 February 2011

My motivation or lack thereof

I'm now devoting four hours a day to my memoir, which means I've had to rearrange my daily social schedule. No more loitering in front of the TV watching reruns of I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, or  looking at endless Facebook photographs of some stranger who leads an infinitely more exciting life than I ever will, or trying in vain to complete a Times Cryptic Crossword on my own.

I've spent the best part of this afternoon re-reading the Holy Grail of Memoirs, which lists several major reasons why people are motivated to write a memoir:
  • To gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your life
  • To heal the past and create hope for the future
  • To create a legacy for your family
  • To expose injustice or abuse
  • To settle emotional scores -- from anger and revenge to acceptance and forgiveness
  • To present a point of view about a controversial issue
  • To share with the world your unique experiences with travel, education, illness and recovery, family, or a spiritual quest
I'm not going to say which of those reasons specifically apply to my memoir (that will only spoil the surprise), but I think there's probably a little bit of everything swirling through the memories in my head. Well, maybe not the settling of emotional scores. That's not for me. I'll leave that to the far-reaching powers of my voodoo dolls.

Back to work now!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

First things first

I am the first-born daughter of a first-born daughter of a first-born daughter. My first memory is of a neighbour's naked roof under repair -- the rafters rose out of the top of the walls like a giant angular ribcage. I was three years old. My first day at school was tearful. My first kiss was a disaster.

Sadly, I've forgotten the first book I ever read, or the first story I ever wrote. But I know all too well that feeling I get when I first open a new book, smell the pages and read the first few sentences of the first chapter. There is nothing quite like the excitement I feel at the thought of being able to enter someone else's world for a while and see it through their eyes.

I wanted to use my first post to talk about the memoir that is currently being written in my head, but I now know I can only write about what I've already written, not what I'm about to write.

It's time to take the first step. Wish me luck!