Category Archives: Memoir

Why I write

With the publication of my second memoir, Waiting for the Night Bus, due this month, all the familiar doubts writers have start to surface.

Is it any good?  Does the humour work? Who will be interested in it? Should I have taken that story out? Or should I have put that story in?…

Writing is a solitary occupation, just you and your computer screen, or, if you’re old school, an A4 pad.  You sit in a room for hours at a time, trying to find the right words and put them in the right order.  Often, nothing will come, or what comes is rubbish, and you are tempted to give up. As Ernest Hemingway remarked, writing’s more about perspiration than inspiration.

But you keep going. You don’t know how some days, but you do. You keep going because you’re a writer. You may not be the best writer (a glance at your bookshelf reminds you of that), but you are a writer.  It’s what you do. It’s who you are.

You allow yourself to think, “Maybe this will be the book that will make my name.” Tom Wolfe was I his fifties when The Bonfire of theVanities burst on the scene. And wasn’t Frank McCourt in his sixties before he had that huge success with Angela’s Ashes

And then when you pop into a bookshop or visit Amazon this optimism soon disappears, and you think, “There are just so many books out there!”

I wrote Waiting for the Night Bus, an account of how I became a writer in London in the 1980s, because if I didn’t do it, no one else would.  How could they? You are the only person who can tell your story. No one sees life in the same way that you do.  

This seems a good reason to write a book. Every writer wants their book to sell and to be talked about. Every writer wants to be the subject of lengthy articles in newspapers, wants to be invited on to Front Row, or have a documentary made about them by Alan Yentob. The chances are, none of this will happen.

But you are still a writer, and each book you write is a gift to the world.

Blake Morrison on writing life stories

 

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For my money, one of the best memoirs is And When Did You Last See Your Father by Blake Morrison. It’s a beautifully told story that, like any good memoir, crosses from the purely personal to the universal. Last year, I attended a fascinating lecture he gave at Goldsmiths College, University of London, where he discussed life writing and his work in general.

About life writing, he says, “Once you begin writing, be selective. Even members of your family will find a welter of names, place names and dates too much to cope with. If your material spans several generations, try to find a theme that binds them together. Ask yourself what the “real” story is and who the central characters are.”

I know from writing The Long Road Out of Town how hard it was to nail my theme. I just couldn’t work out what the story was really about. In the end, I realised it wasn’t about what I had thought it was about when I first sat down to begin work on the book.

Here is the complete interview from The Guardian where Blake Morison talks about the craft of writing life stories.