Three weeks ago I was asked to speak alongside author Caroline Barron, at the Auckland branch of New Zealand Society of Authors meeting. I was intending to write a short post on this earlier, but life, again, got in the way. Last week I was frantically writing as much on my novel as possible before visitors arrived, which meant I neglected everything else. And then, this week came around, and suddenly it was ‘all hands on deck’ to clear out our bedrooms as new carpet was due to be laid Thursday. The bedrooms are clean and vacated and the rest of the apartment looks a mess!
Now, here I am finding time to write a few words about the talk I mentioned at the start. Caroline Barron and I have written both memoir and adult fiction, and were asked questions by the chair Maria Gill, as a joint interview, about the similarities and differences in how we approached the process of writing in each of these genres. Maria, posed interesting questions, such as: What’s the relationship between honesty and good storytelling? Often Caroline and I said virtually the same thing, swapping the mic from one to the other to say our piece. With this question, I said “Honesty for me was being authentic; staying true to the ‘character’ in the memoir and presenting facts accurately.” This then led to the discussion of how important research is writing in either genre. We both agreed that research was essential for both.
We were asked if there were differences in the way we structured each form. I start with a timeline, which places scenes, or ‘happenings’ along the line, with the year each takes place. Another question was, how do you approach the task of deciding what to include or leave out in your memoirs or novels? And the ethical implications of writing about real people. With my memoir, I began the narration from the time I could recall events vividly, and ended with the death of the main subject. I stayed as true to all the main characters as was possible, and fiddled more with what occurred when. Again, research is required, such as; what politician was in power, what songs and programmes were popular. Plus the games, foods, sweets…
When writing about real people in memoir, it is necessary to let them know that you are writing something which may include them, but to soften this somewhat, I fictionalised the names of all my characters in the book. My family, which were the main group in my memoir, knew that the children were based on them. I had only two siblings to deal with here, and they were comfortable with my decisions (I believe), as I consulted them throughout. With fiction, I have sometimes based a character on someone I have observed, not actually known, whose characteristics, physicality, hair style or demeanour has taken my attention. But again, the characters; the setting and details of place need to be authentic, down to their mannerisms, quirks, speech patterns, etc. There’s that word again and one I can’t emphasis enough when it comes to writing interesting work which will capture a readers imagination.
It was great to speak alongside Caroline Barron that night. The audience liked what we had to say too; even saying it was a ‘stimulating’ session. Thanks Maria for asking us along.