When I was a child growing up in South Africa, all I wanted to do was make movies.
I saw everything as if it were a story – perhaps because so many of the events were confronting for a seven or eleven year old: the night of the huge veld fire that came too close to the house and devoured the bamboo tree in a tower of smoke and yellow flames; the day a drunk man chased my friend and I up the river and almost caught us; the day the same friend and I found a dead baby on the banks of the river. These were hard things for a young child to confront, but in my head, I replayed the events as if they were films, trying to find a narrative that would allow me to incorporate such stark happenings and create meaning in my own story.
As a family, we were not rich and the only tools I had at my disposal were notebooks and pens and pencils. When I was eleven I did spend hundreds of hours making animated ‘flick-books’, but those stories had to be simple and were over in a few seconds. And then I realized I could write longer stories – some of them true, some of them fiction. I started writing these stories when I was seven, and I haven’t stopped since. I believe our lives are full of story-potential. We can focus on themes that emerge as we look back; we can tap into our desires and dreams and losses and hopes, and then, with the right tools and encouragement, anyone can begin, I believe, to turn lived experience into a story others may want to read.
Memoir is not autobiography or biography – yet its aim is to achieve a deep ‘truth-telling.’ There are pitfalls and hazards on the truth-telling journey, some of which I will share in the upcoming workshop ‘Writing your Life’. Some of the things that come up when writing true stories cannot possibly be anticipated – I always thought that truth-telling revealed the deep themes of our lives, but the act of writing also erases, writes over the reality lived. Also, our lives involve other people’s lives, and those others may not always be happy with your take on a particular event – your version of the truth.
My hands-on workshop will enable you to see how key life events represent key themes and sub themes that can form the backbone of your memoir. On this writing journey, we’ll look at how the crafting of life events into story becomes art.