Many years ago it was suggested that I wrote a memoir about being married to my Iranian husband and my experiences of the racism we suffered in Birmingham and the effect the Iranian Revolution had on our lives. It did in fact break us up and break him down. An interested agent produced a ghost/co-writer who is a best- selling novelist who came up with a “hook” which he said would get the book on the New York Times best seller list.
As I travelled back from London, the ink barely dry on the contract , my head buzzed with what it all might mean; fame, wealth, a film deal like Betty Mahmoody’s “Not Without My Daughter.” I could have written that book myself as we were in Iran at the same time and shared similar experiences.
As the adrenaline rush subsided, stark reality slapped me in the face. I had two young daughters of mixed heritage and they were vulnerable. I knew that if my ex-husband and his family were to find out about the book, and this was in pre-internet days, we would be at great risk. His network of cousins was like a spider’s web across Europe. By the following morning, I’d decided against it.
Memoir is a slice of your life and there is a bit of that in everyone, trying to punch its way out. With blogging, self-publishing and social media to get it out there, the memoir has never been so easy to write and distribute. As we get older and bits get chipped off by life’s demolition ball, we reach a point when sharing our experiences, often for altruistic motives, becomes a driving force in our lives.
The big problem with memoir as I see it is that nobody really wants to read it unless it inspires them in some way such as a story of survival.
It’s hard enough getting a novel published and out in paperback in the book shops. With so many books being published every day, unless you are well-known for something else – invention, performance, discovery or a celebrity, the chances of your story being of interest will be miniscule. Memoirs of traumatic childhoods were in vogue a few years ago or of young women being abducted and taken out to some Arab village to be married off but there is only so much the reading public can stomach of the misery genre.
Memoir, like autobiography, is a positive thing to do if it’s to provide a record of your life and family for those coming after you. The memoir can be cathartic and aid transformation. It’s a way of finding some closure even if no answers.
If you are looking to publish and be damned, then there are a few considerations before you set off on what can be a very painful journey.
ü Memoir is a slice of life not the whole of it. The first task is to choose which slice.
ü Memoir is not fiction. It is about truth. You can’t make up things and wrap it round some facts. This cheats your readers and you will lose credibility.
ü How will the people mentioned in your memoir feel? Are you going to ask them in advance or risk their wrath if they don’t like or agree with how they are portrayed.
ü Libel can be a big issue in memoir writing. Avoid character defamation. These are real people not figments of your imagination.
ü Don’t use a memoir to exact revenge.
ü Whilst I’ve said it can be cathartic, it shouldn’t be used as therapy. This will lead to a stream of consciousness rather than a carefully constructed story.
ü Step back from the first draft and wait. Let it shuffle into its clothes in its own time. Go back and re-read with a red pen in your hand. As with any book, be ruthless with its pruning.
ü A memoir is not about painting yourself as some conquering hero nor should it be all positive or negative.
Jackie Buxton, Author of Tea and Chemo presents a prime example of how writing a memoir can help others. A breast cancer survivor, she has racked up over 80 five star reviews and has inspired not only women in a similar position but people fighting all kinds of cancer and the hospital staff treating them. I asked Jackie for a few words but as she has written so eloquently about why she wrote Tea and Chemo I am going to give you the link below so you can read her own words.
I’ve been asked if The Cruelty of Lambs is part memoir. In the strict sense of the word, no it’s not but I’ve drawn deeply on many personal experiences and allowed the characters to experience and react to them. My niche market has developed as writing about the tragedies within ordinary life. I shall continue to write snippets of my own life into my novels if the day ever comes when I feel comfortable writing my own story.. or when I am so famous, publishers are banging on my door demanding it. J