Mentoring Your Memoir
A ‘HOW TO WRITE’ AND A PERSONAL MEMOIR ALL IN ONE.
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Goldie facilitates successful workshops.
Goldie Alexander, successful author, lecturer and teacher, shows us how to document our own life histories. This guide offers a practical and stimulating approach that will lead you through the creative process from research, structure, crafting, to beginnings, endings, controversial issues and publishing.
AS well as offering practical hints for both experienced and novice writers, Goldie writes about her own early years and provides the reader with many examples of how these influenced her later work.
As a true resource, this may be the only ‘how to write a memoir’ book you’ll ever need.
Our history is plentiful in stories, but many can be lost if they are not captured in words or images. The more we write and collate, the more our rich cultural and multi-cultural heritage has a chance to survive. But for this to happen, the keeping of personal records is integral.
Many of our older citizens are asked, ‘When you going to write your memoir?’ However, for many the prospect appears too daunting. They have interesting stories to relate, but have never tackled a book length project before. Though they may spend a lot of time telling their stories, collating bits of the past, and even researching the net, when it comes to ‘putting it all together’ they are not sure how or where to begin, much less how to continue.
My personal journey began when a grandson’s questions proved how little he knew about his forbears and even my own history. Given that I am now in my seventh decade, it was time to get it all down. Few will argue that a memoir relies on memory. But memory is a capricious thing that rarely belongs to reason and logic, instead returning to us as a series of dreams and images that may be misleading. For some it can be the very spark of life, others can rarely begin a sentence without a ‘Can you remember when…?’ and ‘When we were young…’
But this is not my experience. Rather I have always tended to live in the present or in my imagination, so when I began my memoir I wondered how much I would recall. But as I kept on writing the incidents returned as if they’d happened only last week… the enjoyment, the pain and above all, the learning about what life has to offer. Yet even those memories have been corrupted by the process of looking back through eyes altered by immense social and technological upheavals. If we were to visit forties and fifties Australia, it would be like entering a foreign country, we would seem to have so little in common.
I am not vain enough to think that my life warrants placing in print or that in any curious way I stand out from the crowd. So my reasons for adding my own life story to this text is that there are three standard questions thrown at writers. Children, who are always more direct than adults, will ask: ‘How old are you?’ To which my jokey response is, ‘Too old.’ The second is, ‘How much money do you make from your books?’ to which my answer is: ‘Never enough.’ The third question that comes from anyone interested in the writing process regardless of age or gender: ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ and this is usually followed up by ‘How do I write my own life story?’
So Mentoring Your Memoir is my attempt to answer those last two questions as clearly as I know how. It’s when I go back into my writing that I begin to realise how much of my early history is in there, and how much it influenced what I later wrote. This is not unusual. Unless writers forage into history or write biography, all use their own experience as material. So it’s not what the narrative is about that’s significant, rather how it is transformed and crafted into something worth reading.
Because I write both fiction and non fiction for adults and children of all ages, plus teach, mentor and take workshops in Creative Writing, this text seemed an excellent opportunity to combine all my skills. Thus this guide also offers a practical and stimulating approach that leads the writer through the creative process from research, structure, crafting, plotting, beginning and endings, to controversial issues and publishing, offering practical hints for both experienced and novice writers, Hopefully, Mentoring Your Memoir will act as a stimulus for those that have still to record a life story.
Review by Alan Wheatley: Emeritus editor of Bonzer Magazine
Goldie is a widely-published author of fiction and non-fiction books, articles and short stories for adults and children.
In Mentoring Your Memoir Goldie successfully blends her own memoirs with, as she says, “practical hints for both experienced and novice writers”. I found her own story absorbing, which says a great deal about Goldie’s skills as a writer, while the many useful tips for writers are set out clearly and with insight. In fact, it takes a brave author to put her own writing up for judgment as well as an exemplar to illustrate the tuition.
Her early life story is set in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and London and the reader is treated to Goldie’s observations about the social mores of each place as they were from 1936 to 1967, and by extension, the ups and downs of her own life. She doesn’t pull any punches and I consider her memoirs so interestingly written that they deserve a book of their own.
But the main focus of Mentoring Your Memoir is on the many practical hints Goldie offers that will show us, she says, “how to document our own life histories … (and) that will lead you through the creative process from research, structure, crafting, to beginnings, endings, controversial issues and publishing”.
A challenging list, and one well-tackled by Goldie.
Book Review – Shauna Hicks 2011.
It’s funny how our paths cross with various people in our lives. My own current focus on tidying up my draft family histories for publication, and my recent contact with Hazel Edwards author of How to Write a Non Boring Family History (see my review of this book at www.shaunahicks.com.au/resources ) led me to meet Goldie and to learn about her book Mentoring Your Memoir and her classes on the same topic. I can only hope that I have that much energy and enthusiasm when I get to Goldie’s age.
That energy and enthusiasm also comes through in her book Mentoring Your Memoir and I can imagine all the people who attend a class going home inspired and ready to start their own memoirs. The layout of the book is essentially chronological with an Introduction looking at overcoming procrastination. There are some practical tips and advice and I really should ‘just do it’! But for now I really should get on with this review.
There are four parts with Part 1 addressing childhood years 1936-1943 and as Goldie uses her own life experiences as examples, this has dictated her timeframes. It is easy for the reader to insert their own timeframe and places. Also in Part 1, she talks about setting yourself up and research – all practical advice for people who have probably never written or researched before.
Part 2 deals with Adolescence 1944-1954 and also covers increasing your readership, problems, openings, controversy, creating characters, and fiction, non-fiction and faction. Although Goldie is writing about autobiographical writing, a lot of what she talks about is also relevant to anyone writing a family history.
Part 3 is titled Young Woman, Young Wife 1955-1958 and here she goes into detail about plotting, structure and shaping your story. I think the best way to get the most out of her book is to read it through from cover to cover and then go back and look at the various parts as you need to.
Part 4 is Young Wife, Young Mother 1959-1967 and in this part Goldie looks at using dialogue, point of view, titles, second drafts or more and endings. She concludes by discussing whether to publish or not and acknowledgements are at the end.
An interesting sideline for me was that Goldie is two years younger than my mother, and I was thinking about my own mother’s life as I read all about Goldie’s life in the various examples she gave to demonstrate the points she was making in each part. In fact I got more hooked on reading Goldie’s story and found myself skipping over the sections where she used examples from her other books.
Goldie’s own story is not that unusual for a woman born in Melbourne just before World War 2. Her parents were Polish immigrants to Australia after World War 1 and this adds a cultural diversity to her story.
I suspect most of us might think our own lives are too boring or non eventful to write about but wouldn’t it be a great gift for future grandchildren or great grandchildren. I was only young when one of my grandmother’s died and I would love to have known about how she grew up in Charters Towers and met my grandfather and so on. As a family historian, I am now trying to recreate their lives so that I can get to know them more – how much better would I know them if they had written out their own memoirs!
Of course, this also means that I should really think about writing my own memoirs (as well as publishing those draft family histories) and I wonder if somewhere back in time, I unconsciously made a decision to document my own life. Since 1982 I have kept scrapbooks of all my ‘appearances’ in newspapers, conferences, speaking engagements, and other life highlights and there are currently 13 scrapbooks. Having this kind of reference material will assist me in recalling my life, but if you don’t have diaries or scrapbooks, Goldie’s Mentoring Your Memoir will help you recall those memories and help you get started in writing them down. Good luck! www.shaunahicks.com.au