Archives for memoir

#BookReview ‘Ammonites & Leaping Fish’ by Penelope Lively #writerslife

Penelope Lively is one of my favourite authors and so it was with anticipation that I picked up her memoir, Ammonites & Leaping Fish. And I was not disappointed. From page one I was captivated by her writing style, her openness, her storytelling. She writes about her memories, ‘the vapour trail without which we are undone’. Actually this is not quite a memoir; the sub-title is ‘A Life in Time’. Lively reflects on her life in five sections, leaving me with an insight into how she lived her life, her interests and, partly, her writing. She writes about Old Age, Memory, and Life and Times, ‘One of the few advantages of writing fiction in old age is that you have been there, done it all, experienced every decade.’ What she didn’t know, she imagined, used empathy, observation. ‘But it is certainly a help to have acquired that long backwards view.’ She is enlightening about her writing method. ‘I do need to have a good idea where the thing is going – I won’t have started at all until a notebook is full of ideas and instructions to myself. And I will have achieved the finishing line only after pursuing various
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#BookReview ‘Time to be in Earnest’ by PD James #writerslife #diary

Time to be in Earnest by PD James is not a conventional writer’s autobiography. Instead it is the year in her life between her 77th and 78th birthdays during which A Certain Justice, the tenth Adam Dalgliesh book was published, and in which dates, places and events trigger memories from her life. She died in 2014 at the age of 94 and was prolific to the end. Her final book Death Comes to Pemberley was published in 2011 and two editions of short stories were published after her death. James sets the tone of the autobiography in the Prologue, “There is much that I remember but which is painful to dwell upon. I see no need to write about these things. They are over and must be accepted, made sense of and forgiven, afforded no more than their proper place in a long life in which I have always known that happiness is a gift, not a right.” Her diary entries, some brief, some long, make this an ideal book to dip in and out of. She is a pragmatic, factual commentator who is at times forthright, other times secretive. Like all good autobiographies, familiar names are scattered throughout –
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

#BookReview ‘Mudlarking’ by Lara Maiklem @LondonMudlark #Thames #archaeology

Lara Maiklem is a mudlark. She can be found at low tide walking the beaches and mud of the River Thames, foraging, searching, collecting bits and pieces. And in the course of her memoir Mudlarking, she tells the history of the river. This is a personal history, not a novel. Starting at the tidal head near Teddington and heading east to the Thames Estuary, Maiklem has written an anecdotal guide to London’s river, the treasures which can be found buried in the mud, and tells the stories of the people [real and imagined] who once lived there. From the discarded Doves Type to broken clay pipes and glass bottle stoppers, she describes the objects she has found, their place in her collection, her methods of cleaning and preserving them. Along the way she consults experts and historians and forages with fellow mudlarks who each have their favourite places, their specialist objects to collect. ‘Modern mudlarks fall into two distinct categories,’ she explains. ‘Hunters and gatherers. I am one of the latter. I find objects using just my eyes to spot what is lying on the surface. Eyes-only foragers like me generally enjoy the searching as much as the finding, and
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

My Top 5 books about Andalucía

Andalucía is a second home to me, so much so that I set part of my second novel Connectedness there. As some of you will know, I have a second blog at Notes on a Spanish Valley where I write about our life in the Spanish countryside. When fellow Brit in Spain, Alastair Savage, reflected on his favourite books about Barcelona I decided to undertake the same exercise for Andalucía. This is my choice. I have avoided ‘general’ books about Spain such as Giles Tremlett’s excellent Ghosts of Spain, one of Alastair’s picks, and have concentrated on Andalucía. Four of the five are memoirs. If you read them, let me know what you think. Read Alastair’s guide to Barcelona books here. ‘Two Middle-Aged Ladies in Andalucía’ by Penelope Chetwode I love my secondhand copy of this slim book for its pale blue cover. Penelope Chetwode, wife of poet John Betjeman, takes a circular ride on her horse Marquesa, around the countryside between Granada and Úbeda in Andalucía in 1961. Charming, quirky. Read my full review of Two Middle-Aged Ladies in Andalucía here. ‘Two Middle-Aged Ladies in Andalucía’ by Penelope Chetwode [UK: Eland] ‘South from Granada’ by Gerald Brenan Decades before ex-Genesis drummer Chris
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Researching.

Famous people, reading… Alexa Chung

So why is British television host/model/fashion designer Alexa Chung reading Just Kids by Patti Smith? It is the memoir, published in 2010, of Smith’s relationship with the artist and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. In 1967, a chance meeting between two young people led to a romance and a lifelong friendship that would carry each to international success never dreamed of. The backdrop is Brooklyn, Chelsea Hotel, Max’s Kansas City, Scribner’s Bookstore, Coney Island, Warhol’s Factory and the whole city resplendent. Among their friends, literary lights, musicians and artists such as Harry Smith, Bobby Neuwirth, Allen Ginsberg, Sandy Daley, Sam Shepherd, William Burroughs, etc. It was a heightened time politically and culturally; the art and music worlds exploding and colliding. In the midst of all this two kids made a pact to always care for one another. Scrappy, romantic, committed to making art, they prodded and provided each other with faith and confidence during the hungry years–the days of cous-cous and lettuce soup. See these other famous people, reading & writing:- Benedict Cumberbatch Madonna Jerry Lewis   ‘Just Kids’ by Patti Smith [UK: Bloomsbury] And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: What is @alexa_chung reading?
Read More

Categories: Book Love.

Book review: I Belong to No One

This is a brave book, a memoir written by Gwen Wilson knowing that she may be criticised, knowing that readers may disapprove, but having the courage to write it anyway. To say ‘This is me, this is what I did when I was a teenager’. Gwen Wilson had a tough start in life. Her father was not in her life, in fact in later years she discovers that her father was a completely different man from the one she thought he was. Instead she grows up with her mother and half-brother Steve. Her mother would today be diagnosed as bi-polar, Steve is thrust into the role of authority figure. The young Gwen grows up relying on stand-in families, those of trusting neighbours or the parents of her schoolfriends. Looking for love, for approval, it is little wonder that she gets ’into trouble’. Gwen Wilson celebrated her 60th birthday just before this memoir was published. She has travelled a long way and become a different person since the girl who struggled to be a mother and wife when she was still a young girl. There should have been more support for her, but 1970s Australia was in many ways an unforgiving
Read More

Categories: Adoption, Book Love and Family history research.

Memoir: Istanbul

“From a very young age, I suspected there was more to my world than I could see: somewhere in the streets of Istanbul, in a house resembling ours, there lived another Orhan so much like me that he could pass for my twin, even my double. I can’t remember where I got this idea or how it came to me. It must have emerged from a web of rumours, misunderstandings, illusions and fears. But in one of my earliest memories, it is already clear how I’ve come to feel about my ghostly other.” So opens Orhan Pamuk’s poetic portrait of his childhood in Istanbul. Istanbul and its people comes alive in Orhan’s imagination. The fronts of cars resemble noses, his classmates look like animals. “The boy with the pointed nose was a fox, and the big one next to him was, as everyone said, a bear, and the one with the thick hair was a hedgehog.” The reason the opening paragraph of his memoir connects so much with me is that I remember having the same feelings as a child. I would lay in bed in my attic bedroom, wondering about the other Sandra out there in some parallel world:
Read More

Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

I agree with… Rachel Cusk

Rachel Cusk “It takes a particular kind of courage to write memoir. All writing – all creativity – involves self-exposure, but in memoir the exposure is twofold. The self is both subject and author, and as authors we are duty-bound to treat our subjects with the greatest possible objectivity. Is it possible, or even desirable, to be truly objective about oneself? And what value does that objectivity, if achieved, have for the reader?” [Rachel Cusk, in an interview at ‘Mslexia’ magazine] I’ve always been too intimidated to attempt memoir, though I have used my experiences in my fiction particularly for setting. But I do agree that all creativity must involve self-exposure, or be weaker for the omission. Surely in order to write, we have to be self-aware and with that self-awareness comes objectivity? If you agree with Rachel Cusk, perhaps you will agree with:- Lizzie Enfield – on women’s revenge Antony Gormley – everybody says what does it mean, but what does life mean? Joanne Harris – I’ve always read, and I’ve always written   ‘Outline’ by Rachel Cusk [UK: Thorndike] Read my review of Outline. And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested
Read More

Categories: On Writing.