Never give up

Are you writing a memoir? If you are, have you tried to get it published, entered it for competitions, not been a winner or short-listed, gone back to it and rewritten it … and rewritten it … and rewritten it? And have you read some published memoirs and thought yours was just as good or better? Or perhaps you’ve dreamed of writing your memoir, but not been sure how to start, not felt confident you could make it come to life on paper.

Some people want to write their lives so they can pass it on to their children. My mother did this, at my request, when she was in her late 70s. Sadly, she didn’t finish. She filled about 2/3 of a fat exercise book with her delicate upright script, but she suffered several strokes which affected her right hand, and her memory, and the writing became more laboured, the words grew fatter, and it stops in mid-sentence. But it has given me many scenes and fragments I have written into my memoir, and it is a treasured family document.

In 1996, my eldest daughter begged me to write my life. She said that I was her writing mentor, but I hadn’t written anything! So I got an exercise book and started writing fragments. I still have it, and some of those fragments are in my memoir of childhood, which I have called The Smell of Rain. Fifteen years later, and many rewritings, I have finally some hope it will be published. I received an email today to say I have been shortlisted for the Finch Memoir Prize. Finch Publishing‘s motto is ‘books that change lives’. As well as memoir, they publish books on health, parenting, social ecology, relationships, social issues. The prize is $10,ooo and publication, to be announced late January 2012.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve rewritten my memoir, and of course, I could rewrite it again. Picasso said he never finished a painting, he just abandoned it. Well, I have abandoned my memoir, and though I will never  be as famous as Picasso, I do hope it will be published and a few people will read it!

If you have a memoir unwritten, half-written, or rewritten, don’t abandon it too soon. And if you want to get it published, it deserves work. But most of all, don’t give up hope for it.

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4 Comments

Filed under writing a memoir

4 responses to “Never give up

  1. Good luck Christina. That’s a great lead. I’ve pencilled next October in as a deadline for the next phase of my memoir. and then I’ll probably rewrite it.
    I’ve just read ‘Roundabout at Bangalow’ by Shirley Walker which was a real treat. It’s interesting to read other’s take on country you think you know reasonably well.

  2. Christina Houen

    Nice to hear from you. I’m glad you’re planning ahead for your memoir. I heard some of Shirley Walker’s memoir on ABC radio, and thought, well, if she can publish that, I can publish my memoir! No criticism intended, but it was very plain and straightforward, and I think there is a mindset now that memoirs should somehow be quirky, different, edgy …. But sometimes just a straightforward story is best, reminding us of our shared lives, shared country. However, I also have to say that if you are a journalist or have connections in the literary world, it is easier to get published than if you are quite unknown. but in the great unknown, there are many good writers, even great ones, and I welcome it when they are recognised. I’m not talking about myself here, but of course, I’d like to be one of the unknowns who becomes known!

  3. You’re right. Its not Shakespeare and I had the same respnse: I can write as well as that (with a bit of effort and self discipline). Its got some lovely writing in it but it’s pretty straight forward and repetitive at times. It feels like she wrote it as short accounts and then combined them but the final edit failed to get to the fine detail which let it down a bit. Which is partly why we rewrite I guess; and seek a good editor to remove our self indulgences and repetitions. She was over 70 when it was published I think. So there’s still time.

  4. Christina Houen

    Of course you can! Dare I say better? For me, the interest in her memoir is more in the memories than in the way they are written. Perhaps that is what plain memoir does, it takes us straight there, to that remembered place. And a lot of books that are published would benefit from a sympathetic but tight edit. As a writer friend of mine say, “Murder your darlings!” or as my supervisor wrote many times on my draft autobiographical novel (the Ur version of The Smell of Rain): “Cut back!” or “Cut. We don’t need to know this!” We do fall in love with our own writing, which is why it’s good to have an editor, or at least a critical friend, read it.

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