Monday, 24 October 2011


Despite the overflowing bookshelves, I keep buying books. While doing my food shopping at the end of the week, I came across a book stall. I bought a cookery book, which was uncommonly cheap, a novel by Hilary Mantel, and two memoirs, one by Margaret Forster, a writer I have long followed, and another Hilary Mantel book, a memoir, entitled Giving up the Ghost.

She starts her memoir with an account of a migraine. Then she continues:

I hardly know how to write about myself. Any style you pick seems to unpick itself before a paragraph is done. I will just go for it, I think to myself, I'll hold out my hands and say, c'est moi, get used to it. I'll trust the reader. This is what I recommend to people who ask me how to get published. Trust your reader, stop spoon-feeding your reader, give your reader credit for being as smart as you at least, and stop being so bloody beguiling: you in the back row, will you turn off that charm! Plain words on plain paper. Remember what Orwell says, that good prose is like a window-pane. Concentrate on sharpening your memory and peeling your sensibility. Cut every page you write by at least one-third. Stop constructing those piffling little similes of yours. Work out what it is you want to say. Then say it in the most direct and vigorous way you can. Eat meat. Drink blood. Give up your social life and don't think you can have friends. Rise in the quiet hours of the night and prick your fingertips, and use the blood for ink; that will clear you of persiflage. 
But do I take my own advice? Not a bit. Persiflage is my nom de guerre. (Don't use foreign expressions; it's elitist.)

Is it not odd how such thoughts, such events, somehow seek you out, and smite  you with their appositeness? What were the chances that I would find and buy this book?

Autobiography has always seemed to me to be a difficult genre. Many autobiographies are very boring indeed. I find I always want more than is given. I want the detail, the nitty gritty. I do not want things left to the imagination, or to be left unsaid. I like Ruth Park's, and Doris Lessing's. They draw me in, and leave me pondering. Less is more: but I want both the less, and the more. Is it possible to have both?

As I write my blog, wondering with each post what I will write about, trying not to harp incessantly on the trials of my life, and to step outside the small sealed box of my reality, to reach once more into the world around me, and to engage with it, I find such chance encounters with the realities of other lives, and the strange and unpredictable nature of coincidences more and more fascinating, and unfathomable.

Sometimes, indeed often, when I read, I am so impatient to know more that I read too quickly and carelessly, and do not catch the nuances, the subtleties. I looked up the book on the Internet, and read a review from The Guardian, thus cheating, to some extent, and found out more. I returned to the book and absorbed some more, but must return and concentrate, and try to notice what missed when I skimmed it so quickly on my first reading. How much of our early life can we truly remember? I seem to have snapshots, fixed points in time, the emotions, the embarrassments, confusions. How much was real, how much could I be sure about?

Two of my sisters have excellent recall. The elder sister, the one with dementia, now has much less grasp of reality, but I wonder how much she is still able to recollect of her childhood and past life? My next sister, C, has an amazing memory, and knows who said what to whom, and when. I wish I had this ability.

While I was at university, I wrote a diary for some years. Eventually I destroyed it, and now I regret this. I have written more about some crises in my life, such as the breakup of my first marriage, but although I occasionally glance at it, I cannot bear to read much of it. I don't suppose anyone kept my letters, and  letters became less frequent, and shorter, as the children were born, and grew and as life became so much busier. Emails restored the practice of writing, but many of them have gone.  Once I moved here, my computer ceased being private. I became very guarded about what I wrote in my emails. My records are thus very incomplete. As is my memory.

I kept the sympathy letters from when I lost my twins, and all the letters when each of my children was born. The children might be glad to have these, eventually. But not yet. And I have all the letters after Dr P's death.

Apart from the intrinsic interest of the subject, I find biographies fascinating, especially when they use the extensive correspondence which was common before telephones and later the Internet transformed the means and use of communications.

We yearn to know, and to know others. We want the meeting of minds.


VioletSky said...

hmmm, my comment from yesterday seems to have become lost.
rather like many of my memories. I, too, wish I had been blessed with total recall. however, there are huge chunks of my younger years that I simply seem to have blocked out.
and how often have I started to read a book only to realize that I remember the events and words on page 137, or chapter 3, but not the rest of the book? I often wonder how is that possible? but such is my life and I am trying to be less impatient in the things I do so that I can be a part of them instead of rushing through.

word verification is 'constant' - apropos, yes?

Pam said...

And isn't it fascinating how different people remember different things - or even the same things, differently?

I like this, written by Laurie Lee: "There is no pure truth, only the moody accounts of witnesses."

Meggie said...

I suspect, many of us rewrite our history, and those with 'total recall' may not have any such thing!
I have some letters I wrote to my mother, and she kept them, as I lived so far away. When I re read them, I am surprised at the number of things I had forgotten.

molly said...

I have read that advice many times from various writers----to edit mercilessly, and reduce your first draft by at least a third.
I think you need a Kindle or a Nook. That way you'd hold all your "books" in a tiny "shelf!"

molly said...

I have read that advice many times from various writers----to edit mercilessly, and reduce your first draft by at least a third.
I think you need a Kindle or a Nook. That way you'd hold all your "books" in a tiny "shelf!"