No-one can write your story so write it yourself” – memoir/life writing with Carolyn O’Hara – 31 October 2018

Yes, as Carolyn O’Hara emphasised in her workshop session on Memoir/Life Writing, ‘It’s all about me’.

While the prolonged Ayrshire rain dampened Halloween spirits outside, Carolyn warmed the hearts of the near thirty members and guests inside a warm Mercure hotel as we listened to, and interacted with, her excellently illustrated personal guide through a voyage of (self-) discovery. Modestly claiming ‘imposter syndrome’ and not having a good imagination (but don’t you need an imagination to appreciate that in the first place?), Carolyn’s relaxed and engaging style was pitch perfect to take us through the essence of life writing via six writing prompts and the sharing of some of her own extensive published life writings.

On the principle that for life writing you don’t need to have undergone a life altering experience, you just need to have lived, Carolyn told us of how she got started by writing about her father for his seventieth birthday. Being a keen gardener she wrote about him as if he were a plant specimen, and so it was that her writing grew and blossomed from the rich soil of her close family.

Asking yourself ‘what has shaped me?’, the feeling and emotion of life writing can be expressed through articles, monologue, memoir, journaling, poetry or blogging, to reach out for authenticity and universal truth.

Carolyn’s first two prompts for five minute exercises were: a recent experience, perhaps the first time you did something, and the use of a photograph to connect with time, place, a person or event. Participative responses of humour, the use of repetition, evocative sounds and tactile experiences, neatly carried us into Carolyn’s next three prompts which were very much about the senses: smell/taste, sound and touch. The evocations stimulated by a particular perfume, of humbugs and even of bacon frying, were shared, as were the nostalgia of certain songs, but also the silence accompanying a child’s death.

Filling a fountain pen was a particularly notable tactile experience that prompted Carolyn’s writing, while members of the group were moved by the ‘feel’ of clothes labels, millstone grit and bank notes. The rich textures of life (writing).

Carolyn’s final writing prompt was the effect of artefacts, such as old receipts, invoices, advertisements, and, not least, letters. In the latter case our presenter offered us a 1942 thank you note from prime minister’s wife Clementine Churchill to Carolyn’s then ten-year old mother for her work in collecting for the war effort. What a revelation!

Finally, Carolyn pointed us towards considering such modes as journaling and blogging for our life writing, and to a dwindling number of potential publishing outlets. As an aid to such publishing, the website www.authorspublish.com was highly recommended.

Topped and tailed by an introduction from Linda and a vote of thanks from Gill, Carolyn’s inspiring workshop left everyone present convinced that they had something to contribute: ‘Every life has a story and it is worth telling: find a way of sharing it’.

The evening prompted this writer to muse that each life is a little like an iceberg: so much experience hidden under the surface that others do not share. Yet if we knew – and understood – each other a little better …

Derek Hall


  1. Susan Turner

    I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and even spent part of today rewriting a blog I started two years ago! Thank you Carolyn I found myself wanting to do something other than poetry?

    Suzie Turner

  2. Susan Turner

    I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and even spent part of today rewriting a blog I started two years ago! Thank you Carolyn I found myself wanting to do something other than poetry!

    Suzie Turner

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