This Is Your Life: A Life Writing Workshop by Linda Brown – 11 October 2017

‘Everyone has a story to tell, your life is your material’. This quote by author Claire Tomalin was the perfect introduction to Linda Brown’s workshop on life writing. It was also an ideal example to prove that you’re never too old (or too young) to write your autobiography. Claire was 84 when she wrote her own memoir, ‘A Life of My Own’. Perhaps even more impressive though, is Herman Wouk’s ‘Sailor and Fiddler’, written at the grand old age of 100 years.

But when it comes to writing our own story, where do we start? Our first exercise of the evening was to write about our very first childhood memory. You could literally hear the cogs turning as memories began to surface and we were soon recalling events buried, but not forgotten. Among the stories shared was a child plunging into a steaming hot bath; a doctor examining a sick child’s doll; and flesh melting on an electric radiator. Ouch!

However, it’s one thing entertaining ourselves but quite another when looking for that unique selling point, particularly if you’re writing to be publicised. Many of us intend our story to stay within the family, others write for social history. Whatever our motivation, Linda pointed out the various sources of material available to us all. These could include a childhood or teenage diary, a school jotter, old letters from pen-pals; all of which contain pages of hidden gems.

Some of us needed clarification when it came to the difference between autobiographies and memoirs. An autobiography, Linda confirmed, records the writer’s entire life chronologically. A memoir, on the other hand, has less stringent boundaries and may only refer to a specific period; more like a snapshot from a photograph album. Alan Cummings’ ‘My Father’s Son’ and Zdenka Fantlova’s ‘The Tin Ring’ were Linda’s examples of memoirs.

Our second exercise was to write about something memorable; perhaps a happy time in our life or a time when we felt lucky. The memories came thick and fast and included winning a Christmas hamper at bingo; the birth of a baby daughter; meeting a son’s fiancée in Kathmandu; and narrowly avoiding arrest at the age of 15 (lucky indeed!).

Anyone daunted by the thought of writing a lengthy autobiography or memoir was reassured by Linda’s suggestion of a blog. Blogs are written in the ‘here and now’, telling the story as it unfolds. Articles are another way of recording memories and a great way of capturing nostalgia. Alternatively, we could use our life skills or hobbies to write an entertaining and informative story.

For our final writing challenge we were given a list of twelve different smells. Everyone in the room could relate to at least one of them and again, we were soon recalling events from many moons ago. My own particular memory involved a childhood trip to the seaside and the salty smell of seaweed; others recalled a snowball fight with a wet dog; a wartime hair wash with carbolic soap; and fairground fun with the unmistakeable smell of candyfloss.

To finish off, Linda made several suggestions when it came to submitting our life writing masterpiece. Efficient as ever, she has already shared these through the Google group so we have no excuse when it comes to getting our story out there. Just to reiterate her one word of caution though, anyone intending to name someone in their story (good or bad) should seek permission from the person concerned. Alternatively, a change of name may be wise.

She may not have produced the ‘big red book’ but Linda’s This Is Your Life presentation skills were second to none. Some members may be too young to remember this particular TV series, but they’re not too young to star in it – just ask Justin Bieber!


Gill Sherry

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