This week, I received a direct message on Twitter. It’s unusual for me to have one of these, so I wondered what was going on. It turned out to be from someone called Hayley.
Some background here: I’d met her six years ago at a feminist poetry evening in Dundee, and I’d performed a new poem that directly referenced my bisexuality for the first time. She’d enjoyed it and asked for a copy. However, the piece was so new that I had only one handwritten version in my notebook, so I copied out the piece and gave it to her, adding the date and place.
In the message, Hayley told me she had been 19 at the time, and had kept that paper for the last six years, adding that she found it just as validating and comforting at the age of 25.
The poem in question was then included in an anthology by the first publisher I sent it to, but it means more to me that someone has kept it for such a long time, and I hope it continues to bring such validation.
It’s not the first time someone has kept a piece of mine. A few years ago, I owed £1 to my pal Jen Robson, so I placed a coin in an envelope with a silly four-line verse on the front, expecting it to be discarded. To my knowledge, she still has it.
Last week, you should have seen an entry about memoir writing, but just as I was about to type it, my Internet speed inexplicably slowed to a crawl. By the time I was able to access WordPress, there were only five minutes left to hammer out a basic explanation.
It’s doubly frustrating because the planned entry was in reference to the terrorist attacks of 11 Sep 2001 and would have been more relevant last week. Rather than a straight retelling of my experience that day, I was exploring what details might be included in such an account.
I was at school in sixth-form at the time, and I heard the news just as I was about to head home.
One possible emphasis is how I heard the news: first by word of mouth from classmates, plus the librarians had set up a TV showing the news footage. One pal was also able to find out details online with the first Internet-enabled mobile phone I’d ever seen.
Anotdher possible aspect is the political one. My Economics and Modern Studies teachers were both well-informed about global security and were able to lead discussions about what might happen next. The Modern Studies course also felt as though it was being rewritten as we were trying to learn it.
In my experience, memoir is better when it comes from a certain angle, although in a lengthier account, it might be appropriate to include both versions. Ultimately there is no right or wrong emphasis. It’s up to the writer to decide what type of story to tell, and aim it in that direction.
Every so often, I’ll start to write an entry, then abandon it. Sometimes I don’t know how to finish it; sometimes a more urgent topic arises before I can finish it.
As such, I have five draft entries in my WordPress account, listed in order of when they were last edited. The original unedited words are in italics, with further explanation below each one.
18 Mar 2018: The Importance of Outside Influences
While it is necessary for an author to read within their own genre, one of the first pieces of advice given to beginner writers is to read widely. and collect influences from different sources.
This is fairly self-explanatory and probably would have segued into a couple of examples of where the author has successfully put together two disparate ideas to create something new.
Oddly enough, I was at a workshop run by Kirsty Logan a couple of weeks ago where she explored this very idea, so this topic might make a resurgence.
15 Oct 2019: But Who Would Want to Hear About That?
At the weekend, I took part in two different tours: on Saturday, a road train around Arbroath; on Sunday, a walking tour around the mostly-disused basement of Glasgow Central Station.
In both cases, it was clear that the guide had a vast knowledge of his subject, including a recognition that there were still mysteries to be solved
There is no shortage of fiction written by people with an exhaustive knowledge of their subject: Herman Melville in Moby-Dick, Dan Brown in Angels & Demons, &c. Often it makes for compelling reading, but an author needs to be careful not to overload the reader.
21 Jul 2019: Respeaking
This was the entirety of my note. It was a reference to how TV subtitles are created, at least on the BBC.
I wrote this fragment while listening to a poetry event from Wolverhampton and surrounding areas. Someone talked about living in a post-industrial place and the language that grew out of that, and I could draw a comparison with where I live, hundreds of miles away.
I’m not sure how much I could expand much on this idea, but it’s still there for the taking.
10 Aug 2020: The Fallback Formula
While taking my Masters degree, our class was asked to perform a piece for public reading. We could do anything we wanted, but the tutor suggested the prompt ‘piece of my mind’. As I wasn’t finding any ideas, I did what I often do in that situation, and go for a walk. I recall it was a freezing February night.
The walk resulted in my first list poem, called Textbook. Each of its 23 lines begins with the words ‘I’ve learnt’, in which the narrator is worried about a third party. The original plan was to begin each line with a different verb, but I found the repetitive structure worked rather well.
Those two paragraphs were the original entry, while the one below was copied directly from notes I made at the time.
Kirsty, voice suited the piece, dichotomy, you’re never the subject until last line. Corrin, liked the repetition, person depression, created flickering image. Graeme, think you can tell it’s someone close to narrator, didn’t get gender. Jackie, speaker was male, person was female. Eddie, took it as daughter who was self-harmer.
I’ve discussed my writing process many times, including the devices I rely upon, so there’s no specific reason to finish this piece.