Young By Name, Old Enough for Memoirs?

How old must you be to start writing your memoirs?

The author, aged about 2, in the garden with her teddy

“Teddy and I miss the good old days of rusks and bottles of milk.”

My parents have recently announced that they’re writing theirs. I’m looking forward to reading them to find out whether their memory of my childhood chimes with mine.

My father is 80 and my mother is 78, so they should have plenty of material.

But I started writing a memoir when I was still in my 30s. I was just settling into my new life in the village of Hawkesbury Upton, and all was new and strange. At the time, I didn’t realise how young 30-something would seem to me as I got older, nor how much adventure and change was yet to come.

My daughter occasionally brings to light a treasured memory from her childhood, recalled in a fond nostalgic voice as if speaking of ancient times. She is 10.

Too Much, Too Young?

It’s easy to condemn as vain celebrities who write their memoirs at a very young age. But is it really vanity that drives them, or  pessimism, based on the assumption that the only way is down? I don’t blame them for wanting to capture every golden moment for fear that it might evaporate or be forgotten.

Cover of Kenneth Branagh's autobiography.

Aged 30, the actor Kenneth Branagh published his autobiography. He was born the same year as me.   I approve of the optimistic title: “Beginning”.

Unless your personal memory has the capacity of a sky drive, I reckon it’s worth writing down your memories as you go along. For most of my life I’ve kept diaries, more recently migrating to blogging. I’m very thankful for  the technology that ensures my recollections will remain legible. Sadly, most of my journals are not.

Your memories will never be as clear again as they are now. Or will they? A few years after my uncle died, my aunt dropped into conversation “I know him so much better now”. Having since been widowed myself, I know just what she means. Distance lends perspective, the passage of time brings objectivity – two factors which can only increase your level of understanding.

But hey, if the events of your life need reinterpreting with the benefit of that wonderful thing, hindsight, you can always edit your memoirs later – or write a sequel. You don’t have to wait till the end to write the middle. The old showbusiness adage applies to your readers too: always leave them wanting more.

So cancel my opening remark – I’m not looking forward to reading my parents’ memoirs. What I really want to read is the sequel.

As to the memoir I wrote in my 30s, I’d put it away and forgotten about it. Then recently rationalising my study, I rediscovered it in a dusty old folder. I was astonished at how much I’d forgotten. So, for the sake of posterity,  I’ve been posting chapters to my blog  – just click a chapter title to open the chapter.

Hawkesbury Tales: A Memoir of a Village Life

Who Will Buy?

Give A Fox A Bad Name

Damp

I Decide to Join the WI Choir (just added today)

5 thoughts on “Young By Name, Old Enough for Memoirs?

  1. Pingback: Why Doing A Jigsaw Puzzle Is A Bit Like Writing A Book | DEBBIE YOUNG

  2. As a memoirist, I think this is a very balanced post, Debbie. I could not have written about my childhood even as a 20-something as I simply hadn’t had the years to discuss and reflect on that time. However, I also know that as a 40-something, my memory is starting to slip a bit and so I feel like now is a very good time to be doing the writing (also so that I can fact check with others while they’re still alive!). The same cautions apply to memoir writing as any other genre: don’t be self-indulgent and think of your audience first. Unless, of course, one plans to write them and then lock them away forever.

    • Thank you, Laura. It’s too easy to forget your last point about thinking of the reader and get carried away with your own memories, (which you never do in your writing), so thanks for reminding me!

  3. That’s interesting! My husband’s grandad – not quite 80 – has been writing his memoirs recently and I’ve learnt a lot about my dad from the life story blog he’s writing, but I’d never really considered starting my own and based on what my memory is like now – never mind when I’m a lot older – I probably should hurry up and get started!!

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