Thursday, March 8, 2012



Among the fifteen people in my memoir-writing group at Writers Victoria in January there were two sisters. I set the group a writing exercise where they would recall a significant clock or watch from their early lives, and write about it for ten minutes. After this I invited people to read out what they had written. Both sisters, without consulting each other, wrote about their grandfather’s fob watch. As we all listened to the second sister’s account, we could recognize the grandfather, but the funny thing was that one sister recalled a lovely golden chain, while the other remembered a silver one. Since the chain is now lost, we will probably never know whether it was silver or gold.

Workshops are often enlivened by moments not unlike this one, but I thought this textbook example of the behaviour of memory was worth noting. If these sisters can’t agree on the nature of the chain which they observed in the relatively recent past, just how much can ever be believed? And how much does this matter? When you are writing memoir you are in one sense fabricating a new past from the materials your memory offers you, you are constructing something like a piece of fiction, in some ways, while trying (I suppose) to stick to the truth. The truth as you know it.

Also worth noting is the fact that the group, as groups frequently do, decided to keep in touch with each other by email after the workshop.

I have been astonished by the energy and commitment of this particular group. They continue to write and to share their work with each other, and to offer clear-eyed yet always encouraging criticism of the writing. I think most of them will persevere and will write various kinds of memoir, some for general publication, some for family and friends. And I know they will all remember, in one way or another, the lovely lesson of the gold and silver chains.

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