Writers On Writing / Finding food for the imagination, with Barbara Brooks

We spoke with experienced writer and teacher Barbara Brooks about the craft of writing memoir.

What is one thing you wish you knew when you first started writing memoir?

From the beginning, I’ve written memoir. I see that now, looking back. I wish I’d known more about memoir as a form, but it wasn’t as widely read. I started writing about what I had seen and experienced but my writing was described as short stories. It was only later that writer friends named my work as essay as much as story. And it was much later when I realised I had written short memoir essays that had some narrative elements and some poetry to them. There’s a lovely freedom and openness to the form. Now we read hybrid memoir, poetic memoir, fictional memoir, memoir essays: it’s a feast.   

What are you working on at the moment?

An essay about a road trip, about driving through summer heat and bushfires and realising places that are important to us are changing in ways that seem out of control.

As an experienced teacher, how do you think writers can benefit from participating in writing courses and workshops?

There are many benefits. You learn, you get new information and new ideas, food for the imagination. A good teacher gives you encouragement as well as critique. A course or workshop gives you a structure: you commit to turn up every week, and to write. You have a deadline (you hate this at the time but later you realise you need it).  When your life is busy and complicated, when no-one else tells you your writing is important, you write, because you have committed to turn up and spend this time thinking about writing, learning about writing, and being with other people who want to think and talk and learn about writing.

Barbara Brooks Memoir and Memories

Barbara Brooks has published short memoir, essays and fiction, and an acclaimed biography, Eleanor Dark: A writer’s life. Her essays and stories have been published in Europe, Asia and the US as well as Australia. She is a highly regarded teacher of writing and has taught at a number of universities, including teaching non-fiction writing and life writing at the University of Technology Sydney. A founding member of the committee of the Memoir Club Sydney, she has been a reviewer, editor and mentor, and received many grants and fellowships.

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