We spoke to Barbara Brooks ahead of her five-week course, Writing Memoir and Memories, about writing evocative memoir.
What brought you to writing memoir?
What draws writers to memoir might be having a story from life that won’t let you go, something that lodges in the imagination. I like memoir or other reasons as well- I can draw on my experience to give resonance and texture and the right kind of detail to the writing.
Do all memoirists have especially good memories? How can you make sure you’re writing the past accurately?
It’s useful for a writer to became an observer and train themselves to remember, as much as possible. But memoir writers often try to verify memories and impressions through researching documents, doing interviews, informing themselves about the context of events. Memory is complicated. Your memories are yours, how you remember certain events, and others remember them differently. And the more I read what neurologists say about memory, the more I realise how complex memory is.
Transforming true anecdotes into compelling reading is quite a feat. How can memoirists hook readers while still being true to real life events?
Memoir writers bring the techniques of fiction to writing true stories, shaping the story, thinking about voice and style. That’s part of it. Vivian Gornick says good writing is alive on the page and the reader feels the writer is on a journey. I think what engages the reader is that feeling that the writer isn’t just recounting events, they are on a journey of discovery, they have some insight to offer. Often this is the real energy of the story.