We caught up with Mary Moody recently and spoke with her about how she writes, and the balancing act that comes with writing memoir.
In The Long Hot Summer you describe the experience of sequestering yourself in a hotel to write, which sounded quite necessary at the time. Does your writing practice differ according to the state of your life and feelings?
It’s very difficult to find writing time when you are the main ‘doer’ in the family. I live on a farm, which is delightful, so there are always jobs to be done outside. The garden, in particular, is my passion, so I am easily distracted, especially in autumn and spring.
Fundamentally, my writing practice is determined by deadline. When I have signed a contract with a firm deadline, I will work consistently and happily to reach that goal. My trips to a motel have been motivated by a desire for some focus time as that deadline approaches. At that point I want no distractions at all – no meals to cook or pets to feed or lawns to mow. Just me and the M/S. It works for me.
You have written about some very personal experiences in your three French memoirs. Is it important for a memoirist to be prepared for mixed reactions from family members once their work is shared?
This is the main dilemma of writing memoir. I have always discussed the content of my books with the main protagonists and have given the key characters a chance to read the manuscript before handing it over to the publisher. It’s a bit like being a working Mum, in that it’s a delicate juggling act endeavouring to keep everyone happy. Trying to stick to the truth (my truth) while not ruffling feathers is the goal. I believe I succeeded, although one branch of the family were offended by my honesty. Ironically, they were not particularly close family members.
Your memoirs are warm, frank, and conversational. Do you see your writing style as an extension of your personality? Is it important for a memoirist to maintain their authenticity?
Finding your true voice is the trick. I have discovered that I write very much as I speak – the phrasing, the humour and hopefully the warmth. I avoid trying to be clever with my use of language, opting more for clear, simple and expressive writing. Writing from the heart rather than writing to impress with literary style.
I also believe readers can sense if the story lacks authenticity. Memoirs that gloss over difficult experiences and only discuss the glowing triumphs, will never ring true. It must be warts and all.
Have you read any memoirs of late that you found particularly captivating?
My husband bought me a copy of a memoir written by American singer Patti Smith Just Kids about her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe in the 1960’s. I found it beautifully written and very moving at times. She was quite tough on herself, so I identified with her difficult journey.