Writers On Writing / Mastering Memoir with Alice Pung

‘I think finding peace is very different to fueling a vendetta.’

Ahead of her one-day workshop, Writing From Life, we spoke to Alice Pung about writing memoir and the impact it can have on a writer’s relationships.

Was it a conscious decision to start writing memoir, or was it something that came naturally and that you later thought might interest others?
I first started writing stories about my family. Although I featured in the narrative, many of the stories really didn’t have myself as the subject. A few of my stories started to get published when I was in my late teens/early 20s, and then Black Inc approached me to write a book. I think the year Unpolished Gem came out (2006), memoir was really taking off, so it was marketed as such. But I still think of the book as a story about a family, narrated by one of its members; not a story about me.

Whose writing has influenced your own?
It depends on which book I am writing. With Unpolished Gem, Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan and Jamaica Kincaid, and with Her Father’s Daughter it was the domesticity of Anne Tyler coupled with the banal brutality detailed by Elie Weisel. With my young adult work, John Marsden, Melina Marchetta and Robin Klein. Of course, I’m nowhere near the heights of my literary inspirations, but I try and aim high!

How can writers navigate writing about their lives in a way that’s respectful to their friends and family?
My general rule is if it is going to damage a relationship with someone I love or care about, then the person takes precedence over the page. Having said this, sometimes people in my workshops have to tell their truth to find peace with themselves and the damage wrecked upon their lives, and that might be more important than what others think. I think finding peace is very different to fueling a vendetta.

Writing From Life will take place on Sunday 15 April from 10am-4pm at the NSW Writers’ Centre. Book in here.

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