Sunday, 2 October 2016

Memoir Writing with Brian Whittingham

What did your parents think of you? That was a question I had never asked myself and it proved to be a seam rich in writing possibilities. This was just one of the questions Brian Whittingham put to us at Erskine Writers last Tuesday. We enjoyed a delightfully informative and thought-provoking afternoon as Brian had us think about writing a memoir. We thought about possible sub-topics and questions: home, school, relationship with parents and siblings, the area where we lived, leaving home for the first time to live elsewhere, the world of relationships, the world of work and retirement.

Brian Whittingham

Brian also encouraged us to think of sources of information or prompts for writing; photographs, letters, certificates, jewellery and clothing. It was exciting to become aware also of the process of writing as we allowed a photo to give us inspiration to write about our family and our place in it, as we tried to make the photo come alive for a reader who does not have the photo to look at. We also used questions such as the one I quote at the beginning of this report, which brought me into a poetic frame of mind. It was also suggested that we think of events in the wider world in the decade we write about (e.g. the Beatles for the Sixties) and he suggested we should make full use of the senses when evoking events or past times. 

Brian's latest poetry collection

The workshop was helpfully illustrated by examples from Brian’s own writing, by excerpts from Janice Galloway’s This is Not About Me and from the film based on Frank McCourt’s memoir Angela’s Ashes. It was also important to think about why we were writing a memoir and if the intended audience was, for example, family members or the public.

Many thanks to Brian Whittingham for a most enjoyable afternoon from which we all came away with embryonic writings ready to be fashioned into a memoir for the forthcoming competition.

Memoir Competition: deadline 18th October
Brian suggested starting with our family photograph then writing a couple of pages (our competition guidance says not more than1,200 words) on some aspect of our memoir. He added that it need not be a rounded-off piece of work as it may be part of something longer.

Morag Moffat

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