New Year (same me)
Like most people, at the end of December I found myself with a bit of time on my hands. That’s not strictly true. I was hit by a horrible flu at the end of the month, and started sleeping badly again. I read recently that Louise Bourgeois used to make marks in the long nights she couldn’t sleep which seemed to be to be a productive answer to a lifelong problem. This is my mark making.
It’s easy to assume everyone reading this will already know a little bit about me, and comforting too. Makes it feel less like howling into the void. Although now I think about it, also less comforting. But here’s a recap, sorry if you’ve heard it before. Last year, I released my first book with Penguin Random House, The Last Days: a memoir of faith, desire and freedom. I now realise the subtitle was more of a manifesto than anything else. Next year, I’ll release my second book, a novel; in between, I’m working on what will hopefully become my third book, and tentatively on the fourth, because I’m obsessive and don’t enjoy holidays. I’m also trying to teach myself something I don’t know how to do yet, but that’s a secret, so it won’t feature here. That’s one of the things that wakes me up, and then keeps me awake - how to write memoir AND maintain some privacy.
We’re so used to sharing the minutiae of our lives, shouting about it even, making it all hashtag profound (I have a complicated relationship with social media, something I’ve written about in my second book), how do you keep enough back to stay interesting, and where do you draw the line, especially when you’re writing about people? The Last Days is about the relationship I don’t have with my mother; I lost hours, probably days in total, of sleep over that decision. But in the end, because I was writing about Jehovah’s Witnesses and the effect they have on families, I needed to share the details of that relationship to make the larger story make sense, whereas other parts of my life, they’re private and non-negotiable. I’m a mother to four children, and refuse to write about the specifics of their lives. It’s not their fault I’m a writer, I believe in their right to a private life, and believe that consent obtained from children by a parent isn’t straightforward - when I was 11, I consented to refusing a blood transfusion, consent that looked wilfully given, but what child wants to disappoint a parent? If I asked my kids if I could write about them, they’d probably say yes, but I’m not sure they’d know what they were letting themselves in for, so I’m not going to get into territory that murky with them. Children and consent is on my mind a lot, partly because that’s another theme in my second book - a book that’s already causing me to lose sleep, but that’s another story.
The answer to staying interesting is one I also struggle with. I’m not that interesting. I was in a cult until I was nearly 30, it hampers you a tiny bit. But, I think it lies in the combination of the character you create combined with the narrative you’re telling, because above anything a memoir needs to tell a story (I’m currently grappling with story, this is me thinking aloud). When it comes to character, the ‘I’ you get on the page isn’t the same ‘I’ I am in real life, as Roland Barthes said ‘it must all be considered as though spoken by a character in a novel’, this is key in the play of revealing and concealing. Far better, and more intriguing, to keep something back. And now I’ll take my own advice, and end this here.
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