My Writers' Group Feedback

Posted at 11:11am on 25th November 2015

We meet every other month and, midst this morning's mince pies and chocolate cake, we spent the first few minutes sharing news.
David Scott is to be congratulated for having his memoir, Death by a Thousand Clots reviewed in Devon Life, second only to Michael Morpurgo’s latest book.

Roger Steer, whose last book, Inside Story  was a biography of John Stott, is to be congratulated for becoming a grandparent, and for the fact that he has another book in mind.

Tania Vaughan deserves a pat on the back for her speaking engagements and for an article she has coming up in January’s Woman Alive.

And Helen, who was appointed media rep for Breast Cancer Care as the result of the article we urged her to send in to for publication, also deserves a big clap for the article she had in the Huffingtonpost.

For myself, I’m delighted to say that I’ve raised yet more money for Tearfund’s refugee crisis fund from sales of my book, Time to Shine at various talks and signings, and I have another coming up in Wordwise Bookshop in Kingsbridge, South Devon on 4th December.  I’d love to see you if you’re available.  Meanwhile, the kindle download OF Time to Shine is available for only £0.99 TODAY ONLY.


Today I took an off-the-cuff decision to raise the topic of memoir writing for discussion.  With former newspaper editor, David Scott, in our midst, as well as well-known biographer, Roger Steer, it elicited some animated debate, as well as some tips.

  • David: Always keep a notebook with you as the more you write the more memories come to you unbidden.
  • Can you write anything about anyone?  Yes, you can, as long as it is expressed as your opinion and not as fact.
  • Roger: Memoir is of natural to interest to us all because it’s story and that's the best way to communicate.  He continued by pointing out that story is not the same as giving an opinion, or writing to make a case.
  • The question as to how you can know what is in someone else’s heart and mind was raised, and we admitted that it’s difficult.  That is true of ourselves, as well, because we can never be sure that the thoughts and feelings we seek to convey from yesteryear are accurate, and have not become tainted in retrospect.
  • Tania spoke of the cathartic effect of writing memoir, but also of the worrying effect a book might have on family.  I pointed out that my earliest books, all memoir, were written under a pen name – and not the one I now use.
  • The issue of vulnerability was raised: would people really want to read your memoir?  We referred back to Roger’s earlier comments about the appeal of story.
  • Helen spoke of the need to know one’s motive in writing a memoir.  Who is it for?  What is it meant to achieve?
  • The issue of criticism came up.  David Coffey, said, in the foreword of Where is My Child? – one of my earlier memoirs - that readers would, of course, have different opinions about .   And so they did!  I told the group about the review written by well-known journalist Melanie Phillips, and her scathing comments on my abilities as a mother.  It was damning.  But it was one woman’s opinion.  And I had to take the view that all publicity is good publicity.
  • I spoke about anecdotal material, pointing out that in my How-to book, Stepfamilies, the didactic material was endorsed by adding anecdotal material: stories about how stepfamilies other than my own had coped with different situations.
  • I raised the subject of memoir being less appealing if written in journalistic style, and the need for dialogue and an inner stream of consciousness.  This took us on to passive voice (see my article What Does Passive Voice Mean in the Creative Writing Process)  and Roger confirmed that his editor had rigorously cut out the verb To Be from his first book.
  • We also talked about the use of description and its place in writing.  Some modern writers seem to believe that it can slow down the action.  A discussion then took place about the need for action scenes to be alternated with reaction scenes.  So while dialogue and action are vital in the former, the latter is more reflective.  In this case, description may be used in an allegoric manner.  I’ll write more of this in a later blog.

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