Memoir and Memory

I’m organising my papers – newspapers, downloaded articles, book and film reviews – you know the kind of things. A year later, or even a couple of months later, that article we ripped out of a magazine or downloaded and printed, doesn’t seem quite as interesting as we thought it was and what with the piles of paper-junk slipping onto the floor, it is time to lay it out on the floor – reading as we go – and either throw it away or catalogue and file it.

So the reading task begins. And horror of horrors, I find a whole file of research into the 1960s which I’d completely forgotten about while I was re-writing my memoir The Baby Box. I scan the photos: Jackie Kennedy in one of her nippy little suits, yes, I’d used that; a list of films showing in 1963, yes, I remembered going to see Tom Jones and that went in the book; an email talking about the weather, the very long, cold winter of 1963…. What? I’m pretty sure I didn’t mention that. Quickly I open my copy of The Baby Box and scan the sections of the story set in 1963. No snow and ice at all. I go back to the email which reads, ‘…a very long cold winter … snow on Boxing Day and the snow stayed until April…’ Not exactly clear if it snowed from the end of 1962 through to 1963 or the end of 1963 through to 1964. Either way, I don’t remember any snow and it certainly wasn’t included in the memoir. Too late to worry now.

I continue to search, read and sort. I find an article about Penelope Lively. I have all her books. When I was starting out on this writing game she was my inspiration. She also wrote memoir: Oleander, Jacaranda (pub Viking 1994) and A House Unlocked (pub Viking 2001). She wrote: ‘… memoir writing is very challenging. It can be done in many different ways. For me, I prefer following the operation of memory itself. We don’t remember in a linear sense. We have a selection of slides in the mind, as it were, and any of those can pop out of the mind.

And telling myself my memory box* doesn’t have any slides of snow, I return to my sorting and clearing out.


* The Memory Box is a novel by the late Margaret Forster, another favourite writer of mine.


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