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Memoir, truth or lie?

Memoirs are in vogue; the reading public has an insatiable appetite for other people’s stories. As Chair Alan Close noted this is not remarkable given that we live in a world where we have learnt not to believe everything. Where we are surrounded by the virtual making things appear real while we know they are not.  This leaves us hungering for the authentic voice of ‘true’ stories.

Joining Close on the panel to discuss memoir where three very different authors with very different books. Paul Carter has lived and worked all over the world including long stints on drilling rigs. His latest book Smoking Monkeys, Drilling Rigs and Bio-diesel and Other Stories is full of entertaining stories.

Carter described himself as, ‘an accidental writer’ he didn’t have aspirations of writing until he stumbled into it when an essay he wrote ended up on a publisher’s desk through a friend of a friend. Once he started writing however the words, ‘just spewed out and I fell in love with the process’. For him writing memoir requires him to get into the right attitude, then he ‘puts his hat out’ and lets it come out of its own accord hoping the reader enjoys the ride.

In response to Close’s question, can memoir be ‘true’? Carter said that while his stories did happen he admits that he plays with time, removing it when there are long stretches where nothing interesting happens, and at the request of his publisher he has changed some names and dates to avoid litigation.

Ned Manning has been a teacher for 30 years and describes his book Playground Duties as slightly different to a memoir, ‘its not about my life, its about my life or voyage as a teacher’. Manning wanted to celebrate teaching, a profession he said he cares about very deeply. Part of his motivation was to address some of the misconceptions people have.

Is it true? ‘I chose to not talk about certain things’ said Manning. ‘I messed with the chronology and was careful to not hurt people by changing names’. He believes we all have a story to tell, that, ‘storytelling is in our blood, every culture has at its heart sitting around a campfire telling stories.’

Jessica Watson made history in 2010 when she sailed unassisted and non-stop around the world at sixteen. Her most recent accomplishment was making it to week seven on Dancing with the Stars. Her book True Spirit: The Aussie girl who took on the World was written primarily for practical reasons to offset the cost of the voyage.

In writing the book Watson was glad for the opportunity to document the years of hard work that lead up to it which helps explain why her parents were not crazy for letting her go. Initially she, ‘felt weird’ about writing a memoir given she was only sixteen but once she began the process she enjoyed how her thoughts came together and delighted when people found her story inspiring.

When she was a child Watson’s mother read her bedtime stories and she quickly developed a love for fantasy. She agreed with Close that reading fantasy may well have taught her that in life everything is possible and there are always new worlds waiting to be explored.

Jessica Watson in the book signing tent.

Margo Laidley-Scott is a media student at Southern Cross University.

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2 Comments

  1. Marian Edmunds says

    I met Jessica Watson, Charming and inspiring, and so assured. I heard her say how before her journey she only wanted to be taken seriously, and now she is. She is not saying however that every young person must take a round world solo yachting trip to be taken seriously. It’s also important for parents to believe in children and what they can achieve, she said.

  2. Pingback: blogging at the writers festival | margosnotebook

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