Peter Farrell: New Zealand Writer
WRITING A MEMOIR
WRITING A MEMOIR
Red Hill School in Kent, England where it all began.
Like many before me, I have enjoyed creative writing and life writing courses and there are many useful books on both subjects. These brief notes do not attempt to replace or challenge expert opinion. Rather they represent some of the various processes I, as a new writer, went through to complete The Lie That Settles. In the end I had to decide that courses were all very well but I just had to get on with actually writing the book.
Why a Memoir?
The themes, such as the bohemian free school movement and adult relationships which were so difficult to write about are the very themes that make the story interesting. Initially I was unwilling to put myself and my thoughts out there for public scrutiny so bits of this story began to appear as fictional short stories. I found I was quite happy to to tell the individual stories so why not just put them altogether and own them for what they were? The memoir framework gave me some freedom to introduce my own perspectives which were credible, based on situations or characters I had some information about although I was not present at some of the events I describe. Zoe Heller describing the work of essay writer Janet Malcolm says:
"She is constantly reminding us that her beautiful, lucid texts are stories shaped by a writer with certain aesthetic and professional imperatives, certain vanities and prejudices and idiosyncrasies of her own" New Yorker June 2013. I am no Janet Malcolm but this does capture the approach. In the event, readers and critics have responded positively to this approach although it has caused some discomfort to immediate family on my father's side.
Once I felt comfortable with the approach, I felt I had a story I wanted to tell not only to my immediate family but to a wider audience. It took ten years and many diversions between starting and finishing The Lie That Settles.
Approaches that worked
The greatest aid to this memoir proved to be a small table with each column headed up
a)Years b)National/International events c)Movies/Songs d)What I was doing e)What I was thinking/feeling
Usually I found that completing the notes for the first three columns touched off some interesting memories for the final two columns and helped me develop my own voice and perceptions and see them in their historical context.
It was tempting to move the action backwards and forwards and tell some of the story in retrospect. I chose to remain with the conventional approach and follow the action in sequence, staying with the mantra of 'show, don't tell'. The only time the action moves out of sequence is in the Prologue where it is done for dramatic effect and to draw the reader in.
Finding a title
The title of the book is taken from this quotation:
"It is not the lie that passeth through the mind, but the lie that sinketh in and settleth in it that doth the hurt". - Francis Bacon.
It is left to the reader to decide whether Bacon was right on this occasion. I found this quotation very early on. The title just grew from that and has been the only constant in a number of drafting and re-draftings of the book over the years.
Te Papa, Wellington New Zealand 1998. Finding the meaning of whanau.