Thursday, 28 April 2011

Writing autobiography - risky business

The seven tales that I wrote for my anthology 'From Wear To Wye' are all explicitly autobiographical. By explicitly I mean that I name names, referring directly to family members and friends, so I talk about them in material that is intended for, and has reached, the public domain ...

Depending on what you say and how you say it, doing this can quickly lose you those beloved family and friends, so you have to be careful, careful, careful. Especially since, as much as we like to think we know some folk inside out, we actually don't. Who of us shows everything to anybody except perhaps a miracly-discovered soul mate (come on, it has to be a miracle, what are the odds against that ever happening). So the risks are high that your view of something you're saying about somebody being completely harmless, inoffensive, and actually true, aren't guaranteed to be received that way by the somebody themselves.


My anthology tales comment on happenings from the past, from my personal history, and of course from the personal history of everyone I mention in the book. But much more risky it seems is writing autobiography for a family member and actually writing their lives ahead of where they are now. Because I've just finished reading A S Byatt's 'The Children's Book' - which I borrowed from Ross-on-Wye public library but which I love so much I'm intending to shell out some of my small-but-special writer's income to purchase my own copy of the book. I wanted to start reading it again the moment I'd finished it - and a character in the book is a writer who is writing autobiography ahead of the game for one of her children. With dire consequences. Of course, this is the fabulous Byatt, and none of what I'm describing is as simple as this summary of it. But it did make me think more deeply about the implications of giving an opinion about somebody in a public work, and the risks of that opinion becoming self-fulfilling.


'From Wear To Wye' is published by Doug Maclean Publishing in Gloucestershire, but remaining copies now available only from my good self, if you'd like details of how to buy a copy put your enquiry in a comment to this posting, I'll find ye ...

Thursday, 14 April 2011

What do you get when ...

...  you cross a writer with a meeting-of-like-minds opportunity?

A 3-hour conversation in the cafe at Taurus Crafts Arts Centre (better order another coffee since we're taking up a table)
a 3-hour conversation in the bar at Cafe Rene (better order another drink since we're taking up a table).

It's good to talk!

Monday, 11 April 2011

The Echo-Children

In a recent posting I was telling you about the first of my three days at a primary school local to Gloucester City who have been having a Celebrate Gloucester week. I worked for three mornings with years 1 - 3, so 5 - 7 years old. At the start of each session I chatted with them about where they personally liked in Gloucester. Not necessarily where the obvious tourist attractions might be but where they themselves liked to be. Maybe there was a particular little lane, or shop window, or building, that they particularly liked. The overall concept was for the children to create personalised tour guides for my bear Ursula who lives with me in a cottage in the woods and has never been to Gloucester ...

The children had the choice of creating the tour guide in a comic strip paper-based form, or of creating a piece of performance ... with a narrative ... using settings from around the city.

I've already mentioned the tale of Ursula's Scary Visit To Gloucester created by the children on day one of the project. Days 2 and 3 brought tales of the homeless (princesses all dressed up and nowhere to go), two silly secret agents (Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau would have been proud of their slapstick performance I'm certain), a boat crash on the canal (Oopsie!) and an enchanting tale of children who could throw their voices, by echo, all the way from Gloucester docks to the Forest of Dean.

All of the tales were performed to an audience that consisted of the bear and the other children in the group.

On the third and final day, there happened to be over 20 children in the overall group, so several performance pieces took place. As the last one finished, a child who had been an enthusiastic audience member but not in any performances herself, shouts across the room to me to ask 'which one did you like the best?'

'Which one did you like best?' I counter, because I don't feel it's appropriate for me to show favour based on the limited time they've all had to create their pieces.

The questioning child is around 5 years old, but one of those 5 year olds that are going on 30, you know the ones. So she repeats her question. I like all of them equally, I tell her. And she gives me a look that tells me in no uncertain terms that she knows I have a favourite, that she knows which one it is, and she wants me to declare it.

I resisted. And after a brief internal struggle with herself, the little lass decided not to persevere.

But I'll tell you ... it's the echo-children that return to me every time I visit Gloucester city.

The image that accompanies this posting is one I took during the Crucible sculptural art exhibition that was held at Gloucester Cathedral last year.

I visited the exhibition several times but I've never worked out why we were warned to 'take care'. Danger! Look out! There's a sculpture about! I wonder what the echo-children would have made of that?