Monday Motivation: Repossessing the past

 In Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog, Tips for Writers

I’ve always regretted having a memory that dredges up numbers, but not conversations or passages of writing that I’ve read and loved.

Memory – not only of conversation and texts, but also of details, and stories, and emotions – is a writer’s best friend. It’s often struck me that those writers blessed with great memories start off with a huge advantage over lesser mortals with faulty or vague recall.

I’ve envied people like the journalist Paul Foot – the subject of a biography by someone we’re working with – who managed, over the course of years, to commit vast tracts of poetry to memory; or a friend who seems to recall without effort whole paragraphs from books he’s read.

In writing about conversations I’ve had, I have to do the tedious work of reconstruction, based on my imperfect knowledge of the people involved, and the unreliable logic of arguments.

But memory can be cajoled from its lair. Some time ago, I wrote a memoir novel – a piece of autofiction which freely adapted what actually happened with imagined incidents and events, designed to point and shape the drama. I discovered that dwelling on the few sharp details that I did recall, from the distant past of my childhood – which I’d thought largely lost in the fog of time – drew from the shadows associated details. A specific incident yielded others, until, like a house emerging from mist burned away by the sun, an entire sequence of events was revealed in what seemed to me sometimes astonishing detail.

An old acquaintance of mine from university days some years ago wrote a book of reminiscences about growing up in South Africa called I Remember King Kong. Denis Hirson begins every sentence in the book with the words: I remember…

It struck me that this is a fine exercise for all writers to undertake – prodding not only memory, but challenging you to capture those memories as crisply and as accurately as you possibly can.

So that’s what my suggestion is today: write a page or two of individual memories, and details from your youth, depicted as economically as you can.

Happy writing,


PS – If you want to turn your memories into a memoir, please join our Memoir Weekend at the Karoo Art Hotel in Barrydale with the two Jo-Annes – Hichens and Richards.

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