Dear Book Doctor,
The last 4 and a half months of my life have been like a Bollywood epic sending me on an international rescue mission to fetch my poorly dad home from rural Punjab to northern England, complete with overtly emotional crying scenes, dramatic battles with evil villains, the uniting of a distant family (almost) and of course, a couple of group dance scenes.
It was the only time I ever got to fly business class but spent most of it on the floor so my dad’s bouncy knee could rest on my head whilst he slept.
I need to write dad’s story and my story of having this one dad. A story of adventure, immigration, magic and hope. Of the lessons I’ve learnt from this quiet sage.
And I need some inspiration on where to start with writing a memoir please. What other inspirational memoirs have been written that could inspire and guide me? Maybe memoirs where the gaps have had to be filled in with a sprinkling of imagination? Memoirs that require a box of tissues, leaves me in a satisfied heap at the end and makes me feel that I’ve really shared a journey, learnt something. And any book recommendations for the process of writing a memoir or personal narrative?
Thanks Book Dr for your wordy medicine,
Mired in Memories
It does sound like you’ve been on quite the adventure. And just from what you’ve written so far, I can tell this Bollywood level memoir is a book that needs to get written. I, for one, am eager to read it! Let’s get started.
First of all, I can’t help but mention A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. It is a novel, but it is the sort of grandiose epic that would be an appropriate tone for your book. Worth a read- it’s one of my favorites although it is an enormous volume. Good for an eReader, I must say. Audio would take about a year and a half to get through…
Now on to memoirs. There are so many out there, I think it’s a question of what style you want to pursue. A full length book with one narrative right through? I would look to The Glass Castle as the example of a heartbreaking memoir about parents for that. In addition, I would give you the divinely titled Them: A Memoir of Parents by Francine du Plessix Gray, which my aunt absolutely went nuts over. (I must admit I haven’t read it yet, but I remember her raptures very clearly)
The other option is a series of shorter pieces. While not a memoir, strictly speaking, I was so won over by the very revealing personal elements in The Empathy Exams. It was one of the best things I read the year it came out. Leslie Jamison writes so well it almost made me puke. Or give up on writing ever again. But it was still worth reading. At a writing conference I attended that summer it was the absolute rage and it might be a way to think about telling different parts of the story in shorter essayesque chapters.
But then how to write the thing in the first place?
You have to go right to the source, Natalie Goldberg. Yes, Writing Down the Bones is genius and required reading for anyone who wants to write anything and Old Friend From Far Away is specifically about memoir, but I think Long Quiet Highway might be best for you. It is the story about her personal discovery path through Zen Buddhism and writing and her relationship to her beloved teacher, Katagiri Roshi. I think there may be something of your Bollywood memoir in this- beloved father figure, spiritual overtones, a journey… stop me if I’m going too far afield.
And finally, I recommend The Situation and the Story by Vivian Gorelick as well as To Show and to Tell by Philip Lopate, both of which were recommended by my creative nonfiction teacher. They have slightly different angles- Lopate is more focused on literary nonfiction and Gorelick is more personal narrative and has the advantage of referencing a wide range of successful work from many different cultures and situations. I’d start with Gorelick and then go to Lopate.
Phew! Lots to say on that one.
Now… you’ll have to tell us first once you sell your book, ok?
Happy reading! (and writing)
The book dr.
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