I was born into a family where stories were all-important. Not just stories you read in books, though those were much loved; not just stories about imaginary people and magical lands, though we adored those; but also the stories that had made us who we were—stories of the family. As a very young child, I lived with my grandmother in France while my parents were away working in Indonesia, and she told stories of her past. Later, living with my parents in Australia, I heard many stories of their pasts, and the family pasts stretching well beyond them, into the mists of the centuries: in my father’s case, right back into the sixteenth century. Secrets and dramas, tragedy and comedy, big characters and twisty plots: they all featured in the family stories and we could never get enough of them. Later still, I told stories of my own past to my children, as well as passing on the stories from my parents and grandparents and way back. It was a natural thing to do, and it still is. And what I realised was this: the fact that I was brought up in that ferment of family story not only grounded me in my identity, it also had the effect of heightening my own memories of childhood and adolescence so that later, as a writer for children, I had a deep and authentic well to draw from, for my fiction.
But fiction’s one thing. Memoir is quite another. And writing stories about yourself and your family, for public consumption, is also quite different from telling them within the family. There’s so many things you don’t need to explain within the family, but for strangers to understand, to enter into the very personal world you are recreating, you need to at least set the scene. Memoir is written usually in subjective first person; but you need the third-person objective eye, too, if it is to communicate to readers and succeed as a work of art. [Read more…]