Friday, 13 May 2022

Three cheers for memoir writing -- and ABBA! by Sheena Wilkinson

As those of you who tune in regularly on the 13th of each month know, I’ve recently dipped my toes into the waters of memoir writing. I was trepidatious at first, but once I started submerging myself in my own experience, I was surprised by how much I – enjoyed is not the right word, but I seem to be able to do it not too badly and now I have reasonable body of work – far short of a full-length manuscript, but probably about 25,000 words which is, for me, the point at which a thing feels like a Thing. 

starting to look a lot like a Thing

Three things have boosted me along the way.

First, the poet Maureen Boyle, reading my first post on the subject, invited me to expand on it with an article in Northern Ireland’s magazine Fortnight. She was guest editing a special Arts section on memoirs. What perfect timing! This was my first commissioned article in a few years, and at a time when I was waiting anxiously for news of a novel on submission, having a real deadline gave me focus and enthusiasm. And being published alongside writers I hugely admire, in a magazine that I grew up with, made me proud. It also reminded me that you never know who is reading ABBA!

Proud to be in such company 

 Second, I enrolled on a six-week memoir-writing course run by Curtis Brown Creative, with materials by the acclaimed and popular memoirist Cathy Rentzenbrink. Having to complete exercises was more good discipline and Cathy’s materials were thought-provoking and inspiring.  I received helpful feedback but more importantly, a small number of us have stayed together to form a critique group. I have never met anyone in this group, and chances are I never will, but there was an atmosphere of mutual trust and support from the start, partly because of the nature of what we are writing. These generous strangers have given me honest and insightful feedback and in seeking to do the same I have been encouraged to look at my own work with fresh eyes.

Third, one of the short pieces I wrote for the Fish short memoir prize won second prize. The Fish is a very respected competition so naturally that gave me a great boost too. I have a strange relationship with writing competitions. About a decade ago I had a fair amount of success in short story competitions, but in later years, despite being a better writer, my stories haven’t seemed to hit the mark in the same way so I hadn’t bothered. Success in the Fish reminded me of the subjectivity and serendipity involved – I had entered three pieces, all, I reckon, of comparable standard, and while one was placed second, the other two didn’t even make the (pretty long) longlist. Funnily enough, this encouraged me to dust down some ‘also-ran’ stories from a few years back, give them another edit, and send them back out to their fate. One never knows. In fact, I’ve decided to use my prize money as an entrance fees fund, and I won’t stop submitting till the money runs out! 



1 comment:

Lynne Benton said...

Congratulations, Sheena, and thank you for reminding us all that there is still some hope out there in the publishing world! I shall look forward to reading your memoir when it's out there...