Memoirs to the rescue …Tara Westover’s “educated”.

Everyone who writes is supposed to read all the time. I certainly do that, in part because of increasingly chronic insomnia. But reading too much (and watching too much Netflix) gets in the way of actually writing. So I am cutting right back. But at the recent Sydney Writer’s Festival (the one sponsored by Varuna at Katoomba, and only for one short day unfortunately) I heard Tara Westover talk about her just-published memoir educated and I had to buy the book and read it at once. Not finished yet, and will write more about it soon, but am loving it so far, and finding it inspires me with confidence about the value of life-writing. I love the fiction universe of course, the worlds created there, but the actual real world is pretty amazing!

As mentioned last time, memoirs are at the front of my priority list at the moment. I realise in retrospect that I have been reading memoirs now for several years. Westover’s book is about a young woman who is raised in a fundamentalist Mormon household on a mountain in Idaho. The thing is, she never went to school – shock horror – and yet became a highly successful writer, historian and academic at the top universities in Britain. I haven’t found out exactly how she accomplished this, but I kind-of relate to it. Of course I did go to school, and my family was hardly survivalist or fundamentalist, but the ethos of my early life was pretty similar: anti-Government, pro-self reliance, no emphasis on education, the constant awareness that you weren’t like other people who took city life and money and happiness for granted. And of course, being in Australia in the 1950s meant something different: the shadow of World War Two, family disruptions, deaths and secrets and silences.

I have read – what? – maybe thirty or forty memoirs about growing up in communes or remote communities or outside the mainstream world. In many ways I was doing the same until the mid-1970s and then, strangely, I slid back into it, but that older life never leaves you, and I think, from what Tara was saying in her talk, it has never left her either.

And today I am reflecting on the strangeness of it:  reading other people’s life stories allows you in some way to rescue or re-inhabit your own.

Tara dad

So what’s next? Priorities, projects and self-pity.

Some lucky people simply write one book at a time and publish it. Others, especially in Sci-fi or Crime, may have one or more books in one or more series going at any one time, but at least they’re working in a single genre. What happens when you are working across several genres at once?

My children’s book The Priceless Princess is at last readily available in the print version for Australian customers and it is definitely time to make more of a marketing push with it. But everyone who reads it wants to know what is coming next? I have the next Priceless Princess adventure in the wings, but should I take time out from other projects right now to pursue it?

My main focus this year has been on the Memoirs. Two volumes are finished but both need re-editing and a third volume is half-way written. Every new volume seems to mean the others have to be changed in some significant ways. And writing Memoirs is so psychologically punishing. Will write more about this soon. Suffering perilous bouts of self pity and sometimes self-loathing, it is not surprising that I keep on wanting to run with the Cat Chronicles again.

Suburban Gigolo was the lead-in but the whole project will involve at least three more volumes, all around 20,000 words or more. Have been having fun drafting some cover-art for the first one. There are so many options but I need to get my Photoshopping done.