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You are here: Home > Young Writers' Hub > Blog > A review and extended thoughts of a Jack Mapanje lecture: ‘Everyone is writing their memoir, Why don’t you?’
A review and extended thoughts of a Jack Mapanje lecture: ‘Everyone is writing their memoir, Why don’t you?’
Guest blogger Matt Sharp on Jack Mapanje

Recently I attended a lecture at York St John University by guest Jack Mapanje.  As I am sure you are all aware, he is a Malawian writer and poet. He was the former head of English at the University of Malawi, and is currently a senior lecturer in English at Newcastle University. He was also imprisoned by the Apartheid regime in South Africa. This experience has naturally influenced his work and is the subject of many of his books and poems.

However, the lecture given was on the more sedate subject of memoir writing, and why, according to Mapanje, everyone should be writing theirs. It may seem like an odd thing for us that have not gone through terrible times, such as Mapanje, or perhaps feel inadequate to the other memoirs we read. We see on our book shop shelves memoirs by Barrack Obama, Tony Blair, Stephen Fry and many others we respect and expect to have rich and interesting life’s which merit the publication of memoirs.  Mapanje argues that everyone should be writing theirs, because who else will tell it? Who else has had the experiences you have had, because everyone’s memoirs will be unique, and as Mapanje said, especially yours.

However, what hit me as I listened to the lecture was,’ what a fantastic tool this could be.’ I began to realise that keeping a diary will help me practice my own creative writing. Let’s say we take a fragment of our own lives, and we fictionalise it. We exaggerate it, or scale it down, set it somewhere different or cast different characters. In fact, why not change the outcome. If it’s a particular bad or embarrassing memory, we can change the ending to suit our own wants. Play around with it to create comic effect or embed a profound message which shows a global truth. And then, after exploring this memory and having something solid, you find it’s so far removed from the original memory that it stands up on its own right. One finished piece created from one single recollection. The possibilities are literally endless, truly utterly endless.

Now, I can imagine, as you read this blog and think to yourself, ‘What a pretentious idiot,’ and dismiss the idea, or see that what he is really saying is ‘write what you know.’ But please don’t be cynical. Be honest, would keeping a diary really do detrimental effect to your own writing? Imagine recording events that happen to you right after you have experienced it, and how much more accurate it will be and laden with your own emotional responses at the time. And imagine when you begin writing something again, and you remember something which you want to write about, how much of a great source that diary entry you wrote 3 months ago will be.  It doesn’t matter if you are exact to that entry or not, the fact is it’s there, if need it. If you have forgotten quite exactly what happened, or how sharp a feeling you had at the time, that entry will tell you exactly what you need to know.

So you see that keeping a diary doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a strictly non-fiction tool, it’s a very useful tool for fiction writing too. Don’t feel afraid or unsure, just begin, and soon you could think back and write in that diary ‘how could I have ever done without this.’

Matt Sharp is a writer and Creative Writing Student at York St John.