Thu 21 November 2019
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Memoir Writing for the Modern Era
I have joined Twitter. Argh!

I have joined Twitter. Argh! Was my initial reaction. I’m not completely technologically-challenged, have been a proud Facebooker for many a year now and can sufficiently handle emailing and ebay without too much bewilderment. However, I’ve left off joining the flock for a few reasons, these being:

1) Sleeping, university work, and Facebook already take up a lot of my time, and another distraction will probably mean no degree

2) I envisaged being attacked, Hitchcock-style, with a swarm of Tweets every time I logged in, which kind of scared me off

And 3) Basically, I feel a bit inadequately boring.

Now I need to do some catching up with the rest of the world, literally.
It’s thanks to today’s technology that we can discover the delights of Jonathan Ross’s breakfast, or how Mrs Kutcher looks first thing in the morning, or what your friends are up to. Every. Single. Minute. Of every. Single. Day. Social media plays an imperative role in society, and this kind of confessional writing has become customary.

Why do people feel these expressive outlets are important? Surely it’s just tedious to publish your life to the outside, often uncaring world (and if you’re not even married to Ashton Kutcher, basically nobody’s going to be interested). After attending a lecture given by Dr. Jack Mapanje entitled ‘Everyone is writing their memoirs, why don’t you?’, I began to understand our modern fascination with social media.

Mapanje - a poet, writer, linguist, anthropologist, academic and ex prison convict – has a lot to write about. Imprisoned in 1987 by the Malawian government for his political beliefs, Noam Chomsky and Susan Sontag were among the many who campaigned for his release. Mapanje has a significant array of published material to credit his name, including the recent prison memoir And Crocodiles are Hungry at Night. Which is all a bit impressive.

Quite clearly, Jack Mapanje has a wealth of experience and varied perspectives to draw from when it comes to writing (and I’m sure people should be a lot more interested in what he has to say than whether Demi Moore has a new pair of sunglasses). This, however, forced me to consider one of the issues Mapanje addressed in the lecture: maybe I just don’t have anything interesting enough to write about when it comes to memoirs.

Yet Mapanje assures us that ‘every story is unique, and yours especially so’ - which makes me feel a bit better. The subject matter discussed really opened up my understanding of writing creatively for memoirs, and made me reflect on my own writing in ways I hadn’t previously considered - such as how simple aspects like the use of tense can manipulate the effect of your text, or how writing in third person can create a displacement, leading to different atmospheric possibilities. It becomes apparent that the focus doesn’t necessarily have to be on what you write about, but how.

Mapanje also stressed the significance of having a ‘ferocious honesty’ with yourself, accepting the flaws in yourself and others and even being able to document them in your memoir writing. Sounds a bit scary, but Mapanje insists this is essential, and is certainly in line with the confessional tendencies of social media sites.

Chronicling yourself in this way can have a positive impact upon your creative writing in general, enabling you to think about what you write in another light, and how you can express it: writing about factual events with the same creative attention as fictional. Besides helping you to develop as a writer, Mapanje comments that people write memoirs for different reasons - including to remember fragments of their lives and to be remembered. This is understandable in relation to the exploding trend for Tweeting and publishing yourself in the public realm.

As Jack Mapanje states, everyone from Sylvia Plath to Wayne Rooney have written their memoirs (‘Don’t know how he can write, can he write?’ ). Whether it’s through a diary, collection of memories or whether you log into Twitter, why don’t you have your say too?

Holly Turner is a young writer based at York St John.


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