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Sunday, 29 May 2022

Blogging and Memoir

I continue blogging and commenting with reduced output. 

Thank you, however, for the encouraging comments; they mean a lot. I was pleased many said they enjoyed my last post about the surprisingly evocative objects visible in the background of old photographs.

It is also enormously enriching to read other blogs about lives, locations, concerns, thoughts, opinions, feelings, humour, annoyances and so many other things, of so many others, who I would never meet in real life. We might not always like each other there, but I think for the most part we do on Blogger. We are able and intelligent people trying to make sense of this imperfect world as best we can. Long may it continue. I hope that’s not too pompous.

I am not really a proper blogger, this being mostly a memoir rather than a diary. It is not a “web log”. I started with the notion of accumulating some kind of printed book, probably private rather than published. So, alongside new posts, I will continue to revise and repost earlier, poorly thought-out stuff.

What is memoir? How does it differ from history or autobiography, or even fiction? One could do worse than to read one of my favourite writer’s, Ian Jack’s, article on this. He recalls, as editor of Granta, receiving a piece based on a childhood memory of a Scottish fishing village where two trawlers and their crews were lost in a storm. He asked the writer to make some revisions, and when the piece came back the names of the trawlers had changed. It transpired that the writer had combined two separate events, years apart. “But this is memoir,” was the writer’s defence, “it is not non-fiction.” The writer appeared to be saying: “it makes a better story if it had happened like this” rather than reporting what actually did happen.

Revisionism occurs in factual history too: consider how accounts of British Empire are now being re-interpreted. I also remember being fascinated on reading the revised edition of Michael Holroyd’s brilliant biography of Lytton Strachey, to discover that a friend called Clare Bollard in the earlier editions was actually the vivacious and voluptuous artist Valentine Dobrée, whose open marriage and indiscretions caused much disruption within the Bloomsbury group. It had been necessary to change her name for legal reasons while she and her husband were still living.

How much do I change? I have certainly obscured identities, especially of bullies and manipulators. I have sometimes amalgamated multiple characters into single ones, such as in the perfect but unattainable Wendy Godley. I have sometimes compressed events that took place longer apart. Where stories are fictional, even when based on true events, I have been open about it. But for the vast majority of the time by far, I tell it as it was. Perhaps I apply a bit of varnish so as not to sound too much of a shit, but what happened, happened. My interest is in how Britain and the world have changed over the decades I lived through, and how those changes and events have affected the way we are today. It is important to stay as true as possible to the spirit of things.

But, Ian Jack trumps all. In order to spare the writer’s embarrassment, he altered the details of the story submitted to Granta. In other words, it appears that no trawlers were sunk at all. I would certainly never make a change as big as that.

35 comments:

  1. There is a word called faction. Fiction based on facts. Keep on writing and we'll keep on reading Tasker.

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    1. Thank you. I guess the stories I've posted, such as the one about dancing at school in preparation for the school Christmas parties, could be described as faction, but it's truly an awful word.

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  2. There's no such thing as a "proper blogger." Our blogs can be whatever we choose to make them. Keep on blogging, even at a reduced rate!

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    1. I guess I think of blogging as consisting of the "weblogs" that were set up in the early days, but of course, you are right that there are many different types of blogs now.

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  3. What you say is certainly not too pompous to me.
    We all know that human memory is nowhere near as reliable as we like to believe ours is - ask any police officer who has to take statements from witnesses! The car was black. - I am quite sure it was red. - I KNOW it was blue!
    About the exact same event in a family‘s recent history, two siblings may remember very different details.
    I like your approach to your blog, and whenever I see your blog’s name on my dashboard, I come over to see what you habe written. It is always interesting.

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    1. Thank you, Meike. That's really encouraging. I often look at your photos and wish I could be there walking with you. I don't often comment when I don't feel I've anything meaningful to add.
      I remember reading Elizabeth Loftus's work about false memory.

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  4. "It is too soon to explain just yet..." This is an intriguing remark. It suggests that an explanation is in the pipeline. I must say that like Meike the Librarian, I always look forward to reading your blogposts and it is nice to have another articulate Yorkshireman here in The Land of the Midnight Blog. I agree with Debra's opening remark.

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    1. Eee lad! There aren't many of us left. The intrigue will have to leave you in suspense.

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  5. You are always interesting to read. I think that every blog is as individual as the blogger and I am glad for the glimpses of other lives and other corners of the world. My best wishes to you as you deal with whatever it is that you are dealing with.

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    1. Thank you, Debby. Reading other blogs does indeed expand our experience. I sometimes find myself strongly disagreeing with some of the things people write, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't read them or try to understand why their views are different. As I said, we are all thinking intelligent people, which is why we write blog posts. Sometimes I've realised that I need to modify my viewpoint in light of what others say. That can only be good.

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  6. A thoughtful essay and thought provoking too. When writing about ourselves of course we want to paint a decent picture of ourselves and are far from being objective. I keep that in mind when writing and reading the writing of others.

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    1. I've been thinking about what it is I'm actually doing for some time, but it seems to have come more clearly into focus recently.

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  7. I look forward to your posts as you have a wise and interesting take on things. You are also a talented writer and enjoyable to read. I do hope you are well and all is good with your family. I send my best to you and your loved ones.

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    1. Thank you, Bonnie. I feel I've got better at writing since I've been blogging, and I try to do a decent job, but sometimes it's a painfully slow process. I'm not really a natural who can dash off thousands of words in a day. I'm impressed by those who post every day.

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  8. I so enjoy reading your blog. You write with gentle wit, sharp observation and a genuine interest in the kind of social history that often gets overlooked.
    Thank you.

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    1. Thank you. I try to write about things I find interesting. Possibly I could produce something each day, but as I said, it's not really what I'm aiming for. I still hope to end up with something decent that could be printed in book form.

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  9. Digging down to the truth of what we write, you do it so well. Writing is a very personal affair, I like the idea of a memoir as well. We all write as we see fit, hopefully truthfully as well. Best wishes for your health and your family.

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    1. Thank you, Thelma. Sorry for not visiting you (and others) as much as I used to, but hopefully I'll be able to resume soon.

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  10. I hope that all is well with you, Tasker.

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    1. Thank you, but I'm keeping you all in suspense, JayCee.

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  11. Your descriptions/explanations of your writing make me think you should write a novel. You have the requisite skills for what now seems to be referred to as creative writing. I hope all is well with you, you have been dropping little hints of something going on in your life for sometime now, I hope it is something good and all an example of your creative writing skills and keeping us on the edge of our seats.

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    1. Thanks Rachel. Things are OK for now - I'll add that above to ease concerns. I wouldn't have the stamina to write a novel, and coming up with a sensible plot is also quite hard.

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  12. You are very much a proper logger, and good one too. Thoughtful reflection is the core of good writing and different class to daily spouting! The question of truth in memoir is complex - sometimes in 'correcting' our memories, we also destroy them; that's a different thing though to distorting for effect or vanity. I quite deliberately don't check every detail. but am clear that memory is fallible; I try to tell it how I believed it to be, for that is what we hold inside and what shapes our views. What does it matter if the name of this street or that park is mixed up? Alan Bennet writes well on this subject, admitting what matters most is veracity of tone rathe than incidental detail.

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    1. Thank you, that's very informative. I'll accept almost anything Alan Bennett says because he is one of the masters at this kind of thing. I'm trying to evoke how things were from the 50s onwards and if incidental detail can be tweaked to make a stronger evocation then that's O.K. But it is a fine balance because I want to keep things within my own experience so don't want to tweak too far.

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  13. And a good article on memoir by the way - especially the comparison between Pritchard and Robinson - thanks for the link .

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    1. I wish I could write like Ian Jack. I greatly enjoyed his collected articles in "The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain: Writings 1989-2009". Victor Pritchett was good too.

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  14. I think you're definitely a real blogger. Maybe improper, but who's counting.. I like very much the way you attend to the comments and don't just dash off a response. And I think we have a lot of the same types of perceptions of the period you address, when I was still living in the UK.

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    1. I appreciate everyone's comments and think it worth trying to respond sensibly. Most in this blogging circle are of similar age and have lived through the same times, wherever we are. We really have lived through the best of times. Things weren't perfect, but when Harold MacMillan said "you've never had it so good" the only thing he was wrong about was that it got better.

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  15. Your stories/blogs have delighted so many with your rye humour and fascinating tales.
    We all hope things are going well with you.
    Carol

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    1. Thank you, Carol. Things no too bad at the moment.

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  16. I am not a blogger, just a blog reader and I so enjoy the glimpses I get into others' lives and homes and adventures. I think of many of you as my blog friends, altho, I have never met any of you. Keep blogging and take care!

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    1. Thanks, Ellen. Different points of view from different bloggers are something we should value, even if we don't always agree.

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  17. Sparing the writer's embarrassment is no mean feat.
    It reminds me of David Frost who was said to be incapable of feeling embarrassed.
    In this respect Frost was topped by Peter Cook who never cared what anyone thought of him and who was as bored by celebrity as Frost was intoxicated by it.
    Frost invited Cook to his home for dinner with Prince Andrew and Fergie.
    *I am sorry, I'll be watching television that night,* Cook replied.

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    1. All too full of their own self-importance. The best treatment for embarrassment is to be a teacher or lecturer for a couple of decades. I think psychiatrists call it flooding treatment.

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  18. I'll have to take a look at that Granta article. An interesting question to ponder -- memoir vs. non-fiction. I suppose memoir is by definition how you remember something. The writer could have prefaced his or her piece, "As I remember it..." and that buys them some leeway to be a bit looser with the facts. (Assuming what they're writing is truly how they remember it and they're not making stuff up.)

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