Category Archives: Memoir writing

Only Child on writing a memoir using the senses of smell and taste

Mom and Only Child in Backyard

The senses of smell and taste often go together – at least where food is concerned. There are, of course, some smells you definitely don’t want to associate with any taste – like a skunk’s smell.  But maybe that will bring in some taste in your memory. It does for me.

A friend of mine always had at least one dog. And one of these dogs was forever colliding with a skunk. You can imagine the stinky and messy results. My friend used to try to remove the smell by bathing her dog in tomato juice.

Tomato juice is a taste I like and it brings back some memories – my mother growing tomatoes. My mother making some God-awful relish from green tomatoes. My mother calling me to the side door of our house where she stood on the other side with a large tin can in her hand and showing me what was inside the can. Not tomatoes she had picked, but horrible green tomato worms. I remember her laugh here.

So you can see how taste and smell can work together to trigger something from your past. That something might just be a story you want to include in your memoir.

For those writing a memoir, using the six senses to kick start your memoir is one way to get your mind, feelings and emotions (latter two very important) back in your past.

When you walk into a Tim Hortons and smell the coffee, what does that remind you of? And when you taste the coffee? Does that enhance your memory?

This Tuesday, November 21 I’m teaching another workshop on Kick starting your memoir using the six senses. This time I’m at the Forest Hill Library Branch in Toronto. There is still room in the workshop for participants for anyone living in the Toronto Ontario Canada area who is reading this before the workshop time  (2 p.m. to 3.30 p.m.) and day. You can either phone the library at or just show up. More details here.

I’m posting this a day early because the workshop is Tuesday, when I usually post to Only Child Writes.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

 

Sharon’s backyard garden. No green hornworms on my tomato plants.

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Only Child on memoir writing using the six senses

Only Child with Mom and Dad at her godmother’s farm in the early 1960s.

I’m not talking about common sense here, although it could be a seventh sense. And yes there are six senses – sight, taste smell, hearing,  touch, and the sixth is intuition. And I’m teaching two workshops called Kick Start Your Memoir Using the Senses – this Friday, November 17 and next Tuesday, November 21.

As the title suggests we will cover those six areas. But the workshops are geared to the participants, not me, so I find out what they are writing and help them get organized to do so –  with tips on research and putting all that you find together, finding your memoir muse and getting started.

Here’s a peak at one of those things we will cover. First things first.

Why do you want to write a memoir?

Are you writing for family? To get something off your chest? For publication? Discussion using the below for kickoff.

What is the most interesting area of your life that is also different than the usual?  For example, your teen years, did you overcome an addiction, dysfunctional family? Ask yourself: what is your most vivid memory, the memory that evokes the strongest emotion from your childhood, your teens or your young adult years?  Your school years and school friends. Bottom line is focus on your theme or area of your life.

Decide. Hone in on the one that is the strongest and the one you can develop into a memoir. Ask yourself if you learned something from your story – that can be a key to deciding.

In next Tuesday’s blog post we’ll take a peak at one of the senses. But if you are in the Greater Toronto Area, you might want to consider attending a workshop. Both are at Toronto Public Library branches and are free. But you have to register first. Here is the information on my website.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

Teenage Only Child with her Mom

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Using Fiction Tools to Write Memoir (continued)

Only Child in Grade 12

In our last memoir writing session this week, we covered the topic of using fiction techniques when writing your memoir. Today, we discuss setting. There are similarities with using setting  in memoir and in writing fiction, with a few differences.

Always, you need to remember, memoir is not fiction, so you can’t make stuff up. True, settings in fiction often are real settings – at least countries, cities and the like. But sometimes the city or town is fictional, as are the residences and businesses and of course the streets.

Setting in memoir can give the writer an advantage, though. For example, you can write about the place you grew up in – as it was then (and a lot of that is how you remember it. Look at those old photos) and you can go back and see how it is today. Is the house you grew up in still standing? Or is it now a huge ugly condo or a paved parking lot?

But the narrative of setting in both fiction and memoir is stronger and more interesting if you skip writing it like a travel piece and put your character (you, in the memoir) right there. Show yourself going into that high school for the first time – how did you feel? Who did you meet? And blend in what you saw? For example, when my friend Nancy and I switched high schools for grade 12, (in the mid-1960s),  we had a heck of a time finding the most important classroom – the study hall. I don’t know how many times we walked around the whole top floor of the high school (it was walking in a square – that’s what it felt like and the actual shape of it). Finally another classmate with a study period helped us find the room.

So, you can see how that could generate the setting of just this school floor as Nancy and I wandered around lost. And the emotions, some dialogue and the actual study room when we finally found it and entered it.

Here’s one of the exercises I had my class do for setting. If you have time, you could try it.

  1. Exercise: Take a scene from your past and write about it with you in it. This could be the backyard of the house you grew up in, your bedroom, the kitchen, the street where you live. Note: if your memoir is about a particular time in your life use a scene from that as opposed to a scene in your past that won’t have anything to do with your memoir. The purpose is to create the atmosphere as you remember it in one location important to your life and learn how to show it to the reader from your unique POV. For example, if you were terrified of thunderstorms and hid under the covers when one came, and your brother liked to run outside in thunderstorms, the two of you would definitely have differing points of view. (copyright 2017 Sharon Crawford)

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

 

 

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Only Child says Memoir reads like fiction

Only Child and Dad few years later

In today’s Memoir Writing session I deal with the different ways you can write your memoir. It can be humorous, serious (or both), in chronological order (or not), but most of all it contains emotions and feelings and people. Although the people are real, from your life, there is a resemblance to fiction – in the way you write your memoir.

You don’t just want a list of events. You want to engage your reader. You want your reader to see your life and the family, friends, and enemies, too, in it.

So write it fiction style. Emphasis on the word “style.” The difference here is memoir is not fiction, it is your truth, your story. So the characters, the people, must be real, and the events must be real. Unlike fiction, you are not making it up. The emphasis is on how you tell your story.

Probably the best way to see how that is done is to read published memoirs. The list of memoir authors would cover several blog posts and I’m not going to post my starter list here. Just Google “memoir writers.”

Below is an excerpt from my memoir-in-the works, but I have shortened it and reworded it some, so it is not exactly as in the memoir. This particular piece of prose deals with being bullied as a child. But it covers a lot more as you will see.

The Bully Gang – Vera, Mare, Shannon (the Bully’s younger sister by two years), and the Bully – line themselves against Dorothy and me. They pursue us up and down the street. Then we run throughout the Harmon front yard, onto the street, back to the yard. This time Dorothy and I chase the others and we trap them inside the yard.

They are jumping up and down, and through the steel gate, yelling, “Nah. Nah, Nah.” I am rolling on a high and nothing and no one can stop me. I pick up a fist-sized rock from the ground, glare at them, squeeze the rock as if it is my new best friend. You’re in for it, Bully. I raise my arm over the gate and throw the rock… smack into Mare’s forehead.

No. No. Not Mare. I like Mare. I can’t understand why she’s hooked up with the Bully. I stand still and shocked. We seem lost in this sudden limbo second. The rock falls to the grass and we jolt into screamland.

Then the Bully Gang breaks free.

“You’re in for it,” they say. “We’re gonna get you now.”

Dorothy and I turn and fly towards my place. The Bully Gang is a posse on our tail. My Dad, on holidays from work, shoves Dorothy and me downstairs. He locks the outside doors for our safety. I look up and peek towards the basement window. The Bully and her followers shake their heads and waggle their hands. Then the Bully flattens her face against the window and ugly intent and uglier looks mesh into what could pass as road kill. I shiver and turn to Dorothy. If we looked in a mirror, our facial expressions would show us resembling twins. We back away and I wish Mom had made curtains for the window. But there is no bright light, no feeling of freedom in running around inside an unfinished basement with its white cement pillars and tarred concrete floors. Dorothy and I are the victims. Why are we the ones confined inside?

Excerpted and shortened from Chapter 4, Protecting the Princess – from You Can Go Home: Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2017 Sharon A. Crawford).

What are some of the fiction techniques used in the above passage?

Until next week.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

 

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Only Child on research for your memoir

Grandpa’s farm back when

“Have you found Grandpa’s farm?” my cousin Leona asked me when I called her just after arriving in Walkerton, Ontario.”

This is all part of my research for my family history on my mother’s side.

Today’s class is on doing research for your memoir and beginning your memoir. In this post we will briefly focus on the research part.

Research can vary depending on your memoir’s content. For example, if you were born in another country from the one you now live in – you will be doing research in different countries. And if you are going back to your ancestors, that likely means another country.

I’m in Toronto, Canada, so some of the points I cover below will be from that perspective.

Last week’s post on family photos and how to use them to write your memoir, have another purpose. They not only can kick-start memories, but can provide possible people to interview about your shared past – and in the case of family – your ancestors. When I first began researching for my memoir, I went to my cousin Anne who is the family genealogist (on  my mother’s side). Anne and I went to visit her father – my uncle and godfather – in the nursing home. Now, I’m a former journalist, but Anne did most of the work, showing her dad old photos (which I did supply) and asking him who was in it and to tell us a bit about what was going on. The photo showed a group of then young women, including my mother’s older sister who appeared to be waving a book around. At any suggestion that this aunt of mine was being frivolous, my uncle basically said that no, she was a good girl.

So photos can lead you to point people to interview and in turn they can lead you to others to interview, a good thing with me as only two uncles remained alive then (both since died) to interview. But another cousin, Anita, who used to go with her mother to visit extended family, put me on to one of her mother’s best friends who was still living. Got a lot of family information from her.

Besides photos of family and friends, there are diaries (maybe like me, you kept one or two or more). I went through most of them (I keep them in a box) and pulled out one or two with excerpts that could be used. You might also have access to family letters and documents such as wills and house sales. I have some of the latter.

Anita was a big help in my search for Grandpa’s farm where I used to visit with my parents every summer. They could drive there – the two miles from Mildmay, Ontario, but didn’t know the exact lot and plot numbers. You need that to find out who currently owns the property. And we had no intention of just landing at the farmhouse and banging on the door.

The search taught me two things.  Serendipity plays a big role and your research is never all online or all in person and phone.

Churches and the area assessment office often have records. So I phoned both – no luck with either. So onto the Internet and to the area’s main library branch in nearby Walkerton, Ontario. Yes, they had land registry info so I booked a day’s use for the micro fiche machine, contacted cousins Anita and Leona for our actual visit to the farm after, b00ked a motel room in the main area of Walkerton (no hotels), got a bus ticket, packed my bags and off I went.

The librarian who booked the micro fiche wasn’t in that day and the librarian who was didn’t know how to work the micro fiche machine. Neither did I, but she figured it out and handed me six possible micro fiche rolls. If you have ever used micro fiche, it is labour-intensive, not easy like digital (Note: some larger libraries in big cities have their daily newspapers digitized from when the newspaper began to up to two years ag0 and with a library card you can access it from your laptop anywhere). I found the info in the sixth roll but did discover another couple of properties that my grandfather owned. I was so excited until I discovered the info went up to the early 1980s  and we were now in the 21st. century.

So I asked a librarian for the Land Registry phone number, phoned them for their hours and location.

They were still open for half an hour and were one block from the library.

I paid for the micro fiche copies, gathered my belongings and ran out the door. And stood on the corner.

Which way to go? I asked somebody and charged down the street, just in time to get inside, look at the latest piece of information, get it photocopied and pay for that. Then it was back to the motel to make some phone calls to the current owners and my cousins.

I had an answer to Leona’s question and she and Anita met me at the motel the next morning. And we were off. But that’s another research story.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

 

 

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Only Child on using photos for memoir writing

Only Child and friends

One way to remember your past is to look at old photos. The old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words” can be translated here to “a photo is worth many memories.”

Take that photo here. I am on the right and two of my friends are beside me. The fourth in our summer play group isn’t in the photo because she took it.

If you are writing a memoir – whether you are trying to figure out what to focus on, or trying to remember the past, look at your old photographs – or those from family members – you never know what is lurking in their drawers, photo albums or yours. Remember, we may be going back before digital and before selfies, although many of us scan our old photos.

Look at the photo and identify who is in it. Go from there and see what stories about the people and their relationships, the location of the photo. The possibilities are endless. Write them all down in a list to start and then write a short scenario – dialogue included – about what the picture conjures.

For more detailed information about photos and writing memoirs, go to one of my much older blog posts right here.   That one says a lot more.

Now, I have to get moving to teach the first session of my Memoir Writing Course.

Out into the rain – yech! We get more rain, too much (so I’ll be on basement watch) Wednesday overnight and Thursday.

And rain can also bring back memories.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Only Child says focus and it might happen

Only child in doorway to her office

Only child in doorway to her office

Last week I blogged about Karma – what goes around comes around, something I firmly believe in even if I don’t see it. But there is also the belief that if you put it out there, the Universe, God or whomever might deliver.

No, I’m not turning into a believer here, but by accident I discovered a twist to this.

As many of you know I have turned into a very cranky angry person, thanks to all the crap that has been shoved my way and thanks to that, all the areas in my life where I feel cheated. So it has made me push a lot in my complaining. Besides the health area (which I will stay off this time), I have been complaining loud and clear about my financial position, about living below the poverty level. I just did my income taxes for 2015 and that confirms it – even lower income then for 2014 and 2016 was looking even worse, what with the powers that be at Service Ontario cum CPP, cutting back on my monthly CPP income and adding insult to injury by deciding to take off all the “extra” in May. Of course, I filed a dispute.

Along with this bad financial situation is the lack of sufficient work coming in for the first part of this year. I am teaching a fiction writing workshop at the S. Walter Stewart Library branch later this year in October.

So, I’ve been yelling about these two – financial and lack of work to bring in money – but also putting my invisible money where my mouth is, so to speak. I’ve been pitching both my writing workshops and speaking engagements for my Beyond fiction books to various branches.

Voila.

Late last Friday afternoon I received an email from a librarian at the North York Public Library branch. The writer/editor who usually teaches their four-session Memoir Writing Course in June has had to suddenly cancel (why is her business). So the librarian who looks after programing there emailed me and asked if I would like to teach the course and there would be financial compensation.

He had received my name from another librarian, Janet Nanos (and I don’t mind mentioning her name and you’ll see why in a sec) who is instrumental in my East End Writers’ Group meeting almost monthly at the S. Walter Stewart branch and also for that October fiction writing workshop. Turns out the NYCC librarian and Janet used to work together so he emailed her and she recommended me. And yes, I thanked her.

I have since talked with Val, the NYCC librarian and we have firmed up what I am to teach (pretty much up to me for the content) and he confirmed my fee (same as I get at other library branches per hour). This is for June. The write-up about it will soon go on their website and I’ll post that in future when that happens in case anyone is interested in taking this course. It is free to library patrons – the only catch being you can’t have taken another version of the course previously at that library branch.

So, sometimes putting it out there will bring in some help. Sometimes you just have to yell and complain a lot to be heard.

Now, I just have to figure out how to afford to get through May with no extra income and less CPP. I have gardening and yard supplies to get, trees to be trimmed, and one of my handyman to be here to do some tasks.

Plus I have a horrendous water bill – over $230. and a lot of that has to do with the City not billing often enough. Last bill was in December and this one that just came is due May 9. Plus there is a property tax bill, etc. etc. etc.

Looks like a few health-related issues may have to be put on hold.

But all that is for another post.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

 

 

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