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Home > English > Close reading texts and techniques > Autobiographies and travel writing

English

Autobiographies and travel writing

Autobiographical writing

Let's look in more detail at an extract from a piece of autobiographical writing.

A Seller's Market

All grown-ups are mad of course, but a child soon discovers that they are mad in different ways. My Aunt Jane was, I have always believed, slightly mad in a variety of ways, one of which was so odd that I have never come across a word which defines the condition with any exactitude. But whatever the technical term may be, the disorder itself is very easy to describe. My aunt used to sell anything which was not nailed down. I am quite certain that money was not the inspiring motive.

At the time that she embarked on her reckless mercantile course, she was virtually my grandfather's housekeeper and the recipient of his weekly income, in return for which she was expected to keep the place reasonably clean, reasonably warm and well stocked with food. And as my grandfather kept on working, 7 days a week, to the bitter end, and as he was a Master Tailor in the true meaning of that phrase, there was never any real desperation in the struggle to make ends meet. And yet, despite her comparative security, my aunt developed this habit of selling anything that was not actually battened to the floor boards.

At first the great sale proceeded on the most modest lines. A waste paper basket, some unwanted kitchen chair, a blanket, a mirror, an ashtray. It being my aunt's responsibility to run the house, she spent most of her waking life cleaning it, washing it, drying it, dusting it, scrubbing it and polishing it...

In my infancy, I could recall the weekly ritual of the polishing of the silver...

Here's a closer look at some of the key features you should be able to spot:

  • one of the first things you should notice is that this type of writing is written in the 1st person. The writer uses "I" to describe what happened to him : e.g. "My Aunt Jane was, I have always believed, slightly mad in a variety of ways," , " I am quite certain that money was not the inspiring motive"
  • although you are only given a short extract, you can see that a person is introduced and is going to be described in detail
  • we can work out how the writer felt about his aunt through how he describes her. Although he thought she was a bit mad, he doesn't sound upset or angry about it. Instead,we get the feeling that he really quite liked the fact that she was a bit different and found her habit of selling everything rather funny
  • we get a glimpse of what the writer's life was like - he used to visit his aunt most weeks when he was a young boy, "In my infancy, I could recall the weekly ritual of the Polishing of the Silver"
  • language is used imaginatively. The writer has chosen particular words and expressions to create a picture of his aunt in our heads : e.g. "My aunt used to sell anything whichwas not nailed down". This tell us that his aunt was very determined to sell things, and almost nothing could stop her.
  • you should also notice that sentences are longer and more complex. This is because the writer spends time describing his aunt in detail - "It being my aunt's responsibility to run the house, she spent most of her waking life cleaning it, washing it, drying it, dusting it, scrubbing it and polishing it."

Can you spot any other features of this type of writing which we've not pointed out for you, or some more examples of the ones above?

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Atlantic rower Debra Veal.

Class Clips

Video clip - an example of a response to descriptive writing

Watch

A train.

Class Clips

Authors Steve Vickerstaff and Kate Humble talk about what makes good travel writing

Watch

Train.

Class Clips

Kate Humble gives some tips about travel writing

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