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Submit the first lines of your memoir to Radio 4

Wednesday 6 March 2013, 12:22

Ian McMillan Ian McMillan Author

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Editor's note: What would the first line of your memoir be? Ian McMillan encourages people to submit the first line of their memoir in the comments section of this blog. Listen to Eat, Pray, Write from 8 March

Ian McMillan Ian McMillan

I was on the first train from Manchester Piccadilly to Sheffield this morning; the 0545, chugging its way slowly across the tops, from one great city to another. My carriage was surprisingly full: there was a young woman who was wolfing down a bacon sarnie as though she’d not eaten for weeks, a man who insisted to the guard that he wanted to go to Edinburgh this way and not the easy way and a man who’d missed the last train the night before slept in a bus shelter, or so he told the silent woman in the sensible suit.

I thought, as I often do, that I’d like those people to write a memoir, to fill in the details of the lives I’d glimpsed on that early journey. Why did that man want to go Edinburgh via a particular route, and what was that young woman’s first memory of a bacon sarnie?

I wrote my own memoir in verse, ‘Talking Myself Home’ a few years ago; I’d just turned fifty and I wanted to take stock of a life that was as ordinary and unusual as everybody else’s. I wrote about my parents, who’d met as pen pals during the war; I wrote about my teachers, like the gravel-voiced Mr. Brown. I wrote about the jobs I’d had on the building site and at the tennis-ball factory, and I wrote about my life as a man of many words. What I found was that the more I wrote, the more I cast my net into the deceptively calm seas of memory, the more I remembered.

Helena Drysdale and Ian McMillan Helena Drysdale and Ian McMillan

Why don’t you have a go at writing your life? You’ll hear examples on the programme of people who took that difficult first step of putting pen to paper (or fingertip to keybord) and you’ll get a little practical help on how to begin.

Think of the stories your family tells; think of how you ended up where you are, how your parents met, who the significant people in your life were when you were young. Think of your teachers and the smells and sounds of the classroom. Think of the first time you saw the sea, the first time you saw a dustbin lorry, the first time you got on a bus. If you’ve kept letters or objects from the past, have a look at them. Look at them for a long time; listen to what they’re saying to you.

Keep a notebook and write things down as you remember them; don’t worry about a shape for the memoir at this stage. A shape will emerge; after all, you’re the shape.

And remember, everybody’s got a story to tell. Everyone’s life is interesting. I wish I’d asked those people on that train this morning to tell me their tales. Mind you, they might be reading this… So if you feel inspired, go ahead, write the first line of your memoir in the comment box below, and you’re on your way.

Listen to Eat, Pray, Write. Guests include Helena Drysdale who teaches memoir writing, and Helena Tym who has written her own memoir.

How to write a memoir

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Comments

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  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 61.

    My Mother called out, laughing, "wait, wait...." but I was gone, tearing through the frosty night, past the TV lit front windows, towards the already calling phone box. Dad was waiting, fretting, wondering, in a howling North Sea gale, the rig pitching under his feet, the queue behind him shifting, silent and anxious.....I reached up, held the phone, the words bursting, shouting, the cold earpiece crammed against head, unable to hear for my own noise. I GOT IT I GOT IT I GOT IT breathless now, suddenly quiet, Mum pulling the heavy red door. "Well done kid, well done, I knew you would I knew it..."

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 62.

    I remember my father telling me that eventually I would have a "road to Damascus experience" and I remember thinking that he was trying to confuse me, after all I was only six - but when it came 50 years later I remembered his voice so clearly it was as if he was in the room.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 63.

    My husband is sitting in the corridor holding my wedding ring, handed to him with no explanation by a harassed junior nurse. My body is swelling up with oedema so the ring has been removed; stunned, John thinks I am dead.
    I seem to be going away but I am not afraid. I have escaped. I am quite free somewhere around ceiling height looking down on to a stage where medical staff are enacting a strange incomprehensible ritual around my body.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 64.

    There's a fine line between caring and interfering and I think I've just crossed it.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 65.

    I still don’t know, and I don’t like trying to work it out, whether I’m a bad sleeper because of what happened or what happened happened because I had always been a bad sleeper. Yesterday my stomach flipped when all of a sudden I remembered lying completely still in bed, trying to make sure my breathing sounded like I was fast asleep.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 66.

    Arranged marriages go against the rights of civilized cultures but perhaps, in an ominous way, the tradition could have saved me from the still less preferable life that became mine at 17.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 67.

    The invitations are rolling in and we are all counting our chins and pulling in our tummies. The next round of significant birthdays is upon us......

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 68.

    It struck me as very odd indeed that in the lying down position he seemed so much longer today. He looked endless, as though the end of him might never come. Just as I opened my mouth to make this comment to the spotty boy sent outside to check on me, I was distracted by someone walking towards me, hands outstretched, cheeks wet with tears, and with what appeared to be a dog blanket draped around her shoulders, covering a very pretty floral dress. It really was turning into the most surreal of days. A hot day too, far too hot for him to be in that stuffy box, he’d hate it. A lovely hot day for their Silver Wedding party, just what they'd wanted.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 69.

    Lying shaking on the scanning table, I was told the baby inside me had a 50-50 chance of survival. I was six months pregnant. Our baby would either live or die, and we had no way of finding out. If my life were a book, I'd flick to the end to see what happened. But I couldn't. I was entering uncharted territory.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 70.

    I was born to argue, I've been aguing ever since.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 71.

    Long before I was born I wasn't wanted; and that never changed.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 72.

    I loved listening to this programme - I too believe that everyone has a story to tell their family and that memories are too important and precious not to be recorded which is why at the ripe old age of 60 I launched a business for the first time in my life. It is a simple online system that means that anyone, no matter how good or bad at writing, can create a beautifully written book of their life for their family. Sadly I cannot tell you its name because I would be breaking the BBC rules.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 73.

    He dismounted with that slow, languorous way of his, leaving me to wonder as I drew closer, how it was both he and the sit-up-and-beg bike remained upright. It was as if the magic of a slow-motion camera had been brought into play, ever slowing until there he was; stopped - the cross-bar of the bike leaning against his hip and him bending over to catch me up in his arms.
    'Why do you run so fast?' he said.
    'To see you, Dad.' and after a moment's silence, inevitably and just like all the other times, the same question from me followed - 'Can't I come back home, Dad?'

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 74.

    As the lion approaches, I sense the rising terror of the adults in the car, and use my best hook to ensure their attention swings back to me, their treasured five-year-old; I vomit on the back seat, thereby transforming their fear into a frenzy of tissue-wiping.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 75.

    I came to ham sandwiches late in life.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 76.

    It was a warm summer's day, perhaps 1961 or 62. I parted the billowing curtains and threw my teddy bear from the open window of our first floor council flat. I got a quick, vicious thrill watching it tumble on the grass below. It must have been a soft landing as it did not look hurt, just a little shocked. I knew I had done wrong. I was not a naughty boy by nature, just inquisitive to see what would happen next. Like when I stuck the top of a Bic right up my left nostril and my mum had to take me to our GP to get it out. I remember panicking and thinking the top would be lodged there forever.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 77.

    I have never met anyone else who was taken away by the NSPCC. Well how would you? It is not the a question you would ask anyone over the dinner table or at a party. And the reason? I was thought to be in "moral Danger". Apparently this is no longer considered grounds to remove a child from home but this was in 1950 and people thought differently then. I was just sixteen years old.
    Actually I was not in any danger at all, moral or otherwise but I was weary of having a severely depressed mother who was so unpredictable and I had said that I was dreading going home for the Christmas holidays. I had been at boarding school from the age of five and I never seemed to know what the holidays were going to like. Before this begins to sound like a long catalogue of woes, I must let it be known that there were also some very happy times, it was just that I could not be sure what would happen next.
    By that time there was only Mummy and I and in today's terms I would be called a 'child carer' but then it was assumed that she looked after me. And sometimes she did.
    (I have written the whole book and hand bound it - 240 pages). I made thirty copies and have had to have more printed because it has been passed around although I have not met all the readers. I have received letters and a few presents! I tried to make it funny wherever possible and think of it as social history. I cannot hand bind any more as I am getting tired. I am seventy-eight. Yours sincerely - Ann

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 78.

    ‘Ass cheese mints’. That’s what the computer thinks I’ve just said. What I actually said was ‘achievements’. I have to make a list of them every day. Today I cut out 4 stencils of life-size human hands in the studio.. is this an ass cheese mint? Or just a day-to -day occurrence? Am I in danger of diluting the meaning of the word?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 79.

    Light beams criss-crossing the night sky;shifting silently above rooftops, chimneys and trees, often abruptly. Broad ribbons of white phosphorescence, illuminating the clouds and presenting an entrancing spectacle for a pair of eyes yet far too young to name them or grasp their meaning.

    My very earliest memory.

  • Comment number 80.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

 

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