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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
    +1

    Comment number 1.

    The 70's tower block was concrete and boring but looking back there was a magical, celebratory time of year when it just came to life.....bonfire night. Somehow living on the 9th floor became magical, a hill of flame and fireworks, the best display in all the land and only 4 days until my birthday so even more exciting!

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 2.

    “You were the lucky one – you weren’t born, you were chosen. Never forget that now.”

    I wouldn’t.

    Of all the stories my Granny told me, this was my favourite, when finally when she would get to it. I would sit back deep in her patterned wing chair, head leaning against the crisp white antimacassar, feet inches from touching the floor. Granny would be opposite next to the tiny flame-effect electric fire, though neither of the bars would be on in the stiflingly hot, tiny living-room of the sheltered-housing flat she had called home since we had moved from the village to the town. I would sit and listen to her for hours.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 3.

    I sometimes wonder what life would have been like if I had gone through adolescence breaking more rules and making more noise, felt what was wrong and not searched for reasons to acquiesce. Still...there’s time to make up for my misspent youth.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 4.

    First lines:

    We are a fractured family. There are elements of perfect wholeness within but as a single unit we are forever fractured. You could say that I have made a clean break from it all. Yes, you could say that. But, there is no such thing as a clean or even break - whether it is a glass breaking on a marble counter top, a favourite mug breaking on kitchen tiles, or a heart breaking. There is no such thing as a clean break - it is always a harsh, jagged fracture.

    end of opening lines

    Copyright: BD 2013

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 5.

    I forget.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 6.

    I took the small scissors given to me by my step-mother out of my bag, and as if it was a completely normal thing to do, I cut a lock of my father's grey hair off and dropped it into an envelope. I looked down at it and knew she would say that it wasn't enough. So I repeated my action. I forgot to take some for myself because I was stressed out. I looked at him for a long time and then I touched him on the nose and said, "there you go". I don't know what I was trying to say to him, I think it was that it didn't matter he was dead because it would always be too late for us.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 7.

    I order to invent an explanation good enough to justify survival, we all resort to myth; but they only survive up to the point we first utter them out loud. That's my excuse at any event. That and a wish to protect the innocent.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 8.

    I was back. Back in my apartment. Back in the city where I have lived. Back in the country where I found what I was never really looking for. Alone now with the empty silence and the leather suitcase waiting I inhaled what already has been nostalgia to say good bye, once again.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 9.

    My parents were Quaker naturist philosophers. Apart from that, my childhood was quite normal.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 10.

    I want to begin far enough back, and give us both a good run at it, so by the time we reach my birth we’re in full gallop. So: my great, great ... (a lady’s age and all that) ...grandmother. She worked as a jawless fish. I don’t know all that much about her. I’ll be honest, in the family album, she looks a bit stoned. But it was the Cambrian, and those were crazy days. One of my great uncles believed his jaw was a jellyfish for a while. Of course in those days the only radio show was ‘Just A Minute’. Which was about the period between the contestants’ mutating from one form to another. On one occasion Nicholas Parsons introduced the show as a mollusc and read out the final scores as a kind of sea-caterpillar.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 11.

    Manchester in the fifties was a place of whiteness. White skies merged with fog at ground level, and people were silhouettes until they were right beside you. On dark winter evenings you'd walk from pitch blackness into the white haze of a street lamp - and back again. You might pop into Lewis's department store to escape the fog, only to find it was still there. Even a blue sky in mid August would always have a bit of Mr Lowry's white paint mixed in.
    David Jackson

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 12.

    Mr. Grey, high school teacher - 30 something at the time, wrote in my yearbook, "Glenda, do something with all that talent, we need you." So I did.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 13.

    I wasn’t there when my father actually died, but I remember the last thing he said to me. I remember it very clearly. It was 1978. I’d gone to see him in the hospital, just before his operation. He asked how I was getting on. I told him I’d left my job as a shunter at York station, and was looking forward to starting as a freight train guard. Doubtless recalling his triumph in getting me the scholarship that took me away from the council estate to a public school, he said, ‘Oh dear. It seems a terrible waste of a good education.’

    I didn’t have the presence of mind just then, nor yet a proper understanding of what I was doing, to tell him that it wasn’t a waste at all. Now, of course, I see it quite clearly. If he were still here I’d be able to tell him. I was continuing my education by other means.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 14.

    I was eight when I burnt my father.

    He had come to visit my grandparent’s house. He didn’t come often, and was not welcome when he did. He had sat in the best room, where the fire was, so I suppose it was winter. Maybe he had come to visit me for my birthday, in January. The atmosphere was frosty, despite the warm fire. I have no recollection of what was said, but he was escorted from the premises, and the adults were at the front door seeing him off. As Nanna returned, she saw me shredding the empty cigarette pack that he had dropped in the grate. I was feeding the pieces into the fire, one by one. “Yasmin, what are you doing?”
    "I'm burning my Daddy" I replied.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 15.

    Whatever age I happen to be at any one time it always seems to be the wrong age.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 16.

    It all started on a dance floor in Blackpool in the early Sixties. That, however, was the high point, it was downhill from then on . . .

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 17.

    My father always called me his nut brown girl, and I always wanted to be a cowboy.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 18.

    I was born at lunchtime on a sunny May day, 45 years ago. I know this because my mother never let me forget that she missed a tasty looking cottage pie and cabbage due to my inconvenient arrival.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 19.

    My brother picked up one of the baby blue-tongue skinks, painted a mark on its head with tippex and handed it to me. 'This one's yours' he said.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 20.

    I was born at a very early age; my mother wanted a boy and my father a girl - they were both disappointed.

 

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