Last week I met with a former workshop participant to talk about the memoir she is writing. Her research has uncovered a cast of very interesting characters and stories. Her writing is also quite advanced, but she now finds herself struggling to integrate her story into a structure that works. Most memoir writers find themselves in this situation at some point in their writing journey. Life itself is incredibly complex, which means writing about life is likely to be just as complex, or even more so.
By coincidence the same day I went to a friend’s book launch. Kris Olsson is a beautiful writer. Her previous book The China Garden won the 2010 Barbara Jeffries award for the best novel written by an Australian author. Kris’s new book Boy, Lost, her long-lost brother’s story, is awash with complexity. Her brutal first husband snatched Peter from his mother’s arms, and it was 40 years before mother and son were reunited. This book is a brilliant depiction of individual grief and suffering, and of the fallout a terrible incident like this can have on generations of families. We are also left to ponder the wider ramifications of a system that still fails to protect the rights and needs of children who are stolen, abandoned or neglected.
Boy, Lost is also a perfect example of how to manage structure. I tread this path almost daily, so I am in awe of what Kris has achieved. She manages to switch back and forth from time-frame to time-frame, from character to character, and point-of-view to point-of-view without ever losing you. I understand the amount of work that must have gone into creating a structure so seamless it is the meaning, not the effort that finally shines through.
Story and Structure will be one of a series of one-day advanced Skeletons & Dirty Linen workshops I will be announcing shortly. Please let me know if you are interested in finding out more details.