Posts Tagged ‘biography’

I went out for a writing session today, looking for an hour of different scenery to refresh my mind.  My writing buddy unfortunately couldn’t make it so I took my husband along.  We both had projects to work on so it made sense to do it together.

But instead of writing, we started talking to people, and that talking led to more talking, and soon we were due to head back home without ever taking our notebooks out.

It could have been a wasted evening, but talking to people, learning their stories and sharing anecdotes was a joy.

Recently I sent two poems to a cousin of mine – one biographical and one autobiographical. I have been thinking about writing more in that style, as a counterpart to the more political pieces, and listening to funny stories and observations today made me decide to do it.

Everyone’s experience of life is unique and we all have a share of emotions and expectations. What better way to celebrate our shared humanity than immortalising moments in poetry, sharing them like gifts?

The next few months I just need to convince a few people to share moments that made them, them, and produce something that captures who they are.

No pressure!

Happy writing,



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I said last week that I was going to approach the Challenge Tuesday posts a little differently this year, and read with purpose.  I actually started reading this particular book in December but feel that it meets my new criteria so am reporting on it anyway!

Alias Grace is a novel by Margaret Atwood, who is one of my favourite writers.  It is a fictionalised story based on the true life character of Grace Marks, who was convicted with her alleged paramour of the murder in 1843.

I enjoy Atwood’s writing style, which is both complex and entirely accessible.  In this particular book though, it wasn’t the style but the approach that I found so intriguing and noteworthy.

There were two murders for which Marks and James McDermott were accused: the killing of Thomas Kinnear, their employer, and of Nancy Montgomery, the housekeeper and likely lover of Kinnear. Montgomery was pregnant at the time of her death, which at the time stood against her: although the pair were convicted of murdering Kinnear, there was no trial for Montgomery.  As the death sentence had been passed there was deemed to be no need.  In fact, Marks was not executed but was pardoned in 1872.

But despite all the dramatic possibility within these elements Atwood doesn’t focus on them.  They set parameters in which the character’s experience of the world is set, but they are not the core of her story.

Instead we are presented with a (fictional) doctor whose interest in what we would now call mental health leads him to meet with Marks, to see if her amnesia about the events of the fateful day is real.

What follows is a mixture of Marks’s life story, interwoven with the doctor’s experiences in the town he has taken up residence, and some of the well-meaning but somewhat frivolous people who are trying to get Marks pardoned.  The crime itself is only described in any detail during a session of something akin to hypnosis.

Marks is humanised through the book.  Her reflections on what is ‘proper’ behaviour for staff in a household are both ironic and heartfelt: her regret with regard to her own breaches of etiquette is completely believable from the character Atwood has created, and yet we are aware the doctor is only interested in understanding her because she is a notorious murderer.

As a whole, the book could be the biography of a murderer, or about a famous crime in Canada in the 19th century, or about life in service, or about mental health.  It is all these things and none: it takes elements from multiple genres to create a rich meal.

Fundamentally, as a reader I took away the fact that in a strong story the crime itself doesn’t need to be the focus, it is the criminal (or accused, at least) who has to be deciphered.  As a writer, I have a better perception of how to take a real event and cast it under a fictional light.

Extremely satisfying, on both counts!

Happy reading,



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I nearly missed this post as I was choosing wedding flowers – the book this week is one that reminds you to seize the day and that seems a good message for me now…

This week I picked another book I bought for a charity fundraiser – The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean Dominique Bauby.  I had heard of this book before, but never intended to read it, and then it was there in front of me and the moment seemed right.

The book is a memoir of sorts, covering the thoughts and experiences of Bauby as he comes to terms with his life following a stroke. The stroke left him with Locked-in Syndrome, so he could only communicate through the use of one eye.

I spent the first part of the book wondering how such a detailed story was told when his ability to communicate was so impaired, and I was impressed by the ingenuity and tenacity required by Bauby and his support team when the conditions unfolded.

The most powerful elements of the book were those when Bauby explored his feelings about his situation, and how it came to pass: the reflections on his previous life served as a comparison but did not make me feel I knew him at all.  In some respects they were too far removed from my own normality, and in some respects I was only interested in his new phase of life, because I wanted to understand how he came to perceive the world.  How many other people in the same situation will ever get a book published as a result?  I wanted as much detail as possible, to understand the condition as much as possible.

The book made me consider how much of life we take for granted, and how we assume we will all carry on eating, drinking, talking and watching tv when we really have no idea how our life will pan out.  It made me philosophical.

I don’t really know whether to recommend the book, or if I’ll read it again – it is short, due I suspect to the painfully slow method of dictating it, but it stretches out even after I’ve closed the cover.  If it stays too long I might wish I hadn’t read it, but if it doesn’t stay with me, I will have lost something important.

Happy reading,




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