Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

On Memoir

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 14th March, 2018

RSL On MemoirLast night at the British Library the Royal Society of Literature put on an evening On Memoir, moderated by Rupert Christiansen. It’s a genre that held little appeal to me when I was young — devouring 20th century novels at a rate of several a week — and in my 40s and 50s history and biography took centre stage. But perhaps in one’s 60s one becomes more reflective, more introspective, mulling over one’s life, what one did and what one might have done. And in fact my own last book, Eccles Cakes, was a childhood memoir. I found it was very therapeutic writing it, so I was interested to hear Sigrid Rausing at the RSL event say that writing her account of having a brother and sister-in-law who were drug addicts, Mayhem, was cathartic. I loved her memoir and was pleased to take part in a book group discussion of it immediately before the RSL evening. Interestingly, the group split almost exactly down the middle between those, like myself, who really empathised with the author’s experience and others who felt quite alienated by it. In the evening discussion, Sigrid Rausing was joined by Aida Edemariam (interviewed by James Naughtie in a recent BBC World book show) and Philippe Sands. Aida Edemariam’s book, The Wife’s Tale, is based on interviews with her now deceased Ethiopian grandmother, whereas Philippe Sands’ East West Street traces not only the footsteps of his grandfather in Lviv (now in Ukraine) but also, among others, the originator of the word “genocide”, Raphael Lemkin. So although each of the authors had dealt with family members, involving both memory and research, their books are very different. It was fascinating to hear how Philippe Sands was shepherded by his editor in structuring and rewriting his memoir; I thought such editors no longer existed! But one thing that struck me about all three authors was the intensity of their connection to their subject matter — more so, perhaps, than that of any novelist or biographer.

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Why I Wrote “Eccles Cakes”

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th February, 2017

Bradburn'sLast summer, my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes: An Odd Tale of Survival, was published and a number of people have asked me why I waited so long to write it. After all, I had produced 14 volumes of biography, history and other non-fiction since 1975, so why wait until I was in my mid-sixties? The simple answer is that I just wasn’t ready, emotionally, but of course, as Oscar Wilde famously said, the truth is rarely pure and never simple. The fact is that I could not have written the book until two important things happened (not that I realised that in advance). First was that, following a recurrence a few years ago of the panic attacks and blackouts that I had experienced as a child, along with depression and total lethargy, I was referred to a psychologist who rightly diagnosed the problem as being that I had not processed the period of sexual abuse I had suffered between the ages of about seven and 12. I had shut memories of this away in the deepest recesses of my mind, hidden behind a wall of metaphorical cotton wool, but now they had escaped and were starting to bite me. As a result of the daignosis, I underwent six months of counselling, culminating in several sessions of recovered-memory therapy. No drugs or hypnosis were used, but I was transported back to my childhood self and relived in graphic detail, technicolour and with smells and sounds, the episodes in which my adoptive father had sexually interfered with me, leaving me feeling confused, unhappy and eventually guilty. I then, through therapy, as an adult revisited my childhood self, and tried to come to terms with what had happened. As part of the therapy, I had to write short passages after the sessions, including a letter to my abuser and his wife.

However, I knew I would only get any meaningful level of closure if I extended these scraps of writing into a full-length book. The therapy sessions had retrieved all sorts of memories in graphic detail, and I still had copies of the diaries that I wrote from the age of 18 onwards. It took me 18 months of quite intense and often emotionally stressful work to produce a manuscript I was happy with. Yet I doubt if that would have been possible without the second, unexpected, factor, which was being reunited with my birth family, or at least two sisters and a variety of nieces and nephews. This happened two years ago following a letter out of the blue from my older birth sister after the younger one had tracked me down through a Google search. This reunification was the subject of a sensitively-produced documentary in the BBC series, Family Finders. Now they had become part of my life after a separation of more than half a century I had found some missing pieces of the jigsaw that completed the picture for Eccles Cakes. That memoir only goes up to shortly past my 19th birthday, but in it my unseen birth mother is a real presence, as she was in my mind as a child. The incidents recounted in the book where she watched over me, without my knowledge, are based on fact, as is, naturally,m everything else. So now it is out there, and I am indeed now able to achieve a form of closure.

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