Candidly Yours…

In search of a voice…

My writing started out as therapy for a polarised — to be explained later on — childhood.  My own background had been stamped indelibly by my not having had a voice within the extended family I was born into. Others in my family had gorged themselves on yackety-yak, thereby filling the void left by my poor little mute tongue….

I wasn’t born without a tongue, so why couldn’t I waggle it?

She’s just shy, they said. There was no ear to lambaste in retort; clever rhetoric evaded my still larynx.

As soon as adolescence got off to its self-loathing, sex obsessed start, I naturally turned to psychology for answers. My elder brother had claimed for himself the super intelligence niche; the second brother was our cowboy clown; my little sisters were clever and pretty. I continued to hide my light under a bushel, which I thought had something to do with native flora; I shared a love of nature with my funny brother Donny.

I’d begun to read Gothic novels about spooks and mysteries, like Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw and others. Mum chided me for terrorising myself at night, but I persisted. My scorpionic temperament was pulling me  into dark places. But it was the elder James brother, William, one of the early brand of modern psychologists, whom I would ultimately emulate in my search for a raison d’être. Freud, Carl Jung and Fritz Perle also became friendly mentors.

There were many circumferences, I learned, but only one centre. I needed to explore the netherlands of the psyche in my search for self.

Psychology calling…

Out of the blue, having escaped my family home, a miracle occurred: I started to talk. But friends in the outside world blocked their ears to the tales of woe that poured forth. They couldn’t empathise with my “Experiences of an Empath en Famille “. In any case, they all came from diametrically opposed, maybe just as difficult, perhaps even more so, backgrounds.

I was on my own, like a snail carrying a tightly curled shell of horrors on its back.

Eventually, I would seek professional help, find someone who would listen to me. At a price. The obvious answer was, for now, to write about it.

Writing about self…

Starting out from this point of view, my writing naturally lent itself to autobiographical-type genres.  I did courses on Life Story Writing, on Memoir and Creative Non-Fiction, all of which helped me a little with grammar, style and structure, if nothing else.

Another problem with writing about the past, is that it can turn out to be as boring as possum piss on a picnic. All those I’s, me’s and my’s can sound a tad narcissistic. Okay, I own up to possessing, like all around me, a dash of self-loving, but it boils down to a question of aesthetics and degree.

Like Sisyphus, I found myself on my own, once again. Researching creative non-fiction and memoir; practising writing it.

Life gets in the way…

Full-time studies, teaching, getting married and having children, these put writing on the back-burner. Of course, all of that is excuses. If I’d really wanted to, and had faced my fears of failure early on, who knows….

I had been trying to get my novel ready for publication, on and off, for quite a while. The writing had improved greatly over time, but the goal of finding an agent or a publisher had remained elusive. Recently, I had come to the realisation that what I needed was a good editor. This was what my writers group buddies were doing. Another failed move on my part. In retrospect, how do you find that peculiar beast—a good editor?

Fear of exposure…

My first attempts to create a readable structure that fitted in with the needs of publishing houses were a dismal failure. Later on I completed a degree in Professional Writing at university and I learnt about narrative structure and creative features, point of view, dialogue and voice. Through feedback sessions in student groups, my writing improved bit by bit. Some of my teachers and tutors were well established writers, and gave me invaluable insights into the craft.

However, I came to realise one day, just as I was about to send in my memoir to an agent, that I might not want my family and self exposed in this way.

So I set about turning the memoir into fiction. There were already some fictional elements, but I wanted to fictionalise the work even more. And to include, in line with creative non-fiction dictums, credible dialogue; this, I found, difficult to do within a memoir.

Turning the memoir into fiction meant that it became a different beast: a hybrid structure, retaining parts of the memoir, with more fictional pieces; these did not always fit in, unfortunately, with the events and actions of the storyline. I was on my own, once again.

A novel in search of a plot…

According to one editor, the writing was good, but it lacked a consistent point of view and a solid plot line. So this is where I was at: going back to the drawing board to re-fashion the whole mess, and to recreate an authentic narrative out of the ashes. This meant changing setting, disguising characters, omitting the more obvious and sometimes boring ‘real bits’ behind the story, and creating natural sounding dialogue.

And finding an authentic voice.

What I discovered was that, in writing a fictional work based on my background, the story had been transformed into a very different narrative. In my case, it became a similar, yet polarised version of the real story. In psychological terms, this would have been viewed by, say Freud or by Carl Jung, as a sort of  ‘sublimation’ of the author’s narrative.

Finding a new word for what I needed…

What I didn’t know at the time, was that a ‘manuscript assessor’, who just looks at a few pages and a synopsis, and chats with you, would be much more valuable and less costly for me, than a full-blown editor. I was only just up to the second draft and still had no idea where I was going with this work. I was lucky enough to find a good one. I was on my way….

Now I’m back to exploring creative memoir writing, like the author of In Cold Blood. It was a doozy…

Where will all this end? Who knows?


9 responses to “Candidly Yours…”

  1. It was a pleasure to read your story. I found your link on Feedspot. I like to think, I found my poetry out of desperation. Life has its challenges. It’s amazing how any of us live to see old age. I write poetry because it helps me to move forward. After years, I now can share it. I would consider it an honor if we can connect. I believe I could learn from you. I live on the other side of the world in the US. I have another blogger friend somewhere in Australia too! We share stuff when we can. I would like to invite you to my website Thank you, Many Blessings!

    1. Lovely to hear from you, Belinda. It’s always great when someone on the opposite side of the world connects with your thoughts and feelings. I will definitely look at your blog and keep in touch. Blessings to you, too.

  2. In reply to Karla Rojo: Dear Karla
    Thank you for your wonderful response. I’m sorry that I am just now starting to read and reply to it. Better late than never… Yes, behind the smiles and the apparent confidence was a different person within. That smile was my mask concealing many insecurities. I’m not saying that I was very different from many other people wearing similar masks. It’s just that I was driven to explore beneath the mask and to rid myself of depression and anxiety that had dogged my heels for a long time. Nor am I saying that my story is worse than others; many are much much worse than mine. One reason for writing about this is to (hopefully) show other women (and men) that there is nothing shameful about having emotional problems. On the contrary, deciding to face the past and to heal from it is a courageous thing to do. There is too much shame associated with “mental” illness. Often this is what exacerbates the illnesses. Sufferers don’t realise that they can recover if they find the right treatments and help. it may take time, like my’ own journeys, but there is often light at the end of the tunnel.

  3. Anne Skyvington Avatar
    Anne Skyvington

    Thanks Karla for this very welcome response to the excerpt about my childhood memories. I sometimes feel ungrateful for writing about my childhood in this way. I was so much luckier than many, in fact most children, on the earth today. But I think, if it helps even one person to realise that it is OK to feel strongly about past trauma, and to express it, then it is fine to do so. I lived my childhood and young adulthood believing that I was mediocre, lacked intelligence and was ugly. I know now this was untrue, but it took me nearly half a century to dispel these beliefs. In fact, having to undertake this painful journey and to fulfill it, was in itself a sort of gift that I would not have had if the traumas hadn’t occurred. I know this sounds contradictory, but I now believe that everything has a reason, and that forgiveness is the key to moving forward. I blamed my parents for many years, until I realised how futile it is to do so. My biggest battle as a child was believing that IQ scores and intelligence were more important than anything else. However, my life experiences have taught me that kindness and the things of the heart are much more important. I think I was born with this knowledge, but allowed the world to tell me otherwise. Yes, I was quite successful at school and afterwards, but unless I was as bright as my brother, and as pretty as my sister, I felt I had failed. Silly, isn’t it? But that’s what I grew up feeling. Of course my parents were responsible for me having these feelings, but they, too, were pawns in their backgrounds. So, I’m not writing a blaming memoir, but one that tries to explore the journey I went on, and the positive (spiritual in the broad sense) conclusions I have come to. By trying to improve on our parents’ nurturing is the best we can do. Please keep in touch. I have a gmail address if you wish to email me. Thanks again. Anne

    1. Anne Skyvington Avatar
      Anne Skyvington

      Actually, Karla, I’ve just realised that your response was to my “A Writer’s Journey” post, and not to my “River Girl” one. Yes, that has been difficult, too, because writing for publication is difficult, and there is a great deal of learning the craft, as for anything worthwhile. And it takes time! Please keep in touch, and I hope you can benefit from my writing craft ideas that I have gleaned over decades now. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Anne, I love your writing, both fiction and memoir, for its lyricism and unique voice. Thank you for being so transparently honest about your writer’s journey. It’s a long hard road we tread, but the support of each other is what makes it not only bearable, but often a real joy. Sharing our pains and triumphs in our Randwick Writers’ Group has made a huge difference to my own writing too. I’m following your lead in finding a reputable editor who will help bring my writing to the next level. Thank you too for your feedback, always invaluable.

    1. Anne Skyvington Avatar
      Anne Skyvington

      Thanks for your comment, Dina. The fact that we continue proves our passion! Luckily we have like-minded people to support us.

  5. Ian Wells Avatar
    Ian Wells

    Writing a memoir or life story IS a cathartic exercise. In the same way that crying is a cathartic release writing about memories of life is a psychological release. Whether or not anyone reads the memoir is irrelevant, the writing is what counts.

    1. Anne Skyvington Avatar
      Anne Skyvington

      I agree in part with you, Harry, but all of the members of a writers’ group I belong to express the wish to be published. In my experience, as you strive to develop skills in creative writing, this seems to happen: the whole process——form and function, as well as content, all work together, and the product becomes “sharable” with others. Doing a course or joining a writers’ group all help. Receiving feedback from others is essential, even though it’s scary at first. I’m thinking of starting another blog for writers to share their stories online. Perhaps you’d be interested?

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