Thursday, September 3, 2015

Is It All Just Too Difficult?

by Josephine-Anne Griffiths
A few weeks ago when I was kindly invited to write this blog post for Christian Writers Downunder, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about. I wanted to communicate something, which is usually why I write. There doesn't seem to be a lot of point in keeping ones thoughts too private; no one would ever really know me, be able to advise me or just have a quiet read and a chuckle to themselves and say "That's Just Jo'Anne".  
In an earlier post I talked about why I found it necessary to blog when I could just jot down my thoughts into a journal and be done with it. Today I wish to deviate a little from my intended topic. I wanted to cover the 'pros and cons of Life Writing' but that may or may not eventuate down the track. You see, after doing lots of research (as I haven't yet done a course on Life Writing); I began to realise what an extensive topic it was.
I then realised that some very important questions would need to be answered. 
  •       Will the contents of this story hurt any family or friends of my main character, and sub-   characters who are still living and compos mentis?
  •       What sort of an impact would my story have upon people whether they know me or my family or not?
  •       Is my story relevant to the focus of my blog/genre?
  •       Does it matter?
  •       Can my story hurt my own reputation in any way?
  •       Would I ever regret writing this book?

These are just a few of many questions which should be considered when writing about the life or lives of others; and indeed even if I was merely writing an autobiography, shouldn't I consider how my thoughts and feelings would affect others.  True, partially true or complete fabrications, we as writers must take responsibility for the hearts and minds of our readers as well as our own.

  
So today instead of the 'pros and cons', let’s just look into 'Why'?  I have already been down the path of 'What If'?  There were so many questions building up in my mind that I had to give it a rest.  You see I have never done life writing before!  I cannot believe I just completely admitted that to you all; but it is the plain, honest truth.  Life writing can be somewhat scary and confronting at the best of times, but in my case, my very first piece of what is supposed to be biographical, is going to look and read like a novel of fiction. 

I struggled with what name or label to give the genre for this book. Would it be a memoir?  Perhaps not.  How about a fictional memoir?  Maybe narrative non-fiction?  No that can't be it, even 'narrative' non-fiction must have more factual content than not.  Perhaps this life story doesn't fit within the mould of any known genre.  The real problem is that my main character, although very much a real person, didn't live what we would consider a real life .... at least not a realist life by most worldly standards.

Here follows a short synopsis of my work.

"Charlie Dreams" 
Charlie was an odd wee fellow, always with his head in the clouds. He would be day-dreaming or telling tall tales, which often lead him into all sorts of trouble. Charlie had a vivid imagination and because we spent so much time together, he nurtured my imagination with ease. You see Charlie was not only my brother, he was my best friend, my soul-mate.

After a short, often sad but sometimes happy life, Charlie passed away at the tender age of thirty-nine. I was just thirty-six year’s old, way too young to lose my best friend. Charlie's parents who are still living at the time of writing this, played a huge role in shaping both our lives and the passages which will appear in my book. Our grandfather also named Charles, plays an important role in piecing together our story.


Charlie suffered from Bipolar disorder, but sadly we weren't aware of this until after his tragic death. He played his cards very close to his chest, so that the people closest to him couldn't see in. I am also Bipolar, however my family is more than aware of the fact. I have fabulous support from family and dear friends; and it is these wonderful people who encourage and inspire me to tell our story. My only regret is that we were not able to see through Charlie's dreams, and look more closely at the true heart and soul of the matter.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
So why do I feel compelled to write this book?  My answer - why not?
Charlie really did have an interesting if at times, sad life. There were many moments of happiness, whether they were real or imagined doesn't matter too much. His life was a good life. He was a kind soul with an extremely gentle heart. Everything Charlie told you were exactly as he believed it to be himself.
While life writing of any kind can be extremely challenging, I have made my mind up to continue with this challenge, with its risks and plethora of things that could go wrong. I want to honour someone with compassion, praise, respect, unfathomable love, honesty (as far as possible) and great big dollops of humour along the way.
This person is my best buddy, Charlie.

Daisies and my infamous straw hat.
What do you think? Should fiction be a part of a life story? Does it really have any place there?  What if the person we are writing about was unable to decipher fact from fiction, believed everything he said; but beyond all of that was satisfied that he was living the life he had always wanted (dreamt about).

I would love to hear your opinions and kind advice. Please feel free to comment below, or you can email me on josephineannegriffiths@gmail.com 


Author Bio:

Josephine-Anne Griffiths previously worked in the field of finance and administration.
Once early retirement became necessary, and having always been an avid reader and passionate writer, the next step became logical. Josephine-Anne, also known as Jo’Anne is married to Leon. They have six children and five granddaughters between them.



You will find Josephine-Anne at:
www.just-joanne.com



19 comments:

  1. Hi Jo'Anne, I think it sounds wonderful, necessary for you to write - and not at all easy! I've juggled fact and fiction in most of my books. Two were straight biographies ( or whatever you call them when the person is still only 40 or so), one a biographical novel. One thing I did find - it was essential to ask every person in the books if they were willing to be in them and to give them the option of reading the part pertaining to them before it went to print. I had to have a long, painful discussion with one lady, by phone to NZ. The outcome was very good. I do wish you all the best with this Big task and look forward to reading it.

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    1. Thanks Jeanette :-)
      I think I have asked most people, but I hadn't thought through getting them to read their relevant parts in the book. In particular I should get Mum and Dad to read all of theirs, just in case they fall off the perch anytime soon (I jest). Thanks for the heads up though as I am such a novice. I have 32,000 approx. words down at the moment (heaps to cut out I would imagine). The remainder of this year will be to concentrate on finishing my course before Dec 18th - eeeek. I am glad that your phone call with the lady in NZ worked out well.

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  2. Hi Jo'Anne,
    Sounds like an intriguing project which has already captured your imagination, so choosing not to do it would never sit well with you. It will surely stir up your emotions and memories, which you would have considered.
    It's a timely post for me, as I've long considered writing a family story instead of fiction, but it would raise many issues such as those you've mentioned. Presenting people who really lived, however long ago, is a different matter to making all the characters up from start to finish.
    I'll be interested in how you go with your own work.

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    1. Thank you Paula :-)
      It is an intriguing project as I am also doing a lot of research into bipolar and other mental health issues. I can't assume that having a certain disorder makes me an expert - far from it. Yes emotions are really getting stirred up; I sometimes sit in the back garden in my favourite chair, making notes in my thoroughly worn notebook (one of many), and find myself sobbing. Your family story would be a marvelous thing to write, and yes there are a lot of issues with most families, I would think; but well worth the effort. I will certainly let you know how I progress; hoping to have something worthy of publishing by end of next year.

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  3. Hi Jo'Anne,
    I'm so sorry that you lost your soul mate and best friend and brother - at such a young age. Life can bring too much sadness can't it? I think it's wonderful that you are writing his story. All the best with it and I know you will do an awesome job! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. A very interesting post!

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    1. Thank you Anusha :-)
      Yes life sure has a habit of happening doesn't it? It can bring much sadness, however Our Lord keeps a watchful eye on us to make sure we are going to be able to cope in the end. I have mixed feelings about what I am writing, but I don't intend to stop. Thank you for your faith in me, and it was a pleasure to share.

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  4. Hi Jo'Anne - Thanks for sharing that personal story. You've raised a lot of really interesting questions. I too have thought of true stories I want to tell, but haven't done so yet because I'm worried about hurting some family members. Though that's not the purpose of course, it's hard to really tell your own story without intertwining it with the people ho have shaped your life. Have you read Jo Berthelsen's memoir Soul Friend? It's a great example of how to do memoir in a sensitive way. Jo Wanmer has also ficitonalised true events. I'm sure they'd both have great insights. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Hi Nola,
      Thank you for your kind words. I reckon you should write your family stories (those who matter don't mind) - oooh I didn't really say that did I? Hehe!
      No actually I haven't read "Soul Friend" - the title also intrigues me. I shall consider it compulsory reading, before I write anymore about my charlie. I shall also look up Jo Wanmer's writings. This is going to be good.
      Cheerio :-)

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  5. I love the sensitive way you are approaching this whole writing project, Jo'Anne. Not sure I can help all that much though, in that, as far as I am aware, everything in my memoir 'Soul Friend' was fact and not fiction--although sometimes our memories do trick us, I know. I think if I deliberately made some parts fiction in my writing, I would have to ensure my readers knew this via some label or other such as 'creative non-fiction' or fiction based on a real life story' or whatever.

    Because my memoir was the story of my relationship with my lovely, older mentor or 'soul friend' Joy, I gave her the right to veto anything I included about her in the book or about her family or about our relationship. In the end, I did leave out a couple of things she felt her family might not like included and also one I could see she felt a little uncomfortable about--nothing is worth hurting someone who has helped us in the way my friend did. Also, I had three other people read my manuscript who either knew about or were part of many of the events I included in the book, specifically to check the facts against my memory of them and also to make sure I was being fair to all concerned and not hurting or misrepresenting anyone. There was one particularly sensitive section in the book that I agonised over--I wanted to share these particular events because it was an important part of my journey and also because I felt many others could benefit from what I might share. I changed it many times and checked with even more people about that part. In the end, I opted for 'softening' the vocabulary I used, removing some sentences and also taking much more on myself, if you understand what I mean, rather than blaming or criticising others. I think it is much better to be honest about ourselves and take the humble approach in it all. Having said all that though, I also covered myself in my introduction with comments such as 'My aim in my writing and speaking has always been to build others up and not tear down, but if I have hurt anyone by what I have written here or what I have omitted, I apologise. This is my story from my perspective ...' etc.

    I hope something I have written here will help you, Jo'Anne. In the end, I believe, you need to write what you feel needs to be written! Yes, others can advise you, but I think you will know in your heart what to include and what to leave out or say in some other way.

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    1. Dear Jo'Anne,
      Thank you so much for your heartfelt words and wonderful advice based upon your own experience. That is so generous of you. You have given me quite a bit to think about. I shall be as sensitive as I possibly can (I'm going to be needing quite a few readers I think, especially from among my family. I am definitely going to read "Soul Friend" Thanks again :-)

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  6. Hi Jo'Anne - I think that our Charlie would be happy no matter how you write this book. The fact and the fiction were so delicately entwined and whilst reality may have often been sad, Charlie's unreality was his escape; Amongst his dreams he created his own happiness, no matter how short-lived this may have been. There really is no way to separate the fact and the fiction because both were a part of Charlie's reality. Charlie was such a loving, caring soul and both a brilliant and tortured artist. His story needs to be told. (I can't believe I forgot to bring his diaries out to Penrith the other day. I even had it written down!)
    I am sure that you will be able to present sensitive issues in a thoughtful way. You are a gifted writer and I am also sure that our Charlie will guide your hand. This post does present some very important issues related to biographical writing. Bernadette xo

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    1. Oh my dear, sweet sister,
      I just cried when I read your response. Thank you so much for your thoughtful and loving honesty. I know you didn't mean for me to start blubbering, but this Sunday being Fathers' Day and the anniversary of the final time we saw our dear Charlie - I just find September to be the hardest month of the year. I always have. I agree Charlie was both brilliant and tortured, and wow what an artist! If I could bleed as much talent from my pinky finger as he did from his whole self, I would be such an accomplished writer. I remember the times when I would go over to his flat in Neutral Bay for dinner, and then Charlie would read to me some of the things he had written down. After he left us, I became more determined to write his/our story, but life and a difficult marriage got in the way. It is now time to really make Charlie and his dreams shine :-)
      Love you, little sister xoxo

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    2. PS: Please don't be upset about the diaries; at least I know I am not the only one who forgets things ;) I will be coming over your way in the school holidays for a chat and a few cuppas - I will pick them up then.
      Jo'Anne xo

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  7. Jo'Anne, sorry to hear about you losing your best buddy. He sounds like an intriguing person that needs to be written about. I believe that we need more stories about sensitive issues that are real-life situations. To tell you the truth it is about the only stories that hold much interest to me. Real life situations and what we can take away from that. I have some stories that have been sitting on the back burner for about a decade for all the reasons that you mentioned plus some. To answer your question; I don't think that fiction should be part of a life story ... ordinarily. In the case of your brother, fiction may well have to be an essential part because it sounds like these lines were blurred in his own life.

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    1. Thank you Mimi,
      What sound advice for me! I like reading true stories of course, but I just love getting lost in a romance and the occasional crime/thriller. I think maybe you should take those stories of yours off the back burner before they get too crispy. A decade isn't too long, in fact it is probably a nice space of time just to let things simmer. I am sure you will get them out in the end. Best wishes and good luck with that Mimi :-)

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  8. Hi Jo'Anne - a great post. Your love for your brother is evident and I feel for your loss and grief at his passing. I wish you all the best in telling his story.

    I think you raise some important questions - and the importance of indicating to the reader what they can expect. In creative non-fiction in which scenes are re-created or a fictionalized biography, there is a blurring of the lines - though all 'fact' is itself accessed through memory, experience and perspective. It sounds like in Charile's story it is difficult to know what was fact and what was fiction which reminds me a little of movie Big Fish based on a novel of the same name by Daniel Wallace - were the father's exaggerated tales might have more truth to them than his son gives credit.

    Anyhow, all the best with Charlie's Dreams :)

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    1. Hi Jenny, thanks for your encouragement. Yes lines can be blurred and sometimes our memories can be convenient ;) I should have either a look or a read of "Big Fish" - it sounds very interesting.

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  9. Hi Jo'Anne, Thankyou for sharing your journey and struggles with life writing. I don't know too much about the subject.. but i have been thinking similar things, as i believe that all authors put "themselves" into their writings. I recently had to write a "note to self" on my scribblings.. it said.. and this might sound terrible... "don't bleed too much on the manuscript, it might distract from the story"... that was message to me... not to you.. but the point is.. we all put ourselves into our art... so go for it sister... i think Charlie would be happy and thrilled to know how inspirational he (and his sister) is

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    1. Thanks Brian,
      Feel free to bleed away - didn't Ernest Hemmingway say something about that? We do put so much of ourselves into our craft, that's so true. I am very blessed to come from a talented/artistic family. Between us we seem to have Writing, Music, Singing, Dancing, Fine arts etc pretty much wrapped up. When I say this I thank the Lord for everything He has bestowed upon my family and myself. I believe the blessings always outweigh the difficult times. Cheerio :-)

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