Yesterday, I was privileged to facilitate a memoir workshop for writers in Fermanagh and Omagh. It was a glorious day, and the hour and a half drive was pleasant, and hassle-free.
Thirteen people signed up with a balance of men and women from two writing groups. We worked in the Boardroom of Fermanagh House, and I used a PowerPoint presentation (which I will send to the writers) and a flip chart. An afternoon break was built into the session with coffee or tea and a scone eaten in a well-lit and comfortable lounge area. Everyone had the chance to speak with strangers and affirm friendships. A pleasant place to work, with a helpful caretaker who made sure I had what I needed.
The workshop was arranged a few months ago, and because I knew experienced writers would be attending, I developed a four hour session with their skills in mind. Prior to the course, I asked the attendees to bring with them a photograph and a small object. With the first writing exercise, I knew I had tailored the session right, as everyone began writing from the prompt. No confusion, or puzzled frowns, or hesitation. It was gratifying to watch enthusiastic and dedicated writers fully engaged in the process. And it was an enormous pleasure to listen to their memoirs, and share in the emotion they generated.
This is what memoir is about. Emotion. For me the criteria for a great memoir is the ability to convey the emotions stirred by the memory so that I, as the reader, can identify with them from my own experiences. Thus the terms of reference may be different but the emotions are familiar. In our lifetimes, we have experienced similar feelings and can empathise with the situation on the page.
The second important element of a great memoir is honesty. It takes courage to expose one’s vulnerabilities to others, but the writers are well on their way to achieving this in the pieces they wrote. We aimed for approximately 100 words for each memoir, and the six or seven pieces produced from each writer are ripe for development.
During the day, I shared a couple of my memoirs. Far from my hometown both in distance and years, it was a pleasure to talk to a man who remembered the place and places of my youth, and we exchanged memories.
I am looking forward to reading the finished stories which I hope they will put together in an anthology.
Thank you Fermanagh Writers for organising a fantastic day.