My Image

Relax - the hard work is done

You are now ready to evaluate and ponder the array of individual memories and stories you have collected in your notes as headlines or possibly more.

This is also an opportunity for a re-evaluation and further reflection. While you have been on this journey you may find that your ideas about the different events and memories in your life have shifted in focus, importance or indeed how you feel about them in general. The “warmth” score that you gave initially can be revised all the time depending on how your feelings and reflections evolve. Our lives are so diverse that generic examples are likely to be difficult to identify with for any individual. However, that said, here are a couple of hypothetical examples of re-evaluation that occurred to others and might be helpful in identifying any that are specific to you.

Example 1. Negative to Positive.

An early childhood memory, to take a random example, maybe of going to the circus. When you came to relive it you remembered it as something frightening and upsetting. Loud and unexpected canon noises from the bizarrely painted clowns, wild animals being, apparently, whipped into submission and forced into submissive poses on tiny podiums. The exaggerated threat of danger etc. All this may have prompted you to give it a very low or even a minus “warmth factor”. However, on “reflection”, you might have come to realise that this was a very early, formative and valuable experience for you. Because of it, you now realise, you may have come to make animals an important part of your life. Personally, as pets, or even in some professional capacity. Perhaps you became a campaigner for animal rights and have seen circuses, as they once were, transformed completely. Your “reflection” reveals the way you now “feel” about - or value - this memory and you can revise its warmth score accordingly. When you come to tell such a story it will have a very positive consequence and be well worth including.

Example 2. Positive to Negative.

You might have a very clear and happy memory of nursery or some other form of child-minding. You remember details about being taken and dropped off there every morning and a lovely minder who played great games with you and the other kids. As you relive this your focus shifts to the receding image of your parent who, having dropped you off, hurries off to work. Quite unexpectedly, you find yourself seeing it in a completely different way and other feelings may emerge. These reflections are new to you and they may become disproportionately important, for a while, at least. Another reason for having someone with whom to talk things through.

So, with all this in mind, now is the time to go through each of your retrieved memories and look again to see which ones may offer new reflections and if they do how you might re-evaluate and, if appropriate, amend their score and ranking. Keep your chosen method of note taking with you all the time to record anything that comes to mind and which might play a part in its final recall and place in your memoir.

Hopefully the various phases have managed to identify plenty of memories to be getting on with and you are ready to start drafting. After this preparation you will probably find that once you start it will be difficult to stop.

But where do I start?

You may already have a clear idea of a specific memory you want to begin with. If not, here are some themes to consider. Remember, a memoir does not have to be chronological. Individual stories can be linked arbitrarily or, more likely, because some element within them sparks off the connection to another either pre or post the former. If you are using Word or another word processor put each story on its own document and give it a title you will remember. You can then assemble a master document in the order that has evolved by connection.

Ups and Downs
What is your favourite memory and reflection of all? If so, it might be the best way to begin. It is likely to engender the most passion and draw your audience in through its sheer vitality and the excitement which you bring to it through the fondness of the recollection. You might then proceed, by way of contrast, to something you consider your worst nightmare. This assumes that however you initially scored it you found something that redeemed this memory in some way or that its impact simply forces its way into your story.

It is not essential to link each memory seamlessly with one flowing neatly into the other although that can be easier to make happen than you might think. In this theme, alternating between best and worst can be made workable as in “Life has its ups and downs and here are some of mine”. Having “downs” as part of your theme is good value as - like it or not - it will be those that provide the most interest for your readers. Everyone likes a happy ending and to hear of triumph and success. However, newspapers are not what they are because they only report good news. When you pick up a book it is likely that you do so because there is something in it that went horribly wrong. Deep down you want to know not just what went wrong but how it went wrong. Evolution has put a big premium on our ability to learn without endangering ourselves. Others’ misfortunes and how they remedied or dealt with them are winners when it comes to the content of what we choose to read.

For these reasons, candour is the lifeblood of a memoir. Whether that also merges with “indiscretion” (also popular with readers) is a judgement only you can make. Credit your audience with the ability to grasp what you are saying without necessarily banging them over the head with it. Try and avoid going out of your way to settle scores and setting things straight - tempting though it will be. If there is anything controversial or divisive in your life story your contemporary audience are likely to have entrenched views that they will be reluctant to amend based on your (presumed biased) account. Surprise them. Be magnanimous and, where fitting, be understanding and forgiving.

Issues that may have obsessed and bedevilled you over years are likely to mean little to your audience in future generations so any harping or carping will be wasted and unproductive. “Let it go”, could be the best advice. Of course, any of these considerations can be overturned if your memory has produced insight through reflection combined with a rollicking good story. The more of these the better.

Pictures. (And/or cine or old video) These could also be a strong factor in creating a theme. If you have a good proportion of your memories accompanied by images your theme could be simply: “Pictures from my Album” with each memory beginning with an opening image (or document). Even if they remain random when strung together they will have an overriding unity through their common presence in the “Scrapbook” of your life. However, it is likely that, once decided upon, you will find extra layers of logic and structure to the order in which you tell your stories, ponder your reflections and share your insights.

You could try and work “from” the picture into the story. Find some detail or aspect of it which allows you to begin your story. You will be pleasantly surprised how readily your thoughts and reflections develop. Having done so much intense research into your own past you will find that even more detail, some quite nuanced, will flood back. Let it. Remember, get as much down as you can. This, remember, is the penultimate stage. The final product will be made in the editing. Counterintuitive though it might sound, it is whatever you are eventually able to omit that will make it as good as it can be. So put as much into your draft as you can.

With some trepidation, let me offer you an example. I opted to kick off my memoir’s first draft using a photograph I had connected with a particular memory. Like you, I had been using this guide to explore the material for my memoir. My consciousness and, no doubt, subconscious was brim full from the various phases of the process. While I have made many films about other people’s stories I had never concentrated on me. This was a first. There was any number of places I could start my memoir. I decided to start with a photo and one that that gave me a story to tell. I was away…

A Formative Night in the Woods

My Image

The young Simon Ward and Jenny Agutter shooting a scene from “I start Counting” directed by David Greene. I sold the picture to The Slough Express for fourteen shillings and sixpence. (72.5p.) in 1968.

I remember driving up the narrow lane that led to the heart of Burnham Beeches, the forest just a couple of miles from my home. In the distance was a vivid glow above the trees. “The Beeches” had been my stomping ground ever since moving to its periphery as a seven year old ten years earlier. It had provided me with countless hours of fun, adventure and then later as a place for adolescent fumbles and gainful holiday employment in a variety of capacities. Right now, it was going to provide me with my first freelance attempt at photography. I had heard that one of the films from nearby Pinewood Studios was using the Beeches as a location.

I was not quite sure for what but it would be fun to find out and a good place to experiment with my pride and joy - a newly acquired second-hand Rolleiflex 21/4 inch square twin lens reflex camera - as used by most professionals. I had saved hard for it on Saturdays working at Dixons Cameras in Slough High Street. The manager, George Clarkson, had let me acquire it well below what he could sell it for. He was that sort of chap - a tendency to kindness. A quality in a person I have come to value most of all.

I was used to handling good quality and complicated cameras from the age of ten. My father, George, was assigned by his company, EMI, to Milan for a year and the whole family went, me, my mother Jean and sister, Julia. We settled in to what I came to realise later was a rather humdrum apartment in Via Bologna but it had polished marble floors so, at first, it seemed quite special as well as great for sliding in socks.

At weekends we would often go to Chiasso just over the border in Switzerland. Stuff was cheaper there for some reason and Dad bought an 8mm cine camera to make sure we would have a record of our continental adventure. It was very much like the one on the left with its triple lens turret and clockwork mechanism. No one made 8mm film in those days so these early cameras used 16mm film which you had to turn over and re-load to expose the second half of the reel - and do it in the dark! But it made that lovely old movie clickety-clack sound as the mechanism pulled down the film one frame at a time at a rate of 16 times a second. (Note to self - track down that cine film.)

Anyway, Dad was not possessive about such things or overly worried that young hands might damage it. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and probably had more time and inclination to get to grips with the process. There was something magical after all the palaver of it all about setting up the projector, turning out the lights and watching us all waving back at ourselves somewhat jerkily from the beaded screen.

Back to this evening in the woods. I parked my other pride and joy, a Wedgewood blue Triumph Herald, and crunched my way through the bracken towards the glow. Wow, there must have been fifty or sixty people and numerous wagons. The glow was coming from a battery of arc lights shining down on one of the forest’s murky pools.

There was lots of milling about and building tension. Miraculously, I got to stand right up close and personal to the action. Things were tense, the hour was late, the crew were completely focused on getting everything right. A young girl was to land in the freezing water having been chased by a handsome young man. I got the impression from the way the girl was shivering that this was not the first take. Getting it right this time seemed to be vital. “Action!” - click. I was hooked. But no longer on photography. This was amazing, exciting. I wanted to make films.

Now, go forth and make your memoir great!
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