In beginning to write on this topic, I must admit to something of a dilemma and a little confusion. I am quite clear about what an autobiography is, as well as a biography and I have read quite a few in each of those categories. What, therefore, is one’s memoirs? And what should one cover when writing one’s memoirs?
Does it cover every aspect of one’s life – no, that has to be a biography. Biographies cover life to death events – and everything in between, often in chronological order. What I am working on is less than everything I have ever done, or the major events anyway. Many of the mundane happenings in my life are of little or no interest to anyone, even my closest family members. I suspect it would be very boring, except for the odd exciting and interesting event.
A special request
Several months ago my eight-year-old grandson was asking me a whole range of questions about when I was young. This probably came from discussions he had in class at school. We have frequent and long conversations on the phone every few days. Because he lives in Sydney, about 1400 kilometres away (or two days’ drive), this is our main means of keeping in touch and getting to know one another. He has been asking plenty of questions about my early days. It was his interest which motivated me to start recording some of my experiences as a child, and as a young person growing up.
While the things I am including in my memoirs are of interest primarily to my grandson, there is also the potential for other family members to be interested in reading such a work. I know that my daughter and my son have both expressed an interest, but my five year old granddaughter is probably not there yet. She has too many other things filling her head. She only started school a few weeks ago. There would also be some of my nephews and nieces who might also be interested, and possibly even my brothers. Beyond that, a few odd friends may have a little interest – but they would have to be quite ‘odd’ indeed.
What to include?
The beauty of memoirs, as opposed to an autobiography, is the subject matter which is included. Biographical writing tends to cover the whole range of events in one’s life, with a special emphasis on the major influences and achievements. In memoirs, however, one can ignore some of the otherwise significant periods of a life, and instead focus on some of the minor snippets, incidents and insights which have become memorable to the subject and have somehow had a profound influence on them. Memoirs can be more of a series of isolated snapshots, rather than a broad, panoramic movie. They are reflections and reminiscences rather than all inclusive biographical records.
While have read a few memoirs, biographies and autobiographies in my time, it is a genre I have not really delved into in depth. I recently came across a wonderful resource, a list of the 100 Must Read Memoirs. I am pleased that I have read several of the titles on this list, I have seen the movie of at least one of them, and several others are on my yet-to-read pile of books.
Please feel free to recommend any memoirs, autobiographies or biographers in the comments. I am always looking for more titles to add to that rapidly growing Must Read list, and to that mighty Waiting-to-be-read pile.
Good reading. Happy, productive writing.
- Memoir or novel – should one fictionalise your life – a fascinating discussion on whether one should turn one’s life into fiction. A very useful and thought-provoking article. I have to admit that there is much of my life woven seamlessly into my novels.
Can I Call You Colin? The authorised Biography of Colin Thiele
Written by Stephany Evans Steggall
Published in 2004 by New Holland Publishers (Australia)
I regret only ever having met Colin Thiele once in my life. I would love to have met him many more times than that but our paths only crossed on that one occasion. I would love to have met him many more times than that but our paths only crossed on that one occasion. I would love to have chatted with him about books, writing, literature, children, teaching, the environment and so many other topics. It was not meant to be.
All through my teaching career (1969 – 2004), I read many of his children’s books to my classes over those years. He was a prolific writer and published well over 60 titles for children; many more if the various multiple editions are counted. In addition to his children’s works, he published dozens of fiction and non-fiction titles for both children and adults. He contributed articles and stories to many magazines, journals and anthologies, and his unpublished speeches and talks would fill many more volumes. He wrote many radio scripts for ABC Radio here in Australia. He was also a prolific poet, publishing six volumes of poetry in addition to several volumes of children’s poetry. And all this prolific writing was done part-time while holding down a full-time teaching position. What an amazing man.
Through his works, I thought I knew him quite well. This biography, however, has fully rounded out my knowledge of one of Australia’s most highly regarded writers and educators. This is a brilliant work and pays homage to a great South Australian, one who is held in such high regard here and abroad. The author of this work has researched her topic well, interviewing not only Thiele and his immediate family, but also many of his friends, colleagues, publishers, editors and hosts of others. Even some of his admiring fans are quoted, because hundreds, if not thousands of children wrote to him during his life.
The author covers every aspect of Thiele’s life, from his childhood growing up on a farm in the Eudunda district of South Australia, to his time at university in Adelaide through to his war-time experiences in the 1940s. His early teaching career is well portrayed, along with his venture into married life and parenthood. Later he was an inspiration to many hundreds of young people training to be teachers.
Thiele struggled throughout much of his life between to demands of his chosen profession, and the passion he felt to always be writing. This biography shows the strength of character of Thiele in all his dealings, whether that concern was for students, family members, colleagues, editors or readers.
Despite the challenge of an overpowering workload due to his profession, his writing and his family, Colin had one other debilitating challenge to cope with throughout much of his life, He suffered constant pain due to rheumatoid arthritis. As a result, he also endured many operations, but these never seemed to slow him down. Many times he set up his hospital room as a fully functioning office so the work could continue.
This biography has also inspired me to revisit many of Thiele’s classic novels for children, as well as some of his non-fiction works and especially his poetry. Tracking down some of his poetry titles has proved difficult; thank goodness for inter-library loans!
The inspiration to read this biography has come through a serendipitous twist: the author Stephany Evans Steggall has recently become my daughter’s neighbour while they are both teaching at Bingham Academy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
In another serendipitous twist, I share the same birthday with Colin.
Sadly, Colin passed away in 2006. His much-loved books for children include Storm Boy, Blue Fin and Fire in the Stone, all of which have been made into popular movies. Another favourite is Sun on the Stubble which was made into a television series. His stories continue to live on, love by each passing generation of children and adults alike. Only recently it was announced that a remake of Storm Boy is being filmed this year.
Graeme Clark: the man who invented the bionic ear by Mark Worthing, 2015, Sydney, Allen & Unwin.
Graeme Clark grew up with a powerful and compelling vision.
He wanted to develop some way of helping his father regain his hearing. In a simple way this encapsulates the driving force behind why he became a doctor, surgeon, and later an inventor. Along the way he developed many other skills necessary for his dream to be realised. The road to success was, at times, a very bumpy one. One of the many skills Clark had to learn was fund-raising to support the development of the bionic ear. Bizarre – yes – but often that is the way with visionary people; nothing can stop them, even if the road takes some unexpected twists.
Worthing has resisted the temptation to dwell primarily on the technical side of the development of the bionic ear. Sure, there is enough scientific detail for readers who would like to know. Instead, the author has let his focus be on the man himself, what motivated him and the role of Clark’s Christian beliefs and values in the whole process. This comes through very strongly throughout the book. The author has successfully portrayed an ordinary Australian man, with a uncomplicated values but with an extraordinary vision driving him.
Probably the one thing that most impressed me about the portrayal of Clark the man was his uncomplicated reliance on prayer. Whenever the going got tough, whenever obstacles faced him, whenever he was perplexed, and whenever he faced criticism or outright opposition, Clark prayed. The development of the bionic ear was technically, electronically and medically very complex. Clark’s almost child-like faith in God and his simple, uncomplicated prayers carried him forward.
Now hundreds of thousands of profoundly deaf people all over the world are thankful to this man.
It is a truly inspirational book and highly recommended.
I had the privilege of reading early drafts of this work. This came about through my involvement in a writers’ group run by the author. Dr Mark Worthing was one of my lecturers and mentors at Tabor Adelaide when I was completing my Master of Arts Creative Writing. Later we became friends and lecturing colleagues at Tabor.
You can read more reviews I have written here.
Good writing. Good reading.