Writing from your childhood experiences
Last week I enjoyed reading the collection of inter-connected short stories called The Turning written by award winning West Australian author Tim Winton. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it was all I had hoped it to be. I’ll review it on these pages soon.
One of the most obvious strengths of the collection of stories is how Winton has drawn extensively on his childhood experiences growing up in rural Western Australia. This sense of time and place is powerful, and it set me to thinking and reminiscing about my own childhood. I grew up on a farm in the Murray Mallee districts of South Australia. the more I thought about it the more the memories came surging back. Some good, others I’d rather forget.
I was supposed to be on holiday last week, but there are times when the writer in me just cannot switch off. I actually wrote several stories and made notes for another one, all based on childhood experiences. At this stage I am too close to the stories to know whether they will stand alone as unique stories in their own right, or they will become a part of a much bigger work.
Drawing on childhood experiences is something all writers can do.
‘Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who has survived beyond the age of twelve has enough fictional material for the rest of her life.’ (John Dufresne in The lie that tells the truth)
What I have done with these memories of my childhood is to take a real incident – and fictionalise it. I changed the names – to protect the guilty – and often twisted or totally changed the events to suit the drama of the story. I distinctly remember a classmate breaking his arm while we were playing football. His reaction astonished me. I changed this incident to a broken arm during a cricket match. That’s the beauty of fiction: you can change or make up whatever you like. The stories read almost like a memoir – but much of the content is fiction. I’ve drawn on just one incident – the broken arm, for example – and let my imagination soar.
- Cast your mind back to your primary (elementary) school days.
- Think of one incident that sticks vividly in your memory.
- Write down exactly what happened – or as accurately as you can remember.
- Now rewrite it in a fiction form, bringing in imaginary characters, new incidents, a different ending – just let your imagination have free rein.
What do you do if you had a really happy and uneventful childhood?
Oh, I know, just make it up, like all the others do.
That’s right Ken – that’s the beauty of fiction. Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.