Updated: Oct 3, 2022
The hardest thing about writing a memoir is explaining to yourself, let alone to anyone else, why you wrote it. I envy the writers of novels. They can wrap up their lives, their memories, their feelings and experiences in the lives and situations of others, of people they are free to invent. Characters, I imagine, are moulded out of, or around, realities known by the writer. The important thing, for the writer of novels, then, must be to tell a good story but to do so in ways that take the reader unawares, that quicken their memories in a subliminal way, rather than simply reminding the person of someone, or of something said long ago.
I would have loved to write novels, but it has never been given me to do so, perhaps because the story I wanted to tell is a real one and simply needs to be told as it was. Memoir allows you to tell your story as it was, although the reader is mistaken if they think a memoir is simply a confession, as if the writer needs to get something off their chest by telling it, so that it will be reduced, and its significance shrunk, like one of those tiny de-hydrated skulls that are found in remote parts of the world.
You write a memoir in the way I imagine you might write a novel, with a view to making connections with other people’s stories with, perhaps, one difference, which is that your story, your ‘memory’, must give permission for others to own theirs, especially if these memories are related to trauma and abuse and have lain dormant for decades.
Another reason for writing this book is to give the lie to the idea that your experience of abuse is somehow not worthy of the telling because others have known much worse. In other words, your circumstances were perhaps materially easier, or you may have known a degree of love coming from some quarters, unlike those whose stories are about brutality and abuse experienced in an emotional wasteland or in what might seem to be a far harsher emotional and physical environment. Comparison, as Oscar Wilde says, is, in these circumstances, ‘odious’. If we deny ourselves our memories, and the pain associated with them, because in comparison to what other people may have endured, ours don’t merit being remembered, we risk denying others the right to remember and own their own pain.
So this is a book whose underlying purpose is to give others permission to own the grief they may still be carrying in regard to sexual, emotional and ‘moral’ abuse. It is written very much with people of my generation in mind, people who grew up in the fifties and sixties when class was still a defining issue and when, within the parameters of that class-ridden context, secrecy and silence prevailed. Children were to be ‘seen and not heard’. The kind of religion that some of us were brought up with (in my case, pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism) subtly reinforced the implicit mandate to be silent, especially about things that went on at home between family members and behind closed doors. You were brought up to believe that adults were never wrong about anything. Nothing they said or did was open to question.
And this brings me to religion itself. Religion, or at least Catholicism, figures strongly in my story, although if you are looking for salacious details of sexual abuse coming from the Church, either then or later, you will not find them. Abuse, in the context of religion as well as elsewhere, took more subtle forms and had to do with the abuse of power, especially in regard to children. In my story, religion tells its own story and invites a multitude of questions for believers and non-believers alike. I hope some of these questions, and the memories they may evoke, will give people permission to own their own life wounds and to see them as a means for bringing life and hope into the darkest of places, their own and perhaps those of people close to them.
Re-Building The Ruined Places – A Journey Out of Childhood Trauma is now available on Amazon.