Why a spirit of adventure can help you to become a memoir writer
Why a spirit of adventure can help you to become a memoir writer.
Memoirs have become an incredibly popular genre of book in recent years. I don't know when it started, but for me, the first memoir I read, which was Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence got me hooked on reading about people's lives in foreign countries. I didn't realise it at the time, but it was also the book that started me on my own memoir writing career.
Like many of those who have set off for foreign parts, my husband and I took ourselves off to South Africa when we were in our twenties. We both had a great drive for adventure and were in no way daunted by having two small children to take along with us. Back in 1981, we were stony broke in England and fed up with being cold as well as poor. The decision to up sticks and head off to the 'bottom end' of the world was therefore an easy one when the temperature in our Dorset flat was as cold inside as it was out.
We never thought that it might not be a sensible thing to do; nor did we wonder how we would survive with no job to go to, no home and precious little money. Such was our determination to get up and go that we did just that: got up and went. And it was the best thing I have personally ever agreed to do in my life.
I loved Africa; I adored its wildness and the sense of adventure that just being there evoked. I suppose even at the time I was mentally writing a memoir; I absorbed and observed so much, mentally capturing a multitude of details. I stored every experience in my heart and mind so I could take each one out and re-live it again later on.
That sense of adventure took us to many remote places by all sorts of means. We traveled in and with what we had, which sometimes meant old and decrepit VW beetles - these were actually amazing for climbing up muddy, mountain dirt roads. We spent a holiday in the Namib desert using a small VW Golf, crammed to the roof with camping gear while the children were sandwiched between heaps of bedding and supplies. During that trip we scaled roads and mountain passes that were intended for four-wheel-drive-only vehicles. But we didn't care; we bounced over rocks and riverbeds as if our little city car were a Land Rover and followed the dust trails of the real off-roaders. There was not much left of our tyres when we returned to civilisation; in fact we had to scrap the poor car shortly afterwards, but the memory of the experiences we shared have never died.
Every day in Africa was an event and I loved getting up to the promise of a new day full of sunshine and anticipation. What this meant was that when I left South Africa, I already had a memoir waiting to be written. I'd never kept a diary, but all the stories were in my head and all the impressions, feelings and emotions were in my heart. The result of all our pioneering behaviour was my first memoir, African Ways.
But that drive for new experiences and a vivid, different kind of life did not leave me, even when I arrived back in what was to me at the time a cold, wet, dreary Holland. I couldn't bear the idea of living a standard life in a standard apartment in a standard suburb in the city. The only way to make sense of the change was to embark on a new adventure, so that's what I did.
To cut a much longer story short, I bought a very old Dutch barge and set about converting it into a home. Again, my writer's instincts began recording everything that made this new life so special to me. I kept a journal for a while, but most of the content of what became my second and third memoirs, Watery Ways and Harbour Ways, came from events, images, conversations and the many humorous incidents that occurred as I learnt (literally) the ropes of my new life.
But then the bug started to itch again and the desire for something new to look forward to started plaguing me. Before I knew what I was really doing, I'd bought another rusty old boat, but this time in Belgium. This was a new challenge, a new country and a new culture and my Dutch partner and I roamed the country by boat or by car every weekend for three marvellous, memorable years, enjoying every moment. The imprint of our experiences there took a few years to mature, as they did with my earlier memoirs, but ultimately they had to come out in a fourth memoir, Walloon Ways.
I've been very lucky, I know that, but if I analyse things, nothing we've done has been particularly wild, brave or dangerous. It's just been a case of grabbing opportunities and living an interesting life with a certain amount of extra zest, feeling that somehow, it is all part of a story worth telling.
What this all amounts to is my conclusion that having a spirit of adventure is almost a prerequisite when it comes to a certain type of memoir writing. Of course there are thousands of memoirs about people who have endured incredible hardships in their lives, or who have overcome serious illnesses , or who have survived abuse, cruelty and even psychological torture. These memoirs are an inspiration to millions and fill a different and special niche. But my kind of memoir, the living in a foreign land type, is the product of a desire to make every day worth remembering and to always be willing to try something new. I don't always succeed, but I do believe that this attitude has helped me make the most of the experiences I've had. I just hope it's also helped me to write memoirs that reveal a different and unusual kind of life.
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African Ways by Valerie Poore
This is the story of a young woman’s first encounters with rural South Africa. Coming from the allmodcons society of Britain at the beginning of the 1980’s, the author is literally transplanted to a farm in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains in what is now Kwazulu Natal.
Once there, she finds her feet in the ways of Africa
with the help of a charming, elderly Dutch couple,
an appealing but wily African farm hand, his practical and motherly daughter and a wise and...
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