Memoir equals memory

Memoirs focus on a particular, very significant time in an author’s life. It’s not like an autobiography, where you write down all the important points of your life from beginning to present day as a series of facts. A memoir writer talks about one point in their past like a story, hoping to help or inspire people based on what they’ve learned.

Memoir = memory

Memories are an important part of that storytelling, and are used by a writer to focus on important moments and the feelings they bring.

Here’s an example. 

One of my most treasured memories was when my grandfather ran away with me. My father had told me off for reasons I can’t remember – I must have done something very naughty indeed, because my father rarely chastised me. My grandfather got really cross with my father, scooped me up into his arms and set off into the mountains.

‘You don’t deserve this boy. He’s coming with me.’

In reality, I was a convenient excuse for the wily old man to get away for a few days. 

Passarlay wouldn’t talk about this memory in his memoir unless it was important to the story he was telling. As The Lightless Sky is about Passalay’s escape from war torn Afghanistan when he was twelve, remembering good times with family is definitely significant!

We’ll come back to this passage later in the lesson. 

Before we go any further, read the snippet again. This time, focus on how the memories are talked about.

What else can you say about this snippet? Are the memories detailed or vague? Emotional or clinical?

The snippet has a combination of memory styles.

  • Parts of the memory are detailed–’when my grandfather ran away with me...’
  • Parts of the memory are vague–‘for reasons I can’t remember...’
  • He remembers the event emotionally–‘One of my most treasured memories...’
  • But he’s also remembering it as an adult, so he also looks at the event clinically–’In reality, I was a convenient excuse...’

We’ll look at these techniques and more over this lesson.

In this lesson, we’re going to look at ways in which memory is used in memoir. For each exercise, you'll get a snippet, and then an example showing how you could apply that style.  

You can:

  • write something true about your life 
  • make something up about your life, or
  • imagine someone else’s life.

Let’s go!