How to turn memories into memoir

Giraffes, South Africa Image cr Toko LosheIn a special guest post, author Toko Loshe guides us through the thorny issue of turning real, raw and emotional experiences into a memoir.

Life in Africa was not easy, with hurt, anger and revenge rampant all around you, yet the little Zulu girl, her swollen tummy hiding strings of brightly covered beads wound around her waist, was giggling. Playing hide and seek behind her mother’s legs as she bargained for some small fish we had kept for bait. Bargaining for life, for just another day before hunger gripped again.

The little hands reached out as the fish were gently laid in them. A tear ran down her mother’s face as she bowed with thanks, and the little girl’s face beamed with joy – a smile just visible through the hard crust of snot running from her nose, as a raspy cough gurgled up in the tiny chest.

Xhosa Lady, South Africa Image cr Toko Loshe

Stay true to yourself

Having a balanced view of your life is always a challenge. It may be riddled with personal hurts and experiences. Specifically when loved ones are still around, you might ask yourself whether there’s any point in dragging up that old stuff again. “Move on, stop being a victim,” a little voice in your head keeps telling you.

“We all went through it,” your siblings, children and partners may warn you. “If you mention that I will never forgive you. Do not under any circumstances include my name in your story.”

Worst of all, your own little voices may be telling you: “For God’s sake, nobody wants to read about that.”

Wrong, many people may want to read about that. In fact, many readers are looking for answers, to their own torments and hoping to see that someone else understands. They may hope that reading a story of a hardship or emotional upheaval similar to their own will help them to make sense of and cope with it.

Fountain, South Africa Image cr Toko Loshe

Let the memories flood in

Don’t get me wrong, you must have shades of light and dark in your writing, and a good story should have more light than dark. The light side of your life is there hiding behind your emotional scars that you have not allowed to heal. You will be amazed how those memories will come flooding back once you allow them to.

Telling stories became a part of me when I was living in South Africa. Whenever a topic was highlighted in the media, I would remember another time when just such a thing had happened. Sometimes it made me sad that society was not learning from their mistakes. Every story will trigger a memory, no matter who you are or where you have been, no matter what life you have lived.

These memories that linger can be the foundation of your story, but remember that yours is just one of many. Even within your own family, each person will have their own version with its own little twist. Tell is as you recall it. Don’t try and make everyone happy by telling it their way, unless of course it is also your way and a shared experience with the same recollection of joy, love or horror. Be true to yourself.

Don’t shirk from the uglier truths

Creating a vision in the mirror of a perfect life, this is the story that you tell people. The lies we tell ourselves are much worse than the lies we tell others. Cracking that false image, be it yours or someone else’s close to you, is extremely painful.

Start with the good life, the fun things and the love that may not always have been expressed yet deep in your heart you knew it was there. That is the depth of your story. The ashes of your life. Pull out that love, display it and talk about it by bringing out the love in your mother’s eyes as she tucked you in while smiling through a split lip and bruises around a swelling cheek, as she managed to kiss you on your forehead.

River, South Africa Image cr Toko Loshe

Identify your message

There is joy and love in my story, yet I was very aware of the desperate battle of survival many families faced around me as they tried to keep themselves and their children alive. Ask yourself: “What am I trying to say?” What is the message you are to put out? Behind all good stories is a message as you invade someone’s space and get into their head.

Tell a love story with love – say it, feel it and most of all mean it. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to say how much you loved someone, how they made you feel. If it is a romantic part of your life, when you were in love for the first time, even the first time you experienced sex in a loving union, try to summon up what you were thinking and how your emotions were in a turmoil with these new feelings.

Choose your starting point

Decide where you are going to start your story, then create chapters by the turning points and changes as your story evolved. Where were you? What did you look like at that particular time, and most of all, what were you thinking? This is you, this is your story. Even if you stole the rosary beads from the bibles in the church on Sunday and feared that God would never forgive you!

There will be many ups and downs in your life, you must display them all as you seesaw through your chapters bringing each episode to a climax before moving on to the next. Most of all, you must enjoy your writing, it will not be easy and there will be tears both of joy and sadness. Write those feelings down.

About the Author

Toko LosheToko Loshe lived in South Africa during some of the most turbulent years in the country’s history. Born in 1944, Loshe experienced racism, political unrest, violence, and social upheaval as South Africa’s divisions grew deeper. Her new book Shades of Africa is an intensely personal account of the dangerous world in which she lived. The book has been described as “a photo album in prose about the brutality of life in British South Africa.” Loshe now lives in Australia.

Animal magic with Josephine Sumner

Punky Porcupine woodcut by Josephine Sumner

Punky Porcupine by Josephine Sumner

Printmaker and illustrator Josephine Sumner brings a splash of fun and colour to the world with her creations. From the savannahs to the jungles to the misty mountains, her animal prints fizz with energy, and a reminder of how extraordinary our planet is. Her abstract artworks are equally alive, providing a sideways glance at our history as many of them sprang from a fascination with archaeology.

Josephine’s initial artistic explorations began with a childhood attraction “to colour and shape and wanting to draw. Even as a toddler I was fervently scribbling. At school I used to illustrate all my stories and loved creating handwritten books and diaries.”

After leaving school, Josephine attended art college, where she studied graphic design. “This was an obvious choice for me, as I am drawn to the elements of design such as composition, colour, imagery and typography and making them work together,” she says. “However, I also loved making images and after a few years of being a graphic designer, I made a choice and turned to illustration full time. I worked as a general illustrator for quite a while, which then eventually led to printmaking in more recent years.”

Sunset Giraffe mulitblock linocut by Josephine Sumner

Sunset Giraffe by Josephine Sumner

Jospehine’s vivid animal prints particularly appeal to me, offering such a vivid glimpse of the diversity of life. “I’ve always been interested in the natural world, but my animal prints really got started when I was looking through an old children’s annual from the 1950s,” she explains. “It had a series of delicate and beautifully observed watercolour illustrations by Maurice Wilson of different types of monkeys. I was instantly inspired by them and they led me to produce a couple of small linocut prints of two species of monkey.”

In 2007, one of these was accepted for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in London, “which was a great shock to me, not least because it was the first time I had entered a piece of work to the show. After that, there was no turning back!”

Each of her animal prints explores different elements. “I look for colours and shape, and try to convey something of the animal’s character,” she says. “Sometimes I can’t resist having a bit of fun with them like the Punky Porcupine.”

Other visual influences include ethnic art and textiles. “I also love the styles of 1920s and 30s and I am technically impressed with wood engraving and Japanese woodcuts.”

While it’s impossible to choose a favourite among her menagerie, Josephine admits to “a fondness for those which make me smile.” (I think that’s cheating – they all make me smile!).

Flamingo Fandango screenprint by Josephine Sumner

Flamingo Fandango by Josephine Sumner

“The vibrant colours of Flamingo Fandango and Sunset Giraffe certainly seem to do it!” Josephine continues. “The print that I am most proud of is Silverback. The secretive and shy lowland gorilla I have portrayed is based on the magnificent Jock, who lives at Bristol Zoo.”

Silverback mulitblock linocut by Josephine Sumner

Silverback by Josephine Sumner

Taking a completely different path, Josephine has also produced a series of abstract paintings and rug designs “inspired by the ancient history of the Wiltshire landscape. These came about when I took part on an archaeological dig near Avebury some years ago. The rich and diverse story of the Neolithic stones was too tempting not to tell and they became the perfect vehicle for me to play with shape and colour.”

Greater Cursus gouache and collage by Josephine Sumner

Greater Cursus by Josephine Sumner

Other inspirations abound. “I try to visit art galleries and museums when I can,” she says. “A favourite of mine is the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, which has a unique atmosphere.” She also adores “the exotic painting of Rousseau” and “the magical, exquisite world of illustrator Tony Meeuwissen.”

Likewise, she hopes visitors to her own exhibitions gain pleasure from seeing her work. “Seeing the joy or amusement on people’s faces when they see my animals is the best thing about being an artist! I hope my menagerie makes people happy.”

Red-tailed Monkey mulitblock linocut by Josephine Sumner

Red-tailed Monkey by Josephine Sumner

You can see all of Josephine’s animal prints on her website, www.josephinesumner.com, and in frequent exhibitions with the Oxford Printmakers Co-operative. “I’m also exhibiting with Red Hot Press from Southampton at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens near Romsey in Hampshire throughout August and some of my abstract work (and a few animal prints) can be seen as part of an ArtCare Exhibition at Salisbury District Hospital in September.”

Excitingly, Josephine has just heard that she’s had a piece of work accepted for the National Print Open Exhibition at the Bankside Gallery, next to Tate Modern in London. “The exhibition runs in the autumn, from September 21st till October 2nd and showcases some of the best original prints from all over the UK. Of course, mine is a print of a monkey!”

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Writing prompt – Lily pond

Lily pond, Natural History Museum garden by Judy DarleyI am rather a fan of your average, unprepossessing lily pond – the life that teems on and beneath that gleaming surface is ideal for idle observation as your mind drifts.

But imagine if the pond you gazed upon, only half-seeing what lies before you, suddenly offered up something rather more sinister than a water boatman or gaping goldfish…

What could rise unexpectedly from the depths to break the surface tension? What tale might that unfold into?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – The End

The End coverWe’re often told to begin at the beginning, but in art, as in literature or film, sometimes it’s far more interesting to begin at the end, or, at least, the beginning of the end.

So it is with this upcoming anthology, The End, from the adroit Unthank Books, commissioned by Ashley Stokes, for which authors were invited to respond to the artwork of Nicholas Ruston. Each painting itself uses the words The End, imprinted on shadowy backgrounds that offer the sense of a narrative drawing the close.

With a subhead of Fifteen Endings to Fifteen Paintings, you know you’re not in for the sunniest of rides, but with contributors ranging from Tania Hershman to David Rose and u.v.ray, you’ll want to hold on tight, right till the actual end.

The variety is wonderful. Each story examines a different image, veering off in dazzlingly unexpected directions. Yes, there are deaths, but also near misses, recoveries and quiet moments of realisation.

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