The highs and lows of writing a memoir
In September 2019, Jane Bloom from Framlingham, Sussex, self-published her book Nannie, a memoir by Jane Bloom. Jane and I had been working together, editing her work since February 2017. Here, she shares her experience and feelings on the process.
“In 1987 I joined a writing group. I have always enjoyed writing and the monthly meetings encouraged me to put pen to paper, or in later years, tap away on my computer. Because of the group, I channelled myself into writing something each month. I don’t think I would have written if it hadn’t been for the group. Like others my life is busy, and my family takes precedence. I am not a creative writer as such.
(Marnie says: I disagree. This book, especially the imagined pieces, are deeply creative!)
My writings are based on life’s events. I don’t have the imagination to write a novel.
(Marnie says: Typical Jane, so self-deprecating! You excel at memoir, Jane, and your prose is gorgeous, so celebrate what you can do and have done, not what you haven’t. Yet!)
My family were not interested in my writing. As my daughter Selena said, “It is just your thing, mother.’
In particular, I had written about my grandmother and my life with her, also about her husband who died in the First World War. I had also woven in stories of my family, so they covered from the years 1944 when I was born to the present time. People who heard me read them always seemed to enjoy my stories.
Because of this I decided to put all my Nannie stories together and call it The Presence of my Grandmother. The problem was, although there was a mass of writing, there were also of a lot of repeated memories. I tried to get it all together, making chapters and putting my writings into some sort of order, but I failed. I then turned to the Internet to see if I could find anyone who could help me. After a few false starts I found Marnie Summerfield Smith. I asked her if she could help. After sending her my writings she said she could. Well, that was so fortunate for me. I don’t know what I expected the outcome to be, a vague notion of a book? I was on an unknown journey, but I discovered with Marnie beside me I couldn’t go wrong.
Because of family illnesses and commitments, it took longer than I had hoped which was no fault of Marnie’s. I did go down to Whitstable to meet up with her and discuss the writing. It was lovely to meet her face to face.
In March 2019 I decided that I really had to get on with it. I read through numerous drafts, five, six maybe more. Marnie and I had long telephone conversations, deciding on the chapters and where to put the pictures, but most of it was up to Marnie. She was so patient, so professional and so helpful. Nothing was too much trouble. She suggested that my Memoir be called Nannie, a much better idea.
At last my book was ready for printing. The books arrived in three boxes and yes, I so was excited. When it arrived, well it was so beautifully put together with a lovely cover that I felt like a proper author. I had ordered 100 copies (60 more since).
The first copy went to my good practical friend, 82-year-old Danny Staff in Thorpeness. He took a while a read it, telling me that he wanted to savour it. He pointed out that I had got some of the gardening details wrong, adding that I had bared my soul. Had I? He said that he was right in telling me that I should have faith in myself. “That was a good read, gal,” he said.
So how to sell 100 copies? Roger at the post office said he would take some. He didn’t want a commission, but asked that I sponsor him for a run he is doing next March (I always do sponsor him so that was fine.) Framlingham Stationers took copies with a commission of 1 per cent. Great excitement every time I went to the Post Office and Roger handed me another £10 or £20, same at the Stationers. I put the money back in the bank to cover the cost of my next book.
It was suggested I should have a launch. Oh my goodness, really? After a discussion it was decided to go ahead and to have the launch at The Crown in Framlingham in the restaurant room, which would be given over to me for the evening. It holds about 30 people, 40 people at a push and as I was only expecting about 25 people to come that seemed fine.
Gabriela who owned The Crown then suggested I used the Stables, the large room at the back of the hotel, for which she would charge a minimal amount, plus she thought I should have a few canapés, prosecco and elderflower cordial. I agreed to the refreshments, but I couldn’t decide on the room. I went backwards and forward trying to work out which was the best option. Sometimes my husband Gary came with me, getting more and more exasperated at my indecision. I decided on the smaller room as I thought that people wouldn’t stay, just come and go.
On the day of the launch, Gary collected Marnie from Ipswich station, Back in Fram, we popped into the Crown to show Marnie the room. Gabriela took us through to the Stables that she had set out with rows of chairs, strings of lights around the room, a small table with a candle and flowers on, with a chair either side for Marnie and myself. “I thought I would show you what you could have,” she said. “I think this would be better.”
Marnie agreed with Gabriela. I said people would rattle around in it, but it was agreed to use the Stables.
The launch was 7 until 8.30. I had had my hair done and even bought a new dress for the occasion. Gary, Marnie and myself loaded the books into the car and went up to the Crown at 6.15. Two people had already arrived. Whilst I was talking to them other people came through, far more than I had expected. My younger daughter came with her husband, also four of my grandchildren, two lifelong friends who came from Felixstowe, five fellow writers from the writing group, people from Albert Road, people I knew and people I didn’t know. I was disappointed that two people who were important to me were unable to come to my launch. One was my son, JB who lives in Kent and had intended driving up but was working in Paris that week and Michael who had supported me with my writing so much over the years. In my talk I did mention that whilst I would have liked him to have been present at my launch, his reason for not coming was genuine as at that moment he was meeting his wife at Stanstead Airport.
I was overwhelmed at the amount of people who came, nearly 70 in all. The rows of chairs were filled, people stood at the back and in the adjoining room.
One man gave me a hug and whispered, “It’s time we had another famous person in Fram beside Ed Sheeran. And a woman too.” I felt that was pushing it a bit.
Marnie then introduced me, complimenting me on the way I wrote, which made me blush. I read some pieces from the book that she suggested. I then answered questions. After which I did the book signing, whilst people mingled and chatted. I was told I had carried it off with great aplomb, but I was so nervous. For someone who can talk a lot and isn’t bothered by being in front of people, on this occasion I felt like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Looking back, I realise that I was unprepared for the evening. I don’t know what I had expected but it was amazing.
I was told I had handled the evening well, “Just like a proper author,” and I was thanked for what was described as, “A really good do and a lovely evening,’
The next morning I woke in a cold sweat thinking about it. I did find it stressful, and the part leading up to it. I was quite poorly afterwards for some while, which I was told was due to stress.
(Marnie says: Jane is a sensitive soul, which makes her a beautiful, delicate writer and deeply observant memoirist. The flip side of this is the anxiety she suffered during this process. I take my hat off to memoirists. It is a vulnerable and exposing process to write about yourself, to reflect on the past in an authentic way. To sell your art – in this case a book – to put yourself out there, is extremely courageous. Jane deserves all her success not only for her talent, discipline and commitment to writing, but for her bravery and for pushing through her self-doubt.)
My memoir continues to sell well, I re ordered another 30 before the launch and as they have sold, I have had another 30 copies printed off making it 160 so far.
I have received some lovely cards and thank you notes, plus flowers and wine to celebrate.
I gave a copy to a lady, who had recently moved onto the road, saying, “It is free, but if you like it I’ll have a tenner.”
Three days later I got a card through the door, with £10 in. She thanked me
for it, saying she had found it engrossing and couldn’t put down until she had finished it, adding she was pleased to pay me for it. Another lady who had lived in Fram sent me a beautiful card thanking me for writing my memoir. When I saw her a few weeks later, she hugged me, tears in her eyes, saying how moving and evocative she had found it and that she was going to pass it on to her six brothers and sisters to read. I suggested that she kept her copy and told her family to buy their own.
Yesterday a local lady stopped me in the Coop.
“I bought your book,” she said. My heart stopped. “Here it comes,” I thought, waiting for a negative comment.
“I loved it, bought back so many memories,” she continued. “I can so identify with what you wrote. Thank you.”
On the way home, a lady who had lived in London and moved to Fram stopped me.
“Such a lovely book, I wanted to read it straight off, but as I wanted to make it last, I paced myself. Thank you.”
I should be pleased, but going public about my life, I still find it a bit embarrassing. It is just a bit of writing, but it does seem to have touched a nerve in people, so a big thank you to Leiston Writers and Marnie Summerfield Smith. It wouldn’t have happened without you.
I wouldn’t have managed to do it (the launch or the book) without Marnie. If you know the story of Dumbo who thought he could not fly without holding the feather in his trunk, well I call Marnie my feather. I don’t what I expected when I started my Memoir journey, but the outcome has surpassed anything I could have imagined. This is all down to the wise help and professionalism I received from Marnie. Many thanks, dear friend.”
You can contact Jane to buy copies of her memoir via the Facebook page Nannie, A memoir by Jane Bloom here.
Jane Bloom, October, 2019.
Marnie knows her stuff. She is encouraging and insightful and used her knowledge of writing coupled with strong listening skills to guide me towards finishing my story. The retreat was intimate and provided me with lots of time to write and also time to spend with other writers. Thanks Marnie for a marvellous retreat.
Being on stage with Marnie at the Faversham Literary Festival was incredibly natural. The rapport between us was great. She managed to get best out of me and highlight the book in a very concise way, whilst being informative and funny yet respectful when discussing emotional aspects of the book. Marnie had obviously read the book and researched and planned…
Loved the online memoir writing course. As someone toying with whether memoir is the right way to go, Marnie gave insightful advice around structure, great examples of the ‘how’ along with on the spot exercises to flex the writing muscles straight into memory. I’d recommend the course for all levels, whether that’s a motivation boost to get you started or…
I thought that each lesson was a safe space to learn in. I like the fact that you can remain anonymous. With some online writing courses the other participants can see and hear you and you’re expected to share what you’ve written and interact live with people. Not everyone wants to do that. I loved the writing prompts and the…
I loved everything about the online memoir course. Marnie – you have a unique gift. You are compassionate, empathetic, intuitive and charismatic. It’s been lovely to learn from you.Even though I am still on the starting blocks you have helped me believe in myself.
I was a complete novice. The main thing I have taken away is your insistence to, “Just do it, just write and you can edit etc later. ”You gave me the productive mindset of doing rather than just thinking. I liked the format of the sessions, they suited me, and I am pleased to know I can revisit the sessions,…
Being part of the Cream Tea Memoir Crew was a pleasure and a joy. We spent the best part of a week huddled together, deep in the Devon countryside, surrounded by beautiful farmlands and rain! To have the freedom to write (or not) within this group was an experience I will never forget. Marnie has a gift for putting people…
I booked a retreat with Marnie about a year after first putting pen to paper. I had no idea what to expect but hoped to find direction, clarity and inspiration. I didn’t expect to find all of that and more. I came to her with pages of scatteredthoughts, questioning why I ever thought writing my Memoir was a good idea….
I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Marnie at the memoir writing retreat in 2021. She’s so easy to talk to, non-judgemental, has a sharp sense of humour, and so much empathy; all qualities that make her perfect for coaching memoir writing. I will absolutely continue to work with Marnie as I progress with my…
There were so many good things about this retreat! I loved the total isolation from the world where all the ordinary things of daily life were put on hold. No work, cooking, washing, school pick-ups or involvement in the dramas of others lives. This “away time” was such a gift and gave me space to order my thoughts and see…
Those four days on the memoir writing retreat with Marnie were unforgettable, deeply enjoyable and like a ‘time out of time’. It was so valuable to meet and share with other memoirists in supportive and comfortable surroundings. Marnie ensured we all had personal time with her. If you are serious about writing your memoir, I recommend taking an enjoyable break…
I had the pleasure of working with Marnie as she carried out a manuscript assessment for my memoir. Marnie was referred to me by Jericho Writers. She’s truly an expert in her field. Marnie’s written feedback to me was valuable, relevant, insightful and very encouraging. She clearly set out the areas that were working and identified the key elements that…
With my current health problems, I do feel content and happy that I have been able to write my life story for my loved ones. My grandchildren are very young, but in the years to come they will enjoy and appreciate reading my memoir Darlo Boy. Thank you so much for your assistance Marnie.
I felt as if Marnie was holding my hand throughout. She wanted to do the very best for me. Her caring and compassionate nature was evident from day one. Apart from being extremely intuitive, her wonderful writing skills seemed contagious and I found myself expressing myself like I had never done before! She gently prised open my life without me…
If you’ve already written your memoirs but need a bit of guidance as well as an experienced memoir checker, then you need look no further. I contacted Marnie about a memoir I had already written entitled ‘The Life and Times of a Seminary Kid’ which was a humorous look at five years of my life at a priest’s training college. Initially,…
My memoir is written from different points of view. Marnie recommended adding more of my own emotions, that I sew the story together using my voice and feelings as the thread. She is open-minded and encouraged me by understanding the atmosphere I am trying to convey about a sensitive topic that informs the lives of three generations of women –…
Working with Marnie was a dream come true! She as so helpful and encouraging with my memoir, we corresponded a year before we started working together and she gave me very helpful advice from the start. We worked together editing my memoir over seven months. Marnie is very patient, understanding and kind, traits that are so important when writing a…
I first met Marnie when she interviewed me at Harbour Books, Whitstable about my book Kill The Black One First – a memoir. I found her a very warm and helpful person. She was very well researched and her questions incisive and pertinent. She certainly helped make the event a success.
Throughout the whole editing process I felt both expertly held and simultaneously challenged to push my memoir to rewarding new heights. Marnie instinctively knows how to inspire with insightful suggestions whilst marshalling disparate strains of thought into cohesive order. My project was particularly exposing on a personal level and Marnie handled everything with extraordinary insight and sensitivity. I can’t imagine…
I was delighted when Marnie agreed to provide a workshop for the 2018 Kent Festival of Writing. Zuihitzu, the Japanese art of following the pen, proved a very attractive proposition for our delegates and we were oversubscribed. Neither Marnie or I wanted to turn anyone away, so it was a packed event!
Thank you for your help in making this happen, and for putting Neil’s words together so accurately. We were so pleased that the first draft arrived in time for us to read it as a family to Neil. I know he really enjoyed his couple of days with you. Thank you. Sarah Vines, brother of Neil, author of Powerful Beyond…
In the run-up weekend to our 2018 festival Marnie hosted a very well attended day of memoir-writing events, beginning with a moving, eloquent discussion in which she talked to author Sarah Pullen about her memoir A Mighty Boy. As an interviewer Marnie is a true professional, asking thought-provoking yet sensitive and heartfelt questions, and putting everyone at ease in that…
It was a pleasure working with Marnie on the Writer’s Weekend. She was approachable, professional and communicative in the lead-up to the event and during the weekend she was wonderful. All delegates commented on her kind manner, her knowledge, and her ability to bring out the best writing in them. I can highly recommend collaborating with Marnie, who would be…
A couple of weeks after the Memoir Writing Weekend, I am reflecting on what a difference it has made. For a long while I have had a desire to share my story, I did not have a clue how or where to start. All I knew is that there was at least one story there to be told. The workshops…
This was a brilliant weekend – way above my expectations. Marnie just knows about memoir and her presentations were superbly focussed and paced. It’s rare to find someone who combines a high level of professional knowledge with the relational skills that make it all work. If you are needing support with your writing, hire this woman! Edna Murdoch Director Coaching…
I have been lucky enough to work with Marnie on several occasions where she has interviewed, hosted and compèred events I have been managing. Marnie is a joy to watch at work. When the lights dim and she takes the microphone, I feel totally at ease knowing that everything will be safe in her hands. Marnie has a real gift….
Marnie interviewed me about my memoir Have You Been Good? for Whit Lit in 2015. Before we met at the festival, we had a long telephone conversation and I was struck at how quickly she understood my book. Her intelligence, warmth and sensitivity made the interview on the day feel more like a conversation with an old friend. A year…
Thank you for interviewing me for my event at the London Fashion and Textile Museum in November, 2018. You made me feel so relaxed and I appreciate your unerring and priceless support. You made the talk possible for me and I’m incredibly grateful. Liz Wilson, owner of Eclectica Vintage
Thank you Marnie for sharing your insightful and inspirational creativeness with me – well, and all of us. I loved the weekend and have come away full of excitement to write write write. Actually perhaps it’s more to organise organise organise! Oh well somehow I am determined to get my ‘stuff’ together. Thank you again. Penny Wadsworth
Absolutely loved every minute of this amazing memoir writing retreat, and the time spent with such lovely people, sharing their deeply touching life experiences. Special thanks to you Marnie for all your encouragement, support and know how. Marnie helped me with my first book and now I am going to write the sequel myself. Feeling truly inspired and motivated with…