WRITING A MEMOIR

Notes from the workshop given by Diana Cranstoun at When Words Collide, Calgary, August 11th, 2017.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BIOGRAPHY AND A MEMOIR?
Biography/Autobiography: the story OF someone’s life.  (Beginning to end, chronological order.)
Memoir: a story FROM someone’s life. (Eg Wartime Memoir)

WHO ARE YOU WRITING THIS STORY ABOUT?
Yourself?
Family member?

If it is about another person, where are you going to get your research from?

WHO ARE YOU WRITING THIS STORY FOR?
Yourself?
Your family?
For general publication?

Your answer will affect what you put in your memoir and how you present it.

WHY ARE YOU WRITING THIS STORY?

You have a story to tell that only YOU can tell.

  • We all have unique experiences in our lives. If you don’t tell your story, who will?
  • You may have a secret to share.
    • Big Secret – you may have participated in some major event that you have not been able to tell people about.
    • Little Secret – something small, but unique experience that people don’t know about you.
    • Family Secret: Illegitimacy, secret marriage. Eg Who Do You Think You Are.

Understand the past:

  • Writing a memoir can be a gift to yourself – allows you to look back on your life – as well as to future generations.
  • As your past takes shape you may gain a clearer vision of who you are.

Heal from A Traumatic Experience:

  • Allows you to connect with people who may have experienced something similar and offer them encouragement, comfort, inspiration and the assurance that they – and you – are not alone.

Preserve a Family Legacy

  • If you are interested about your parents’, grandparents’ or family members’ lives, sometime in the future, someone may be interested in YOU.

WHY NOT TO WRITE A MEMOIR:

  • Don’t write one for revenge. You don’t want anything out there that is going to harm yourself or someone else.

IS YOUR STORY A NOVEL OR A MEMOIR?
Please check out this website for interesting insight.

10 ways to tell if a story should be a memoir or a novel by Adair Lara.

HOW TO ‘CREATE’ YOUR MEMOIR
Not everyone is comfortable putting pen to paper – or fingertips to keyboard – to write a book, but there are many ways to tell your story.

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Spring

 

I’m in the process of moving house. Unpacking one of my boxes today, I came upon a journal I kept waaay back when I was 20 years of age. Inside was a poem called ‘Spring’. Given today’s glorious Calgary weather and the excitement of a new home, it seemed fitting to share it with you here.

 

 

SPRING – by Diana Cranstoun

The dawn
Of the world
Is beginning

A time
To start afresh
To forget
The failure
And sadness
Of yesterday

A time
When life
Promises
Hope

The trees blossom
The flowers bloom
And the sun
Yawns its greeting
To the world.

Ross Ainslie

As an emigrant from Scotland, and with Burns Night almost upon us (January 25th), it can be all too easy to get caught up in twee images of Scotland and its music.  You know what I mean – pipers marching through the glens, kilts a-swinging, belting out Scotland the Brave.

And while there is definitely a place for all that, my visit back to Scotland for The Perthshire Amber Festival last October, really opened my eyes to the vibrant contemporary Folk Scene that currently exists in Scotland. Especially in the world of piping, where I was introduced to the music of Ross Ainslie.

What can I say apart from – What a musician! With his tattoos, long hair and ripped jeans, he is definitely not your traditional image of a piper.

Unfortunately, none on the photos I took at his concert turned out, but here’s a wonderful clip of him performing from Youtube. Check it out. The energy of the music is intoxicating and exciting.

But Ainslie can also play beautiful, mellow and traditional.  Below, you can hear him playing on my most favourite song, Caledonia.  (at 2mins 46secs and 4 mins 22secs.)

 

Shakespeare By The Bow – The Tempest

We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.

I’ve always found this quote by Shakespeare both inspiring and comforting, so it was wonderful to hear it spoken aloud yesterday evening at Theatre Calgary’s production of The Tempest, performed in an outdoor setting amongst the trees of Prince’s Island Park.

Shakespeare By The Bow – formerly Shakespeare In The Park – is a quarter-of-a-century old Calgary tradition, giving newly graduated drama students the opportunity to practise their skills under the direction of a professional theatre company.

And flex those acting muscles they certainly did last night, with performances that were energetic, funny, thoughtful, considered and assured.

And magical.

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With a female Prospera replacing the traditional male Prospero, the setting was perfect and the costumes inspired. The audience captured all ages. (And species! I spied a few dogs there too.) Many audience members had come prepared with blankets, deck chairs and picnic baskets, while others, cyclists and joggers out for a run, or families out for an evening stroll, stopped to take in the entertainment.

This is the final week for Shakespeare By The Bow  – it ends on Sunday 16th – and I highly recommend taking a trip down to Prince’s Island Park to catch one of their final performances.  Please check out Theatre Calgary’s website for further information.

Twelve Days of Christmas London Style – Day 11

HIGHCLERE CASTLE

castle

Highclere Castle, December 2014

I love watching Downtown Abbey – trying to figure out where I’ve seen the outfits before – and I also love Christmas Markets. So when J called me back in October to say there was a Christmas Fair on at Highclere Castle in December, was I interested… well, of course the answer was ‘Yes’!  (I’ve just checked out the website and it looks like tickets for some spring/Easter events are already sold out, so if you’d like to visit Highclere in 2015, book your tickets asap!)

wreath

Christmas Fair, Highclere Castle

 

We were lucky with the weather which was cold but sunny. We took the train from Paddington to Newbury, and from there a taxi to the castle. (Taxi is approx 16GBP each way so it’s a bit pricey. There is no taxi rank at the castle for the return journey, so ensure you have a cell phone with you and get a card from the driver who takes you out there so you can call to be picked up at the end of your visit.)

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Jackdaws Castle, Highclere Castle, December 2013

 

 

The exterior of the castle and the surrounding parkland is just as stunning as it appears on the TV show. Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take pictures inside. Also, unfortunately, the Christmas Fair was held in the downstairs rooms, so we didn’t get to see them set up as they are on TV – and they were very crowded – but we were able to view the upstairs rooms.

Was it worth it? If you’re a Downton Abbey fan, definitely. Even if you’re not, it’s a beautiful house. And if you’re a fan of Ancient Egypt, you will know that it was the fifth Earl of Carnarvon who discovered Tutenkhamun’s tomb along with Howard Carter back in the 1920s.

doorhandle

Door knocker, Highclere Castle

My one piece of advice; if you’re interested in seeing the rooms as they are portrayed in the TV show, don’t visit when there is a fair of any kind running. Save your visit until you can take your time and savour the rooms as they should be viewed.

 

Twelve Days of Christmas London Style – Day 10

MUSEUM OF THE ORDER OF ST JOHN

I may not have attended Hogwarts, but my school did have ‘houses’. Rather than being sorted by a magical hat, our gym teacher lined us up and counted down the row, “Smith, Montgomerie, Crawfurd, St John.” I found myself in St John; our colour blue and emblem the Maltese Cross.  I couldn’t have told you anything about the history of St John, although the fact that local neighbourhoods boasted names like Temple and Knightswood should have given me a clue.

gate

St John’s Gate. Clerkenwell, Museum of the Order of St John

So when J led me to St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell last week, and told me we were going to visit the Museum of the Order of St John, I was excited to finally learn something about the history of my house from (cough) all those years ago.

Briefly, in 1080, monks under the leadership of Brother Gerard built a hospital in Jerusalem to care for pilgrims in the Holy Land. Called Hospitallers, they cared for everyone, no matter their faith. With the coming of the crusades, the order was militarized and became known as the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

Over the next few centuries, following defeat to Muslim forces, the order retreated first to Cyprus, then to Rhodes then finally to Malta. When the Templar Knights were forcibly disbanded, their wealth was transferred to the Knights of St John. They remained in Malta until the island was lost to Napoleon in 1798.

musuem

Museum of the Order of St John, Clerkenwell

In 1140, the Priory in Clerkenwell became the English HQ of the Order of St John. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII in the 1530s, the priory was seized. For a while it housed the offices of the Master of Revels – who licensed plays, including Shakespeare’s – then a coffee-house and finally a pub which Charles Dickens used to frequent.

ambulance

St John Ambulance

 

 

 

 

 

 

The modern order of St John came into being in 1888, its principal charity in the UK being the St John Ambulance (to teach first aid to the general population). Providing medical care in both world Wars, they also returned to their roots in the Middle East by founding the St John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem which still exists to this day.

gold

Museum of the Order of St John, Clerkenwell

Like Charterhouse, which I talked about a few days ago, the Museum of the Order of St John is a hidden gem of a place. It’s open to the public Monday-Saturday, from 10am-5pm, and entrance is free. Guided tours are available Tuesday/Friday/Saturday at 11am and 2.30pm on a first come, first served basis, with a donation of 5GBP is suggested.

Every time J and I go back to London, we try to explore a ‘new’ area.  Although this year our focus was on Spitalfields, Clerkenwell is a fascinating district and I don’t doubt we’ll be back again to explore it in more depth.

And next time you’re at a hockey game or football match, and see St John Ambulance personnel in attendance, take a moment to think about their 1,000 year history.

Twelve Days of Christmas London Style – Day 9

SOMERSET HOUSE

If you’ve ever seen the movies Love Actually, Goldeneye, Sherlock Holmes, The Duchess, Shanghai Knights or Last Chance Harvey (amongst others) then you’ve caught a glimpse of Somerset House, just off The Strand, in London. Known by many (of a certain generation) as Register House, it was, until fairly recently, where official hatch, match and dispatch certificates were filed. (Birth, marriage, death.)

The first building in this location was a Tudor Palace, and it remained a royal palace for many years, housing three queens, including Catherine of Braganza, the wife of Charles II. Extended over the years, it fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1770 to be replaced by the present Somerset House, designed by architect Sir William Chambers, and built to house the Headquarters for Offices of State, especially the Navy and Taxation.

somerset tree

Somerset House Ice Rink, December 2014

With official departments being moved out at the end of the 20th century, much of the building was opened up for public use. Somerset House now hosts the Courtauld Gallery, shops, cafeteria, museum, concerts, summer fountains and winter skating. (For winter skating, it’s advisable to book tickets in advance as many dates/times quickly sell out in advance.)

fortnums

The Fortnum and Mason Christmas Arcade, Somerset House 2014

 

During the Christmas Season, the famous Piccadilly store Fortnum and Mason takes over one of the ground floor wings to provide a beautiful shopping arcade. Fortnum and Mason was founded in 1707 by footman William Fortnum who sold candles made from wax stubs left over from the Royal Household. Over the years F&M became famous for their travelling food baskets, and sent over 10,000 Christmas puddings to the Western Front every year during WW1.

 

basement

Part of the tour of Somerset House.

Tours of various parts of the building that are normally closed to the public take place on Tuesdays at 12.45 and 14.15. Tickets are only available in person on the day and cannot be booked beforehand. For more information, please click here.

When Somerset House was built, the Thames was much wider – there was no Embankment – so boats sailed right up to Somerset House. Nowadays there is a small museum where the boats docked, with audio-visual displays depicting the evolution of the buildings on that site from earliest times to present day.

grave

Memorial Stone. Somerset House

Given that this was once a royal palace with a chapel (and graveyard), there are still some memorial stones to those who were buried within its grounds. One in particular caught my eye, the date of death being 1691/2.  I’ve seen that before on old gravestones and never quite understood why. How can you have 1/2 or 5/6 or 8/9 as the last number on a date? The answer is to do with the changeover from the Julian to Gregorian calendar, with the last two numbers reflecting the date according to both calendars. (The Gregorian calendar, which more accurately reflected the solar year, was introduced into some European countries in 1582. Canada, the US and the UK adopted it in 1752 with Turkey being the last to introduce it in 1927.)

If you are interested in visiting Somerset House, please click here for more details.