Tag Archives: autobiography

Sunday Once More

We’ve been out today for lunch in Derbyshire – meeting Number One son for lunch in Castleton, which is roughly half way between us. It was a very pleasant drive and an excellent lunch. Though we were spaced out in the dining room Derbyshire was a bit crowded at times and it’s easy to see how the virus spreads even when we are supposed to be being careful.

Everyone seems more chatty these days, as if the lockdown has made us more open to talking to strangers. It’s probably the only good thing to come from it. Well, maybe not quite – I have also broken my habit of ordering takeaway meals and buying supermarket sandwiches.

I could tell you more but I’m always quite reticent about discussing, or photographing other people for the blog. Part of me doesn’t want to take responsibility for talking about other people, and another part of me thinks that their stories are for them to tell. I would make a very poor autobiographer because of this. However, as I have had a dull, boring and even dreary life, I would make a poor autobiographer for many other reasons too.

View of Castleton, Derbyshire

Tonight I had another rejection. It was for haiku, and I tend to expect this as they are not my strongest suit. I fact, I have only ever had one accepted and this was probably out of charity.

It was a very nice rejection and the editor thanked me for submitting them, told me they had enjoyed all my haiku but had not, in this case selected any for the magazine. There was a suspicion of a double-edged compliment when they told me that they hoped to read some of them in other publications soon. That could be genuine good wishes for success, or just a coded way of telling me to go away and bother someone else.

Being cynical, I checked back a couple of years (I have, as you know, a large store of old emails) and found that this was exactly the same rejection message I had received in 2018.

My suspicion about a coded message is taking a more solid form.

Looking on the bright side, I have had three sets of haiku returned, which allows me to mix and match and send them out to a couple of other editors. As with the previous recipients I am sure they will all be very grateful.

View from Castleton, Derbyshire

Sisters Don’t Chase Sticks

This post started life as an attempt at a longer haibun. If you read modern haibun they are very often just a few lines of prose followed by a haiku. It’s not how they used to be, when they were often used for travelogues. Indeed, only about fifteen years ago, haibun, as a form, was originally explained to me as an essay with two or three haiku.

I wrote one. Fourteen years later I wrote another one. It doesn’t do to rush these things.

Recently I felt like having a go at something a bit longer, and thought I might try an autobiography. It earned two rejections, one in its original form and one in a cut down version. To be honest I wasn’t keen on cutting it down, but if an editor suggests trimming the prose I’m going to trim.

The altered version didn’t meet with approval, so I added “loss of integrity” to the sting of double rejection.

I decided that I would use it as a blog post. I have removed the haiku as I can use them later if they are unpublished (and because I struggle to write acceptable haiku). Apart from that, I have just about left it alone – I say “just about” because who can resist the temptation to tinker?

When I posted it, I added the news about my father, which was new since I “finished” the original. Later, I realised I had put in nothing about my mother, so I’m back again (on 6th July) to add more. A poem is never actually finished, you just get to a point where you give up and let it go. I don’t often go back to them, but this one, being an autobiography, just keeps on going. I’m hoping there will be a lot more to add before I consider it finished.

Sisters Don’t Chase Sticks

I am sitting in the garden with a cup of tea, contemplating the neglected door of our coal shed, which now serves as a utility room. A thought enters my freewheeling mind. Could I write my autobiography in haibun form?

Year One – I remember nothing.

Year Two – same again.

This is not, I feel, a promising start.

Year Three – I acquire a dog and a baby sister. I prefer the dog as it is better at fetching sticks. In this golden age there are butterflies the size of my hand and only two sorts of weather – sunshine or snowball  time. It is only with hindsight that I recognise it as a golden age.

Year Four – we move into town, the dog is hit by a car and my parents tell me they have arranged for him to live somewhere safe in the country. I start school – they teach me to read and insist I have a nap every afternoon.

Show me the boy, as they say, and I will show you the man – the reading habit is still with me and I still like a nap in the afternoon, despite complaints from my employer.

Year Five – I go fishing for sticklebacks in the canal. Nobody would let a five-year-old fish in a canal on his own these days. We have destroyed childhood as it used to be. It is, however, possible that we have prevented a few drownings and relieved the pressure on the stickleback population.

Some dogs, according to Disney, make their way back home from hundreds of miles away. Mine doesn’t. In fact, when we visit my uncle, where the dog is now living, he pretends not to know me. I like to think this was because of the head injury, but it might just be that he doesn’t like me.

Eventually I give up trying to teach my sister to fetch sticks and lose my interest in sticklebacks.

At the age of 11 I hit my academic peak, coming top of the class, and am given a book as a prize. I opt for a book on birds, an interest which is still with me.

The dog successfully avoids cars for another eighteen years and dies of old age.

Nothing much of note happens for the rest of my life. I find that sisters do have some redeeming features and are, in the end, better than dogs. I accumulate a wife, a family, and arthritis, which I have inherited from my mother. From my father I have inherited a tendency to offer unwanted advice to other road users.

My parents, after sixty years of marriage, get a telegram from the Queen and we have a party. Gradually, my mother fades away.

And so, fifty years after hitting my academic peak I am sitting in the garden thinking of writing an autobiography in haibun form.

I leave this haibun to mature. Six months later the world changes and I spend a my life in lockdown.

My father dies, and we are not allowed to sing at his funeral.

Book Review – My Alphabet: A Life from A to Z by Nick Hewer

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (6 Sept. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1471167062
  • ISBN-13: 978-1471167065

If you are aware of Nick Hewer you probably know him from either The Apprentice or Countdown. If you aren’t from the UK you probably don’t know him at all.

I saw the book last Thursday when browsing in “The Works” whilst waiting to meet my sister for lunch. It was a perfect combination of interesting and cheap.

Cut into 26 chapters, each one themed around a letter of the alphabet (to emphasise his work on Countdown, I suppose), it builds into an interesting story of his life, though always with the feeling that he was holding quite a lot back. This isn’t really a problem if you are reading for entertainment, but could be a problem if you were expecting a detailed and structured autobiography.

He’s been to a Jesuit boarding school, run a successful PR business, been on TV, lived in France and driven from France to Mongolia in a Renault 4. In answer to your questions – for charity, and no, I don’t know why he used a Renault 4 either.

So, as an entertaining read, for £3, it can’t be beaten. If you want an insightful biography, or it’s full price (£20), I would advise saving your money.

The Story of My Life

I was searching through old files in the Documents File and found one I’d started about a year ago – “Life Story”. I’d started it, inspired by various blogs, but had let it drop and forgotten all about it.

I will quote it.

Chapter One

That was all there was. I can’t tell you if there was ever more than that as I just don’t remember.

Let’s be clear – I always have trouble starting things, and the style of a chapter heading takes thought. I’m never sure whether to go for Chapter One, Chapter 1 or simply 1. It all depends on the measure of gravitas you are aiming for. What works for a modern novel isn’t necessarily going to convey the full depth of dignity required for the autobiography of a middle-aged man with a beard and a fountain pen. However, even by my standards, writing a chapter heading and calling it a day is very lazy.

I mention the fountain pen because writing, in my imagination, always features a fountain pen. It also features a big desk in a library, a summer’s day and open French windows. There would be fruit trees in the garden and pen stand on the desk.

A book I once read told me that if I really wanted something I should visualise it in minute detail. It doesn’t seem to be working. I can imagine it, but apart from the fountain pen I’m having trouble putting the rest together. We do have a temperamental plum tree and a few small trees in pots (apple, damson and fig) but I can’t actually see them when I sit down to write.

Anyway, the story of my life. I think I’ve already summed it up – good intentions, unfinished projects and poor visualisation skills.

One of the reasons, apart from idleness, I didn’t go any further is that I haven’t really done anything interesting enough to merit a book. To make it more interesting I would have to delve into my subconscious and try to make it into the misery memoir section. Unfortunately my parents, by failing to either beat or abandon me, didn’t do me any favours there.

If I had my time again I’d be much more irritating as a child and see if I could build up some misery for future use. Failing that I’d have to do something notable and become a celebrity.

In 1968 I won a prize in the Brooke Bond essay writing competition, but I’m not sure it’s enough of an achievement to hang a set of memoirs on. I noticed from a quick search of the internet that Janet Street-Porter won an earlier Brooke Bond competition. She gets 50 words out of it. Even if I pad it out that would leave me around 79,900 words short. She, however, has done quite a lot more than me, so has plenty to fill her book.

The obvious answer is to make something up, but even the fraudulent memoir market seems to be overcrowded. As they seem to have missed Grey Owl out, it could be even more congested than the link suggests.

I’m faced with two possibilities here – one being to do something energetic and outlandish like cycling from Land’s End to John o’ Groats on a Penny Farthing with a fridge strapped to my back. That’s entry level for a memoir by a non-celebrity these days.

Another is to do something famous. I see that I am, for instance, more likely to win an Olympic Gold Medal than win the lottery. Even so, the chances are 1 in 662,000 so this could be tricky.

The article actually says “The chances of the average person winning an Olympic gold medal in their lifetime are 1 in 662,000.”

Am I the only one wondering what the chances of someone winning one not in their lifetime?

That really would make me a celebrity.