The Perils of Memoir Writing

I have recently embarked on a Blog-A-Book project (The Inside Story)  about my place of work, the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Otago, Dunedin, NZ. Before retiring in 2009,  I collected and curated the departmental social history and published a precise of the archive as a book entitled: A History of the Microbiology Department 1950 – 2010. The archive itself was hosted on a website, but with the passing of years and changes in staff and departmental priorities the site fell into disrepair.

The Inside Story is being written (using the archives) in a narrative form which makes it more of a memoir than a history. Writing a memoir is associated with certain risks as pointed out in the Bookbaby blog.

1. Don’t use the book to settle old grudges.

It would be most unusual if there weren’t any grievances given the interactions with a diverse group of people working together. I have tried to weave these into the rich tapestry of departmental life.

2. Don’t mention every single person in the department

Some people will be left out since they did not play a key role in my story, but they should not feel that they were unimportant to the life and functioning of the department.

3. Don’t mention every event in its chronological order

By telling the story about the people and the events there will be a certain amount of toing and froing in time as each person enters center stage, but the minutiae of the day-to-day departmental life will not be included.

4. Don’t fail to organize the story

There is an overall chronology to the story — following the flight of time’s arrow. Jotting down random memories may be spontaneous and freewheeling, but not conducive to maintaining the interest of the reader.

5. Don’t write in dry, uninteresting prose

This is not a problem when writing about the lives of bright, over-achieving, egotistical, academics who love to be in the limelight and to centerstaging it.

6. Don’t expect a bestseller when your memoir is really a departmental keepsake

At the end of the day, the book may only be of interest to the inner circle of people associated with the department. It is unlikely to be a best-seller and the best plan is to publish it as an ebook and have a print-on-demand  version as an option.

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