I love reading memoir and two of my favourite memoirists also happen to be musicians. Maybe it is the fact that they have a natural rhythm that makes the difference?
For years I kept Alex Kapranos’ Sound Bites in the loo. I apologise if that is a little indelicate. The short pieces he wrote about his eating experiences on the road with his band Franz Ferdinand are perfectly crafted morsels of delight, with just the right balance of scene setting, description and character to make them memorable.
I got hooked on Patti Smith’s writing with Just Kids, first. This is a memoir of her early days in New York, reading Rimbaud on park benches, working in book shops and hanging out with her soulmate, the photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe. More recently, I adored M Train. Now in her 60s and a widow for many years, Smith writes mainly of mundane things. Of her routine, of her daily walk and coffee in the café over the road and of how she spends her time, hanging out mainly on her own.
Both writers are experts at evoking a scene. Not necessarily an unusual or awe-inspiring scene, but just day-to-day stuff. A café with faded flocked wallpaper and dark furniture, where he ate pork knuckle; the way she would pat the bald pate-like head of her coffee machine as she walked into the kitchen, then dressed in her watch cap and pea coat and went downstairs to the pedestrian crossing and waited for the light to turn green.
Like Natalie Goldberg, writer of my beloved Writing Down the Bones, both these writers could make something worthwhile out of just sitting down in a café or restaurant, watching people, thinking, looking out of the window at the weather and musing.
Good writers, may I be so bold as to say ‘real writers’, can do this. They can go out alone for a coffee or sandwich, sit down, open their notebooks and just write. They may wait a few moments but soon the pen will start to move. They may not write anything life-changing at first but before long something will appear on the page. It may be a fragment, the germ of a story, an idea or the description of the couple on a nearby table whose silence speaks volumes.
On the Writing Me-Treat I am running in March in The Hague, we are going to sit in the city’s oldest café and practise being Patti Smith, Alex Kapranos or Natalie Goldberg. We will do this in a café in Cognac in May and in one of the quirky coffee shops in Totnes in Devon in July. But you don’t need to attend a Me-Treat to start the habit of writing about nothing. You could start now, today, if you wanted.
author, journalist, teacher and poet
'Sharing what I know to help others to grow.'
Jo Parfitt has published 31 books, helped more than 100 authors get into print and more than 1,000 to begin writing. She's an inspiring, compassionate and encouraging teacher.
Jo has run Summertime Publishing since 1997. She has lived abroad for almost 30 years – in France, Dubai, Oman, Norway, the Netherlands, Brunei and Malaysia. She specialises in inspiring others who write about expatriate issues.
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