Tag Archives: writing memoir

Weekend Coffee Share December 4, 2016.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

Would you prefer coffee, tea or something else?

Can you believe it’s December already? I sure can’t. Well I sort of can because all that end of year madness is already in full swing. Aside from buying presents, I haven’t even thought about Christmas.

school-spec-amelia

Rather, the end of the year is also concert season. Last week, our daughter performed at NSW Schools Spectacular in Sydney and next weekend, is the dance concert. Miss does jazz, modern and ballet so that’s three costume changes. Today, there was a rehearsal and tomorrow is photo call. Well, there’s photo call after she does a guest appearance at her friend’s birthday party. I know she’s doing too much and it is exhausting, but I want her to have a balanced life. Friends are important.

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I have some exciting news this week. I’m finally making progress on the book writing front. For many, many years now I’ve been reworking and reworking books in my head and I can see the words cascading like a fountain without sticking to the page. For me, the trouble has been knowing where to start. How to start. Moreover, just when I’ve got in the groove and the flow is well and truly flowing, there’s been some significant catastrophe which at the very least, has blocked the flow or redirected it. Finishing a book is not that easy, especially when you can’t get started.

So, I’m thrilled to have a plan and even though I’m back to my usual “research mode”, I’m making headway. I can see a structure, a plan, a purpose.  Even better, I can feel it all coming together.

That’s why I’m fessing up here. I need to make myself accountable. Commit to this course of action in paper and ink…even if it is more a case of tapping away on my laptop.

Anyway, I’ve spent much of this week trying to immerse myself in Paris to reawaken all those slumbering brain cells of mine. I need the to take me back to the past to lead me into the future. Fortunately, I have photos, diaries, letters from the trip as well as the world wide web at my disposal. I guess you could say it’s now been redefined as “material”.

You might like to check out some of my Paris posts:

Poem: Amnesia Paris 92.

Writing Memoir: Paris Encore.

Virtual Cafe Crawl Through Paris.

I am continuing to read  Tim Harford’s:  Messy: How to be Creative in A Tidy-Minded World. I’m now about halfway through and am going to try to keep going with it while throwing myself into Paris and that writing. I find it hard to split myself up like that, especially when I’m already juggling the family and the house. Well, I’m not exactly juggling the house. I think I dropped it on its head awhile back and it’s never recovered. Besides, I’d much rather write.

I’ve had another go at Friday Fictioneers. The prompt this week depicted a camping scene. My effort is called The Camping Virgins. I should point out that the title refers to first time campers…nothing more, nothing less.

The rest of the week feels like a blur. I’m sure it’s there somewhere.

How was your week? Good, I hope.

This has been another contribution to Weekend Coffee Share hosted by Diana over at Part-Time Monster.

xx Rowena

 

 

 

 

Virtual Cafe Crawl Through Paris.

“The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay, I heard the laughter of her heart in every street café.”

-Oscar Hammerstein II

If a mighty caffeine hit is what you’re after, you’ve come to the right place. I’m inviting you to join me on an almighty cafe crawl through Paris’s left bank, as I desperately try to find the cafe where I used to hang out back in the Summer of 1992.

By the way, I apologise if our tour darts and criss-crosses all over the place. This is a virtual tour and you’ll find me curled up in my ink-stained writer’s chair inconveniently parked in Australia.  So, the dots could well be scattered all over the map.

“You can’t escape the past in Paris, and yet what’s so wonderful about it is that the past and present intermingle so intangibly that it doesn’t seem to burden.”

-Allen Ginsberg

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m desperately trying to find the cafe I hung out at with my friends in Paris.

cafe-st-michel

Our cafe located somewhere near St Michel.

So, after much preambling, you’re invited to join me on a cafe crawl through the Left Bank. By the way, I can’t help wondering whether we’re being joined by the ghosts of creatives past…Hemingway, Cézanne, Picasso, Braque and Jim Morrison. Who knows?

Our first stop is La Palette at 43 Rue Seine on the corner of Rue Jacques Callot in St Germain. It has a large terrace overlooking Rue Jacques- Callot. The restaurant’s façade and the interior of the second salon, are registered as historic monuments. The second salon has a larger back room with dining tables, and is stylishly decorated with ceramics from the 1930s-40s. Meanwhile, the bistro is traditionally a gathering place for Fine Arts students, nearby gallery owners and artists. La Pallete was frequented by Cézanne, Picasso,  Braque and later by Ernest Hemingway and Jim Morrison. Today’s celebrities include Harrison Ford and Julia Roberts.

“But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.”

-Ernest Hemingway

Our second Stop is Les Deux Magots. Its outdoor terrace is apparently a great spot to soak up the atmosphere of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. From there, you can also see the historic Saint Germain des Pres Church and Abbey. The nave and bell tower date back to 1014 AD, while its foundations date back to 543 AD. So, definitely worth checking out.

Les Deux Magots was founded in 1812 at 23 Rue de Buci and in 1873, it moved to Place St-Germain-des-Prés. In 1885, the shop gave way to an alcohol-serving café, which took on the name.

The Café started playing an important role in Parisian cultural life and Verlaine, Rimbaud and Mallarmé, to name a few, were regulars at the café. In 1933, the cafe launched its Prix des Deux Magots award. This is a major french litarary award presented to new works, which are generally more off-beat and less conventional than the more mainstream Prix Goncourt.

Les Deux Magots has also been frequented by numerous famous artists including: Elsa Triolet, Louis Aragon, André Gide, Jean Giraudoux, Picasso, Fernand Léger, Prévert, Hemingway and others, the café hosted Surrealists under the aegis of André Breton, and Existentialists around Sartre and Beauvoir.

Our next stops are going to be a lot quicker…

3) Cafe Dauphine 17 Rue Dauphine

4) The Luxenbourg  4, Place Edmond Rostand

5) Cafe Le Depart 1, Place Saint-Michel 75005, Paris

6) Cafe de Flore  172, Boulevard Saint-Germain

7) Cafe Le Buci  52, rue Dauphine 75006 PARIS

Finally, I stumbled across Cafe Conti at 1 Rue de Buci. Finally, this could be it. I have emailed the details to a friend, hoping he can see or remember something I can not. 

By this stage, Geoff is also home from work and I’m handing him the photo album and the laptop to help playing spot the difference. Did my photo match the image? We couldn’t be sure and in the end, all we had was eye-strain.

In a way, I hope it is. However, because it closed this year, I’d rather it was somewhere else. I’ve always wanted to go back and enjoy another cheap cafe au lait watching the crowds pass by. I’m sure my friends are still sitting there, looking exactly as they did 24 years ago.  After all, haven’t you ever noticed how memory does that. It freezes moments in time for eternity.

By the  way, speaking of Cafe Conti, it’s recent claim to fame is its dog. Or, perhaps I should be saying that the dog is famous. His name is Orson and he’s an exceptionally cute Cairn Terrier. You can read about his travels here: Orson Paris dog and there’s also an exceptionally cute video.

So, that ends our rather exhilarating yet exhausting cafe crawl of Paris’s Left Bank. I hope none of you objected to me appropriating Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night, also known as The Cafe Terrace on the Place du Forum and transporting it from Arles to Paris. For me, it’s the ultimate French cafe scene. I had to use it.

Do you have a favourite cafe in Paris? Please share. I love a good story served up with a coffee and a French pastry is an extra special bonus.

Thank you for joining me!

xx Rowena

 

Writing Memoir…Paris Encore!

A few days ago, I started getting stuck back into writing a memoir about my time as an Australian in Paris in the Summer of ’92.  I spent 6 weeks in Paris during a rogue backpacking trip after graduating from university.

The memoir revolves around a solo poetry reading I gave at the Shakespeare & Company Bookshop and spins out from there. It was a time of particularly deep thought and soul searching, not only for me but also most of the recent graduates we met. I’ll add that that there was also falling in love, being dumped and all the usual things that come with scraping up the entrails of your heart off the tarmac after taking a direct hit.

Poetry Reading

Poetry Reading Shakespeare & Company Bookshop, Paris.

At the moment, I’m only at the early planning and dare I say research stage, although I’ve handwritten a few pages a day of actual text. (I usually find handwriting my work helps gets me into the flow).

I had been making great progress on “Paris” about a year ago, until a hail storm peppered holes through the office roof and brutally destroyed my flow. The entire office had to be evacuated and the mess wasn’t pretty.

Anyway, at the moment I’m seriously trying to immerse myself back into my Paris. Kick start all those near-dead neurons and getting the party started.

Unfortunately, I’ve hit a frustrating hitch. I can’t remember the name of the cafe we used to hang out and it is rather central to the plot. So, yesterday I started hitting the problem with every tool at my disposal…from the sledgehammer through to the magnifying glass, but I’m still not convinced that I’ve found it.

Finding the cafe isn’t only hampered by a lot of water under the bridge. I also have no sense of direction and struggle to find my feet, let alone retrace my steps from 24 years ago. Indeed, after all my meanderings yesterday, I was lucky to make it out of the labyrinth alive and am pleased to report that the Minotaur didn’t get me either.

My first step was to dig out my Paris photos for clues.

Immediately, I hit another hitch. The album was missing. I was pretty sure it was readily accessible but with so many photo albums, books, book cases, nooks and crannies, it was looking like mission impossible.  Don’t you hate it when this happens!! As if the frustration isn’t bad enough, there’s also that self-righteous voice in your head saying you should be more organised. Declutter! (That’s where a fly swat comes in handy. Whack! That should do the job!)

Humph!

I try to wing it online and try various Google searches.

Nothing!

Nothing!

Nothing!

Finally, I find the photo album but there’s only one shot of us sitting outside at the cafe. Even after scrutinizing the photo, I can’t find a name anywhere. What I do remember is cheap coffee, not having to pay extra to sit outside and a broad area of outdoor seating. Also, it was on a sweeping corner with plenty of space.

Yet, this physical description fits many cafes.

Fortunately, despite my abysmal sense of direction, I’ve been able to limit the search zone. The cafe is on the Left Bank in Quartier Latin somewhere near Rue Dauphine, the Luxembourg Gardens and St Michel. In retrospect, I’m thinking that was something of a “pedestrian passenger” blindly following my friends to the cafe  without gouging the route into my neuropathways.

Yet, through the fog, there is a glimmer of light.I cross over Pont Neuf into Rue Dauphine in my head. I have a general direction but then the vision suddenly goes dead with no cafe in sight.I simply don’t remember. So, that leaves me playing detective trying to piece together foggy memories, Google searches, walking through the streets on Google maps. I even emailed a friend.

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My feet in the Luxembourg Gardens. Aren’t those flowers spectacular!!

I must’ve been in one of my doggedly persistent moods because I wasn’t going to let it go until I found it. I Googled cafes and boulangeries around St Michel. I consulted Google maps and walked at street view round and around and around the streets of the Left Bank and crossed one by one off my list. Indeed, I was trawling through Google like a crazed stalker and I wasn’t giving up.

By this stage, I was starting to think writing memoir was seriously over-rated and that I should turn this thing into a novel and be done with it. Then, I can simply make everything up without all this arduous digging.

But I’m NOT GIVING UP!!

Instead, I’m off to Paris. Well, I’m off to Paris via Google maps.  As much as I would sort of love to be in Paris and retracing my steps in reality, it doesn’t matter if I get lost in Google maps. Eventually, I’ll make it back to Pont Neuf without being exhausted.

Well, to read about my virtual cafe crawl through Paris, you’ll have to wait for the next installment.

Hey, if you have any idea where the cafe might be, please put me out of my misery!!

PLEASE!!!

Have you spent much time writing memoir or non-fiction? How did it compare to writing fiction?

I’d love to hear from you!

xx Rowena

 

 

 

 

Writing Memoir: Unpacking the Past.

While being November, there’s been a lot of talk in the blogosphere about NaNoWriMo and many have leaped onboard the Nano juggernaut. How many words have been written. How people are progressing towards their target. Or, if things aren’t progressing as hoped, there are tips, words of encouragement and probably even a stiff drink or caffeine hit as well.

Being the sort who’s usually easy lead astray, I almost jumped onboard the NaNoWriMo juggernaut myself. However, thankfully I recognised a distraction for what it was and kept walking. I am quite proud of myself because I usually lap up such distractions and wake up in a different universe before I realise just how far off course I’ve ended up.

However, even though November in Sydney is a lousy time of year to embark on any kind of lengthy writing project, after almost ten years of fiddy faddling around with the Book Project, I am finally making headway. I bought myself a set of multicoloured cards and a file box, a box of black pens and a packet of multi-coloured pens and the research process is well and truly underway. Of course, buying the pre-requisite stationery is an important precursor to writing. However, I’ve also progressed to typing up excerpts from my Paris journal, revisiting Paris through Google Earth and getting in touch with people I met.I’ve even been re-working poems and writing new ones.

The Book Project is on. It’s definitely on!!

However, I always knew writing this story wasn’t going to be easy.

Of course, writing any great story isn’t usually easy. It’s exhilarating but there’s usually at least some kind of hard work involved…or much angst. As much as angst hurts and even destroys, it also does wonders for my creative juices…just like some huge, salivating slobber-dog eyeing off a bone. (Remember Beethoven: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShFd7rYSTkE)

Writing on the Window Sill at the Hotel Henri IV July, 1992.

Writing on the Window Sill at the Hotel Henri IV July, 1992.

At the moment, I am immersing myself in the Paris part of the story. While in some ways Paris might sound a bit clichéd and what hasn’t been written about Paris? However, I was an Australian in Paris and this story is going to land in Australia and even criss-cross the Nullarbor a few times between Sydney and Perth and even head North up to Geraldton. So, it’s not your classic Paris story at all!!

George and I at Nature's Window, Kalbarri North of Perth in 2002.

George and I at Nature’s Window, Kalbarri North of Perth in 2002.

I know I’m sitting on a great story. That’s not a point of pride or showing off. It is an adventure where the landscape reflects an inner journey searching for all those answers that we look for in our twenties yet through a distorted perspective. I had undiagnosed hydrocephalus, or fluid in the brain, which was an absolute time bomb ticking in my head which ultimately exploded. Yes, it wasn’t pretty either!

However, brain surgery, family friends, my faith and much reading and soul searching brought me to a place of healing. Not perfection but healing…an important distinction!

My husband and I met in the aftermath of that catastrophe and he loved me and accepted me (well, most of the time) for who I was. It was as close to an unconditional love as you could find and we’ve been through immense struggles, argued, almost fallen apart but we’re still together. We’re still walking together…along with our kids and the two dogs.

Our Wedding Day

Our Wedding Day

One of the troubles I’ve had with writing the parts of my story before meeting my husband, is that they do not involve him. That’s awkward in itself because like most of us, I’ve shut the door on all of that and we don’t talk about it. We don’t need to. However, through writing a memoir, it’s inevitable that a lot of this other stuff is going to dug up and even if it didn’t involve sex, there were intimate emotional attachments and these also encroach on what we have. After all, a marriage isn’t just about sexual fidelity. It’s also about sharing yourself, your heart and soul and grey matter.

When writing a memoir, there can potentially be a very broad cast of what might be minor characters in my story yet they’re still the protagonist in their own life. They don’t need to end up being a character at all. They’re just hiding under a rock and no doubt want to stay there in peace.

I need to respect other people’s privacy and also their need to have their integrity left in tact. They need to be able to walk down the street and feel good about themselves no matter what someone might have written about them. That’s even when it’s tempting to wield the pen, when you can’t use a sword. A bit of poetic justice might feel justified but writing a book is a responsibility. I am carrying all these people on my shoulders through what I say and also what I don’t say.

It’s no wonder I haven’t told this story before.

However, it’s a story that needs to be told. Too many of these motivational speakers and writers out there are selling false dreams. That if you want something bad enough, you can make anything happen. That’s just not true and it makes people feel like losers when they can’t pull of such miracles for themselves. Indeed, when they find out they’re only human!

I have had some incredibly dark moments along the road and these happen. People, especially young people, need to be equipped to get through and learn the incredible lessons these moments give us rather than avoiding the struggle or giving up but I also believe they often need a helping hand.

I’ve also got to be honest and say that I want to make it as a successful writer. I want that book published with my name on the spine and I want a bit of credibility. At the moment, I’m a gunna-do and that is even worse than being stuck in a real job.

Hey, Ive just written  1,074 words about getting started. I wonder if that counts towards the word count? Actually, I think it reads like a Mission Statement. A rather long one but something to keep me going.I’m going to need to remember why I am doing this and the hours mount up.

Any thoughts or suggestions? I’d love to hear from you!

xx Rowena

PS: I’m excited!