Monday, 29 July 2019

The Useful Art of Forgetfulness: N M Browne


Memory is a strange thing. I have a special gift for forgetting -  names mainly  - I long ago mastered the art of the no introduction introduction, but it seems I have achieved a similar level of advanced forgetfulness about my own writing. Long ago, when I was good at exams I trained myself to forget the paper once It was done, as a kind of protective mechanism so I didn’t worry about my mistakes. Useful though that may have been to my teenage self’s mental health, it set an unfortunate precedent and I forget whatever I’ve written pretty much as soon as I’ve done it. I don’t remember the names of characters and I literally lose the plot.
  I find this irritating especially for those books which I researched. It’s like my mind is sand – washed clean at the end of every project. I must have seemed an air head when I was young and now I give an excellent impression of a half demented old bat. There is an upside, however. I recently reread a couple of old books of mine and thoroughly enjoyed them, not least because I did not remember what was coming next.
  I know that you are supposed to be more critical of old work. I think you are supposed to be clinical, professional, point out all the things that could have been better done. I feel no such obligation as, predictably, although I vaguely remember writing the books and indeed how I felt about the process, I retain almost nothing of the details. They could have been written by someone else, albeit a someone else who knew how to tell a story ideally suited to please me. I don’t think that someone was a bad writer either. I’d definitely read more of her work.
   Now and again I came across a passage I have often read aloud for a school visit or something and that briefly jarred me from childlike immersion in my own story, but for the most part, I was lost in my own imagination.
  I mention this for two reasons. The first is obvious, a small part of me feels it would be good to promote myself and point out that these old books are still worth reading. The second  is  that If anyone had asked, I would have said that I am very much the same writer I’ve always been. I’m not sure that’s true. Those stories came from a particular point in my life, a certain stage in my mothering, a particular political moment. It’s not that I would want to write them differently because I’d want to write them better, more that if I were to write them now they would become different stories because I’m different. It will be interesting to see if that’s how I remember them in future.

11 comments:

Susan Price said...

Loved this blog, Nicki -- good to see someone admit that they enjoy their own writing! I have much the same forgetfulness about my own books -- well, we're had our fun with them once they're finished, haven't we? And I've also read some of my old books and enjoyed them. Let's say it out loud and proud: We read our own books and we like 'em!

Nicky said...

Your 'Sterkham Handshake' is still one of my all time favourites!

Bill Kirton said...

I loved this, Nicki, not just for its musing on the writer(s) you were and are, but for letting me feel I'm not alone in having a loose memory hold on names - not just of my own characters, but of famous sportspeople and 'celebrities'. I can still revel in fictions, but occasionally facts are proving more elusive. (Maybe I should be a politician.)

Enid Richemont said...

Oh I've done this, too. And have you also mentally re-edited published work?

Susan Price said...

Thanks Nicki -- and Enid, oh yes, the mental re-editing. Sometimes while actually reading it aloud in a classroom.

jaceybedford said...

I recently re-read a couple of bottom drawer books, written before I got my first publishing deal, and I was surprised by them. I think with some tweaks here and there (because I've learned a lot since getting published and working with a great editor and agent) they are actually pretty good. At least they are worth taking another look at.

Nicky said...

I'm sure they are Jacey - you'd better get on it!

Umberto Tosi said...

I plead guilty of same - although, as you deftly point out - forgetfullness can make one appreciate one's own writing as never before! Excellent post!

Ann Turnbull said...

I did this recently with one of my novels - a novel remarkable for its lack of success and almost total lack of sales - and I loved it. It was gripping and exciting and much more moving than I'd ever realised at the time. So...what went wrong? Who knows.

Nicky said...

Probably nothing Ann. I think once you hit a certain level there's a lot of luck involved.

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