Being a native English speaker based in the Netherlands (originally from Australia), I have felt the frustration of browsing library shelves filled with books that look interesting, but are in another language. Though I’m learning Dutch, reading an entire book in this language takes me quite some time and isn’t really a relaxing experience. Granted, the Dutch are very good at English and most libraries do have an English section but it’s still quite a thrill to come across a store like the American Book Centre (ABC), filled with English language books. Even more exciting – there are often events there where you can meet real, live, English-speaking authors! (The ABC holds events in both Amsterdam and The Hague.). I’m in The Hague and this sign outside the store made me smile:
The 3rd English Writing Festival was a “mini festival” that brought together around 25 authors and aspiring writers on Sunday, 23rd April 2017 at the American Book Center in The Hague to discuss the topic “Can anyone write a memoir?”
Organised by Val Poore, who herself has published a number of memoirs, there were a number of interesting, experienced, talented guest speakers and a very international audience.
Jo Parfitt spoke first and shared great tips from her many years of experience of writing over 30 of her own books, and also creating Summertime Publishing, which specialises in books by and for people living abroad. You can browse a great selection at the Expat Bookshop. We’re very lucky to have Jo recently relocate back to The Hague after a few years in Malaysia. She’s also lived in several other countries so completely understands the expat experience. She has some great resources and consulting sessions available to get you started if you’d also like to write a memoir/biography. One tip I noted:
“Write when you’re bleeding, edit when you have a scar and polish when the scar has completely healed”
Jo talked about the importance of being vulnerable, practical things like editing and avoiding lawsuits and also the marketing side – if you’re writing a book to sell it – who will buy it?
Carolyn Vines writes about travelling beyond the limitations of identity in her memoir Black and Abroad and shared lots of valuable insights with us about the process of writing and being published. One of her statements was that “everyone should tell their life story to at least one other person”. I completely agree. Especially as I am piecing together parts of my grandparents lives, after they are gone, I would love to know more about them and wish they had written more down. I’m asking my parents to share more about their lives, and am someone who is very interested in the day to day struggles and triumphs of friends and fellow human beings….perhaps why I became a social media trainer, to teach people to share their stories. Carolyn mentioned that writing, but also drawing and taking photos are powerful tools for self reflection. This can teach you how to give meaning to your life, without judgement and help you get to a point where you realise “you’re ok” and nobody outside of you has the power to tell you who you are and how you should live your life. Powerful stuff, right?
Niamh ni Bhroin captured us immediately with a reading from her memoir, The Singing Warrior: Finding happiness after a life filled with pain and abuse and then shared the impact of her journey on herself and her family. It was clear Niamh is a storyteller and even before I read her book, I admire her energy and her courage to relive terrible experiences in her life in order to share her story. I scribbled down two quotes that gave me goosebumps:
“I left my marriage after a Masai warrior told me – you must go, there is greatness ahead of you”.
“I wrote 50 pages of anger and somehow lost it [on the computer] because that wasn’t to become my book. I had to do it with love and for inspiration”.
Darya Danesh is currently writing her memoir, and gave us some practical writing tips…including getting cosy under a blanket on the couch! I particularly liked her methods of having a variety of online (blog) and offline (notebook) methods of capturing her thoughts. I do the same. She spoke with passion and humour and showed the true soul of a writer when she said:
“When something bad happened to me, I was actually grateful I had something to share”.
I think she, and other writers, often underestimate how interesting and amazing their own lives and stories are, even without the “bad stuff”. She talked about struggling through fatigue and brain fog, so when she couldn’t write, she simply made lists. Take a look at her beautiful blog, Darya Writes.
Olga Mecking is an experienced blogger at The European Mama, and published regularly on other websites including The Huffington Post. Really impressive when you consider English isn’t even her native language! She’s in the process of publishing a memoir, based on her grandfather’s story. This is such a lovely idea, to capture and share stories of our relatives.
Stuart Billinghurst was due to join us as well but was sadly sick – but I highly recommend checking out his great blog – Invading Holland – and I’m looking forward to the book version in the future.
You can read Val’s own blog post of the event here as well as find links to buy her own interesting books about life on the water.
I’d like to again thank everyone involved, it was a wonderful event. I have to admit that I initially went along mostly as I wanted to hear Jo and Carolyn speak and meet Val, who I had email contact with many times for previous events through my work at The Hague Online but had never actually met! It was wonderful to do not only that but also come away totally inspired, with many pages of my own notes, and the seed of an idea that maybe I can also write a memoir.
Val plans on holding two of these mini writer’s festivals in The Hague each year.