Kerry Hudson is the critically acclaimed author of two novels, Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma and Thirst. Last year saw the publication of her powerful memoir Lowborn, in which she returned to the towns of her childhood and investigated her own past and what it means to be poor in Britain today. It was a Radio 4 Book of the Week and a Guardian and Independent Book of the Year.
We’re hugely excited to have Kerry on board as a reader/editor on our Writing a Memoir course, giving feedback and encouragement to some students at the end of each module.
Ahead of the course starting next week, we talked to Kerry about the differences between writing fiction and memoir, and what advice she gives to writers who want to turn their life experiences into a narrative.
Your acclaimed memoir Lowborn is a powerful portrayal of growing up in poverty. What compelled you to return to your childhood and share your experiences?
They often say you should write the book you wish you could read. Lowborn was both the book I wished I could read as an adult and one I wished I could give to my younger self. It also felt timely – every day I read demeaning, stereotyped portrayals of what it meant to be poor, and I felt I could use the small platform I’d built to speak about something urgent and important.
You came to life-writing after authoring prizewinning fiction. What are the differences and challenges of writing from life compared to writing fiction?
For one you miss the ‘smoke and mirror’ techniques of fiction. The clever little turns of hand that can improve characterisation, plot or pace are much less readily available when integrity of approach is so vital. However, as a writer who writes to understand my experiences and to communicate them to others, there was something deeply rewarding and liberating about writing my own story, my own truth, and giving that to others so they might understand too.
We’d love to hear your reading recommendations – what are your favourite memoirs?
So many! But a few that come to mind are: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, ‘Tis by Frank McCourt, Why Be Happy When You Can be Normal by Jeanette Winterson, Homesick by Catrina Davies and, of course, The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink.
What inspires you to put pen to paper and do you have a writing routine?
I am interested in why the world around me is how it is. I’m inspired by tiny, human moments. A lot of my ‘writing’ is spent walking, watching, eavesdropping and thinking. When I am on a deadline various things work to make sure I stay on schedule. A target word count (say 1,000 words a day) can be useful. So can the ‘Pomodoro Technique’ where you work intensively and then take short breaks in between. I’ve also found waking very early (by my usual standards!) at around 6am and working for a good few hours then can be very productive.
We’re thrilled to have you on board as a reader on our Writing a Memoir course, giving feedback to students. What’s your favourite part of teaching?
Honestly, it’s always such a privilege to support a writer as they take their first steps on this long journey. It’s such an act of trust and bravery on their part. Seeing them progress, gain confidence and find their story over the weeks is so rewarding too.
What one piece of advice would you give someone who wants to write a memoir?
Write what is important to you and do so with total honesty. Don’t think about what your family, colleagues or old English teacher will say – the first draft is only for your eyes, so don’t hold back.
If you’re looking to turn your real life experiences into a compelling narrative, take a look at our Writing a Memoir course. It includes course materials and video content from Cathy Rentzenbrink, and input from Kerry Hudson, who will be delivering pieces of feedback each week to students on our online learning platform.
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