Patti Miller on her passion for memoir

What is it about the genre that attracts you to memoir?

To answer this question, I’m going to commit the unpardonable by quoting (or
misquoting) from myself – from Writing
True Stories
: ‘Let
me confess the true extent of my passion to know what life is like for other
people. The question has been with me since I was a teenager: What is it like for you to be in the world? I feel
the hunger to know when I travel on a train, or sit in a café, or stand in a
queue at the supermarket. I want to go up to each person and ask him or her,
what is it like for you to be here in this world with only a set of stories to
guide you? How do you do it? How do I do it?

Writing a memoir is a way of exploring that question. It is a genre wide and deep enough to explore any of the questions murmuring or shouting under a life, flexible enough to evoke both the beauty and the terror of being here. Memoir is a vessel that changes according to what is put in it, sometimes formal and elegant, sometimes laid-back and laconic. In writing a memoir you are returning to the well of literature, the place where you are trying to make words say what it is like to be here in the mystery of existing at all.’

Can you give us an example of the pitfalls that trap some memoirists when writing?

One of the main pitfalls comes from the fact that, in memoir, the writer is both the narrator and the central protagonist. Sometimes, especially when writing emotionally difficult or unresolved experiences, the protagonist takes over the writing and can make a real mess. I think it’s important to remind yourself that while you are writing you are the narrator, not the protagonist, not a hurt or abandoned daughter, lover, sister, friend, but simply, the narrator.

What advice would you give to someone who is at the very start of writing a memoir?

I would tell them not to plan too much, but simply to head off into specific memories to see what was there. Let the beautiful, complex, poetic structures of memory begin to work on the page before you let your intellect start its bossy arranging and organising. And I’d also tell them to get hold of Writing True Stories...

What are some of your favourite pieces of memoir writing?

The ‘favourite memoir’ question always makes my brain stop working – it is too big a question !  But looking over at my bookshelf behind me right now,  I’ll offer a few of my former memoir students’ wonderful memoirs: The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie,  Missing Christopher by Jayne Newling,  Motherling by Jen Hutchson, Only by Caroline Baum, and Honey Blood by Kirsty Everett (due out in July). There’s plenty more, over fifty commercially published, but that’s a start.


Headshot Miller web 1 - Patti Miller on her passion for memoir

Patti Miller is the author of nine books: the best-selling Writing Your LifeThe Last One Who Remembers, Child, The Memoir Book and Writing True Stories (all published by A&U), Whatever the Gods Do, (Random House), the award-winning The Mind of a Thief (now a VCE text), Ransacking Paris, both published by UQP, and last year, Writing True Stories from A&U, and The Joy of High Places, NewSouth 2019. She has also had numerous articles/personal essays published in national newspapers and literary magazines. She began ‘Life Stories Workshops’ at Varuna in 1991 and is Australia’s best-known memoir teacher, offering memoir courses around Australia and in Paris. More than 50 of her students have been commercially published. See

Join Patti Miller for her online course, Writing Memoir – Advanced, starting 16 July. Enrol now>>

Writing Memoir_ Advanced at Writing NSW Patti Miller

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The post Patti Miller on her passion for memoir appeared first on Writing NSW.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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