Life Writing: Where is the Line?

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Written by Edward Little – Student Journalist

Prose, poetry, flash fiction, and dramatic writing have been things that we subtly associate with the author’s life or character, even if we’re reading about a galactic space battle between species that can only lie.

Balamore fakes a left, fakes a right, then wins with the final deceiving blow he’d learnt in childhood.

Even this would make us think that maybe the writer is trying to understand why his father taught him to lie as a kid. We presume as we read, and rightly so because writing is therapeutic, and for me my natural instinct as a reader is to feel some kind of sympathy for the words and their creator. We can’t escape this, and neither can the figure of the writer. Social platforms have spread rapidly, with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram being pedestals for writers to perch on top of and explain that Quadrant 4 of the Dwarf galaxy is only empty of life because it’s a metaphor for the author’s loneliness. Real life suffering is a selling point for any piece of writing as it not only works as an advertising tool to get sales, but it reels in anyone who sees literature as a pursuit of truth, which is what I’ll be looking in this article. Some of us write as a method to understand ourselves, and some of us believe we understand a truth that others can empathise with. This confession can be about parents who abused you, leaving your husband for a younger woman, or feeling like you just don’t love any of your children. The truth can be brutal, fiction is used to entertain and enlighten, and sometimes we read things we feel were unnecessary written. Do you deserve to be the mother of a writer who has managed to publish a novel about how you dropped the ball as a parent? Or do you deserve to be the daughter of someone who wasn’t a good mother and your only outlet is writing? The best of both worlds is if the writing remained therapeutic and had never gained a readership, yet I’m sure that is the case for thousand of people who jot their anguish onto paper and leave it in a draw.  There are some who only wish to be writers and only use their own experience as material. My advice is that if you’re writing about a person you supposedly loved and or hated, to not make it about revenge.

A great example of someone who balances, and more often than not leaps over the line, is Hanif Kureishi. He’s responsible for My Beautiful Laundrette, The Buddha of Suburbia, and one particularly honest portrayal, Intimacy. This novella is about a man who leaves his twin boys and wife to be with another woman, the exact thing Kureishi did before the text was published. The writing is sharp, quick, and unbiased when it looks at the difficulty of intimacy when you’re middle aged, but even though it doesn’t actively point any fingers, it doesn’t mean the work itself is not in bad taste. We can judge this author for writing about something that clearly would have affected his family, but can we respect the text for not claiming that abandonment is justified, yet it is something that happens? Kureishi comments in an article by Emma Brockes, ‘When you’re writing, you look for conflict’, that ‘When you’re writing you’re aware that when you stop, at that moment it’s an act of censorship. If you think, ‘I shouldn’t say that,’ it’s always the thing you should say.’ Sometimes the topic can be more interesting than the truth and can lead to discussions that need to be had. Yet, in my opinion, fiction can be masked enough so that we don’t hurt those who don’t deserve it. Kureishi could have created a world where a young man leaves his partner and only daughter, and the same themes could have been explored, the same questions asked. Life Writing is very important, and it’s looking at our own truths that make it so interesting. We deserve to battle with our demons and turn them into prose, but I feel we can be tactful at times when doing so. Turn your hateful mother-in-law into a space squid, your annoying ex-boyfriend into a sleazy art dealer, but try and not make them into a caricature for the sake of revenge. You can experiment with your life. Maybe you shouldn’t do it with others.

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