Memoir is a genre which I like to dip into from time to time, my favourites to date being Tim Lott’s The Scent of Dried Roses and Lorna Sage’s Bad Blood – both moving and memorable in different ways.
Today I’m inviting Clare Best, Linen Press’ latest author, to talk about her memoir The Missing List published last month. The Missing List is another book that will be very hard to forget, combining as it does fluid and articulate prose with the shocking brutality of child abuse uncovered in the author’s fragmented but compelling narrative.
It’s understandable that this book took a long time to write, but today I’m asking Clare how it feels now that the book, and the story it contains, is published.
About the Missing List
Clare Best has been haunted all her life by dark family secrets. When she agrees to help her dying father record his memoir, she embarks on an urgent quest for the truth. Which version of their life will he tell? And how will she reclaim her own story from his?
How it feels to publish The Missing List
Some people have said that publishing this memoir must be cathartic. Others have wondered why I risk the exposure (I know they feel protective of me, and I’m touched by that). One colleague suggested a while ago that putting this work into print might tether me too firmly to my own history.
I’ve thought about The Missing List from all these angles, and many more, for a long time. The end of the process of making, doubting, remaking, re-doubting, polishing – right up to publication – is finally some kind of release from the thinking and preparation. The deed is done. What happens next is largely beyond my control. The book is in the world, doing its thing, connecting with readers, opening up spaces for people to feel and talk.
There’s always a rich mix of emotions when you let go of a book or project that reaches ‘completion’, or an unalterable stage. I’ve experienced this with books I’ve bound, books I’ve edited or written and published, exhibitions I’ve put together. I’ve known the anguish, exhilaration and anticlimax, the mystery and restlessness of finishing. But publication of The Missing List definitely feels different.
First, the book is made of highly personal material. Although the memories have been distilled with the writing, so that they’re no longer as raw as they may appear on the page, in some ways this makes publication more fraught. For me the material of the book is vintage, but I have to accept its novelty to others. Their reactions will (mostly) be to something they encounter as news, one way or another. I wanted the writing to be fresh, immediate – if I’ve been successful, then that’s how readers will experience the book. But this means that for people who might want to engage with me about it, I have to be okay to stay in touch with various versions of myself in various time-frames – ‘back then’ (50+ years ago as the child, 10 years ago as the woman whose father was dying, 6 years ago as the writer completing the narrative) and ‘now’ (the person who has travelled the road, published the book, and is moving on to other work). That feels like one more challenge I want to rise to.
Secondly, and of course this is related to my first point, an entire side of me is out of hiding. This person, with her particular past, is visible in public for the first time. Some aspects of the book may shock people. Family, friends and colleagues might find it difficult to look at the painful truths I expose; after going to all this trouble to write my traumatic, secret, hitherto invisible story, how might I feel about that? I don’t know yet. On the other hand, people I’ve never met, may never meet, will read the book and assume they know a lot about me; how might I feel about that? I don’t know yet.
Thirdly, this. To publish any book you have to be brave because there are plenty of risks involved. To publish a memoir like mine takes something more. So, knowing the risks of publishing any book, and knowing the additional risks, for me, of publishing this memoir, I’ve felt the fear and done it anyway because I believe the book needs to be in the world – and I’m delighted to have the ongoing support of Lynn Michell of Linen Press who feels as passionately as I do about this.
And so the journey continues. Where the book leads, I follow. I’m grateful for the courage and I’m even more grateful for the many fascinating responses that are now coming in from readers.
More about Clare
Clare Best decided when she was six that she wanted to be a writer. Along the way she worked as a fine bookbinder, a bookseller and an editor. She writes poetry as well as prose and often collaborates with visual artists. Clare has presented her acclaimed autobiographical project Self-portrait without Breasts across the UK and Ireland and in the USA and Canada. She has held writing residencies in settings as various as Woodlands Organic Farm, HMP Shepton Mallet and the University of Brighton. Her work has won prizes, Arts Council England awards and an Authors’ Foundation grant from the Society of Authors. She lives near the Suffolk coast with her husband and their whippet.
You can meet Clare and Linen Press director Lynn Michell at the University of Sussex (Centre for Life History and Life Writing Research) on October 17th, in a free seminar entitled, The Missing List and Life Writing Projects: Quests for truth in the age of truthiness http://www.sussex.ac.uk/clhlwr/seminarseries/201819seminars/missinglist
You can order The Missing List in ebook or paperback from Linen Press https://www.linen-press.com/shop/the-missing-list/