Words by Zoya Patel
Zoya Patel is one of the recipients of the 2014 Anne Edgeworth Fellowship for Young Writers. A fellowship provided annually to an emerging young writer in the Canberra Region to be used to advance their education, skills and experience in the craft of writing. It is provided by the Anne Edgeworth Trust and is administered by the ACT Writers Centre. Here, on Capital Letters, she reflects on part of her memoir writing journey.
There a lot of jokes floating around about young people writing their memoirs while still in their twenties. In fact, whenever I tell someone that I’m currently working on a novel-length memoir, I get varying looks of bemusement, restrained judgment and just sheer confusion.
People ask me, ‘what could you possible have to write about?’
I think this is a result of a conflation between the terms ‘autobiography’ and ‘memoir’.
My memoir is certainly not about the many and varied things that I have done and accomplished in my short life. It is an exploration of a specific time period that was traumatic in my life, that acts as a vessel through which I can explore the bigger issues of family, cultural differences, the position of racial identities in Australia, and the experiences of many second-generation migrants.
My story is just a trigger for a conversation I hope will evolve around what it means to be Australian, and even what it means to be part of the Indian diaspora.
Writing memoir is relatively new to me. I often write about my experiences, but usually in a more clear feature-style, without the depth and insight into my own emotions that is needed to make this book flow. It is an uncomfortable feeling, exposing myself in this way, and I feel more riddled with self-doubt than I have about any other piece of writing.
I find myself contradicting my own memory sometimes, or having to flick through my old journals to remember a ‘plot point’. Just thinking of my life in terms of plot points itself is a bizarre experience.
As new things happen in my actual life that impact on the narrative I am currently writing, I find my description of incidents from several years ago shift slightly to adjust to my new perspective, and I have to self-monitor closely to make sure I stay true to fact as much as I can.
I struggle with ethical questions too—how much of this is my story, and how much is someone else’s? What do I owe to the people who make an appearance? How can I be true to their experiences when they contradict with my own truths?
The Anne Edgeworth Fellowship acts as a useful enforcer when I feel these doubts threaten to overtake my writing. I have to write this, I remind myself. Other people believe in its merit, and it’s a story that needs to be told.
For now, I soldier on, immersing myself in memories of a difficult time, in the hopes that this memoir will be of value to someone, somewhere when dealing with their own trials.
Zoya Patel is a writer, editor and founder of Feminartsy. She is the 2015 ACT Young Woman of the Year, one of HerCanberra’s 15 Women to Watch in 2015, and received the 2014 Edna Ryan Award for making a feminist difference in the media. She is one of two 2014 Anne Edgeworth Young Writers’ Fellowship recipients.