Wednesday, October 28, 2009


We've just returned from a glorious trip to Turkey where we were enthralled with the vibrancy of modern Istanbul and the richness of their ancient cultures. We saw wondrous Hellenistic and Roman sites, amphitheaters and temples. Overlaying all was the deep sense of history and the memory of the story of those who had walked there before.

As I prepared for the trip, I read Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk's book, Istanbul, Memories of a City. The book is memory - autobiographical, looking at Pamuk's childhood and family life with the backdrop of his Istanbul as he saw it, with the soul of a city saddened by the decline of their former empire symbolized by signs of decay of the once proud mansions lining the Bosporus, sinking under their peeling paint and sagging frames.

Pamuk weaves memories as he draws in the reader into the middle of his family's living room and dinner discussions. What an incredible job he does in setting the scenes and recalling the personalities present, whiffs of fragrant foods served and swirls of conversations.

The details - can we do the details as he does?

What details he slides so smoothly into the story that set the readers in the immediacy of the place. What a great example for writers to see his art. I have been mulling over his techniques, trying to conjure up such depth of memories from childhood - lunch meals, picnics, chores, interactions of family and friends, the color and sound of the time and place.

I found Pamuk's example fascinating. Digging for details of memory. When writing for children how do you dig for details of your childhood? Details that are common to children now as well as back in your time? Perhaps- excitement in the house, happy or tense, fear of being left at home, out of things, of really being left and having to stay with other relatives, as almost cast off, as Pamuk, times of great fun with a circus coming to town or being taken sledding in the winter with frost bitten toes or to a big game in the summer or hide and seek on a hot evening when you would have liked to have hidden from the mosquitoes.

How do you dig for memories and with what do you dig?


  1. I actually wrote an article about this very subject! It is currently up and running on the ICL site, Rx for Writers. It's called, "Finding the Source."

  2. I find that my childhood memories are always attached to emotion. I loved to climb trees when I was a kid. I loved the feeling of being up in the air, hidden among the leaves, the rough bark beneath my legs. My parents, however, did not feel the same way about my tree-climbing habit. Imagine my shock one day, when I found all the lower limbs sawed off every tree in my backyard. I may still need therapy for that one!

  3. One of my childhood memories that would still appeal to today's kids, is the year or so when I was one of a threesome of friends. I'll never forget the turbulence of two against one, with the sides constantly changing.

  4. Like Judy, my memories come with emotions. Emotions make my characters more real.

    Write what you know!

  5. Bish, I just read your terrific article. Thanks for the great tips on tapping childhood memories, which is something I've always found hard to do. I'll try your of these days. :-)

    FWIW, I think Nabokov wrote the best memoir title ever: Speak, Memory.