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Expert Helps You Put Your Life on Paper

By Simone Joseph, Staff Writer, Markham Economist and Sun, Thursday, October 14, 2007

A series of events made it clear to Allyson Latta that she had to preserve her stories and family history.

First, her friend Tom told her about his father’s birthday party, mentioning how the 80-year-old had presented the family with his memoirs.

“That really moved me because I was hearing from him how much it [the memoir] meant to him and his siblings.”

Then, in 2004, Ms. Latta learned her mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She realized her mother may not be around to tell all the stories her family wanted to hear, Ms. Latta said.

Ms. Latta is teaching a workshop on memoir writing in Unionville next month. She is uniquely qualified for the topic, having earned a journalism degree from Carleton University. She has written for magazines, the Kingston Whig-Standard and the Ottawa Citizen, and is a freelance editor who has worked on literary fiction and non-fiction.

She recently edited A Memoir of Friendship: Letters Between Carol Shields and Blanche Howard, published by Penguin Canada.

Ms. Latta, who is in her late 40s, moved to Unionville from Toronto last year.

Three years ago, she created an online course in memoir writing for Ryerson University’s Senior Centre, and has since branched out to lead workshops in the Greater Toronto Area and online.

The North York Central Library had to add a second workshop series in June after receiving more than 300 phone calls for 20 spaces in her first series.

With her background in editing, she does not write people’s memoirs. Rather, she encourages them to write their own.

“You don’t have to have had a dramatic, eventful life to write a compelling memoir,” she said.

In response to Ms. Latta’s prompting, her father, who is 70 and lives in Victoria, BC, has written 12 stories so far for his memoirs.

Ms. Latta is leading a Varley Art Gallery workshop on memoir writing on November 8 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cost is $120 including gallery admission.

She is also taking registrations for online introductory and advanced courses in memoir writing starting in January.

E-mail to enrol in a workshop.


Writing Your Memoirs – Some Tips

• Set aside regular writing time, even 15 minutes several times a week.

• Carry a pocket-size notebook to jot down memories as they occur to you.

• Start anywhere in time. A memoir is not an autobiography and does not have to begin with your birth or proceed chronologically, nor do you have to remember or include everything.

• Commit to paper any stories you have told orally and often (at family events or gatherings with friends). Write them as you’ve told them; we’re all natural storytellers.

• Banish the ghost of that old grammar teacher from your mind. Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation; just get the story down. You, or [preferably] someone else, can edit later.

• Keep copies of your memoir on paper, not just on computer.