Writing personal history

By Caitlin Kelly

I’m no celebrity, obviously, but have been urged for a while to write a memoir.

I’ve always resisted because…really?

How would my life be of interest to strangers?

I’ve enjoyed it, for sure, and had some wild adventures — visiting 41 countries, a two-year marriage, winning some nice writing awards — but is that of larger appeal?

I’ve had a great career: three major newspaper jobs with some fantastic assignments (going to the Arctic, covering Queen Elizabeth), a European fellowship, two books, etc. — so maybe some of that would be interesting to other journalists.

My family, as readers here know, is not a Hallmark card. My late mother and I were estranged for the last decade of her life. I have three half-siblings, one of whom I’m estranged from, one of whom is a self-made millionaire and one I’ve never met and don’t want to.

So, does a any of this add up to a book an agent will rep and a publisher will buy?

To be determined.

Most books are 80,000 words.

So far, I’ve easily and quickly written 20,000 and, to my surprise, am really enjoying it. It’s a mix of personal and professional stories, ranging from my time in Toronto to that in Paris to moving to New York knowing no one and without a job.

I have diaries from my 20s I haven’t even looked at, and a journal from 1998 of my trip to Australia and New Zealand, so I have some material there to work from.

Thanks to Google, I’m constantly fact-checking — like the distance from Montreal to the Arctic, or where the tree line ends in Quebec (the 56th parallel.) I also found a glaring error in my aunt’s Wikipedia entry, so am fortunate my father is still alive and lucid at 93 to do some corrections there; my aunt and uncle, both Canadian but British residents, were very well known in Britain in the 1960s and 70s for their work in TV and radio.

Several people who follow me on social media are most intrigued by my estrangements — how and when they happened and how it has affected me; my recent New York Times story on this topic elicited a stunning 700 comments, so it clearly struck a nerve.

We’ll see if this ends up being commercially useful.

Memoir starts with “me” — but it has to make sense to thousands of strangers.

In the meantime, I’m banging out 1,000 to 1,500 words a day.

What, if anything, would you want to know about me?

11 thoughts on “Writing personal history

  1. G’day Caitlin, just a small blast from the blogging past. I’ve had reason to revisit my blog recently and I was wondering how others have been travelling, here in the world of blogs but also there, up to your neck in your real life. I hope life is well as it can be. I’m looking forward to reading through you past yarns now and seeing how the Trump years landed for you and how folks there are handling COVID still. I reckon I’m going to need quite and few coffees 😉

    Good to ‘see you’ and I’ll be back. All the best… Belongum (Ron Bradfield) ☺️

      1. I’ve had a pretty big heath challenge this year Caitlin, but I’m finally through it. Just need to recover now. Slowly, slowly.

        Aside from that, we have done pretty damn well in Western Australia. We’re still suffering our current prime ministership, but our WA Premier has led our state through our COVID experience, amazingly well. Our worst issue is that our federal govt doesn’t applaud our premier for his decision at a state level, they attack him. It’s been interesting to see how it plays out.

        It must be wearing you down, watching this yourself, in your own backyard so to speak. I can’t imagine what it’s like there, I just can’t. Such was (and is) the nature of my illness (a blood cancer), that I can’t get vaccinated for another 3 and a half months. Our federal govt wants all of Australia to open their state borders and get on with it. I’m immunocompromised and I’m wondering which bubble I can live in and for how long.

        I’ll catch up on your blog and yarn across it at another time, but it great to see you’re still out there and still well.

      2. So sorry about your health!

        Very scary stuff and I hope you are now on the mend….

        I got early stage breast cancer in June 2018 (radiation, no chemo) so I know something of these fears!

        Living in the U.S. under Trump was a daily nightmare in every way. We were all so hopeful when Biden and Harris won, but it’s not going well for the Democrats and that is very worrying — including the millions of $$$$$$$ Trump has raised for re-election. He is truly terrifying and the divisions here are worse than ever thanks to his provocation.

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