Feminartsy Memoir Prize – Advice from Biff Ward

As we get closer to the closing date for Feminartsy’s inaugural Fiction & Memoir Prize, we’ll be sharing some wisdom from our wonderful judges. Today, hear from author of In My Mother’s Hands and judge of the Memoir Prize, Biff Ward.

When did you first decide to begin writing In My Mother’s Hands, and what drew you to telling the story of your family?

I knew for several years that I would write about my parents but I didn’t know until I was in the midst of it what shape it would take. What drew me to telling this story was my writing avatar – every time I went to write, these memories were what flowed from my pen. I think that sometimes a story arrives at its own time, its birthing and there’s no stopping it.

Your background is also as an activist and non-fiction writer – does writing memoir connect with this desire to make social change?

I wrote this story because it demanded to come into the light. When it did, I saw that it fitted neatly into the political action around telling lived experiences of mental illness as an educative tool. It’s not why I wrote it – except in the sense that the subject was rendered a ’secret’ because of stigma. I think most activist concerns are about giving voice to the voiceless and most of my writing could be seen in that light. I also think that nearly all great writing, fiction and non-fiction, is about releasing voices that have been hitherto unheard.

Do you have any tricks you use to keep focussed when drafting a book? 

First off, just get it down, pour it out, cover the pages. After that, the real work begins: the honing and shaping and tightening and poeticising.

What are some memoirs you have particularly enjoyed as a reader, that may have taught you something about great writing as well?

June Alison, The Sisters Antipodes

Jeanette Winterson, Why be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Raimond Gaita, Romulus, My Father

Roger McDonald, Shearers’ Motel

Robert Mason, Chickenhawk

Mary Karr, The Liars’ Club

Drusilla Modjeska, Poppy

What is one piece of advice you would offer to a writer considering entering this prize? 

Write from your heart / gut / depths / place of precisest intelligence – and then go for it.

Entries for the Fiction & Memoir Prize close at midnight on Sunday 30 April. Find out how to enter here!

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