I recently read this article about James Frey and his book A Million Little Pieces.
Frey’s ‘memoir’ talked about a lot of the same things as mine – crime, addiction, prison, rehabilitation – and while a lot of these things did happen to Frey, they were embellished on in the book.
(‘Embellished’ feels like the wrong word but after reading the above article, I’m feeling like maybe it’s the only one I can use.)
I have a real issue with being accused of lying. It’s probably (read ‘definitely’) a kickback to my childhood, when nothing I said ever seemed to matter. But coming up to handing the book to publishers, I’ve started to think about how I handle the questions about truth in my book.
In my PhD thesis, I write about the truthfullness of memoir, the fluidity of memory and how no two people can ever remember things exactly the same way but I also write about the official record of a life and how what you live is reflected in the numerous official records which exist. The bottom line, my academic arguing brain concludes, is that when someone publishes something as a memoir, then a certain level of trust needs to exist between writer and reader that this is as close to the truth as can be written at the time.
Frey, I think, came undone because this contract was breached too often and in too many ways. He was a rule breaking memoir writer and the public still hasn’t really forgiven him for that.
I’ve set out to keep that contract as tight as I can, which has sometimes meant putting bits of myself on the page that I don’t really like or admire. Yep, terrifying, but I’ve done it and I like to think that my readers will trust the version of me and my story they find in this book.
Sometimes though, I think, you need to be willing to prove the outrageous and so much of this story is outrageous.
Luckily I’m what my family used to call a ‘magpie’, I collect things because I never know when I might need them. Which, of course, means I came out of prison with every single scrap of paper they gave me (plus a handful of plastic cutlery and my hard-won contraband earplugs).
Over the last two days I’ve been sorting and compiling my ‘Frey* Insurance’ folder:
I’m ready for the questions. Cos that’s how I roll.
*James, if you somehow magically happen to be reading this – I get it man, I wish they’d just let you publish it as a novel and I thank you for letting us all learn that lesson along with you.