British author, comedian and Twitter star Stephen Fry will always have the last word. That’s what the audience found out at a cleverly titled session on ‘Selfie’ -- not the photography rage but the art of memoir writing -- at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Thursday. The panelists -- Fry, Helen Macdonald (the winner of 2015 Samuel Johnson Prize), Blake Morrison, Christina Lamb, Brigid Keenan and Esther Freud -- discussed their trade and what pushes them to dip into their “inner selves” to write about their own lives and that of those closest to them.
“Memoir writing is perceived to be cathartic but I don’t think it is so. Like everyone else, as a child, I was always fascinated to cast myself as the heroic characters I read about. I loved the first line in David Copperfield -- ‘Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show’ -- so there had to be an escape,” said Fry, who started off the session by taking a photograph of the cheering crowd.
Blake Morrison, whose When Did You Last See Your Father? won the JR Ackerley Prize for Autobiography, spoke about how he wanted to preserve the memories of his father by writing the book. He did let out family secrets but did not offend anyone. “If you write a book which is not hagiography but respectful, people will understand,” he said. Speaking on the process of writing a memoir, Helen Macdonald said: “We all construct stories around our lives… mine is just in print.”
Journalist-author Christina Lamb said while she is not a great person of first-person journalism, she finally realised the best way was go the memoir way because she couldn’t find the right person who had the ringside view of Afghanistan the way she did for such a long time.
Replying to an audience question on the invasion of technology into our lives and whether it is making people dumb, Fry, an early adopter of technology, did not mince words: “People said the same thing when Gutenberg introduced printing. But learning flourished. Internet has a wealth of information but how you use it depends on you… don’t be so pessimistic … don’t lose faith in your brain… that will see us through.”
As for selfies, Fry was blunt: “I hate selfies… but happily sign books. Then I can look into your eyes and have a conversation. In a photo I will only have an arm around you.”
For more JLF 2016 stories click here.