Writing memoir- Adrian Kenny



This summer The Lilliput Press published Adrian Kenny’s remarkable memoir Before the Wax Hardened. Originally published in  1991, Lilliput is proud to reissue this portrayal of a generation, to which the author’s keen eye and clear style lend the truth and elegance of a classic. In a previous article in The Irish Times, Adrian shares his thoughts on writing.

Adrian Kenny on writing memoir

Adrian Kenny has written three memoirs detailing different periods of his life: Before the Wax Hardened, The Family Business and Istanbul Diary. A self-confessed frustrated novelist, he seems ill at ease with the idea that memoir might be his true calling.

“There’s a need as deep as can be in people for a meaning in life: what on earth is it all about?” he says. “Before the Wax Hardened was about school and didn’t cause a lot of trouble really; just one or two people complained about that one. Then I wrote one when I lived in Istanbul, and some people were angry about that because it’s based on real people.”

While he is not at ease with the process of life writing, he finds it therapeutic. “Yes, I’m afraid I do. I would feel when certain things are written in some form you’d feel it satisfied some sort of desire for harmony or meaning or explanation, and without that I’d feel melancholy.”

So what would drive a writer to push through the risk of hurting people? “If you don’t . . . I mean, I’ve nothing against Alice Taylor, for example, but I think she dwells on the sunny side of life and that’s grand. But there’s more than the sun in life, there’s also the dark.

“Yet if you bite off too much, you’re really just presenting a mess of memories, and that’s not much use to people, because people come to writing still to have some sort of a shape. The pleasure in a good book or a good film or a good piece of music is that there’s some shape given to it, and that satisfies something in us.”

What does he believe to be the strength of memoir? “The veracity,” he says. “The feeling that this is real.”

Kenny’s writing advice

  • Write every day: “You should be there every day, and work. I work 10am-2pm every day and I’ve done that for the last 45 years. I’ve done that today and I hope that I’ll do that till I die.”
  • Write about something you love: “If you write a memoir about something you love, you’re not going to do it wrong. If you’re writing about people you love . . . My first book of memoir is about school friends and school, my relations in the country and so on. That was my life.”
  • Don’t be nice, be precise: “I wouldn’t have dreamed about being nasty about anyone in [my first memoir], but at the same time I tried to show what you were like at the time. When you’re young, you’re a barbarian in many ways, aren’t you? We spent our time killing birds and fish, and tearing things up. And then everyone having nervous breakdowns as they did in the late 60s. Just try to describe it as passionately and accurately as you can. Trying to balance niceness and precision is the thing.”

Full Irish Times article here