Stories of the self

Poor Margery Kempe. In 1440 she sat down with two scribes to record her life, including a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Her story was tucked away for 500 years and was only finally published in 1936. At least she now has the distinction of being one of the first English autobiographers.

Perhaps Margery never intended her life story to reach an audience. For some writers, the act of setting words on paper (or vellum, or screen) is enough. Writer and lecturer Megan C Hayes is a firm believer in the therapeutic power of writing. While many therapists advocate journalling as a way of expressing angst and coming to terms with life’s difficulties, Megan urges us to write when things go right, too. In her book In Write Yourself Happy, she says: “Happiness is always a work in progress. Writing is a way of acknowledging this…it is a way to celebrate and savour our triumphs and our joys.” Megan’s uplifting workshop will explore how writing can engage your most life-affirming emotion.

Writing can also help us capture and treasure the deepest and most painful of memories. Cathy Rentzenbrink dug deep into her own life with her astonishing The Last Act of Love, a memoir about her brother Matty, who was knocked down by a car at the age of 16 and never recovered. Honest, brave and tender, the book went on to be a bestseller. Cathy says writing it meant that "I do really feel I have the essence of my brother back…and I have my book with his beautiful face looking out at me on my bookshelves.” The book catalogues how she dealt with the avalanche of grief and guilt through drink and therapy whilst also making her way in the world of publishing. Cathy now speaks, writes and teaches about life, death, love and literature, she is running a life writing workshop for us: how to get started, how to draw out the drama, and how to shape your experience into something that others want to read. Cathy is also interviewing Kate Clanchy about her account of years of teaching, Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me, as well as Bali Rai who runs creative writing classes with vulnerable young people.

Homeless, penniless and facing a terminal diagnosis, Raynor Winn and her husband Moth were not short of life experience. But then they set off, ill-equipped, to walk one of Britain’s toughest coastal walks, wild-camping along the way. In doing so they forged a new direction for themselves, and, almost inadvertently, a new career for Raynor. The story of how she picked up the pieces of their life and turned it into The Salt Path, a heart-tearingly beautiful and frank account of walking for love and survival, will be told by Raynor and her agent Jane Graham Maw at the Festival on Sunday afternoon.

We can’t wait to read Diary of a Somebody. Not an autobiography, but a first novel by Brian Bilston. It’s getting rave reviews by those in the know and it’s not even published until June. Brian is Twitter’s most famous poet and if you have not yet sampled his uniquely wry, witty and poignant poems about everyday life, sign up to that social medium right now. Charting the story of a wasted life, his book combines a love story, a murder mystery and some very funny poems.

Megan C Hayes’s workshop is on Saturday 27 April, 10:30 – 12:00

Cathy Rentzenbrink’s Writer’s Workshop: Life Writing, is on Saturday 27 April, 15:30 – 17:00

Creative Classrooms with Kate Clanchy and Bali Rai in conversation with Cathy Rentzenbrink is on Saturday 27 April, 18:00 - 19:00

Brian Bilston joins humorous writers Nina Stibbe and Lissa Evans for Having a Laugh, Sunday 28 April, 13:00 - 14:00.

Raynor Winn and her literary agent Jane Graham Maw talk about her route to publishing The Salt Path on Sunday 28 April, 13:00 - 14:30.

Writing about yourself:

“Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about.” Kurt Vonnegut.

“If you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.” Stephen King.

“Autobiography is awfully seductive; it's wonderful.” Maya Angelou.

“All autobiography is storytelling; all writing is autobiography.” JM Coetzee

“I don't think anyone should write their autobiography until after they're dead." Samuel Goldwyn.