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Hi Everyone, this is my first submission here, I've just completed edit/rewrite for my spiritual memoir and would love some feedback on the opening chapter. Thanks in advance. Alex

  • Hi Alex, welcome to Townhouse! I'm out of my depth as far as memoir goes, but I'll give it a go since you haven't got any feedback yet.

    You start off with a very good descriptive sentence that got me curious right off the bat. I was drawn into this very different world and wanted to know more, but I got increasingly confused as you jumped from looking under the bed to being downstairs in the temple. Then you introduced a lot of characters very quickly.

    I think memoir works the same as fiction in that we should be inside the main character's head and feel and see what he sees as it happens. So you telling us that you found out later your phone had been stolen takes us out of the story. I was fascinated by your description of the Temple and the people, but I got very little sense of what was going on in the main character's head. I liked the below scene because I got more of a sense of the person.

    The only artifact to which I had an attachment however, was already around my neck in the form of Guru’s sacred chain, a collection of materialised relics from several saints and sages representing the authority of the ashram, gifted to me by Guru some months before his death.

    “Where is Guru’s Chain? You have no right to wear it now, you must hand it over!”

    Commanded Swami Prema, asserting mastery over his wavering voice.

    I said nothing, contemplating for a moment concocting a lie that the chain was already in Switzerland, but this moment saturated with the auspices of truth, demanded full honesty. I removed the chain from inside my robe and dropped it into the Swami’s open hand.

     Like I said, I have no experience with memoir so hopefully, my critique will get the ball rolling and you'll get more feedback.  

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    • Hi Alex, It sounds as though this was an entirely traumatic experience, so brave you for putting it to paper.  I think many people, not necessarily those interested in spiritual matters,  would find this fascinating and for openers it kicks off with a real bang.

      However, I agree with Julie that the opening paragraphs are confusing in that too many characters are introduced too quickly and perhaps not sufficiently enough. Could some be introduced later when their role in the events becomes plain?  And for people like myself, unfamiliar with ashram life, the exact hierarchy of power, not necessarily overt, is unknown and therefore we wonder who precisely in this group of swamis is really responsible for the throwing out.

      There are some lovely lines  - I particularly liked 'shocked into infantile naivete' for example, and the passage with the ritual bronze blade carving out the living heart - but felt that I needed more assistance as to what was going on.  According to Harry's mantra of making every word and sentence serve the plot and the notion that Chekov's knife in the table must be used at some point I felt I was constantly worrying about questions which are not answered and which may in fact have nothing to do with the plot -What is camphor soot?  What is Dassera Pooja? Does Swami Prema's voice waver because he is old? ineffectual? What is adharma? Why are they guarding the safe? What are nuns doing with the ashram's car? - when the real questions are Why is the writer being asked for the chain back? Who is really responsible for throwing him out?   And while it is plain that the writer is imbued with a spiritual way of seeing the world it might be better to express it in more ordinary terms to start with - so when Swami Yoga 'aligns his physicality' between the writer and the door it might be enough to say 'he stood between me and the door' and that would be menace enough.

      Having said all that I feel you've got a very marketable memoir here and I'd certainly like to know what happened and why! 

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      • Thank you so much Jaye and Julie, your feedback really helps. It's the first feedback I've received from anyone with zero knowledge of the ashram and background, so as a book I'd like to have crossover appeal, perhaps I'm asking a bit too much of the reader. The chapter describes events at the end of the book, so my idea was that the many unanswered questions create and intrigue to discover this new world, but again your comments tell me I need to fill in the context and setting more clearly. I'll set about a redraft over the weekend. As you might infer, I'm an ex monk and aspiring writer, making the book accessible to readers who might not have a specific interest in spiritual matters is important, because in reality there is no spiritual or not spiritual, were all just human. Anyway don't get me started on that.

        Cheers Alex 

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        • Hi Alex. I've just read your piece and have made some notes on your doc, which I'll message to you. I loved your first sentence - the scrabbling around under the bed showed that something odd was up, straight away. 

          Some of the spiritual terms were new to me but I didn't think it adversely affected my general understanding of the introduction. It'd be good to have explanations at some point though.

          I felt that you could chunk your information more. You had several run-on sentences which made comprehension of the material a little difficult.

          The sleep sequence was a bit confusing, especially the introduction of the Egyptian material. Dream? Hallucination? Overactive mind? I wasn't sure. I liked a lot of your concluding material, although it seemed a bit of a surprise coming in such a large chunk after a fairly logical and linear  'escape from the ashram' sequence.

           Don't mind some of my changes - I'm a pretty poor copy editor. Terrible, actually. The general gist of most of them was to separate some of your longest sentences into shorter, more manageable, chunks.

          I like it though. You've got an original story to tell! Don't stop now!

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          • Thanks Dan, I really appreciate the time you spent on this. I'll review your changes and see how it sits.  

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          • I enjoyed this apart from the final three paragraphs, which I found incomprehensible. I honestly couldn't work out what was happening in those, and the imagery seemed all muddled. The language seemed to change, also, as if someone else had written those.

            Apart from the last three paragraphs, I got drawn in, and found myself asking all sorts of questions about the narrator. What did he do? Was there a scandal? Why did they take his phone? Will he have to learn to fend for himself, in the big, wide world? A cousin left the army aged 32 and had to learn basic skills, like shopping and paying bills. He had barely even used the internet. I imaging that this narrator will find the world a similarly baffling place.

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            • Thank you Lunkarya

              The book attempts to convey perspectives from different dimensions of consciousness, in this case that the circumstances of my being thrown out of the ashram was a re-enactment of traumas occurring in long past lifetimes. I appreciate the difficulty here, I hope that a general feeling of mystic intrigue is enough to draw the reader in without necessarily a complete understanding. I'll review it anyway to try to make it clearer.   

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