Monday 1 September 2008

When is a "misery memoir" just a "powerful story"?

There was yet more coverage in the publishing trade media this week of "mis-mem sales dipping" - but how is anyone measuring what is or isn't mis-mem?

Misery memoirs are just powerful stories starring great heroes and the world will never grow tired of reading them, however the trade chooses to label them.

Over the last few months I have been involved with four books that might be included in the genre; "Cry Silent Tears" by Joe Peters, (currently number one in the Sunday Times paperback non-fiction chart), "Daddy's Little Earner" by Maria Landon, (which went to number two in the same chart a few weeks ago), "Disgraced" by Saira Ahmed, which is the newly published story of a girl who escaped an arranged marriage in Pakistan and went on the game to support her family and "For the Love of Julie" by Ann Ming, a woman who spent 17 years battling to get the law of double jeopardy changed in order to bring her daughter's murderer to justice.

They could all be labelled as "misery", or perhaps "women in peril", or "crime", or "culture gap stories" - or perhaps they are just powerful tales about heroes and heroines who battle against adversity and have extraordinary and extreme experiences that the rest of us are fortunate enough to avoid. If it is the latter, doesn't that cover virtually every great story ever told?

Or are we saying that "mis-mems" are only the stories told by abused children? If that is the case how can they be said to be in decline when Joe Peters, Maria Landon and Judy Westwater were all in the paperback top ten together a couple of weeks ago?

Powerful tales, with strong and likeable heroes battling against adversity are always going to appeal to readers, whether you pigeon-hole them as "misery" or just call them "powerful stories".

People overcoming adversity, (or misery if you prefer), always make for gripping reading in both fiction and non-fiction and the subject matter they deal with will always develop as we learn and understand more about the world about us. No publisher would have been willing to touch the incendiary material contained in "Cry Silent Tears" five years ago when Kevin Lewis's "The Kid" was first published. We have all learned a lot in those five years and I suspect there are many more moving, inspiring and powerful personal stories to come, whether we choose to call them "mis-mems" or not.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It was good to read your comment. I feel that people will never stop wanting to read about how people cope with tragedy.

I was told, at one time, by the author of 'the scent of dried roses', that the need for this genre of book comes around in ten year cycles? I do not agree with this. I had forwarded him the first three chapters of my manuscript, which he returned to me saying that he admired my work but I had missed the bus, so to speak.

I have gone and finished my book of 93,000 words. Some chapters of which were dragged from my heart. I felt the pain, and loss of the bad times once more. Those tears will not go to waste and I will continue to send out my manuscript, and publish my book to my blog in the hope that,one day, it will be published.