Write It All Down by Cathy Rentzenbrink – a book of encouragement to “Put your life on the page”

Write It All Down by Cathy Rentzenbrink

This book is subtitled “How to put your life on the page” and is a guide, encouragement and even friend in the process of writing your memoirs. This is a book that takes the reader through the entire process, from Preparation, Excavation, through Crafting and Editing to Getting Work Done. These are the main sections of the book, which give the basics of writing the story of a life, or part of it. It would work well for someone intending to seek publication (although there are no technical details of publishers etc), as well as someone seeking to construct a book for a more limited audience. Not that it expects everyone to sit and write flowingly before a quick tidy and submission; this book is far more detailed and realistic than that. It looks at the difficulties of getting started on a project that may have seemed attractive for a considerable time, but has been put off for many incidental reasons like waiting for a new laptop, the right setting, or the myriad other reasons for not actually writing. It also has encouraging words for finding time in a busy life, ideas for inspiration when stuck, and how to cope when Times are Tough. As an experienced writer of memoirs and fiction herself, the author has a track record for not only managing her own writing when distracted by circumstances but also leading workshops and other sessions. Rentzenbrink is above all honest and realistic in this book, and I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

One of this book’s great strengths is the realistic knowledge that writing something, even the stories of one’s own life which should be well known, is neither easy nor straightforward.  While immense research such as that required by committed historical fiction writing, for example, is not required, it is recognised that a would-be writer of memoirs does need stimulation to remember and capture the moments. It suggests the collection of photographs and small souvenirs to trigger memories. It looks at exercises to write lists of places which may help structure writing a life story, as well a list of memories which may well not be included in the finished piece, but can help to trigger the process of remembering the useful points. It suggests the need for thinking through what to write that need not take place in front of a screen or with pen in hand, the process of seemingly doing nothing until thoughts are sorted. This is a book which suggests that real courage is needed in order to write the truth of memory in a way that will work for other people. It helps with examples of how to write an incident without distraction or surplus information; giving an indication of how easy it is to be led off on a completely different path or constructing a different atmosphere from the central memory. This book is the work of a writer who has produced four previous books which have been successful, as well as reading a phenomenal amount herself (as detailed in “Dear Reader”). She knows of what she writes! 

This book also includes a section of Further Reading, listing the books on Writing,and the memoirs which have inspired Rentzenbrink, via the most significant lines. She has An Inspiring Addendum, which consists of paragraphs of advice from well known writers who have published their own memoirs among other books, such as Matt Haig and Lucy Mangan. Altogether this is an immensely helpful book for anyone who has ever considered writing from their life, or indeed anyone who has thought about writing a significant length piece. It has advice, encouragement and the basic truth, that it is all about actual writing something down which is vital. 

Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink – A book about the joy of reading and the love of books

Dear Reader: The Comfort and Joy of Books: Amazon.co.uk: Rentzenbrink, Cathy:  9781509891528: Books

Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink

The subtitle of this book is “The Comfort and Joy of Books”, and it really fits this memoir of a life in books.  “Once upon a time there was a little girl who loved books. She still does. She always will.” It is an honestly written, beautifully flowing story of growing up with books as a child, permanently distracted by books. Adult life took many unforeseen twists and turns, some happier than others, some tragic and some big adventures. Throughout she read, re read and enjoyed her books. When they became her career as well, Cathy found her true element: people and books. This is an account of a true evangelist for reading, especially those for whom it has been a hard worn skill, and for those who have discovered that even in the toughest of times it is a comfort, a distraction and so much more. This is a book that inspires readers to read more, and to read with enjoyment. I found it a fascinating and well written book, with enough interesting personal detail to make it a realistic and sometimes moving read. 

What I particularly enjoyed about this book were the sections which gave relevant book titles, and a paragraph as to why it is a good read. It ranges from “The Enduring Consolations of Crime”  listing seven books of crime fiction, interestingly all by women, to “Books about Writers”. This is the element that can make reading this book expensive or at the very least time consuming, as Cathy “sells” each book so persuasively that it compels discovery or rediscovery of books. It certainly had me reaching for a notebook to make out yet another book list.

The book works chronologically in terms of Cathy’s life. It recounts how she was a bookish child, seeing the example of her mother who undertook study with the Open University, and her father who struggled with the basics of writing. As with many whose reading age was far in advance of their chronological age, as a child Cathy struggled with teachers who refused to accept that reading schemes were simply too slow for children who were tackling bigger and longer books from choice. As her father’s employment necessitated frequent moves around the country, she was teased about her accent and more, so took refuge in books.  Her first selection of books is thus “Children’s Books I Love to Reread”, in addition to her appreciation of the great C. S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”. A tragic accident means that she refocused on books that delivered an alternative perspective on life, such as those set in wartime, by Mary Wesley, whose young characters were seen as “fellow members of my support group”. 

The further adventures of Cathy included a time in America, then a return to Britain working in the book department of Harrods. Awakened to the joys and challenges of selling books, she progressed to Waterstones, management, and then to working with a range of books designed to help adult learners.

This is a book which inspires and effectively conveys the life long love of books as a comfort and joy in all ways. Cathy has succeeded in recounting her life story as an inspiration to read and enjoy books of every kind, and this book is a wonderful read and sure to become a favourite.