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Natacha Tormey




Why The Term Misery Memoir Offends Me

Posted by Natacha Tormey on 2 February, 2016 at 8:00

This post was first published by Women Writers, Women Books at

I may as well start off bluntly.


I simply hate the words ‘misery memoir’.


I can recall the first time I heard it. I was speaking to a sales account manager at a well known publishing house in London and she used those words in reference to my book. They were one of three publishers who were interested in my book – that is, my memoir – which in no way I view as ‘miserable’.


Quite frankly, I felt insulted and disappointed; insulted because I felt as if my entire life had been reduced to some sort of pity-fest, and disappointed because it became very clear to me that the person who said it had absolutely no idea what the book was about or who I was as a person. Yet they were sitting in front of me, trying to convince me that they were the best publisher for my book.


Although I was an unpublished author, I wasn’t prepared to hand my story over to just anyone and, needless to say, this publishing house was not selected to publish my book.


The whole experience made me feel as if I had been branded a helpless victim, who was selling the only thing she had – her past – in a one off book that was destined to make a quick buck as a mass market paperback before, ultimately, haunting charity shops with a crass 50p sticker splashed across its cover.


I couldn’t help but feel that the term ‘misery memoir’ cheapened my story. I have never been one to indulge in self-pity and those who know me personally will attest to the fact that I loathe being on the receiving end of sympathy. I have never seen my past as a tale of misery and I certainly did not publish my book with the intent that my life be viewed in that way.


Yes, I grew up in a very challenging environment – having been born and raised in the notorious sex cult, ‘The Children of God’. Yes, I was abused throughout my childhood. Yes, it took me over a decade to recover and find a semblance of happiness in my life – but none of that makes my story miserable.


I strongly believe that by sharing my experience, I am lucky enough to be in a position to spread hope to those who are facing difficulties in life. I also believe that by speaking out against religious cults, I am doing what I can to raise awareness of the dangers that surround religious fanaticism and, who knows, I may have even played a part in dissuading someone from joining a cult.


Over the past year, I have received numerous personal messages from the parents or siblings of cult victims, who contact me to express their thanks as my book has given them hope that one day, their loved one will break free and will return to them. In fact, the great majority of the feedback I have received has been incredibly positive.


I detect no misery; not even the faintest whiff.


I have to say, the politically correct term, ‘Inspirational Memoir’, doesn’t quite float my boat either. I don’t understand the need for memoirs to be categorised or given a sub-genre label when the word ‘memoir’, in itself, says it all. For more information, read the blurb on the back of the book. After all, the entire point of a blurb is to give a description of the book’s topic.


My book is not an account of a miserable childhood but a testament to the resilience of the human mind. It is proof that we all possess an internal compass, one that guides us back to the right path if we allow it to. Despite having been brainwashed from birth, the voice inside my head never left me. From the earliest age it whispered to me, telling me that everything I was being told was wrong, and that I needed to escape one day.


Like so many other memoirs, it is a book about survival, hope and the promise of a brighter future.


There is no misery in that.


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