A new book – Memory Craft

Great excitement! I have just signed a contract with my publisher, Allen & Unwin, to do a new book. The working title (may not end up being the real title) is Unlocking the Memory Code. Publication date is probably early 2019. There is a lot of work to do first! Edit: it became Memory Craft.

This book is all about using the most effective memory methods from across cultures and throughout time. It is all about how we can use these methods to enhance our lives every day.

One of my great pleasures is encoding layer upon layer in my new lukasa, designed to record the history or writing. Ironic, isn’t it? This beautiful object was made for me by Tom Chippindall.

The vast majority of the emails and messages I receive are about the indigenous memory methods and how we might apply them in contemporary life. The extraordinary memory skills of our ancestors have been gradually lost with the invent of writing and even more so with the prevalence of information technology. Many readers are concerned about this and want to redress the trend by using their memories much more effectively.

I am simply astounded every day by what I can memorise and the way I can then build on the knowledge which is so firmly grounded in the memory devices. I am able to see patterns and the big picture in ways which are just not possible without this basic knowledge at my fingertips. It is also wonderful fun!

Throughout the book I will look at the changes in memory techniques over the millennia and discuss the possible impact on education and on memory loss with ageing. Recent research in neuroscience explains exactly why the memory methods of indigenous culture are so effective. I will report on the science and celebrate indigenous intellect. I will also emphasis how much everything is to remember when it is brought to like through stories and vivid characters.

As indigenous and early literate cultures were masters of memory, so it is from them that we can learn the most. I am adding to the lessons from oral cultures discussed in The Memory Code to include medieval memory systems, ideas from the Renaissance and from ancient Chinese and Japanese handscrolls. I will also look at mnemonic tricks from contemporary times.

The topics to be covered in Unlocking will include the most successful examples from My 40 Memory Experiments which have now been adjusted to reflect the questions I am most often asked.

I am learning a foreign language (French) despite having failed dismally to do so at school.  I am using a range of methods to memorise vocabulary and grammar and going really well. And even taking on Chinese (Mandarin).

I have devised a system for memorising names and faces by adapting the concept of a medieval bestiary.

I memorise temporary lists when we are out birding, going shopping or given verbally using a visual alphabet, adapted from those used during the Renaissance.

I am continuing to memorise more details about all the countries in the world and constantly adding to my walks through pre-history and history. I use the field guide to the 412 Victorian birds from memory constantly as husband Damian and I go birding often.

I am attending art classes every week to create the most beautiful contemporary adaptions I can manage of the bestiary, visual alphabet and Chinese hand scrolls. I am becoming addicted to everything about art, especially watercolour. I am using a version of the Inca knotted string khipu (quipu) to record the history of art. As many researchers suggest, the khipu is really nearer to writing than a pure mnemonic device.

I am also creating a personal ‘winter count’ based on the stunning mnemonic skins of the Plains Indians of North America. The one pictured below if the famous Lone Dog’s winter count. I am astonished how little of my life I could remember chronologically until I started this project. How much will this object help me hold onto my identity into very old age?

And every day I train for the Australian Memory Championships. Being old (I’m 65) does not mean a fading memory. I can now memorise a shuffled deck of cards in 12 minutes – way down from the 35 minutes just a month ago. I can memorise long strings of random numbers in decimal and binary and many other useless but surprisingly enjoyable feats.

Life is very good and I have all the readers of The Memory Code to thank!












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Author: lynne

I am an Honorary Researcher at LaTrobe University. I am the author of 19 books, the most recent being 'Spiders: learning to love them' (Allen & Unwin), 'Knowledge and Power in Prehistoric Societies' (Cambridge University Press, 'The Memory Code' (Allen & Unwin, AUS; Pegasus Books, US and Atlantic Books, UK), 'Memory Craft' (Allen & Unwin, AUS; Pegasus Books, US) [and foreign translations, audio versions and so on]. My latest book is co-authored by Margo Neale. 'Songlines: the power and promise' and published by Thames & Hudson with the National Museum of Australia.

15 thoughts on “A new book – Memory Craft”

  1. Hi Lynne,

    Loved your book, The Memory Code. It actually helped make history more interesting to me. As a mnemonics practitioner, I can’t wait to get a glimpse into your application of ancient systems! Hope to see it soon.


    1. Thank you so much, Zeff. I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. I am working as hard as I can on the new book – and having great fun experimenting with the huge range of memory devices used around the world.


  2. Good morning Lynne – I recently listened to a Podcast of a fascinating and exciting conversation with you about Memory Code. I am ordering a copy. (Do Alex Haley’s Roots and Kunta Kinte get a mention?). It occurred to me that there might be some links between memory techniques and the importance of music in human evolution.
    Last year I found a book – Music, Evolution and the Harmony of Souls by Alan Harvey a neurophysiologist who also sings with the Perth Symphonic Chorus.I have been wondering for years what is the evolutionary advantage of music – why did natural selection choose music? This book gives the most persuasive theory which I have seen so far – including societal bonding, coordination of complex action by large numbers of people, communicating and remembering complex information. There may be links with your work. For your consideration.

    1. Hi Gary,

      I do apologise for the delay in replying. I don’t seem to be getting notifications of comments, which is worrying.

      No , Alex Haley’s Roots doesn’t get a mention because it is fiction even though thoroughly researched. I am making such big claims that I was extremely conservative in the resources I used. Any detail which can be criticised, as a fictional work as a source can, will distract from the argument. There are so many resources that I could have mentioned, but there was already a bibliography of over 800 works (linked from the menu of this site) and I had a huge list that I still wanted to read. At that rate, the PhD would never have been finished and neither the academic book nor ‘The Memory Code’ would have been written.

      I am delighted that you have referred to Roots. Every day I get emails and messages from people who have seen a connection in my work to other references or their own experiences. That is hugely rewarding because it means that I am not just playing with an obscure aspect of human existence.

      Thank you so much for pointing me to ‘Music, Evolution and the Harmony of Souls’ – I hadn’t heard of it but your description, and what I have read online since, indicates there is certainly a link with my work. Thank you very much!

      Again, apologies for the delay in replying.


  3. What exciting news, although 2019 seems a frustratingly long time to wait so I hope you will be posting some work in progress here along the way!

    Reading The Memory Code and your visit to London have been among the highlights of my year so far.

    I’ve started encoding 20th century dates in a memory palace and I can’t believe how concrete history becomes when the 20th century is dotted around the house.

    I agree completely with what you say about patterns. It’s fascinating to trace the development of flight with the first powered flight in my office, the first transatlantic solo flight in the bathroom and Amelia Earhart’s transatlantic flight in a bedroom.

    It’s also fun to come up with memorable images. For 1926, I have the image of Winnie the Pooh with an ‘Official Picket’ armband to denote the publication of the book and the General Strike in the UK.

    It’s wonderful to read about the exciting new avenues that memory techniques are opening up in your life. Your blog post gives an almost tangible sense of how much your brain is developing and expanding at the moment!

    1. Hi Francis,

      How good to hear from you! It is great to hear how much you are enjoying the memory techniques and how well they work for different topics. I love the way you describe how concrete knowledge becomes. That is exactly what is so surprising – everything comes to life.

      Please keep letting me know how you are going with all this!



  4. Great news Lynne; your book is one of my top 5 reads for the last 10 years.

    One of the areas it has got me really interested in, and which I mentioned in an earlier email to you, is around the importance of the memory space rituals as part of the overall culture in which they were embedded. I guess there must have been two elements: the knowledge transfer, but also the updating of the knowledge. These processes must be one of the – if not the most important ritual – in every ancient culture, and is probably the reason our species has survived. Fascinating stuff.

    1. Thank you, Michael. I really appreciate you saying so.

      I agree that oral tradition is not stagnant and constantly updated with new information. Thank you for raising it. I must talk about that in the new book, but also talk about the way information memorised using the indigenous memory methods, even when adapted for contemporary life, can be updated and changed. I shall go and note that now! Thank you!


  5. Can’t wait!
    Thanks to you, I am seeing memory devices everywhere now. I was looking at string games the other day and I immediately thought of it as a memory device. It’s a combination between muscle, story and visual memory. Easy to make everywhere, easy to carry, easy to learn and teach. And super fun!

    I was quite a bad student at school and not interested in memorizing by heart, but I loved creativity and arts. Now I can make the bridge between the two.

    I wish you a lot new discoveries and insights,

    1. Thank you for your enthusiasm, Orson. I have been playing with string games – they have been used to accompany stories for indigenous cultures for exactly the reasons you mention. It is the blending of knowledge systems across all subjects with the arts which is something that will come across really strongly in the book. Adding in the arts is such fun as well as being very emotionally rewarding.

      Thank you so much for writing!



  6. I want to preorder as soon as possible!
    Looking forward to Unlocking the Memory Code even further.
    I’m particularly interested in the khipu as I have a background as an art teacher, but I’m unsure how to go about it, though it sounds wonderful to have something I could actually wear as a memory palace!

    1. Thank you so much, Charndra. I am in love with my khipu and now making one that I can wear. But that is only a fraction of the art topics. In some of the work I have been doing in schools, we have explored the way art and music was central to learning in indigenous cultures. We have lost the advantage of respecting art as an invaluable knowledge took as well as aesthetic delight. Art will permeate many of the chapters. I will explain exactly how to make these devices work.

      Thank you again for writing!


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