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True love stories: Issy and Steve

In the run-up to Valentine’s day, we’re blogging about some of the amazing true love stories our customers have shared with us.

One of our favourites is from Isabella Matthews memoir, ‘Being Issy’.

“Maybe it’s not about the length of time you’ve known someone; maybe it’s about instant recognition. On an unconscious level, our souls knew each other”.

It was later in life when Isabella and Steve met on a holiday to Benidorm. Their meeting seemed 15almost an act of fate; Issy should have already gone back home, but her friend had accidentally booked a few more days, and Steve had been dragged on an impromptu Bachelor party. The connection between them in the club was instantaneous. Steve tapped Issy, who was solo dancing to Gladys Knight on the shoulder and instantly asked for her number. They agreed to meet when they were both back in the UK.

From the beginning they knew that they were supposed to be together. Steve turned up to her first date with flowers and less than a week after their return from Benidorm – they were already going on a weekend away!

 “He made- and still makes- my heart flutter, my stomach churn (in a good way), and my head spin”.

A life of fun and dancing

At the age of 65 Issy has found love with Steve. A passion for each other and a zest for life keeps them young. They spend their time dancing and partying in Spain and taking long romantic strolls along beautiful beaches. At home in Bristol, the party doesn’t stop as they groove the night away to their favourite motown tunes! Issy calls Steve her Wild Child.

 “We have fun and relish each other’s company. We are soul mates down to every last word, every wild bone in our bodies”.

One Valentines Day, Isabella received a mysterious card in the post from Steve. Inside was a message, asking her to marry him. She said yes, of course.

True love stories: Stanley and Anneliese

This Valentine’s day, we’re blogging about an amazing true love story our customer has shared with us.

‘Stanley and Anneliese’ was commissioned by Jenn Clark for her husband Dominic. It charts the lifelong romance of Dominic’s grandparents, who met in the aftermath of World War II.

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The bank of the River Bode

Our story begins in 1945 when Stanley, an English corporal, and Anneliese, a young German woman, met by chance on the banks of the River Bode. Annoyed at the presence of British soldiers, who had occupied her home and seized her possessions after Germanys defeat in WW2, Anneliese marched up and told him to leave. That moment then changed their lives completely:

Then something odd happened. I found I was gazing not at his face but into it. And with the tousled fair hair, high forehead and wide-set smiley eyes, I thought it was a wonderful face. And I didn’t want to stop looking. Nor did he’.

Their love blossomed from that point onwards.

Post war struggles

The couple encountered many struggles in the early years of their relationship. Anneliese’s mother was not pleased she was dating an English corporal. Not only that, fraternising with the Germans was a custodial offence in the British army. But neither Stanley nor Anneliese were deterred.

The apartment in Bonn

The apartment in Bonn

A blow struck in July 1945, when soviet forces took over the occupation of Eastern Germany, and the lovers were forced to separate. This proved intolerable – with Stanley’s help, Anneliese fled East Germany to be with him. She lived a vagabond existence for a time, following him to different villages, until Stanley took up a more permanent position as the public safety officer for Bonn. Here they had many contented months, despite Anneliese missing her family.

In 1946 Stanley made the decision to leave the military and return to England with Anneliese. In June, they made a plan to marry – but marriages between German and English citizens were banned. So Stanley went back to England alone. For three months they were separated, while Stanley doggedly fought his way through bureaucratic obstacles, until Anneliese could join him. Finally, in December 1946, she boarded a boat and set sail for Stanley.

 A New life in England

Anneliese was nervous about her new life in England, but she was warmly welcomed by Stanley’s parents. Excited to start their new lives together, they married the very same month, and purchased a flat in Lewisham.

Celebrating their golden wedding anniversary

Celebrating their golden wedding anniversary

Now life could finally begin. Stanley became a manufacturers’ agent, while Anneliese worked as a shipping clerk and translator. For years, they commuted to London together, he to Regent Street and she to Mayfair.  In 1947 and 1949, Stanley and Anneliese became parents to two daughters. The family moved to Kent, to a beautiful house surrounded by Birch trees which they affectionately named Birkenhaus. Here they lived a happy life, surrounded by children and grandchildren and celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary in 2006.

Anneliese said of their love story:

I would say that for Stanley and me, becoming grandparents and now great-grandparents has crowned a long, happy and adventurous partnership. It’s been an exciting life, frightening at times, but a very happy one’.

True love stories: Simon and Becky

In the run-up to Valentine’s day, we’re blogging about some of the amazing true love stories our customers have shared with us.

One of our favourites is in Simon Wilkinson’s memoir, ‘A Lifelong Springtime of the Heart’:

(You can read an extract of Simon’s book here.)

In 1970 Simon was a young Police Constable, yet to realise his destiny was to become a priest. One day, he and a friend stumbled into the local nurses’ residences, to ask if anyone wanted to come out. He wasn’t expecting anyone to say yes – but fate intervened. Becky, who had just come off shift, was happy to oblige. From that day onwards their lives changed for the better.

“She is, quite simply, the star of the show, without whom I would have diminished in all that I have done”

Soon they began to spend all their time together, bonding over their mutual love of corn-on-the-cob,the church, and spending time with friends. Though they had their ups and downs, Simon writes in his book that the thought of not being with Becky was from the start, ‘unthinkable’.

University and marriage

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In 1971 Simon decided that he wanted to become a priest, so he quit the police and applied to university. It looked like everything was about to change between he and Becky:

As the day of my departure for university approached, Becky became more and more upset. One day, when she was crying and saying that she knew that she would never see me again, I responded with: If you dont stop crying, I won’t marry you! Wonderful proposal!”

When Simon left for Nottingham University in September 1971, neither he nor Becky had a phone. So, for the next few months they wrote each other letters. Making the best out of a bad situation, Simon wrote to her in Greek both to practise his own and to teach Becky at the same time.

They married in  April 1972, and went on honeymoon to Tunisia. When they got back, they moved into the house in Beeston that Simon had lovingly spent months renovating. They could now begin their married life.

Married life

In December 1973, Simon and Becky had their first child, a boy. In 1974 Simon graduated from university, and over the next few years, their son was joined by another boy and two girls. Their familphoto-1_2015-5-14y was now complete.

Taking the cloth meant Simon had to relocate every six years. Together as a family, they travelled around England from Surrey to Yorkshire to Wiltshire. Becky and Simon’s lives were centred on the church: they held Shrove Tuesday pancake competitions in the community, organised fetes and fayres for the villages and in 1978 Becky started a career making vestments. As a family, they had many ups and downs, struggling through various family illnesses and ailments. Throughout it all Becky and Simon’s love remained strong.

Simon, in his book, says of Becky:

“She is, quite simply, the star of the show, without whom I would have diminished in all that I have done”

The power of true life stories

Stories have the power to captivate a reader – dazzle them into anger, or happiness or bewilderment.  They grip the imagination, and can transport you into a different world.

Stories are important, the monster said. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth.” Patrick Ness,  A Monster Calls

Still, we all have that one friend who won’t read a book or watch a film if it isn’t based in reality.

Why? Why does it matter if these stories are true or not? This blog article explores this very question.

True life stories are relatable

Reading a fantasy novel about a heroic knight, brandishing his sword and embarking on quests to save x,y or z can be thrilling escapism and enjoyable to read. But it doesn’t have much relevance to modern life.

True life stories on the other hand, give people something to relate to, no matter how extraordinary the story is:

‘This actually happened to someone, you know. This could happen to you or me’.

Take Penguin Lessons, a true story published in 2015, in which an adventurous young teacher befriends a penguin he rescues from an oil slick in Uruguay. After naming him Juan Salvador, he transports him to an Argentinian boarding school. A series of improbable encounters (such as a Penguin becoming a swimming coach) take place, as the bond between man and bird deepens.

Penguin Books (who are, fittingly, the publishers), tell us,

‘The Penguin Lessons is a unique and moving true story which has captured imaginations around the globe – for all those who dreamed as a child they might one day talk to the animals’.

As a book, it appeals because although far-fetched and incredible, it actually happened. It gives you hope that something out of the ordinary could happen to you.

They inspire empathy

Sometimes it can be hard to put ourselves in other people’s shoes. We weren’t there – how can we know what they went through? How can we live through their struggles with them or share their joy?

‘Can you imagine what that would have felt like?’

By reading true life stories it becomes possible. Ideas and events remote from our everyday lives are brought close to home.  We can trace the steps of that person’s journey right along with them.

This can cause a lot of emotion, in strangers touched by these true stories or from friends or family. By sharing these stories, it can give an insight into someone else’s life.

This reaction has been found in response to Story Terrace customers true life stories.

I’ve only let one friend read it so far…she could not speak to me, she emailed to say she was too emotional’. Trish Arundel, Story Terrace Customer.

They teach you about real things:

True life stories can teach you about things you know nothing about. This could be about a person’s experiences that you didn’t know they’d had, a place ‘I didn’t know that had happened there’, or an era that you weren’t a part of.

Take one of our customers – Teresa Samuels, whose testimonial you can read on our website here.

Her book, Into the Light, details the sudden change she experienced from a happy if somewhat impoverished childhood, to be cast adrift in the midst of the Sudanese Civil War. Her book is set against a backdrop of political unrest, and while it is her story, it is also the story of her country at this time.

Whilst Into the Light teaches you about Teresa’s life, it also gives insight into a wider area. True life stories have this power to teach us about people, places, the present and the past.

True life stories are important and it’s important that you tell yours!

Why write my biography? Because your story matters

‘Biographies are for celebrities’.

Bookshop shelves heave under the weight of the latest celebrity autobiographies. In 2016, the stories of Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins, Alan Bennett and many more made the best-seller lists.

Celebrity stories are a global obsession – but here’s something different: Story Terrace aims to be everyone’s personal biographer.  It’s a somewhat novel concept: we really believe everyone’s stories matter.

So in this post, we’re giving you three reasons to write your memoirs.

1. You should share your experiences with your family

I wanted to give my grandchildren an insight into my life’- Isabella Matthews, Story Terrace customer

Our life stories are important to our loved ones.

Everyone leaves a legacy of some kind to their children. Some leave behind money, possessions, recipes, or even morals.

What better gift to give than your memories?

Story Terrace was founded on the belief that parents and grandparents should record their stories. You can share so much insight into your life, and the era you grew up in, if you take the time. In return, you will add a whole new dimension to your relationship with your children or grandchildren.

Read this article on how well do you really know your grandparents for more information.

Your story is also your children’s story. It is the story of where they come from, it is their heritage. It’s so important that this rich family history is passed down and not forgotten.

2. Your stories can inspire your loved ones and your community

‘I am hoping that my life story will inspire young people to achieve their dreams’- Yash Gupta, Story Terrace customer

You don’t have to be on the Hollywood walk of fame and have a million followers on twitter to make a difference. In fact, your biography may be much more relatable. Sharing how you have overcome obstacles in your life could have a huge influence on someone you know. Celebrity stories may entertain the masses – but your story has huge power to inspire your friends, family and community. It’s just as important.

Don’t believe us? Read Three women, Three powerful stories  

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3. It’s important to reflect on your experiences

‘From my adventures I have learnt a lot about myself, my heritage and the wider world we live in. All these formed and shaped me’– Icko Gombodorj, Story Terrace customer.

Life is full of adventures and struggles. We’re all busy, but it’s worth taking some time to reflect. We all deserve the opportunity to appreciate our personal history — and writing your memoirs is the ultimate way to do that.

It’s a chance to answer the big questions for yourself. What were the major periods in your life so far? What lessons have you learned? Who really influenced the person you are today?

If you’ve been through difficult times, writing down your memories can also help to overcome past traumas, or rethink choices you have made. Examining the past can be important for the future.

We’re all trying to live a life worth writing about, so why not write about it and see what you find?

No one says it better than Doctor Who:

We’re all stories in the end’.

Behind the cover? Ghostwriting for success

What is ghostwriting?

The term ‘ghostwriting’ might conjure imagery of some dark ethereal being haunting the living by wielding a pen. But in reality, a text is ‘ghostwritten’ when someone besides the named author wrote it. It could be a novel, an autobiography, lyrics, a script or just about anything else you can put down on paper or in pixels. Simple!

Read What is Ghostwriting? for more information.

As a process, it can be more complicated. At Story Terrace, ghostwriters are meticulously matched with customers to create life stories. Story Terrace Managing Editor Alice Nightingale says, ‘We pride ourselves on creating a great fit between ghostwriter and storyteller, so a rapport is forged and the writer can produce the life story the storyteller has always wanted.’

Why use a ghostwriter to write a life story?

Having someone else write your life story might seem an alien concept. If the story is yours, why not write it down yourself? Put simply, this kind of collaboration can help you to get the most out of your memories, and make writing your own life story easier than you think:

First, ghostwriters help to organise thoughts. Attempting to collate your life into one comprehensive book can be a tricky task. Life is full of stories and moments, and working with a ghostwriter can help to sift through them all so that the finished product is the story you want to tell.

Teresa Samuels, a Story Terrace customer, said of her ghostwriter:

‘Sara really took the time to help me find the structure in the story of my life’.

Moreover, having an outsider’s perspective can help you to gain new insight into your life, and tease out the themes underlying your experiences. It is always much harder to create a good end product if you are too close to the story. As the American philosopher and poet Henry David Thoreau once remarked, “It takes two to speak the truth – one to speak and another to hear”.

Most importantly, even if you are a good writer, writing a book is a huge challenge, writing a biography even more so. From putting together all the facts, to knowing how to edit, design and get a book printed, you may want to avoid struggling through the task of attempting to write your own life story if you lack the right experience. There is the risk that beginners’ mistakes will hamper a project of great personal importance. Leaving it to the professionals can result in a more enjoyable process as well as the best possible product.

Successful ghostwriting in popular culture

Ghostwriting is much more common than people think and is used frequently by both those in and out of the public domain to achieve the best result possible. Here are some examples of best-selling works by ghost-writers:

  • Crime novelist James Patterson has put his name to well over 100 books. This is seemingly far more than it is humanly possible to write each year. His secret? He employs a team of 23 ‘co-authors’, who are generally responsible for the word-by-word writing of his novels. Patterson considers himself a ‘big picture man’. He creates the main plot and makes the major decisions but leaves the rest to his ‘best-seller factory’ – his ghostwriters.
  • When Enid Blyton passed away, some of her series were still unfinished. It fell to Pamela Cox to continue her Malory Towers and St Clare’s series, resulting in success for the ghostwriter herself.
  • Katie Price, AKA Jordan, has accumulated quite a fortune from her collection of 14 novels and her autobiographies. To achieve these successes, she (and her publisher) employed ghostwriter Rebecca Farnworth, to write them.
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a seminal book in regards to the American Civil Rights movements, was in fact written by Alex Haley. This book is still considered important to date.

LIVING A LIFE WORTH WRITING ABOUT

Living life to the fullest

Everyone is the author of their own unique life story. Therefore, it is not surprising that at some point in our lives most of us ask the question: am I living my life to the fullest?

It’s easy to get stuck in a routine where you continuously repeat the same day over and over again, and yet expect something amazing to occur. Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as the process of “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

It falls to you to take your destiny into our own hands. If you want a beautiful story, pick up a pen and start writing.

Robert, what do you consider to be a life worth writing about?

The answer to what is considered a well-lived life differs between different people. However, most people would agree that great life experiences add to your life story. In line with this, we asked Story Terrace CTO, Robert Desmond, who has a vast pool of life experiences, to explain to us what he considers to be a life worth writing about.

This was Robert’s answer.

“‘Life is short’ is a massive cliché, but talk to the older members of your family and they will all confirm that time does indeed go faster when you’re older.

There are so many opportunities in life that come our way. No matter who you are, your age or what you have, there are always things to do that are exciting and life defining.

Life is about experiences, and if you don’t take on new experiences then you aren’t living. It could be meeting a new group of people, travelling to a new place, backpacking across a country or returning to somewhere you already know to experience it again with fresh eyes.

It’s difficult to feel as though we’re ever doing something new; we often live vicariously through other people’s social media updates. Real life adventures are captured on Snapchat to share with our close – and not-so-close – friends, but we need to break free from this to see how the world really is. It isn’t perfect the whole time; people make mistakes, things don’t go to plan and we sometimes get lost in life – and that’s alright. If anything, that is what life is about and we seem to have forgotten this.

We need to try new things, make mistakes, learn and experience in order to really grow as people. The only real mistake we can make is not actually making a decision to try something new.

My life has been turned upside down through far too many coincidences and chance encounters. I’ve moved countries, climbed mountains, started relationships – all because I was lucky enough to be open to the new idea at the time. It’s a lesson I need to remind myself of, especially as we get further into this dark and cold winter.

So the next time you get a call from a friend inviting you to go somewhere new or exciting – for a weekend break, a party or even to meet for a coffee somewhere local – say yes.”

As Robert said, “Life is about experiences”. People often make the mistake of thinking that to have an amazing life story, they must have grand experiences. However, this is not the case; even small events, such as watching a sunset, are great experiences that can be looked back on with joy. So take the time and the opportunity to grasp the experiences that life brings your way, and as you do so you will continue – or begin – to live a life worth writing about.

Thinking about writing your life story? Have a look at this insightful article on ‘How to write my life story’

What does Remembrance Day mean to you?

Remembrance Day Poppies

Remembrance Day is a memorial day in which the Commonwealth nations remember and pay their respects to the brave men and women of the armed forces, who gave their lives in the line of duty. In most countries it takes place on 11th November, signifying the end of all hostilities in World War I at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

The red remembrance poppy has become the iconic emblem associated with Remembrance Day. The poppy came to be associated with this day due to the actions of a professor at the University of Georgia named Moina Michael, who penned the poem ‘We Shall Keep the Faith.’ Michael swore to wear a poppy each year as a symbol of remembrance for those who had lost their lives in the war. The custom rapidly spread across the world and to this day the red poppy is worn not only as a symbol of remembrance but also to represent the blood spilled in the war.

It has been about 100 years since the First World War ended and 71 years since the Second World War ended. We still remember, and stories of those days are still told, whether in the form of history lessons, memoirs, or memories passed down from one generation to the next.

With the passing of time comes change. The meaning that Remembrance Day holds for those closely linked to the First and Second World Wars may be very different to that held by their grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

So, the question arises: after so many years have passed, and with the pains of the past perhaps being dulled by time, what meaning does Remembrance Day have to the generations after?

In order to answer this, we posed two questions to Story Terrace staff member Robert Desmond, who has very close ties to the past. Robert’s maternal grandmother was part of the Women’s Air Force in the Second World War and his grandfather was part of the bomber command. Additionally, his family’s Jewish heritage meant that his paternal grandmother and her children were forced to evacuate eastern Europe in order to escape the Nazis.

Robert, what does Remembrance Day mean to you?

“Remembrance Day is incredibly important to me. It’s not just about remembering those who were brave enough to risk and give their lives for the state of the modern world, to fight the evil regime of the Nazis, but also to remember the genocide that happened and what was prevented from being spread across the globe.”

“As I enjoy my life with the freedom to travel across this country and Europe, I always remember that people died for this freedom and it did not come lightly. It is so important that we remember those who fought to let this happen, as without the collective strength of this country and its allies, who knows where we would be living and what we would be doing.”

How important is it to save the stories and memories of that time?

“It is incredibly important that we never forget what happened, and it is the first-hand accounts that are key to making sure that the stories do not die with human death. These stories must live on forever, not just to understand what was going on in Europe at that time, but also to know the lengths that people went to to keep us from the horrors.”

“History has a habit of repeating itself and we see war is still going on in many parts of the world. Genocide is actively still happening and we must learn from the past, or we are sure to be doomed to repeat our past mistakes.”

“To hear a witness is to become a witness.”

Robert’s testimony shows that even with the passage of time, Remembrance Day still holds a very strong meaning for people. It is very important to continue sharing the stories of the past so that lessons may be learnt from it. Lessons that enable us to grow and develop. Lessons that stop us from making the same mistakes. Lessons that help us to remember.

What is a ghostwriter?

a photo of someone ghostwriting

What is a ghostwriter? There are a number of myths and misconceptions surrounding the term. To those unfamiliar with this term, the image that comes to mind when first hearing it is of an intangible, supernatural being with an unworldly passion for writing. Unfortunately for some, the true meaning of the term has no connection to the paranormal whatsoever!

According to a quick Google search, a ghostwriter is ‘a person whose job it is to write material for someone else who is the named author.’ This is broadly true. However, the job of ghostwriter is far more complex and wide-ranging than this simplistic definition implies.

This blog post aims to explore what a ghostwriter truly is, with a focus on ghostwriters of autobiographies.

Different types of ghostwriting

Under the general title of ghostwriter exists myriad ghostwriting roles. Jobs for ghostwriters include creative works such as autobiographies, fiction novels, screenplays, movies and music. However, ghostwriters can also be hired for professional works like business reports, medical documents and speeches.

The unifying hallmark of all ghostwriters is, obviously, the ability to write. However, this is where the similarities end between the differing ghostwriting roles and the ghostwriters that carry them out

A chameleon will alter its skin tone, relative to the colours and the situations that it finds itself in. Similarly, ghostwriters must be able to disassociate themselves from any fixed styles or preferences when it comes to each writing job. Different clients have different requirements. A skilful ghostwriter must be able to effectively grasp the tone and style in which a client wants their story to be portrayed and then tell it in that manner. Ostensibly a ghostwriter must leave their ego at the door – the most important thing is to pay attention to the brief that a client has given them. This ability to alter and change one’s style of writing is not an easy feat, and this may come about as a result of years within the field, or they may just be gifted with natural ability.

Ghostwriting autobiographies

Neil A. Edwards, one of Story Terrace’s fantastic ghostwriters believes that two of the most important characteristics and skills required  of a good autobiographical ghostwriter are empathy and visualisation.:

Empathy

“Empathy is king and key. It rules over all other attributes and unlocks the only genuine route to success. Without a fulsome ability to ‘wear’ the pain of another person, to feel their tears running down your cheek, then you might as well stop before you begin.”

Visualisation

“One needs to be able to ‘visualise’[…] If you can’t see it, then you’re not going to be able to paint the requisite pictures for the client. You’ll misshape their house, the field they lived nearby as a toddler, describe the wrong streams and create a cast of characters who people only your version of the story being told, not the history as it was lived.”

These are just two of the many skills that a good autobiographical writer should have. Empathy, however, is not a critical requirement in all form of ghostwriting. A ghostwriter transcribing a business report for a client, for example, requires little empathy to perform the task!

learn more about the skills required to be a good autobiographical ghostwriter (The Recipe for a Good GW).

According to a ghostwriter of autobiographies: What is a ghostwriter?

So far, this post has given a definition of a ghostwriter, and highlighted some of the different types of ghostwriters. However, the question still remains: what is a ghostwriter, from an actual ghostwriter’s perspective? According to this rather poetic description from Neil A. Edwards, a ghostwriter:

“filters the raw material of their own…lives through the lives of others’ – other people’s voices, other people’s minds, other people’s skins; and each time they do so, they themselves grow richer, having greeted the universe – and its catalogue of associated ills and joys – through another set of more enlightened eyes[…]They don’t mind living in shadows, for life is more stimulating in darkness. It heightens the senses, makes them more alive.”

So we see, the role of a ghostwriter is far more complex than Google would have us believe. The role extends far beyond the ability to write. It is fated only for a chosen few who are gifted with the ability to meet their clients’ needs whilst putting their own style aside for the sake of the brief.

Gain more insight into the perspective of a ghostwriter (Q & A with Story Terrace Ghostwriter Clare Pugh).

How much do you really know about your grandparents?

H ow much do you really know about your parents & grandparents? Do you ever wish you had a record of their lives before you were born?

Dominic Clark had fond memories of his glamorous grandmother and lively grandfather. He knew they met in the aftermath of World War II – Stanley a British soldier, Anneliese a young German girl.

As the family story went, Stanley was lovestruck when he came across Anneliese emerging from a dip in the river near a German village. But details of their life story were thin on the ground.

That all changed when Dominic turned 40. In secret, his wife Jenn had been working with family biographers Story Terrace, to create a beautiful memoir that captured Stanley & Anneliese’s story in glorious detail. The book drew upon old photos, interviews with family members, tape recordings and more. Dominic called it “my best birthday present ever”.

The book Jenn presented to her husband on her 40th Birthday

The book Jenn presented to her husband on his 40th Birthday

Jenn said “As a gift for my Husband’s 40th, I wanted to give him something to treasure and the story of his grandparents is such a wonderful one – I wanted to immortalise it.”

The book, titled ‘Stanley and Anneliese’ is the story of a German woman and a British soldier falling in love and living a happy life together well into their later years, leaving behind two daughters and plenty of grandchildren to tell their story.

Here’s what Dominic found out:

Anneliese Modrow was born in Magdeburg, Germany, 1922. She lived a happy childhood with loving parents and a nice Catholic school to attend. Everything changed however, when suddenly her morning hymns were replaced by Nazi salutes and all her friends had to join Hitler Youth. During the war, Anneliese was forced to leave Magdeburg, which, after Dresden and Cologne was the most heavily bombed city in Germany. Her fiancé, a dashing German pilot, was killed in 1944, shot down during combat. It seemed as if the war would never end. 

Magdeburg was devastated during the war

Magdeburg was devastated during the war

Growing up in England in the 1920s, Stanley Green had a happy childhood filled with fond memories of his family. He did well in school which led him to a job at Debenhams while rumours of war hovered just over the horizon. When World War Two eventually broke out, Stanley left his job temporarily to join the RAF Volunteer reserve at just 15 years old. When he was old enough, he was shipped off and went to Syria and then Italy, often scouting behind enemy lines— until he eventually ended up in Germany during the liberation.
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Stanley in Italy during WWI

During the war, it seemed as if there was no light at the end of the tunnel. But on one fateful day by the side of the Rhine River, fate nudged these two together and changed both of their lives forever. It was love at first sight when the young British officer, Stanley, approached Anneliese while she was enjoying her day by the river. The pair quickly became infatuated and it was clear they couldn’t be parted. From that day forward, they did everything in their power to stay together, eventually marrying and moving to England.

Stanley & Anneliese together in Bonn

Together in Bonn

The move wasn’t without its challenges – Anneliese had to make a wrenching decision to leave behind her parents in post-war Germany, making a daring journey across dangerous terrain to find Stanley in Bonn. When she got there, they became engaged – only to be told that German and English citizens could not be married. Eventually, they made it back to Britain, where they became Mr & Mrs Greene.

 

F rom there, the story Dominic knew begins – the couple began their family, and Stanley set up his successful fashion business in London.

“The sheer scale of their life does blow me away,” says Dominic, interviewed by the Telegraph about the book. “They were wonderful grandparents. When you read everything they went through, I understand how much they made the most of their lives. I hadn’t realised what a deep love story theirs was.”

The family together at Christmas

The family together at Christmas

Story Terrace creates personal biographies and memoirs for ordinary people, using a network of over 300 professional writers. The company manages the process end-to-end, and customers receive beautiful hardbound books complete with photographs to share with family and friends.

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Three Women, Three Powerful Life Stories

H ave you ever tried to keep a diary? It can be challenging to keep up the discipline – but fascinating to look back in later years at how you felt. But what if you don’t have a record? Or you want to turn your experiences into something you can share with your family and friends?

Today we are looking at three women – Sue Hodges, Ichko Gomobodorj, and Teresa Samuels – who have tried a new approach. Working with a professional writer & interviewer from private biographers Story Terrace, they created their very own memoirs.

These women are part of an emerging trend – ordinary people creating personal biographies.

This has only recently become possible. In the last few years, the internet has made working with freelance writers affordable. At the same time, on-demand digital printing has enabled the creation of beautiful hardbound books in small print runs of just a few copies.

With a company like Story Terrace, you don’t need to be a celebrity, or get a publishing deal to get your memoirs written – because you don’t need to sell copies to the public.

Each woman had a unique story & motivation – from capturing experiences for children & grandchildren, to making a record of an extraordinary journey, to chronicling an incredible career in international development.


Sue Hodges, 67,
Gloucestershire

hodges

T hough Sue Hodges now lives a quiet life on a Gloucestershire farm, she has had more than her fair share of adventures. Full of mischief as a child, Sue grew up to be a fearless woman. In the sixties she was propped up at the bar – vodka tonic in hand, Marvin Gaye in the air – revelling in the atmosphere of London’s most swinging decade. Ahead of her time, she then joined an agency to indulge her passion for travel.

“I decided to bring all my stories together, for my children and grandchildren.”

She lived abroad in Turkey and then in Greece, where she saw the tanks of the Greek military junta roaring through the streets of Athens. Sue returned to England when she realised she wanted to start a family. Though she lost her dear first husband, she remains a loving daughter, mother of three and gran of two, who now shares her life with Ken, her 68-year-old rugby-playing farmer.

hodges family tree

Sue Hodges’ family tree

What Sue and her writer Nick McGrath created together will be a treasure for Sue’s friends and family for many years to come, especially as they managed to record her genealogy going back to 1681 in her book.

Watch Sue talking about the experience of creating her memoirs:


Ichko Gombodorj, 38,
Sussex

first chapter RB 5

A star pupil in Mongolia, excelling in National Maths competitions and an excellent chess player, Ichko had a very bright future lying ahead of her. In 1998 she travelled to the UK to learn English, the first generation of post-Soviet Mongolians allowed to leave the former Communist regime.

first chapter RB 12

Ichko as a child in Mongolia

As a talented young woman, Ichko managed – against great odds – to land a job in finance. Soon she met a man, got married and had kids. When he betrayed her, she had to raise her children alone in a culture that remained mysterious to her. Grateful for the opportunities and support that the UK has given to her and her children, Ichko wishes to translate her book into Mongolian to inspire youngsters there.

“I am so proud of the book and the story. Rebecca has an amazing talent.”

Ichko approached Story Terrace in 2015 to create a record of both her idyllic childhood in Mongolia and her sometimes painful story of immigration to the UK. She also looked to record the details of her spiritual growth along the way. For this unique story, the company recommended that Ichko create a bespoke book of 21,000 words and matched her with the talented writer Rebecca Coxon. What they created together will be a treasure for Ichko’s friends and family for many generations to come.


Teresa Samuels, 73,
London

5-Into the Light-10-16-15 5

I n her biography, Into the Light, Teresa Samuels recalls her hometown of Wau in the south of Sudan, shaded by mahogany and mango trees. Despite memories of hunger and hardship, her family were happy and lived in the rich grassland of the savannah, just above the equator, where the air was sweet and fragrant with the scent of wildflowers.
When Teresa was just 11, all of this changed with the onset of the Sudanese civil war. South Sudanese defence forces clashed with Arab officers from the north just miles from Teresa’s school, and fifty years of fighting began.

“Making this book has given me the time to reflect on what I chose to do with my life and the people who have helped me along the way.”

After completing her studies, Teresa moved north to Khartoum with her husband and children where she witnessed the desperate plight of Sudan’s internally displaced people. Having studied rural education and nutrition, Teresa knew she had the tools to make a difference in their lives.

With several other women, Teresa founded WOTAP, a women’s training and promotion programme, to empower the displaced women and children of Sudan.A testament to her commitment to education, Teresa was awarded funding from British, Dutch and American governments. Now retired and living in London, Teresa acts as the matriarch of a large family whilst her daughter carries on her humanitarian work in her home country.

Teresa’s daughter Sarah Cleto Rial accepting the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights from then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Story Terrace creates personal biographies and memoirs for ordinary people, using a network of over 300 professional writers. The company manages the process end-to-end, and customers receive beautiful hardbound books complete with photographs to share with family and friends.

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How to Collect and Record Memories

Turning the meaningless into the meaningful

Collecting memories and mementoes is something most of us do, often unconsciously, on a daily basis. The advantage is that we know the stories behind the photos and trinkets we keep, but to anyone else, this collection is pretty much meaningless. 

For example, you may pick up a photo of yourself with friends, sitting around a table and you might look fondly at the picture and chuckle to yourself, remembering all the events that occurred that night. But, let’s say your great-granddaughter picks up this same photo 40 years from now.What would she see? Now imagine this same photo, but with the caption: ‘The gang, aged 25, the night Dan proposed to Jen.’ Not only can your great-granddaughter laugh at what you’re all wearing but now she can see how similar you both were at that age. This is not to say, however, that every trinket you keep needs its own accompanying novel, but having a record of who people are and your relationship with them can turn something meaningless into something meaningful.

Why record memories?

There are lots of reasons why people want to record memories, mostly centred around passing them on to friends and family, and there are lots of different methods to collect these stories. Interviews and asking questions, for example, are a great way to inspire memories. For more interview ideas read our post on: ‘Questions to Inspire Memories and Life Stories’. In this article however, we will focus on how to inspire memories using visual cues through mementoes and artifacts.

Not only is collating all your photos and mementoes a nice way to stay organised but when it comes to getting a biography written it’s also really convenient too. Professional biographer, Andrew Crofts, explains that in his experience: “The more material (clients) have the better, unless there is so much that you feel overwhelmed, in which case put it aside for later.”

Collecting Memories

So what exactly should you be collecting? Well we’ve comprised a short list of mementoes that could be really useful in inspiring memories and stories, and that you may have otherwise overlooked if asked to recount a life story outright.

Photographs and Films

photographs for collecting and recording memories

Photographs and films are probably the most obvious visual cues for recalling memories, as they literally capture the image of the person or event. However, although a photograph may serve as the most direct method of showing what someone or something looked like, this is not to say that the picture alone can convey the story as it actually happened, or rather how you experienced it. Much like every other memento the significance of a photograph is completely subjective to you, as is the story that the image inspires. Photos can also be preserved by including them in a biography book. Andrew Crofts explains the role of the photograph when preparing for a biography:

“Photos can enliven the text but they need to be interesting, not just views. They need to feature the people who will be appearing in the story, maybe their houses if that will help to paint a picture.”

Rachel LaCour Niesen, keen photograph preservationist gives us an insight into why she is so passionate about photographs, as well as ideas on how to display them:

“In the age of social media and instant gratification, I think families are hungry for tangible experiences. There’s magic in holding printed photos in your hands, in passing them around the table. That’s because analogue photos trigger powerful emotional responses. Most families have hundreds of analogue photos in their homes. These photos hold valuable family memories; they are passports to a place called memory. We must make an effort to rescue them from deterioration and loss. When analogue photos are in danger, family history is also in danger.”

National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman William Adams says: “We know that America’s cultural heritage isn’t found only in libraries and museums, but in our homes, in our family histories, and the stories and objects we pass down to our children.”

“Indeed, photographs are a living, breathing archive. They are meant to be displayed and shared. Whether they’re displayed in frames, in an old-school slideshow, or in albums, I hope all families recognise the value of their personal photographic histories. Can you imagine never having the magical experience of discovering a box of family photos? It’s like finding buried treasure! I would love to guarantee that experiences like that aren’t lost in the future. Somehow, I can’t imagine sorting through old hard drives to be quite as magical as opening up a shoebox of printed photos.”

For even more ideas and advice on how to preserve old photographs visit Rachel’s site: SaveFamilyPhotos.com for more tips.

Diaries and Letters

diaries for collecting and recording memories

Diaries and letters serve as really powerful written cues for recalling memories. Letters can reveal a great many things, from sharing big news to revealing secret love affairs. Meanwhile diaries are a really personal way of recording your thoughts and feelings whilst they’re still fresh, which can often be harder to remember in hindsight.

In an interview conducted by the National Diary Archives with diary collector Sally Macnamara, the significance of the written word is truly realised. Sally, who specialises in collecting and selling these personal hand-written records, gives us an insight into why this became her passion:

“The most important thing I would say is that real life is so much more exciting and rewarding to read about then any story anyone could make up. And that, no matter who you are, every life, every true story, has fascinating aspects to it, and that we all have a story to tell. So many people think they have nothing to share, nothing to teach, nothing that’s worthwhile in their life, but that is so untrue.”

For more inspiration on collecting diaries and to follow some truly amazing diary stories visit Sally’s Diaries.

Newspaper Clippings

newspaper clippings for collecting and recording memories

Saving newspaper and magazine clippings of significant stories is another great way to preserve memories. Many of us rely on cues to jog our memories, so keeping a record of important news stories can remind of us what we were doing at the time of the event or at the point of reading the story.

Additionally, if you or somebody you know has been featured in the paper or magazine, keeping the clipping and either displaying it in a frame or in a book is a really nice way to keep a record. Preserving clippings in this way can also be a great way of presenting an album of events that occurred throughout your life, quickly and with little effort.

Mementoes

mementoes for collecting and recording memories

The beauty of collecting mementoes is that they can be a variety of things. Keeping a little box of objects you’ve collected over the years can be just like opening a little treasure trove to your grandchildren and to your future self.

The objects do not need to be valuable or even attractive, it’s all about keeping items that will remind you of a special time. Keeping a ticket stub or a shell from the beach may be all you need to remember one of the best weekends of your life.

The box itself could also be something significant. Just as all the objects inside are specific and special to you, so the container could be too. Some people may keep their trinkets in their favourite biscuit box, and others may appropriate an old shoe box and collage it with stamps they’ve collected. Whatever it may look like, having a box that inspires a memory full of memories is a possession that everyone should have.

There is no specific time to start collecting and making a record of your memories, however, the sooner you start, the more precious memories will be preserved and the more you’ll have to share with your friends and families later on. It’ll also make the process of writing your own memoir or having a biography written much simpler when you come to it.

How to Collect and Record Memories - Infographic

Written by Amber Hicks

Does Your Story Have Legs?

The second instalment of The Life of a Backstory.

By fleshing out the backstory and asking some key questions, writers can easily determine whether their idea has the potential to be more than just an idea, or whether it could be a bestseller.

She doesn’t need to see to hear them fighting. She doesn’t need to see to know what expressions they wear. She doesn’t need to see to feel the house shudder as the front door slams. He’s gone.

She never breaths during these exchanges, she’s tried to, tried to relax, but she can’t. Now she sucks air in so deep her shoulders and abdomen convulse and exhales into a deflated diaphragm.

The theme is the same, the subject is always her and the outcome a tired pleading and the shudder.

She picks up the phone …

The only given in the above extract is that ‘she’ is blind, a) because you don’t need to be told that to read it (show don’t tell is something all writers should try to master) and b) because that’s the premise of the story. But these few lines throw a score of questions at the reader:

  1. Who is she?
  2. Who is fighting?
  3. What are they fighting about?
  4. Who leaves?
  5. Who’s arguing which side?
  6. What are the expressions on their faces?
  7. What events have led to those expressions?
  8. If she’s heard this fight so many times before why can’t she breathe?
  9. Why is her body’s reaction so physically dramatic?

You could make it up as you go along, if you’re a naturally talented writer you may even get away with it, but for the rest of us we need the answers to these questions BEFORE we write these opening sentences.

Always write the unexpected. Step outside your comfort zone when you write. The adage of truth being stranger than fiction is true so DON’T BE PREDICTABLE.

When you consider the answers to the above questions you are now entering the realm of storytelling and the myriad pieces that go into that seemingly simple concept. Broken down thus far we’ve looked at and selected our story idea. Further to this you may find it helpful to consider the following when fine-tuning your story idea:

  1. It should arouse emotion;
  2. It should express views on life
  3. It should embrace universal qualities (so that a wide audience is able to identify with it).

Select a story theme that will generate conflict, internal and external.

Conflict enables character development and generates opportunities for dramatic turning points in your story structure. So there must be a problem to be solved, an obstacle to overcome, a threat to be handled, decisions to be made and challenges to be met. Think back on the books you have read, they all have a conflict of some description as their thematic purpose.

Can your idea go the distance? If you flesh out our working backstory to two pages or less you should be able to tell whether you can write 90,000+ words on your topic.

Let’s review my fleshed-out backstory and decide whether it has ‘legs’.

Julia Graham is 22, she was raised by her aunt and uncle after the death of her parents in an accident that left her blind; she was seven years old. Her mum and dad were humanitarians and economists working in Eastern Europe with an aid organisation in some of the poorest former-Soviet countries. Julia’s mother had been a London banking executive and her father a successful entrepreneur. A Black Sea Cruise holiday had opened their eyes to a different world. Back home they couldn’t reconcile what they had and the lifestyle they enjoyed with what they had seen. Initially they chose charities to send cheques to but became more and more disillusioned by the Western way of life. They found they were square pegs in round holes at dinner parties where friends’ complaints seemed trivial and petty.

Julia’s mum was pregnant with her at the time they decided to stop sending money and do something. They didn’t want their child growing up blind to the plight of others. They found an agency that fit their skill sets. A meeting at first, then a 3-month trip to Chisinau, the capital of Moldova to meet the team and shadow volunteers to understand what everyone did and how projects came together.

On their return, their ‘old’ London life was more foreign than the streets of Chisinau and the village hamlets of the Black Sea countries. They sold everything they deemed irrelevant to the needs of basic living, put the rest in storage, let their home and went back.

Their work was challenging and exhausting but fulfilling in the extreme. Julia went to a local preschool and spent every spare moment with her parents. She adored them, her mother’s spirited enthusiasm and her father’s serene knowledge and quiet wisdoms.

They were travelling by boat down the Dniester River toward Palanca investigating the potential this might hold as a tourist destination. The accident was so unnecessary, so undramatic, or so it seemed to Julia. She only remembers snatches, terrifying pieces of a puzzle that she has never been able to put together. Black memories of screaming, of pain, of hearing her voice calling for her mummy and daddy, rough hands, cool bed sheets, soft voices. She was told the boat had capsized and her parents had drowned, that she’d been lucky, that she’d hit her head on the side of the boat and was going under when someone had saved her. She was a little girl, she was light, she was easy to pull up out of the water.

Julia has never believed this. The river was tranquil, her parents could swim and the older she got the more suspicious she was about the events that had led to their deaths and her blindness. She stopped asking about it when she stopped believing the answers but the desire for the truth ate away at her.

She’d been sent to live with her aunt and uncle. They were good kind people. Her uncle was her dad’s younger brother and her aunt was a few years his junior. They were newly married and had plans of their own family and future when they took custody of their niece. The sudden and monumental shift in their life and their plans changed everything: the air was no longer thick with love and intimacy, plans of children and summers in Spain. They no longer hurried through their days to get to their evenings. Her aunt resigned from her job, a journalist for an evening newspaper, to take care of Julia, now a special needs child. When her uncle got home, she was exhausted.

Sally, her aunt, was wonderful. She bought the right books, they attended the right classes and therapy sessions and slowly Julia learned to live with her blindness and the intervals between her grief and tears got longer.

Her uncle, Howard, was a practical man, warm and gentle when the occasion called for it and all action when he thought it was deemed necessary.

Over the years resentments built up, fingers began to be pointed, the money they’d inherited from her parents was barely touched (it was for her future), eventually the jibes and snarky remarks and then arguments started, and the blame. Sally got so worked up once she blamed Howard’s brother for being a fool, “thinking he could change the world” and “what kind of mother raises a child there?”

They never had their own children. Her aunt was over protective and had spent years inadvertently instilling fear in Julia about what she could “no longer do” and what was “now dangerous”. Her uncle believed she needed to let go a little, allow her some freedoms so that she may try to live a normal life. This was thrown back with “you’re not the one who spends all day with her, you don’t know how dangerous it is out there”. And then a list of the dangers.

As a little girl her uncle would let her try things on her own, pour a glass of water, walk without her stick, chose her own clothes by arranging them in a specific way, but her aunt would snatch the glass, grab her hand and set out her clothes for the day on her bed.

He stopped trying.

Sally eventually needed Julia more then Julia needed Sally.

Julia’s guilt and fears consumed her.

And then there was the question: What really happened that day on the Dniester?

Right, let’s put it under a microscope now:

  1. Does it promise interesting characterisation?
  2. Does it provide an environment for characters to grow, change and develop?
  3. Are the characters diverse enough to generate conflict?
  4. Does it promise both internal and external conflict?
  5. Has it been done before? If so, is it different enough to stand on its own?
  6. Will it arouse emotion?
  7. Does it provide a platform for world views to be expressed?
  8. It is universal?

A final word when deciding whether an idea can be turned into a chunky, page-turner is to remember that film is primarily visual, theatre is all about dialogue and books, thoughts.

Written by Story Terrace writer Kerrin Cocks

Questions to Inspire Memories and Life Stories

A great way to learn about someone’s past is to start by asking them questions about their early life. It’s not always easy to know where to start, so here’s a few ideas of questions you could lead with to inspire rich memories and life stories.

Storytelling:

For most people, preserving both their own stories and those of friends and family is very important, after all, that’s how we remember people after they’ve gone. Storytelling has forever been the most effective way of sharing knowledge, and as soon as we, as humans, began to record these stories, civilisation was effectively born. Some of the earliest forms of recorded storytelling came in the form of cave paintings and hieroglyphics which were later succeeded by the written word.

Before pictograms and text however, some of the most effective methods of sharing stories was through songs and telling folk tales.  Spreading messages verbally allowed for many people to receive the same information simultaneously and hence stories could be spread faster, even if some parts got altered along the way.

Telling stories also literally provides the tale with a voice. We’re able to tell of events from our own unique perspective, showing how we understand them and also how they make us feel. Tone of voice provides an emotional insight into what, on paper, could seem like a completely emotionless event, yet when we, often unwittingly, use a bored or excitable tone, we give the story a whole new layer of meaning.

Asking Questions:

As telling stories verbally gives us so much insight, interviewing someone or even asking yourself questions aloud, can help someone to recall rich, detailed memories. Therefore, recording these responses using audio or video is often the most effective way to capture the memory in its entirety.

In general, the best place to begin when asking people about their lives is at the beginning, so stories from childhood are a good place to start. Here are a few examples of subjects you could begin with, and related questions you could ask:

Homelife

  • Can you describe the home you grew up in?
  • Who lived in your home with you?
  • What was your favourite thing about your home?
  • Did you have a garden or outside space?

Holidays

  • Where did you go on holiday as a child?
  • Who went on your holidays with you?
  • How did you get to your holiday destination?
  • What did you do whilst you were there?

School

  • Did you enjoy school?
  • What was your school uniform like?
  • Did you ever get in trouble whilst at school?
  • What kind of games did you play?

It is often more beneficial to begin with a vague, open-ended question that has the possibility to inspire any number of responses, then, dependent on the answer, you can continue to the line of questioning that will gather the most detailed memories.

Remember, the process of recording memories through interviews does not need to be reserved only for preparation for getting a biography written. Recording memories should be a process enjoyed and conducted by those who want to learn more about their family and friends, whilst in the process, creating a record that can be shared with generations to come.

For information on how you can convert these recorded memories into a beautiful bespoke biography visit Story Terrace, or, for ideas on how to create your own family history book visit The Genealogy Guide.

A Story Terrace infographi on questions to inspire memories and life stories.

Written by Amber Hicks

How To Write My Life Story

I once came across a quote by the author Kate Rockland, which read: “Relationships consist of telling your same life stories to different people until someone finally appreciates them.” Although, a little on the soppy side, this idea about the power of the life story and the realisation that our stories literally make us did really hit home.

Now, most people wouldn’t consider themselves storytellers and definitely wouldn’t consider themselves authors. In actual fact, that is exactly what we all are; storytellers. By merely going about our day-to-day lives we are unwittingly creating and developing plot lines, settings and characters, which together make up the stories of our lives. So why is it that we find the transition between living our stories to recording our stories such a daunting task?

It is often down to an apparent lack of time and the fear of not knowing how. Well, we can dispel those ‘not knowing how’ issues right here. Read through a few of our other posts, like:

These should help clear up the majority of concerns and queries around the logistics of writing. With regard to the time issue, or rather, the mind-set issue – it  is notable that one of the most common excuses for not doing things is because we don’t have the time. Funny how we still manage to find out who was voted out of the X Factor and we know exactly who Mr Grey is, but anyway. Writing doesn’t have to be a chore, it doesn’t necessarily even need to be a conscious effort. Writing anything, even on the most basic level can serve as a record of our life stories.

Structure:

In this age of selfies and hashtags, we are unwittingly telling millions of people our stories, over several different platforms, on a daily basis. The introduction of social media has increased the number of ways to tell stories as well as the means by which we do it. Simply uploading a selfie, wearing smart clothes with a cheesy grin on your face, accompanied by the caption: ‘So #excited for the #firstday of my new job!’ serves as a whole story unto itself. But how exactly do we go about converting all these snippets of our lives into a life story?

Well firstly, you need to begin by thinking about how most great stories are structured. They have a beginning, middle and end, as well as chapters containing characters, events and settings. Inconveniently, you could say that our lives don’t quite fit that neatly into this precise pattern. However, when you begin to break things down to the most basic level it does start to make a little more sense, and emerges into a slightly less daunting task.

  1. Beginning: your family before you, your birth, your early childhood memories
  2. Middle: significant events
  3. End: where you are now, your current relationships, plan for the future

Now this ‘middle’ section is something that you have to decide for yourself, as it is entirely up to you what the significant aspects of your own life are. It may however be helpful to make a note of the main things you think about on a daily basis, and see if significant themes begin to emerge. Money? Relationships? Pets? Where does your mind wander when you’re alone with your thoughts? This may provide an insight into what is most significant to you and in turn deliver you some of your most significant life events.

Execution:

This is often the part we find most difficult as it is very common to be afflicted by ‘blank page syndrome’, resulting in a neverending state of procrastination. Luckily for us, however, professional biographer, Andrew Crofts, has provided some insight into how best to approach making sense of our memories, along with the logistics behind putting pen to paper:

“The best thing is to write from memory first, because then the most interesting and important events and characters will rise to the surface. Then go through all the source material like diaries to check that you have got the facts right and that you haven’t forgotten anything vital.

“If you find the idea of writing a book daunting, start out by imagining you are writing a letter to a long-lost friend, telling them everything that has happened since you last saw them. That way your natural voice will come through.

“Getting the first block of material down is always the hardest part. Editing, tweaking and expanding are the fun bits once the bulk of the project has been done.”

Generally speaking, one of the most important things to remember is that writing your life story is not the same as writing a memoir. So, if you do feel yourself getting hung up on one specific tale, marginally more than others, it may lend itself more to becoming an accompanying memoir, rather than an unbalanced life story. Overall, it is important to maintain a balanced structure throughout your ‘life story’, so it feels like just that; a ‘life story’ and not just one of ‘life’s many stories’.

For more information on the logistics of writing your life story, follow the links through to the articles listed in section one. However, if you feel your story would actually be better suited to becoming a memoir, why not have a read of our article on ‘How to Write a Memoir’?

Written by Amber Hicks

Ghostwriting: Myths and Misconceptions

Ghostwriting can be loosely defined as the process of writing a book on someone else’s behalf. The contribution of a ghostwriter varies from book to book and from writer to writer. A ghostwriter’s task can range from predominantly editing to writing a complete novel or biography based on someone else’s story or idea.

Outside of the publishing world, the ghostwriters existence appears to be just as elusive as their name suggests, with many people being blissfully unaware of the ghostwriters contribution to the trade fiction sector. It seems to be widely accepted that biographies and cookbooks written by, or rather on behalf of, “celebrities” are almost always the work of another writer. So why would said writers limit their skills to just celeb bios? The answer is, they don’t.

It is perhaps less known that even legendary authors including the likes of Tom Clancy, Ian Fleming and even George Lucas have all released work, that on first glance, appear to only have one attribution but are in fact a collaborative effort. One novelisation of Lucas’ infamous Sci-Fi empire, dubbed Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker although credited to Lucas, was actually written by ghostwriter, Alan Dean Foster, who also had a hand in countless other projects of a similar nature. Although, maybe less recognised than writers who publish under their own names this is not to say that a ghostwriters task is an unthankful one. Oh no, quite the opposite in fact.

You could say that ghostwriting as a craft has existed from the birth of literacy itself, where the literate were entrusted with preserving the words of the illiterate through writing. Ghostwriting today however, has evolved into somewhat of a more niche, skilled practice with its own set of criteria beyond being able to put pen to paper.

The unique task of these phantom writers relies on the ability to properly capture the clients voice; a task which is significantly more challenging than one may initially assume. Sourcing the right writer for a client is half the battle of creating a successful collaborative book, and is something companies like Story Terrace pride themselves on. Professional ghostwriter Emma Donnan, believes that the importance of this task can never be underestimated; she proclaims that:

“The ultimate compliment is when the reader just assumes the subject has written the book themselves.”

Misconceptions about Ghostwriting:

It is notable that common misconceptions about ghostwriting primarily stem from issues concerning motivation, attribution and recognition. Therefore, this short list addressing some of the main challenges and assumptions surrounding the practice should help better explain this illusive world whilst simultaneously dispelling any undeserving myths.

1. Ghostwriters are only employed to write celeb bios

As touched upon earlier, it seems that many people are only aware of ghostwriters in relation to celebrity biographies. For example, Katie Price alone has already released five official biographies over the past decade, and it is highly doubtful that she wrote and crafted them solely by herself. Yet, writing about the journey from small town to stardom is not representative of a ghostwriters full repertoire. Not only do ghostwriters have a hand in pretty much every aspect of trade fiction — everything from reference material to children’s comics — they also write on behalf of anyone who’d like a piece written. Yes that’s right, you can have a book written about you without having to be famous first. Plus, lets face it, most good stories start with everyday people; I mean, how many stories do you know that begin with “So I’m kind of a big deal..”?

With the growing popularity in the subject of genealogy, influenced by programmes like the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? and sites like Ancestry.com, the natural progression between discovering your heritage to wanting to turn your findings into a book is inevitable. Therefore, the demand for professional ghostwriters is growing, and it is imperative that the correct writer is chosen in order to tell someone’s story in the way it should be told. Which leads us on to the next point.

2. Any writer can ghostwrite

To put it lightly, this is categorically untrue. There are several reasons why some writers cannot ghostwrite, well, successfully anyway. The first big issue being that many people become authors with the sole purpose to tell stories created from their own imagination in order to fulfil that lifelong dream of becoming the next J.K. Rowling. Consequently, the thought of being employed to communicate someone else’s idea would be just, quite frankly, wrong.

The next reason comes under the umbrella of logistics. The process of ghostwriting is one, that by pure nature, is thoroughly different to that of traditional authorship. A ghostwriter, producing a biography for example, would have to devise some form of action plan and possibly a timeline with which to work by, given that there are other people involved. The writer would then have to conduct a series of interviews or discussions in order to fully understand the subject matter and what they have been tasked with communicating. Ghostwriter, Emma Donnan explains her process; she notes:

“I tape all my interviews… Listening back for that second time really helps hammer home the subject’s voice. If they use an interesting turn of phrase or have words they repeatedly use I will note those and use them later to give the copy more authenticity.”

This interview process could be something that is completely unheard of to many authors, with their preparation being limited to perhaps only researching the location they wish to set their novel. However, this interaction between writer and client is imperative to any successful ghostwriter. This leads on to possibly the biggest distinction between a ghostwriter and a traditional writer: the voice.

As has already been mentioned, the ability to capture someone else’s personality is vital, especially when it comes to writing a biography. The whole purpose in having a biography created is to tell your story, so why would you want it to sound like it’s coming from someone else?

Learn more about what it takes to be a ghostwriter (The Recipe for a Good Ghostwriter).

3. Ghostwriters don’t receive the recognition they deserve

This section is definitely important for aspiring writers and those considering getting into the trade of ghostwriting. From an outside perspective, it may not be immediately obvious why a writer would be happy to put time and effort into creating something, for it to then be published under another name. Although there are many who firmly believe that in the age of authorship being anonymous won’t help your career, it is not always that black and white. Ghostwriting is not always necessarily a choice between allowing another author to take credit for your work or having to be entirely anonymous.

In many cases if a writer collaborates with another, they can often claim co-authorship; this means their name will appear alongside the primary author’s. With regard to biographies, in most cases, if the subject is famous and the biography is to be sold commercially, readers will know to look for the writers name. Contrastingly, if the subject is less known, and is having a personal biography written to share with family and friends, the writer will still receive sufficient recognition. Yes, this recognition may come in less obvious forms than people being able to answer with your name at a pub quiz, but this is not to say it is any less rewarding.

In addition, creating a book that successfully portrays the voice of another is a skill that should not be accepted lightly, as it takes a certain kind of writer to achieve this; in itself, this is a rewarding idea. Professional ghostwriter, Philip Williams shares his experience,

“As a ghost writer I bring my whole writers toolbox. Were I creating a fictional character, I would give her a distinctive voice that was not mine. I have discovered the challenge of finding the voice, not of a character of my invention, but of a multidimensional flesh-and-blood living human being. Far more challenging!”

Another aspect of ghostwriting that many authors enjoy is the variety of clients they are able to work with and the array of stories they get to tell. Williams, describes that he sees ghostwriting as a privilege and goes on to explain one of the most rewarding aspects of ghostwriting is:

“discovering a person, in detail, using their memory. This so much more than researching documents or talking to third parties. It is taking a journey with them, finding events that had been lost in the mists of time, rediscovering memories. Yet with all of this the resulting work is still very much mine.”

The fear of ones work becoming too similar or lacking inspiration is a distant memory for these phantom writers, as the stories waiting to be told are endless. 

4. There’s always tension around the writer-client relationship

It is well known that where money is introduced, tension can follow. May this be a result of responsibility, accountability or expectation now being monetarily enforced, it is near impossible to say that it does not alter the relationship in some way. However, this notion that the writer-client relationship may go south and both parties will still have to reluctantly muddle through with the rest of the project, is far from an inevitability. Provided the proper care, preparation and attention is put into finding the correct writer for the client’s story, this will not be the case.

Firstly, the process of choosing the correct ghostwriter is not as simple as the client liking the writer’s style then paying them. The assumption that it is up to the client to pick the writer is also one that is not necessarily correct. Creating a book together is a mutual process, so the writer also has to pick the client. This selection will be based, initially:

  • On whether or not the writer even likes the story
  • If the writer feels they are able to properly tell the story
  • On whether they feel they are able to work well with the client.

These same points then have to also work from a client perspective:

  • Will this writer be able to successfully tell my story in the way I’m happy with?
  • Am I able to have a successful, positive working relationship with this writer?

If these points have all been successfully checked off and the answer to all the questions is yes, the risk of a tense working relationship will be minimised, but obviously anything can happen. Luckily, even this risk can be extinguished if the client goes through a service like Story Terrace, who make this process as simple and easy as possible. They suggest the best writer matches based on all the factors previously discussed, as well as overseeing the project from start to finish. So, if for any reason the relationship does hit a impasse, the project can be reassigned or picked-up by another equally great writer that could be an even better match!

Overall, I hope this article has helped reveal the true nature of ghostwriting; its reach, influence and contribution as well as the unique skills and techniques required to be a truly successful ghostwriter.

For more information on great ghostwriting and how to get in touch with a variety of ghostwriters visit StoryTerrace.com

Written by Amber Hicks

How to Write a Memoir

First-things-first, let’s establish precisely what a memoir actually is. It is not an autobiography. An autobiography is an account of someones life written by that person. So what exactly is a memoir? Well, memoirs are personal accounts of specific memories or stories from your life; it is not a record of your entire existence. One: that would be pretty much impossible to write down, and two: that would probably be a rather boring read. Learn more about the difference between a memoir and an autobiography (What’s the Difference Between a Memoir and an Autobiography?

Memoirs, like autobiographies and biographies, are not reserved solely for the famous. No, anyone can write a memoir or series of memoirs; after all, celebs are not the only people with stories to tell. Many of the best stories come from the everyday; John Green’s The Fault in our Stars, Peter Benchley’s Jaws and even Robert Bloch’s Psycho are all based on real-life events. Now if those stories aren’t worth writing down, then I don’t know what are.

So, what is it that can convince you of the importance of transferring your memories to paper? Well, simply put, because people want to know. Family, friends, complete strangers. Somebody, somewhere will want to hear your story, so why deprive them of that? As storyteller-meets-businessman, Michael Margolis, says: “The stories we tell literally make the world. If you want to change the world, you need to change your story.”

Well, now you’ve been convinced of the importance of recording your stories. You’ll need to know just how exactly to begin writing a memoir, so here are a few steps to help you on your way.

Where to start writing your memoir

Before starting your memoir, it is important to remember that it is not necessarily your whole life story. So you do not have to begin with: “From the age of five…” It is your memoir so it can begin wherever you like. Provided you give some small amount of context, e.g. how old you were and where you were living etc., you can begin anywhere. Remember, it’s a memoir not an autobiography, so each memory should be a mini story unto itself. Gone off on a tangent? Start a new memoir; create a series.

The story

Now, this is the section that I’m probably the least helpful. No one can tell you what to write about, it’s all down to subjective significance. Personally, I would think about one of the most significant times in your life or a particularly significant event that occurred and focus on that.

There may be really obvious events, like marriages or the birth of your first child for example, that you may feel pressured or obliged to write about. However, remember, this is a personal account of something you feel is worth writing about, no one is going to judge you if you don’t think the birth of your child is significant… No, but really, it does need to be something you want to write about. Remember if you’re getting bored writing it, chances are we’ll get bored reading it. (So save the births for your autobiography).

Write it all down

Next, although you don’t have to be a bestselling author, a bit of artistic license never goes amiss. Just because you are writing about true events does not mean the narrative needs to be dry and dull. Description is key, you need to convey everything that you experience when you recount the memory in your mind, so this means more than just listing events. Include all the senses: what could you hear? Smell? What did you feel?

Another important aspect of writing a good memoir is researching around the context of your story. For example, if your story begins at the age of 18 in your old family home, perhaps consider:

– who might have lived there before you?

– why did your parents move there?

– what were the expectations like for a typical 18 year old at the time?

These are all things that will help the reader better understand the context in which your story took place as well as possibly providing explanations for aspects within the events.

You are the only person who experienced the memory you are writing about. So do it justice and give as much detail as possible. Make the reader feel as if it could even be one of their own memories. That is the key to a powerful memoir.

The tone of your memoir

Whilst writing any kind of narrative, it is often easy to switch between tones as you progress, which can effect the consistency of a piece. Therefore, it is important to choose a writing style and tense and stick to it. For example: if you begin writing in third-person then suddenly start referring to yourself as ‘I’, it can get a little confusing and makes for a muddled piece. Equally if you begin using lengthy, detailed complex sentences then suddenly switch to short, choppy statements with no explanation that will effect the readability of the memoir.

This being said, it can actually aid the overall feel and depth of the piece by altering the tone, in some cases. Only if done clearly and appropriately though. One of the most effective occasions to implement the changing of tense, for example, is at the very beginning and end of the memoir. Reflection, can serve as both an artistic device as well as a practical device that allows the reader to understand more about you and your feelings towards the story both at the time and in hindsight. It also simultaneously serves to break up the narrative into clear sections and provides a good structure to your memoir.

Logistics

Now, for the nuts and bolts behind creating your memoir. Any good storyteller will know that the key to writing a good, succinct tale is planning. You need to be aware that there is no strict, definitive template to writing out a plan, but even a quick list of bullet-points will help get your thoughts in order.

When working on a memoir specifically, the most useful type of plan would be some form of timeline. A dated list of events, outlining what happened at what time and what occurred in relation to other events. Remember, you do not need to relay your entire life story by going through a day-by-day account of everything that’s ever happened to you. Just provide a bit of context and stick to the good bits.

Once you’ve devised your list of events, it may be worth identifying if there are any significant distinctions between them. For example, if a year goes past between one event and the next, that would be a good time to start a new section or chapter of the memoir. As readability is also an important factor to consider when writing a memoir, breaking up the text and tilting the chapters will not only make for a better structure, but could also aid your recalling of events that you may have overlooked when writing the broader, initial plan.

The Framework:

Infographic by Story Terrace on how to write a memoir. Step-by-step guide on the process of memoir writing with useful tips and pointers for those wanting a How To style guide to writing your own memoirs.

So, to recap, here is the framework overview to starting your memoir:

  • Select a story you wish to tell
  • Devise a quick timeline of events you want to cover
  • Divide events in subsections and/or chapters
  • Add mini lists of events and details to each section
  • Conduct some contextual research
  • Think about how and at what point in time you want to begin your memoir
  • Choose a writing style (and stick to it)

Now, it’s over to you. We’ve provided the steps now it’s your turn; put pen to paper and start writing!

For more information on life stories and how they can also be used in creative writing, check out Kayla Dean’s: How to Enrich your Writing with your Experiences

Written by Amber Hicks 

The Recipe for a Good Ghostwriter

Problem: you want to share your story, but you feel as though you don’t have the time or the necessary literary skill to be able to convey it properly.

Solution: Ghostwriter

Simple. Somewhat. Getting a ghostwriter is one thing; getting a good ghostwriter is another. Here’s what you’ll need:

INGREDIENTS

2 mugs of mutual understanding

1 generous serving of empathy

1 sprinkle of flair

2 drops of clarity

6 doses of stylistic transparency

2 clean ears

0 spoons of judgment

4 helpings of industry expertise

1 dash of wit

6 spoons of patience

1 bowl of curiosity

An inexhaustible amount of passion

 

What is a Ghostwriter?

Contrary to what the job title may suggest, no poltergeists need be involved. Typically, the ghostwriter’s role has been to assist celebrities in telling their stories to the masses. But the truth is that everyone has a story – not just those in the public eye – so the ghostwriter is not limited to celebrity autobiographies.

Ghostwriters are actually more common than you think. The ghostwriter has been behind presidents’ speeches, musicians’ lyrics, love letters, blog posts, birthday cards and books. It starts with simple supply and demand: you have a story, but you need eloquence and time to convey it. Your ghostwriter has the skill to transform ideas into words, but needs your material. Best results go beyond basic economics, however. Story optimisation requires both parties to truly compliment each other.

Still looking to learn more about ghostwriters and what their role entails, why not look at our article on ‘What is a ghostwriter‘?

So, without further ado, here is the breakdown of our recipe for one excellent ghostwriter.

 

The Ghostwriter Recipe: Chemistry is Necessary

2 mugs of mutual understanding

Sharing some common ground with your ghostwriter is highly recommended for the storyteller. The person you choose is going to be listening to and writing your story, and needs to do so with your voice – so it would be beneficial if he or she could relate to it in some way.

1 generous serving of empathy

Empathy is absolutely necessary in the making of a good ghostwriter. To get a vivid description from the storyteller’s perspective, the ghostwriter needs to be able to put herself in your shoes.

1 sprinkle of flair; 2 drops of clarity

A key for any good writer is style – that is what sets the writers apart from the scribes. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of clarity. The reader shouldn’t have any ambiguous question marks over ‘what exactly happened there’. Painting a clear picture in the reader’s mind is the reason a ghostwriter was hired in the first place.

6 doses of stylistic transparency

Whilst an accomplished writer should have his or her own style, it is imperative for the ghostwriter to refrain from imposing it on the storyteller’s voice. Paradoxical, we know. A literary shapeshifter, the ghostwriter should be able to morph into any of his subjects at will and tell your story as though there were no ‘ghost’ at all. The hint is in the name – otherwise they would just be writers.

2 clean ears

A good ghostwriter should be able to listen. He or she should be keen to understand your story, not interfere with it. A ghostwriter is there to facilitate the creation of your story, and bring it to life. They must be able to act as a soundboard and a sponge at the same time, absorbing all the details as told by the storyteller and then project them louder and clearer – without distortion.

0 spoons of judgment

You may be asking “why include something in a recipe if it’s not going in? You wouldn’t have ‘zero pieces of chicken’ in your cake recipe”. A true point but this one had to be included because it’s MASSIVELY IMPORTANT. A good ghostwriter should pass no judgments on his subject. People’s stories range vastly; your ghostwriter should understand this and take what is given to him at face value. He should be able to absorb the story objectively and understand it from the subject’s point of view. Zero judgment.

4 helpings of industry expertise

A ghostwriter will ultimately be professional. She will have probably had several years experience as a writer and will be familiar with the various intricacies of the business. A good ‘ghost’ will be familiar with the deadlines and have knowledge of the production process. This, in turn, allows for you to focus on telling your story without any stress.

1 dash of wit

I mean, if you’re going to be telling your life story to this person then surely you’d like him or her to have some humour. You know, to feel comfortable and all.

6 spoons of patience

The ability to listen and write well is null for the ghostwriter if it is not combined with patience. Sharing your life story with a stranger is a daunting task; there may be some very intimate memories that take a while to draw out. A good ghostwriter should understand this and allow the storyteller to disclose his or her memories at a comfortable pace.

1 bowl of curiosity

The ghostwriter should be curious about the project. Imagine something you loathe to discuss, something that upon engaging with would put you to sleep and then give you nightmares of dread. Now imagine having to write a story about that. Point in case, the ghostwriter should be interested in the contents of the story so as to be able to maximise productivity and input, and create the best product possible.

An inexhaustible amount of passion

To be good at any job it is almost imperative that one enjoys his work. Luckily, most writers are not in the business for money – but for their love of words.

You Don’t Have to be Scared of Ghosts

Remember, ghostwriters are in their jobs because of their passion for literature and writing, and their interest in other people’s stories. Your ‘ghost’ wants to understand your story, wants to help bring that story to life, and wants to have as little influence on the content as possible. It is in the ghostwriter’s interest to remain authentic to your story.

A helpful parallel is proposed by successful ghostwriter Andrew Crofts:

I’m fulfilling a similar function to a barrister in court, pleading the case of their client. I listen to their story and then tell it for them, helping to get across their view of the world and the way things happen in it.” 

Ultimately, a good ghostwriter is the perfect crossover between a nonjudgmental soundboard, an intent ear, a caring friend, and a passionate wordsmith. If he or she ticks all the ingredients from the recipe above then you know you are in good hands. Remember, the purpose of the ghostwriter is to facilitate the creation of a fascinating story that reads well. The role is no more, and no less. One last thing – don’t forget that you have the final call. After all, it is your story.

By David Blanga

The Life of a Back Story

I’m a starer. My husband is always picking me out about it because it’s so obvious, so blatant, so (God forbid) rude. I can’t help it though; some faces just keep drawing my eyes back to them. It could just be the face, but sometimes it’s the whole package: the way the lips move in conversation, or eyes stare unblinking at seemingly nothing or move constantly, a subtle mannerism or prodigious gesticulation. Sometimes it’s as simple as a pair of shoes. I can’t help it because I’m thinking: I wonder what his / her story is.

I stare as I try to put together the pieces of a total stranger’s life. I then notice more: the perfectly groomed hair in juxtaposition with the cheap, slightly brassy foundation make-up a shade too dark. Her clothes are unremarkable. A lengthy glance puts her in her late thirties, but closer observation adds ten years. Her hands are lined and rough: they’ve known work, physical labour. They are not the hands of youth. I look at my own hands, now lined and bonier, the veins more obvious. I look back at the woman. Her eyes. I try and see behind them, through them and there it is: Life.

I don’t mean life because your heart is beating, I mean Life with a capital L. Life has happened to her. Her still hands and even gaze mean she has in all likelihood triumphed, but she is not unscarred.

I also eavesdrop. I’ve studied the person, so I have my back story, but now she’s turned to the woman next to her and a shadow clouds her face as she says, “Do you think she’ll make it?” She takes a deep, steady breath and the shadow moves away; her lips purse slightly as she swallows almost imperceptibly before she again turns her head away and resumes the serene persona of before.

“Do you think she’ll make it?” Who? To what? Are they related? Estranged? Is this their first union? A reunion? But in how long? Then I begin to answer these questions and make up stories. In my head I play out her day, all the while being mindful of the back story I’ve already concocted.

“Mum.” I’m instantly drawn back to the here and now. I look away and focus on doing up a zipper, or the meal that has been placed before me, or the train that has pulled in. Involuntarily I glance back, and then the moment is gone.

Never forget the importance of a back story when telling a story. A back story is everything that happened before your opening sentence. The back story impacts directly on the story and is therefore just as important as the one you want to tell. Sometimes the back story is the story. To write a good story your characters have to grow, they have to be affected by things that happen to them and how they are affected depends on their back story.

Now, step by crafty step let’s do it together:

The scenario:

I’m writing a book on … now come up with a short premise for your story

A blind girl plans to run an ultra marathon to overcome the limitations that her disability has enmeshed her in.

Her success or failure will be as a direct consequence of her back story. How and when was she blinded?, what events and which people have shaped the person she is now?

Over to you:

  1. Write down your premise in one sentence.
  2. Flesh out your premise to a third or half a page.
  3. Choose your main characters and jot down some notes on:
  • What they look like
  • What types of personalities they have
  • What their backgrounds are
  • What dynamics exist between them
  • What relationships they have with each other and others
  • Idiosyncrasies
  • Lifestyles

We’ll examine characterisation in a lot more detail, but in order to put together a solid back story, keeping in mind that it may come through in your real-time story, you need to think about the ‘past’, and that includes people and events.

Keep it brief and simple for now, but if the mood grabs you, keep writing …

Written by Story Terrace writer Kerrin Cocks, check out her writers page at: https://storyterrace.com/kerrin-cocks/

Make sure to read Kerrin’s next instalment entitled: ‘Does Your Story Have Legs?’

How do you define Life Writing?

How do you define life writing?

Life Writing is the blanket term used to describe all written non-fiction recordings of memories. This includes biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, diaries and blogs, personal essays and collections of letters or emails. It does what is says on the tin, life writing is writing about life.

As you can see, that is a lot of formats under one term. And if they’re all technically life writing- what makes them different?

If you’re writing about life, which format is best suited for your content?

We’ve already covered what the difference between an autobiography and a memoir is. But the others? We done the searching and collected the information so that you don’t have to. 

Life Writing Formats

Autobiography

Autobiography is very easy to define. It is when you are writing your own life story. 

Biography

Biography literally translates to writing about life. The best thing about a biography is that you could be writing someone else’s life story. And if there is a lot of research required- we have a few tips to make sure that your biography is a good one.

Blog

A gift of the digital migration, a blog of the personal kind. This is most like an online diary. As opposed to the blog you’re accessing right now, which is full of useful and interesting content, tips and resources.

pexels-photo-45718-largeDiary/ Journal

It is difficult to remember that there was a time before the internet. When people didn’t broadcast their thoughts and the day’s actions online, they wrote them down in an empty book. The diary was often hidden… but someone would always manage to find the hiding place.

E-mail

Another gift from the digital age is the e-mail. The electric-letter. There are so many ways to save them. You can add them to drives, clouds, memory sticks, print them out or take screenshots. Creating your narrative depends on the order your emails, which you can do by creating a chain of response.

person writing on loose paperLetter

Like E-mails, letters can be collected and arranged to tell the story of a particular phase of life. You can document the growth of a relationship or a recent location change etc. A collection of letters from both writers can be paired together to provide a dual coverage of the topic.

Memoir

“Memoir” is a direct translation of the French word for “memory”. Usually a memoir focuses on a particular event, time frame or relationship.

Personalised Essay or Statement

These are compiled when applying to university or work. Often you’ll be told to act like you are promote your life experience. The point of this particular format, is to make someone more likely to consider you for a role.

Testimonial

A formal statement towards someone’s character and mental state or a review on a product. 

Why should you write about your life?

black and white image of a person reading a book

The main reason we write about our lives, and the lives of others is to share and reflect on our experience, thoughts and feelings with the world. Life writing is the ever-evolving method that humanity uses to document our own histories. It is a way in which we connect the present to the past and future simultaneously.

You should write about your life because you have a story to tell. Each life is unique, while you might share similarities, there is no one in the world who shares your exact human experience…  but by writing about your life you are able to project your thoughts and feelings outwards and give them a physical manifestation. They start to take up space, and then, people can see your exact story, without pretense, speculation or their own personal projections.

Imagine sitting with thirty other people. You have all read the exact same sentence: “The curtains were blue”. All thirty of you will have different reasoning (if any) behind your interpretation as to why the curtains are blue. Life writing is the opportunity to share your experience with others. It gives reasoning to actions that might have previously seemed random.

When should you start life writing?

Right now.

You’ve just learned about the different formats and why life writing matters.

What could you write?

A full autobiography. The biography of your personal hero. Collect your parents’ love letters or emails and create a conversation as their relationship grows. Destress from your day by taking an account of everything that happened, just to see what still stands out in the future. Write a memoir of your childhood, or of the time you overcame hardship.

There are so many things that you could do.

Happy writing.

Fayola Nivet, Story Terrace

The Importance of Dementia Focused Books

If you’ve found this blog post you are most likely looking for help finding a “dementia book”. Whether you have or are in contact with someone who has recently been diagnosed, hopefully you’ll find the answers you’re looking for.

What is Dementia?

Dementia is an illness that impacts the lives of thousands of people everywhere. It is not quite a disease as many people think. “Dementia” is the umbrella term used to describe the collection of symptoms that occur when brain cells are damaged. It primarily presents in people over the age of 65. Every 3 seconds someone in the world is diagnosed and each case is a unique experience. Presently, in the UK, there are over 85,000 people living with Dementia.

Dementia is a progressive illness. This means it will get worse with time. Commonly noted changes amongst people who have diagnosed are: loss of memory, difficulty communicating and personality changes. Learning to live with dementia is a tough process for everyone involved. It is no surprise that people look for help on how to deal with this situation.

Where do their searches bring them?

To books.

So what exactly is a “Dementia Book”?

cover of title novel Still Alice by Lisa Genova

In the most basic of sense, a “Dementia book” is a book about Dementia. The majority of these books are non-fiction. But sometimes dementia is a theme in a fiction title. For example, Still Alice by Lisa Genova. 

There are several types of non-fiction books that appear when you combine “dementia” and “book” in a search bar. They are listed below.

 

 

An educational tool for:

    • Researchers who specialise in Alzheimer disease and similar illnesses.
    • The diagnosed person.
    • Adult family and friends.
    • Children or family and friends with learning difficulties.

A memoir written by:

    • The diagnosed person.
    • A relative or friend of a person diagnosed with Dementia.

A picture book

    • For much younger children or family and friends with learning difficulties.
    • For the diagnosed person to enjoy when their illness progresses and they find it hard to read words.

A “Memory” book

These are similar to activity books. They are filled with the memories of the diagnosed person. This is so the memories are not lost as the dementia progresses. Memory books allow family to remember and re-learn the diagnosed person’s life along with them.

Why do these “Dementia Books” exist?

To educate Diagnosticians and Carers

Books that document research dementia are vital in educating the people who verify diagnoses and care for the diagnosed.

To help to understand the diagnosis

 Dementia is a difficult diagnosis to process. These books focus on sharing information that is easy to understand. They also share advice on how to adapt to changes that will occur in their everyday lives.

Providing catharsis

 Writing about their experience has been proven to be a therapeutic release for both the diagnosed and their loved ones.

Giving comfort

Certain books are written as conversation starters or as shared entertainment for the diagnosed person and their loved ones. These books help to alleviate boredom and combat against depression. They reduce any feelings of loneliness by acting as a bridge of communication.

Where can I find more help?

Dementia UK & Alzheimer’s Research UK both have resources to help living with Dementia diagnosis.

What can I do to help?

You can help dementia research by playing the mobile game Sea Hero Quest. It tests your brain as you play. Four minutes of gameplay is equal to eleven hours of brain research. And so, you can use some of your spare time to #GameForGood.

Fayola Nivet, Story Terrace

Creative Writing Tips

Photo by Hilke Kurzke

Whether your project is a short story, a biography, a series of novels or anything in between, creative writing can be hard. The road to greatness is often encumbered by speed bumps. Maybe you have an entire story plotted out in your mind, but you can’t find the right way to fit that cinematic adventure into words. Perhaps you can’t wait to fashion beautiful sentences, but you’ve got no clue what to write them about. Or maybe you’ve written the whole thing, but re-reading it disappoints you because it’s not what you imagined.

Overcoming these issues and more is all part of the creative writing journey; what makes it so rewarding to produce something you’re proud of. So, from sparking that fateful idea to getting it onto the page to editing the complete piece, here are some tips to help you through.

1. Finding inspiration

Sometimes your inner wordsmith for creative writing just has to come out, but it can be frustrating when you don’t have a story on which to set him or her loose. Here are some things you can try to spark some inspiration.

Use writing prompts

Scattered all over the internet, writing prompts are usually small statements depicting an unusual situation. For example:

It’s raining outside, but the raindrops aren’t water…

Often they seem dangerously wacky. But they’re designed to get you thinking about the story behind the statement. If the rain isn’t water, what is it? Is it raining milkshake? Blood? Specks of dust and concrete? Is something melting? Has someone thrown their possessions off the roof? Eventually you may come up with something that begs to be written about.

Keep a notebook

This is a tip as old as time, but it still stands, because inspiration doesn’t wait for you to be sitting at your computer. Inspiration can strike at any time, and during daily life it can vanish as quickly as it appeared – so jot every little spark down! And don’t forget to make a note of what happens in your dreams each night. Nonsensical as they may be, dreams present bold images and strange situations that wouldn’t otherwise occur to you.

Writing in a notebook

Photo by Fredrik Rubensson

Read widely

As well as being relaxing and fun, reading is a brilliant way to absorb new vocabulary and a wider appreciation for the things that can be done with words. This isn’t to say that you should lift ideas directly from other people’s work (lawsuits don’t just happen in TV dramas). But reading and responding to books can help you to understand the sorts of emotions you’d like to stir in your own readers.

Remember, it’s best to be selective when choosing books to read. As P.D. James once put it, “Bad writing is contagious”.

2. Developing your ideas

Once you’ve grasped your fantastic idea, it’s tempting to start work on that first chapter right away. But diving in without forethought can lead to periods of agonising writer’s block. There’s something to be said for planning. While different planning techniques will work for different writers, below we’ve described a widely-recognised and respected process:

The Snowflake Method

Created by award-winning author Professor Randy Ingermanson, the Snowflake Method is a step-by-step process for building your vague idea into an intricately-woven story.

The stages of the Snowflake Method: a simple triangle developing into an intricate snowflake

Source: CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=205427

First, write a short sentence stating your story idea. Then expand this sentence into a paragraph, noting the story’s beginning, major plot points, and ending. Your characters are just as important as your plot, so next create a short summary for each of your characters, describing their storylines, motivations, goals, and the lessons they’ll learn.

The following steps involve taking what you already have and expanding them further – turn your paragraph of plot into a full page, turn your character summaries into page-long synopses. Then turn your full page plot into a four-page plot, and your character synopses into detailed charts revealing everything there is to know about them, and so on.

The further you progress, the more you’ll need to go back and change what you’ve already written. You might find that how a character behaves in the plot no longer makes sense considering his motivations and background. Responding to and fixing these issues means that the elements of your tale will work smoothly together, making for a more believable story.

3. Writing it up

Coaxing all of your preparation into an eloquent manuscript can be a rage-inducing labour of love, but it can also be a lot of fun. Here are a couple of tips to ease the process:

Practice

The only way to develop your voice is to write, write and write some more. Find time to write every day (or at least as often as you can) and set realistic word-count targets for yourself. If you find that you can’t reach them, there’s no shame in lowering your targets; as long as you keep writing, you’re making good progress.

A typewriter ready to be used

Photo by Pauline Mak

Don’t get bogged down with editing

Some writers like to re-read and rearrange as they go along, while others like to soldier through the whole thing before even considering checking for typos. We can’t advise on which method will work best for you. However, if you find yourself editing as you go along, make sure you don’t get lost in it. It’s tempting to repeatedly drag a fine-toothed comb through that first chapter until it gleams with perfection – but this is time that could be spent adding words, pages and chapters to your story and bringing it closer to a complete piece. And when it’s all written you can edit more easily – having seen exactly how your story ends, you’ll have a better insight into how it should begin and progress.

Don’t write to sell

Commercial awareness is by no means a bad thing, but if you’re constantly stretching your work to include popular tropes and current trends, there’s a good chance it’ll be born without a soul. Forget what’s set the public raving and write something that’s meaningful to you. In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “Write to please just one person. If you open the window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia”.

4. Polishing your work

So, you’ve finished your story. First and foremost be extremely proud, because you’re currently sitting where plenty of writers wish they were. After basking in the warm glow of your first draft, it’s time to start transforming it into your second (then your third, then however many come after that).

A printed manuscript that has been corrected and edited with a pen

Photo by Seth Sawyers

Use friends and family

Try as you might, you simply cannot read your own work as if for the first time. So send your story to people you trust and respect and ask for their honest feedback. You love your story, but be patient, receptive and open to the fact that other people may not feel the same. Every piece of feedback can potentially help you improve.

On the other hand, remember that your story is your own – you don’t have to heed other peoples’ suggestions. It’s up to you to decide how to fix the problems that have been pointed out.

Perform cold reads

When you’ve been working on something for a long time, you grow too accustomed to the way it reads. Spelling mistakes and nonsensical sentences slip sneakily by, unnoticed. So, hide your manuscript away and have a few weeks’ (or even months’) break in which you do not glance at it once. When you come back to it with fresh eyes, mistakes will leap out at you.

So there you have it – a few simple tips and instructions to help you through your creative journey. Good luck!

Julia Watts, StoryTerrace

How the internet has transformed the Life Story

Thanks to Aaron for pressing the shutter release. He is himself an aspiring photographer now, thanks to the Canon AE-1 he borrowed from his dad.

Project365: 233/365

“For many years I have had a big social presence and even though I love using Facebook and Instagram and Twitter, sometimes it is hard to share your experiences on such limited spaces. I love writing and I love making pictures,” writes Ella Dvornik on her ‘I Am Ella’ life story blog. “I am not a professional writer, I am not very literate and English is not my first language so I tend to make mistakes, but I love what I do and I love doing it.”

Stories are uploaded everyday. Pictures are uploaded everyday. We write, craft and shape our biographies online without even thinking about it. The life story is changing, but that’s nothing new.

With ordinary folk sharing their stories on social media, self-publishing their writing and crowdfunding their dreams, the internet has opened up a world of possibility for people with a story to tell, and all within the space of 26 years.

 

Picture by Unsplash

Picture by Unsplash

 

Before the internet, biographies were what they said on the tin: a start to finish story of somebody’s life. Typically, biographies are written about universal figures; be they religious characters, wartime heroes or B-list celebrities, the subjects of biographical books have always tended to be people who we all have an interest in.  

That being said, the biography has undergone a good few changes since it first appeared around 80 A.D. When we consider the path from the religious biographies written by monks, priests and hermits of the Middle Ages, to Anne Frank’s Diary, to the groundbreaking feminist biographies of the 1970’s, we can see how the life-writing genre has continued to evolve with every shift of the tectonic plates of history.

True to fashion, the Google Age has already changed everything. In fact, it has influenced the biggest change to the genre since the first literary monk first reached for his pen ‒ now anyone can publish a book about their life!

 

internet life writing 2

Picture by Steve Rhodes

 

Profoundly, the internet has opened the floodgates for a different kind of life story, the ‘everyday’ life story.

Social Media websites encourage us to share our lives with friends and document our existence, almost by default. An extraordinary 300 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day, whilst 293,000 status updates happen every minute. At this scale, we are all, knowingly or not, creating a record of our lives. Each new job, new child, new house, every new event is chronicled online in the form of status updates and photos.

This has created a growing appetite amongst internet users to not only share with friends and family but to share with the world. Fittingly, the personal blog has become the go-to format for sharing life stories. At virtually no cost, anyone can publish online; and can potentially make a living out of it. Whilst most of these stories won’t find themselves published into books, it doesn’t take away from the fact that many of these so called ‘ordinary’ lives are widely read by the blogging community.

The medium has become so popular, in fact, that, as of 2008, a new blog is now created every second of every day.

 

Picture by StockSnap

Picture by StockSnap

 

Of course, if the internet community isn’t enough for the budding biographer, self-publishing has become a viable option for anyone with the time, talent and business acumen.

Did you know, for example, that 50 Shades of Grey started life as a self-published e-book? Developed from a particularly steamy piece of Twilight fan fiction, no less.

First published on a fanfiction website, 50 Shades of Grey took off when it was self-released as both an e-book and print on demand paperback. E. L. James self-published because there was no way that a traditional publisher would have looked twice at it. It was through the internet, however, that the book could push through the gatekeepers of publication and reach the (over 125 million!) people in want of BDSM-fuelled erotic fiction.

Essentially, the same principle applies to the self-publishing biographer. If the story is able to resonate with a populace of readers, and is digitally marketed in the right way, there’s nothing stopping a self-published life story from skyrocketing up the Amazon nonfiction chart.

 

Picture by Thomas Hawk

Picture by Thomas Hawk

 

Self-publishing is, in some cases, a useful option for writers due to the platform of crowdfunding, which allows readers to contribute money toward the production of a book that they’d like to see made.    

Websites such as Kickstarter, Unbound, Seedrs and StoryStarter have been instrumental to the new wave of self-published material; funding projects and allowing writers to road test ideas with a potential readership.  

Crowdfunding means that struggling writers are no longer bound to mainstream publishers or financial debt. In fact, some of the best books being produced at the moment have made their way through crowdfunding, The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth made it onto the 2014 Man Booker Prize longlist, and Rose Bretécher’s memoir, Pure, about living with OCD, became a bestseller; both were crowdfunded through Unbound.

Equally, The Earth Moved: Surviving the 2015 Nepal Earthquake was written and crowdfunded through StoryStarter, a Story Terrace platform. The medium allows family and friends to donate money, photos and content toward the development of their life story; made possible, of course, through the quickfire, community clicktivism afforded by the internet.    

 

internet writing 4

Picture by Unsplash

 

It seems undoubtable that the internet has changed the way life stories are made and consumed. Though it’s easy to see it as a vast sea of niche websites, obscure forums, specialised online shops and an unholy amount of pet videos, the democratic nature of the internet means that most things can find an audience amongst its usership of 3.17 billion.

Whether it’s through blogs, e-books or crowdfunding, the internet is clearly the new frontier for the life story, and its pioneers at the forefront of a new literary revolution. Only time will tell how far it will go.   

Caolan Blaney, Story Terrace

Writing to preserve memories

Photo by Fredrik Rubensson

‘Tell me about when you were a little girl.’

Coaxing stories and memories out of parents and grandparents was at one time my favourite way of putting off bedtime. Nowadays – and once the stories are written down – it fulfils deeper purposes with broader benefits.

Parting the curtains

For a child, listening to stories is like visiting the old days hand in hand with the parent or aunt or grandparent who used to live there. It’s a comforting way to open up the past: their past, your past, the stories that shape family life. It’s like peeping behind the curtains that part the generations. People who lived in wartime Europe can show you a world of gas lamps and ration cards; of sculleries thick with steam on washday Mondays; of candles casting monster shadows on the stairs; of schools with rows of wooden desks and inkwells where you got the strap for a spelling mistake…

grandmother reading to grandchildren

Reconnecting

Bringing back your memories reconnects you to the people and places you used to know. They matter because they have helped shape your life. Everyone has a story; it’s part of who we are. The stories of our parents and grandparents enrich our own and so become part of us too. To know where we came from and who was there before us affirms our place in the world. And we may meet a whole new set of friends and relations who, whether or not they are still alive, all belong to our extended family.

Invited to reminisce, some people say, ‘Nothing interesting happened; just everyday life, too humdrum to bother with.’ But everyday life is what links us to them; we need to know what it was like to be living in those days and seeing things with their eyes, and it’s the ordinary details that show us. They show us what’s changed, too; such as encyclopaedias supplanted by Google, mangles by tumble-dryers. Yet memories, like old photographs, are worth preserving, because they hold the real lives of real people. Writing them down is a way to strengthen our sense of belonging, as well as to entertain our children, because it keeps our memories from crumbling away into oblivion.

Writing the wrongs

Cover for Title; John Marco Allegro, the Maverick of the Dead Sea Scrolls by Judith Anne BrownNot all stories are so cosy, nor childhood so safe. As a writer you hear experiences of abuse, persecution, fear or neglect which you would have thought came from Victorian orphanages rather than 20th-century suburbia. Letting out people’s festering memories helps drain the poison. ‘Now I have set out what happened in black and white,’ they admit, ‘I can begin to accept it and then sort it out. If not righting the wrongs, at least understanding them.’

The problems may have more to do with career or circumstance than personal injustice. When I wrote the biography John Marco Allegro, the Maverick of the Dead Sea Scrolls, I wanted to put the record straight on the wrongs done to this scholar’s academic reputation. In the 1950s he had helped to decipher the newly discovered scrolls but raised questions that brought him up against the might of the religious and academic establishment. He was also my father, and going through his lifetime collection of letters, books and other writings helped me understand a brilliant but often difficult linguist and family man.

Different purposes, same result

So there are many reasons for writing memoirs, and everyone has their own hopes and purposes in doing it. You may want to sum up your career and see what a lot you have achieved over the years. You may want to keep a record of family history, which can be passed from generation to generation to show your children and grandchildren where they came from. It can be a way to meet your forebears and keep their memory alive. It can be a way to lay your troubles to rest. Good stories, bad stories, human stories – they’re all part of who you are.

Judy Brown
One of our Story Terrace Writers, you can learn more about Judy in her writer profile.