How to Capture Your Parents’ Life Stories

How much do you really know about your parents’ lives? So many stories took place before you were born, or were old enough to understand. Your parents know your whole history – but chances are you only know a fraction of theirs.

As our parents get older, these stories start to become more important to us. A lot of us turn our minds to making a record – we don’t want these irreplaceable memories to be lost. A Story Terrace biography is a great way to ensure your parents stories will last the generations.
However you want to record your parents’ life stories, the first step is to start talking. So today, we’re sharing four top tips.

Picture this…

A lot of our customers find that old photo albums are a great place to start with their parents. Take a day to bring out the old family albums with mom or dad. You will find that it jogs the memory, brings up stories you never even knew about, and it’s also a fantastic way to begin assembling material for a memoir or biography.

Parents memories
It’s also an opportunity to digitize old pictures, which we strongly recommend. Nowadays, we are overwhelmed with photos. But older photos, from our parents’ childhood days, are often few and far between. It’s very likely you have no ‘back up’ of these pictures – old film and prints are liable to get damaged and lost forever! For this very reason, these older photos are infinitely more precious.
Luckily, with advances in technology, it has become easier to preserve old photos. Pictures can be scanned and stored safely online so that precious memories are not lost. As an added bonus, they are then easy to reproduce in a memoir or photo book. You can do it yourself by downloading an app, using a nearby print shop, or purchasing your own scanner.
Read our quick tips on how to digitize old photos for more information!

Be your own family’s archaeologist

If you’re really serious, it’s time to have a look around the attic. Think of the film Titanic. A search for a precious necklace, missing in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean lead to the discovery of something priceless: a timeless love story. It’s not just Hollywood fiction – objects can tell stories!
There’s a reason historians spend time digging up old Roman pots – it says a lot about how people lived their lives. Material culture can be just as important for you as your family’s historian. Your mom or dad’s memory won’t be infallible – mementos from the past can be important in bringing those truly old tales back to the present.
‘Why do you always wear that necklace mom?’
‘Well, I was 13 and I was walking to school one day….’
By examining your parents’ old possessions, you may not only be able to jog their memory, but to make the story come alive for yourself!

Take note!

Now you’ve got your parents talking, you’ll want to keep a pen and paper handy.
The stories that parents and grandparents share can be important insights into the past. Stories dating to a time before you were born: ‘I had to be evacuated during WW2, I can still remember the sounds of the air raid sirens’. Realities that seem so contrary from modern life: ‘I got my first job at 11 and have worked ever since’.
Make sure to jot down these little bits of information. And don’t forget to ask questions! It is through these that life stories can truly come together.

Get professional help from Story Terrace!

We would all love to personally record our parents’ life stories. But it often isn’t that easy. It can be difficult to find the time to finish a project. It’s also hard to be an expert interviewer and writer on the first attempt. And then you will want to transform all of that work into a format you can share with your family – which involves editing the text, and designing and printing everything yourself.
Story Terrace is here to help you capture your parents’ life stories. Our professional ghostwriters have extensive experience interviewing our customers’ parents and structuring their memoirs and biographies. We have in-house editors who manage the process end-to-end, and we know how to beautifully present precious memories in a way that will last. If you’d like to inquire about our services, feel free to contact us.

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,


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,

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,

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.

Learn More:

Interested in this topic?


Find out more by subscribing to the Story Terrace newsletter – including hints & tips on recording your own memories, special offers and more.

Contact Story Terrace

How to Collect and Record Memories

Turning the meaningless into the meaningful

We record memories and keep mementos, often unconsciously, on a daily basis. We know the stories behind the photos and trinkets we keep, but to a stranger, our collection is meaningless. 

For example, you may pick up a photo of yourself with friends, sitting around a table. You look fondly at the picture, chuckling 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 will your great-granddaughter laugh at what you’re all wearing, she now has context behind the image. This is not to say, however, that every trinket you keep needs its own accompanying novel. Having a record of who people are and your relationship with them, though, can turn something meaningless into something meaningful.

Why record memories?

There are lots of reasons why people want to record memories. Share them with friends and family or pass them through generations. 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 mementos and artifacts.

Not only is collating all your photos and mementos 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 mementos 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. They literally capture the image of the person or event. A photograph may serve as the most direct method of showing what someone or something looked like. However, this doesn’t mean the picture alone conveys the whole story, or how you experienced it. Much like any other memento, the significance of a photograph is subjective, 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 photography, as well as ideas on how to display photographs:

“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 more ideas and advice on how to preserve old photographs visit Rachel’s site:

Diaries and Letters

diaries for collecting and recording memories

Diaries and letters serve as powerfully 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 personal way of recording your thoughts and feelings whilst they’re still fresh, as it is often 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 than 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. Therefore, keeping a record of important news stories is a great way to remind us what we were doing at the time of the event or at the point of reading the story.

Additionally, keep meaningful magazine clippings and display them in a frame or in a book. This is a really meaningful 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 for collecting and recording memories

The beauty of collecting mementos is that they can be anything. Keeping a box of objects you’ve collected over the years serves as a treasure trove for your grandchildren. It will probably bring about some nostalgia within your future self, too.

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 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. Others may appropriate an old shoe box and collage it with stamps they’ve collected. Whatever it may look like, everyone should have a box that inspires memories.

There is no specific time to start to record memories. However, the sooner you start, the more memories you’ll preserve and the more you’ll have to share with future generations. 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.


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:


  • 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?


  • 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?


  • 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 going about our day-to-day lives we are unwittingly writing our own stories. We create and develop plot lines, settings, and characters, which together make up the stories of our lives. So why is 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 mindset 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.


In this age of selfies and hashtags, we are constantly telling millions of people our stories, every day. Social media has advanced the ways and means to tell stories. Sharing 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!’ tells a story. 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, characters, and settings. When you begin to break things down to the most basic level, your stories start to make a little more sense. Consequently, writing your life story becomes 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 key plot points.


This is often the most difficult part as it is common to be afflicted by ‘blank page syndrome’. As a result, we procrastinate. Luckily for us, however, professional biographer, Andrew Crofts, has provided some insight into how best to approach making sense of our memories:

“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.”

Remember, writing your life story is not the same as writing a memoir. So, if you feel yourself getting hung up on one specific tale, it may lend itself more as a separate 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 to the articles listed near the top of the page. 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, 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

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.


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:


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:

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

Steal Like An Artist – Memoir Inspiration

Last year I was attending a short story course, and on the reading list was a little book by Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist. I’m a sucker for getting most of the books on any reading list I’m given, and this proved no different. It’s useful and inspirational, but it’s central tennant is that really, there’s nothing new, we are all inspired and motivated by work that has gone before.

Picasso said, ‘art is theft’ and David Bowie echoed, ‘The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from.’ Call it standing on the shoulders of giants if you will.

This applies to the writer of memoir and biography. When writing a biography, it helps to read biographies. Autobiographies by people you admire, writers and the like, books by people of the same age and background as your client, books that structure your style and make an engaging and lasting read.

An open book with an inspirational message on its pages

If you get the chance, go and see these writers in the flesh, listen to their methods and be inspired and motivated again, which is what I did at The Cambridge Literary Festival last year. Clive James is a clever storyteller, memoirist, broadcaster and writer. We could all learn a thing or two from him.

A portrait of author Clive JamesI was about twelve when I filched my dad’s copy of Clive James’s Unreliable Memoirs and took it back to my bedroom to read. It told of another life beyond my small town, a life of adventure and travel, told in the voice of a consummate storyteller. I didn’t think I would ever get to see Clive James in the flesh, but in the hallowed surroundings of the Cambridge Union Chamber I wait with anticipation and many others. We’re lucky, Clive may not be making many more public appearances. Clive is dying, shuffling off his mortal coil, battling Leukaemia and emphysema with the assistance of the Addenbrookes staff and a raft of meds. There is a hush in the chamber, Clive shuffles in. A smaller man than I imagined or remembered from the television appearances, bent by time and illness, but with an impish grin that widens as the crowd breaks into spontaneous rapturous applause. He welcomes the applause like an opera singer on their seventh encore, it feeds him, feeds an unashamed ego. Yet there’s no pomposity, he accepts the praise with kindness and humility, and a knowing smile. He’s enjoying this last kick at life.

Mr. James has a voice made to recite poetry and a perfect voice for broadcasting, deep and sonorous and full of wit. He recounts how at school they were made to recite a poem by heart, standing by their desks at the end of the day, until the teacher released them home. Some of his classmates are still there. He treasures the value of learning poems for recital, although his impromptu performances to female undergraduates in his youth met with disinterest. To the consternation of his family, his home has grown into a library and he brings books home as waifs and strays, nurturing them to health, many from his favourite place in Cambridge, the book stall in the market square. Words are his life, without them, he says, he was a faithless creature, a liar, a lost soul who may well have ended up in jail in his native Australia. If he wasn’t a writer, he says, he doesn’t know where he would have been, except maybe in jail.

Reciting poems interspersed with anecdotes, he reaches Auden. It’s so important that he says if he gets it wrong he might as well drop dead on the stage then and there. He launches forth, the words flow, then there is a pause, a long pause. The audience holds it’s breath, willing him to breathe, listening to the effort of his breath from emphysema crushed lungs, hoping that he will not fall, he will not stumble. Looking at the scuffed floor, the worn leather of many benches gripped by urgent hands. He moved on, leaving a gap. The lines returned near the end of the evening, coming to him in a burst which he shouted with a flourish, with a new energy. In true poet style, raging against the dying of the light, to rapturous applause.

Jools Abrams-Humphries

One of our Story Terrace Writers, you can read more about Jools on her writer profile.

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


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.


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.


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” 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.


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,

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:


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


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.

Nepal Earthquake One Year On: The Earth Moved

Last April, Row and Tom Smith were celebrating a successful climb to Tsergo Ri peak in Langtang, Nepal when they were caught in the aftermath of an avalanche – at least, that’s what they originally thought. Later on, they, along with the rest of the world, realised that they were almost at the origin point of the 8.9 Richter Scale quake that devastated the mountainous country which is now known as the “Nepal Earthquake”.

Exposed to the disastrous power of nature, their hiking group was escorted back down the mountains to the valleys where they saw the true extent of the damage. Buildings had collapsed. People and livestock alike were trapped in debris, some badly injured and others lying in the streets beyond help.
Man by collapsed building in Nepal after earthquake

After three days spent battling for survival, Row and Tom were evacuated and returned to their home country (along with many tourists visiting Nepal at the time). Feeling the effects of survivor’s guilt and undergoing treatment for PTSD, Row threw herself into fundraising activities, giving as much back as she could to those who had helped her return home safe despite their own uncertain fates. This February she approached Story Terrace with the plan to write a book of her experiences with the help of our ghostwriter Emma Donnan, and so ‘The Earth Moved’ became our first public StoryStarter project. After funding the production cost of the novel, The Earth Moved will be available for sale, with all proceeds going towards charities Community Action Nepal and Doctors for Nepal.

Last Monday marked the first anniversary of the Nepal Earthquake, news sources were covering the recovery efforts of the country and interviewing survivors. Row was featured on several news sources such as LBC Radio, BBC Radio Live, The Middlesex Times & The Telegraph where she was interviewed about her experience and her novel. The most notable interview of the week was an appearance on ITV’s weekday morning news and talk-show Lorraine, with Lorraine Kelly, who featured a segment on the recovery of the country on the anniversary of the Nepal Earthquake.

The cover of The Earth Moved featured with the Lorraine TV graphic

Here are a few words from Row about the past week:

Row & Tom Smith wearing "I survived" T-shirts after marathonAs you can imagine, I’ve had an emotional and exhausting week. I’ve recorded several radio interviews and have spoken to the Press Association who have agreed to feature my story on most of their online networks.

My biggest achievement this week was going on The Lorraine Show. It was the day of the first anniversary of the Nepal earthquake, so it was incredibly difficult emotionally as well as nerves setting in. Lorraine soon put me at ease when she told me in between the adverts how she used to be a reporter and was often first on the scene of tragic events. She said she knows so well how PTSD can have a huge impact on everyday life. I found this upsetting that she has been exposed to such trauma herself and also comforted to know she has some understanding of our experience. I am so grateful to everyone who is helping my campaign to raise awareness for Nepal.

Please help me to reach this target so I can start raising some money for Nepal. Thank you!

Click below to watch the video for Row’s StoryStarter campaign!

You can support and donate to ‘The Earth Moved’ at


Fayola Nivet, Story Terrace

How to write a good biography

Picture by starmanseries

The best biographies are written for novel reasons. A biography aims to inform, captivate, enrage, inspire, or all of the above. They offer us an extensive insight into the life of a remarkable person. They are the lifeblood of any section marked ‘Non-Fiction’.

The worst biographies are written for no reason at all. Or no real reason, anyway. They fail to capture the imagination and, as such, are often abandoned mid-way through, left unread on the dusty shelf of an obscure bookshop or marked as spam in a potential publisher’s inbox. And trust us, it happens all the time.

But it doesn’t have to be that way… No, Sir. That is why we are proud to present the Story Terrace guide to crafting a hit biography for dummies.

The Start of Your Biography: The Idea

One of the first recorded biographies to grace the page was Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. Written in the 1st Century by the Charles Dickens of Ancient Greece, the book was a compilation of the life and times of famous men (Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great and Coriolanus, to name but a few) ‒ and is, what you might call, a bestseller of the time.

Plutarch’s idea was to not simply write the history of these people, but to reflect on their character and how it was critical to their success.

It might not sound like a lot, but Plutarch was a life-writing revolutionary. He made the distinction between biography and plain old history, realising that the thing that makes a story interesting is not the facts or events, but the feelings and motivations of the people involved. Why would someone buy Katie Price’s bestselling autobiography Being Jordan when the information is available for free on Wikipedia? The answer is because it offers the reader a glimpse of the action, it narrows the gap between reader and subject, allowing us to understand them on a more personal level.

Don't be a puppet, biography writing is about freedom.

picture by Jose Maria Cuellar

So how does this relate to your spine-tingling biography idea? Well, whilst you might have an idea of who you want to write about, it is also important to take the advice of Tom from Your Life, Your Story and think about why you want to write about them. Think in terms of: what makes your subject interesting? What is it about your subject that a reader would want to know (that they don’t already)? How can you make the story come alive?

The Research

Depending on whether your subject is living, living and unwilling to help, recently deceased or long deceased, your research may take a different path…

If they’re alive then your best shot, and primary research tool, would be to interview the subject, their family, friends and anyone else who may have a unique perspective on the person.
There are three basic ways of conducting an interview:

  • The hard journalistic method: Using heavily prepared, specific questions on a specific subject to reveal specific answers.
  • The soft journalistic method: Using prepared but open questions, allowing the interviewee to move in the direction that they want.
  • The conversational method: an open back-and-forth, letting the interviewee lead the discussion in the hope of revealing something a little special or unexpected.

Each method has its positives and negatives, so it’s up to you to decide the best way of eliciting information from your interviewee. For example, if your collecting background information or trying to understand your subject as a person, then a soft journalistic or conversational method would probably work best. Whereas if you’re attempting to extrapolate succinct quotes or precise information, the hard journalistic method is the way to do it.

If you’re unable to rely on interviews, then it comes down to good old fashioned research ‒ roll up your sleeves and prepare for a long ride. You’re going to need to amass a wealth of primary and secondary sources if you want your biography to have any legitimacy, so hit the books, scan the internet and talk to experts for information.

Do periphery research, too. If your subject lived long ago, then study what life was like back then. What was happening socially, economically and politically? What were the attitudes and opinions of the people around your subject? How might this have informed their life?

Though you should start with a fully-formed idea, remember to keep an open mind. You never know what you might find during your research, what you might learn that will shatter your preconceptions of the subject.

Most of all, keep in mind the words of Albert Szent-Györgyi: “Research is to see what everyone else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought.”

Make sure to prioritise research when writing your biography.

picture by Leo Hidalgo

The Writing Process

So you’ve got a solid idea in the bank, you’ve done months upon months of research and now you’re ready to write. This is where it counts folks, so listen up…

What you’re essentially trying to do is condense an entire life into the form of a book; an interesting book. A book that someone might even want to read in their spare time. And let’s get one thing clear: life and life-writing are not the same thing. Life has no form, no structure and is completely unlike a book. Think about it: there’s barely any plot, no overarching themes and mostly bad dialogue. Twists and events are either predictable or random; and the ending’s always the same. In the words of Elbert Hubbard: “Life is just one damn thing after the other.” So how do you then leave your mark on your story? How do you create a beautiful narrative of your life story to share with others?

The job of the biographer, therefore, is to shape and condense a person’s life into a structured story.

This means focusing on the relevant parts of the subject’s life, choosing the bits that developed them as a person and arranging it all into narrative form. This means privileging suspense, humour, pathos and all the other things that spin a great yarn… We never said it was going to be easy.

A typewriter and plant sits on a table, ready for biography writing.

picture by Chris

The good news about this is the freedom. Fancy starting in the middle? Go for it. Have a unique theory about your subject? Stick it in. So long as all the action and events are verifiably true, anything else is generally fair game.

Writing a book is said to follow 3 stages:

  • Drafting: Creating and shaping the original body of text.
  • Revising: Reviewing and altering the text to craft a more cohesive work.
  • Editing: Correcting, organising and condensing the text into the best it can be.

In reality, however, these stages tend to overlap and intermingle depending on the writer. Even so, it’s good to remember that the first draft is NEVER perfect and is often completely different to the finished product. Meaning: don’t get bummed out if things don’t seem to click at first. It may take several drafts and revisions to craft the biography of your dreams, but keep trudging onwards until you’re happy. Then, when you’re happy with the content, get down to the editing.

Ready to start work on your hit biography yet? Are you sure? We wish you luck, writer ‒ heed our advice because there’s a long road ahead…

Caolan Blaney, Story Terrace

Infographic by Story Terrace on how to write a good biography. Step-by-step guide showing writers the process involved in writing a biography from the initial idea to the method.

Thank You Mama Gatha | Testimonial


Emily and Judy had lots of time and patience in collating, editing and putting my book together. Thank you again, it’s like a miracle come true.’ — Eleanor Brooks

A tribute to Mama Gatha

Eleanor Brooks came to Story Terrace having already penned her incredible life story. But with her manuscript in a Word document, she wasn’t sure how to capture it in a book for her family. Story Terrace matched her with Judy Brown who provided editorial expertise. Together Eleanor and Judy created a memoir of Eleanor’s life and a moving tribute to her grandmother, Mama Gatha.

Eleanor was born in Jamaica in 1955, and raised by Mama Gatha. She was a very wise lady and a sweet and kind human being. Like Eleanor’s father, she couldn’t read or write but was full of exceptional common sense, wit and intelligence. As a young girl, Eleanor adored her grandmother and accompanied her to church on Sundays and to work peeling ginger in the ginger house.

One day, when Eleanor was six years old, her grandmother sorrowfully dressed her in her best Sunday frock, and escorted her to the airport in Kingston. The plane took Eleanor all the way from Jamaica to join her parents in the UK. Jamaica was still part of the British Empire at that time, and Britain welcomed Caribbean immigrants, as there was plenty of work for them to do. This was an era of teddy boys, winkle pickers, crew cuts and two-tone suits. Long-haired, leather-jacketed greasers roared around on Harley Davidsons, pitting themselves against skinheads wearing Doc Martens. It was a new world for Eleanor, and one that wasn’t always easy to navigate.

The six short years Eleanor spent with Mama Gatha were the happiest days of her life. When she stepped on board the aeroplane at Palisadoes Airport in Kingston in 1961, she was excited, but also sad to leave Mama Gatha. Waving goodbye from the plane, she searched for her face in the crowd but never spotted her. And she never would see her again, the kind sweet old lady with her white shoulder-length hair – the hair you only ever caught a glimpse of when she washed and plaited it, because Christian ladies were expected to cover their head with a band of bleached calico. Mama Gatha died in 1965 without knowing that she held the best memories of Eleanor’s life.

Below you’ll find some excerpts from Eleanor’s book Mama Gatha.

Contents pages from Eleanor Brooks' storybookExcerpt from Eleanor Brooks' storybook

Eleanor Brooks Photograph from Eleanor Brook's book










Eleanor Brooks' class picture

Interview with Entrepreneur Adam Goodall

Behind every successful company is the story of an entrepreneur who worked incessantly to bring the original business idea to fruition. Aspiring innovators and leaders look to these narratives for great inspiration. That is why we have chosen ‘entrepreneurship’ as our theme-of-the-month. For this blog post, we sat down with local entrepreneur Adam Goodall, who is working on his second company, to learn more about the process of building a successful company and working with startups.

ST: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background:

AG: I’m a Digital Product Manager, but I started my career very differently. I graduated from Durham University with a BSc in Maths and became an accountant. After qualifying I left to start my own business. I’ve been based in London for 8 years, but I’m originally from Guernsey, one of the British Channel Islands off the southern coast of England.  

ST: What sparked the idea for your first company?

AG: I joined PwC in 2008 as an auditor and while there, I came across one part of the auditing process that was particularly painful. Auditors spend a lot of time verifying client account balances, which involves writing letters back and forth to banks to confirm information. They often have to call the banks to chase missing responses. As a junior accountant, you spend a lot of time in this letter and calling stage of the process, which is a bit archaic.

The process had already moved online in the US, but the UK had been slow to follow suit.  Around this same time, I met my business partner, Samuel O’Connor at PwC and found we shared the same frustration with this stage of the auditing process. We often wondered when this technology would come to Britain. Then, after working at PwC for three years, we decided, why don’t we do this instead of talking about when someone else will?  I knew I wanted to get out of the big corporate world and get involved with startups and smaller businesses, so starting ProConfirm was the right move for me.

ST: What made you sell your first business?

AG: When we finally developed our product as ProConfirm and began selling it to banks and audit firms, the developer of the US-based technology,, started to take notice. Then discussions began with them about joining forces. At this time, we were conscious that the businesses we worked with were increasingly global and wanted an international service. were already established in other markets outside of Europe. We decided to give the customers what was best – a global platform – by selling the business to and helping establish their European office in London. We also knew the power of being able to say that we sold a business when it comes to working on projects in the future. We didn’t look back.

ST: How would you characterise the experience of developing your own business from the ground up? Is there anything you would do differently if you did it again?

AG: If I had to do it again, I would join a startup community earlier on and immerse myself in that supportive environment. When working in a large business, you’re generally playing quite a narrow role, and our education system supports this. But as a founder, you’re wearing many hats and you’ve got to learn many different skillsets very quickly.  If you join a startup community and surround yourself with people already facing the same challenges, you’ll have incredible resources for advice and guidance.  Back in 2013 when ProConfirm first joined the startup FinTech community at Level39, it became a real tipping point for our business. And that’s why I recently became a mentor at the co-working space Launch22; I want to share my knowledge and experience with other new businesses.

ST: Did you always have an entrepreneurial spirit?

AG: I don’t think I fit the entrepreneurial stereotype. For me, it’s more about finding a good team to work with, where each individual’s skills complement the rest. It’s also about finding a good idea to work on that you’re passionate about. The number one reason why startups fail is because there was insufficient demand for the product in the first place; so you’ve got to be honest with yourself about this, but at the same time know when to have the conviction to keep going when you’re onto a good thing.

ST: What’s next?

AG: I’ve left to work on some new projects at FwdFactory, focusing on Product Management, while mentoring technology startups at Launch22.

Adam Goodall is Co-founder and Product Manager at FwdFactory.
Follow him on Twitter @adamjgo.


Writing your life story can be easier than you think

There are hundreds of great reasons to write your life story down – to build a safe place for your memories, create a keepsake for your family, or make sense of your own journey. But the thought of chronicling your whole life on paper is an intimidating one, and you don’t have to dig deep to find reasons to stop before you’ve started. However, we at Story Terrace believe that because every life is extraordinary, every life story deserves to be told. So we’ve compiled a short list of comebacks to those pesky excuses!

“I can’t remember everything that’s happened to me, especially in my childhood…”

Fear not; your life story shouldn’t be a catalogue of everything from your first pram ride to what you had for breakfast three minutes ago. You don’t have to start at the start; for example, you can begin your story from an important day, a mundane activity or the feel of the pen in your hand right now. Then go ahead and explore your life in any way you want, including only the moments that you feel are significant.

If you need a zap of inspiration, try looking through old photographs, diaries, calendars (suddenly being a hoarder pays off!) and even text messages and emails to see if anything sends an anecdote running wild in your mind. Has your life so far been a path of discovery, a great love story, a quest from rags to riches? If you can see a running theme, it may help you to structure your memories.

“I’m a terrible writer!”

So you’re not a natural wordsmith. Enlist the help of someone who is! Ghostwriters are easier than ever to hire and work with. Just share your story with them, and they’ll expertly write it up for you under your own name.

If you’re determined to put pen to paper yourself but are fretting that your writing doesn’t resemble anything Booker Prize-winning, don’t worry. It’s your life story, so it should sound like you. Your friends and family will treasure a written record of your familiar voice, unique imperfections and all.

“I just don’t have time…”

This is another great reason to enlist the help of a ghostwriter. After you’ve discussed your story at length, you can leave the writing to the expert while you go about your busy daily life. It’s like putting ingredients into a bread maker then going out for the day, only to come back to find a warm loaf waiting for you.

If you’d rather do the writing on your own, try setting yourself small goals. For example “I will write 300 words every week”. Even if it means your book is a long time in the making, any progress is good progress. Specific goals tend to invite more productivity than vague plans such as “I’ll do some if I have time”. And if you surpass your goals, what better excuse is there to celebrate? Sounds like motivation!

“I’ve never done anything interesting enough!”

“I’m not a celebrity or politician,” you protest. “Nobody would want to read about my life, right?” Wrong! Every life is exceptional, regardless of how famous you are. A chronicle of your own loves, losses, wins, failures, travels and discoveries is something that you, and the people who love you, can cherish for generations.

So, really, what are you waiting for?

Memoir vs Autobiography: What’s the Difference?

Memoir vs autobiography. Autobiography vs memoir. What’s the difference? The words autobiography and memoir exist as distinctly separate, albeit similar, words that describe the first-person, written depiction of the author’s life. For hundreds of years, as the popularity of sharing life stories has grown, the two forms have co-existed in playful harmony.

Chances are you’re confused about the similarity between these two terms – don’t worry, you’re not alone! It seems that people these days use the two words interchangeably – a common mistake! Well, fear not, gentle reader! Let’s set the record straight, once and for all. This is why the small-but-mighty memoir deserves its own place in everyone’s vocabulary!



It makes sense to start at the beginning, which, of course, is the basic structure of the memoir. Unlike its autobiographical counter-part, which could span an entire lifetime, the memoir is a narrower, more personal, approach to the story of its writer’s life. Consider the memoir as a series of snapshots from an entire photo album or a few scenes from a movie. The autobiography, in this case, would be the photo album or entire movie.


Being narrower does not necessarily mean less content. Memoirs focus more on certain aspects or events. This allows the writer more opportunity to reflect on emotional aspects of their life rather than just the straight facts. A memoir is a vehicle for written accounts of wars, businesses, tell-alls by celebrities and many more!


The autobiography often includes more intricate details such as family history. This might not necessarily have a direct effect on the major events of their life. But the choice is generally for a writer who wants a broader narrative account of their lives. Perhaps, a thorough understanding of their childhood is essential to understand their life story. In an autobiography, you can include as much minute detail as you see fit. This could include the date and birthplace of your great-great-grandparents or when your grandparents moved to a new town and bought their first house or even the history of your family name.


Memoir vs autobiography?

Well, it’s entirely up to you. If you want to discuss a specific event in your life like Row Smith did with her book, The Earth Moved, depicting her journey of survival after the 2015 Nepal earthquake, then perhaps a memoir is a better option for you.

You may prefer to tell your whole story, or even more, like Brian Tolson did with his book, The Merrybent Kid, then the all-encompassing nature of the autobiography might be a better option. If you are interested in writing it yourself, you can also find out how to write a good biography.

So, memoir vs autobiography: the important thing to remember is that they are not the same thing!


5 Incredible Memoirs & Biographies to Read Now

Looking for a new life story to read this spring? We’ve got you covered with this list of recently published memoirs and biographies that share amazing stories of resilience and determination.  


The Girl Who Hid from the Taliban in Plain Sight Book CoverA Different Kind of Daughter: The Girl Who Hid from the Taliban in Plain Sight by Maria Toorpakai

This memoir tells the story of Maria Toorpakai, a brave young woman from northwest Pakistan who refused to let society and the Taliban dictate whether she could or could not play the sport she loved — squash.  As a youth, she played the game by disguising herself as a boy, but later rose to recognition as Pakistan’s top female squash player. Then, while trying to escape the threat of the Taliban due to her growing reputation, she was offered the chance to play professionally by a Canadian squash legend.


Saving Anne the Elephant Book Cover

Saving Anne the Elephant: The Rescue of the Last British Circus Elephant  by Claire Ellicott

Claire Ellicot shares the tragic story of Anne the Elephant, the last circus elephant in Britain. After the Daily Mail released pictures of the elephant keepers beating Anne in 2011, animal activists, charities and the public rallied together to fight for Anne’s freedom. Despite issues posed by her health, Anne finally retired to Longleat Safari Park after 55 years of performing in the circus.


Asylum Book Cover

Asylum: A survivor’s Flight from Nazi-Occupied Vienna Through Wartime France by Moriz Scheyer; P N Singer TR

This memoir recounts the life of writer Moriz Scheyer, who began writing about his life experiences in 1943 during WWII. The book follows the author’s movement through Austria and France before and through the war, which included time in a French concentration camp until he was rescued. The manuscript was originally thought to have been destroyed, but a copy was found by Scheyer’s grandson, P.N. Singer.  


My Paris Dream Book Cover

My Paris Dream: An Education in Style, Slang, and Seduction in the Great City on the Seine by Kate Betts

This coming-of-age memoir follows Kate Betts’ journey in navigating Paris as a foreigner in the 1980s. She arrives in France having graduated from university and gunning for a career as a foreign correspondent. But her job trajectory takes a turn and leads her into haute couture. While writing for the fashion industry elite, and trying to adopt Parisian culture, she searches for a place to belong to, for a tribe that feels like home.  


Into the Light Book Cover

Into the Light: A Sudanese Woman’s Journey through Education to Empowerment by Teresa Samuel

Teresa Samuel shares the story behind her life’s work empowering dispossessed women and children in her homeland of Sudan.  After having grown up witnessing the mayhem brought by the Sudanese civil war and the displacement of countless people, Teresa decided to act.  With her studies in rural education and nutrition, she founded WOTAP, a women’s training and promotion programme. 

4 Unique Luxury Gift Ideas for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is this Sunday and if you’re like us, then you’re probably still searching for the best type of gift to give. We all want to find that special-something, a unique gift our mum will treasure as much as we appreciate her.  In the spirit of sharing ideas and stories, we’ve partnered with English luxury lifestyle brand Thomas Lyte (who provided the gifting images) to bring you 4 special gift ideas.

The Thomas Lyte company has a distinct link to genealogy and history (two of our favourite things!) through its name, which echoes back to 1610 and the story of the Lyte Jewel. King James I rewarded Thomas Lyte, a courtier and genealogist, with a special jewel for his work tracing the royal’s lineage and proving his royal ancestry. The Lyte Jewel, as it became known, was expertly crafted by miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard. Company CEO Kevin Baker brought this moment forward from history and founded the Thomas Lyte brand on the principle of artfully combining traditional craftsmanship with modern designs.

Now, here are 4 unique gifting ideas that we think could be great ways to express how much you appreciate and love your mother:


Vanity Case with Jewelry

For the mum who loves jewelry…

Rather than buying her another necklace or bracelet, why not present your mother with a beautifully designed vanity case? It’s a gift she can use every day to keep her jewelry organised and tangle-free. And when she goes off on vacation, she won’t have to worry about choosing which pieces to take, because it’s easy to take along the whole case. 



For the mum who loves stationery…

All beloved stationery sets must be
complemented Black Sterling Silver Fountain Penwith an elegant writing instrument. How about a classic, sterling silver fountain pen? Not only do these distinguished pens look great out on display, but they’re even better when put to use. And your mother will think of you each time she
sits down to write!

Leather Poker Game Case


For the mum who likes a good game…

No matter what your mother’s favourite game is, poker, backgammon or chess, a leather cased game set is sure to please. It’s perfect for breaking out at parties or slipping into luggage when whisking away on holiday.




Open Twisted SpitFire Cocktail Shaker


For the mum who likes her drinks mixed well…

A stylish cocktail shaker is a great addition to any kitchen or bar. Your mum can shake up her favourite drinks and perfect her mixology skills. Then she can be ready to show off both her new shaker and skills at cocktail parties.







Q & A with Story Terrace Ghostwriter Clare Pugh

Ghostwriting life stories involves much more than simply editing another person’s words. It’s an entire process focussed around the storyteller, their stories and their voice. Clare Pugh, one of our skilled contemporary writers, fully understands how to bring these elements together to create engaging memoirs and biographies. In this special Q & A, we ask Clare about her experience working on Story Terrace books, providing insight into her perspective as a ghostwriter.


Your first few books for Story Terrace had been purchased as gifts by relatives. Were the recipients a little nervous at the start about having their lives recorded in such detail?

Everyone that I’ve worked with has just been excited about having their memoirs ghostwritten, but I imagine that their first reaction would have been complete surprise. After all, to receive a gift like this is still very unusual. If there had been any element of nervousness, though, it disappeared once we had talked through the process together.

With the majority of people having access to computers now, some argue that people could just write their own memoirs. What do you think about this?

Of course there are many, many people who have excellent, proven writing skills, but what most people don’t have is sufficient time in which to write their own memoirs. So by having your memoirs ghostwritten for you by Story Terrace, you are, in some way, being given the gift of time. Time to spend thinking about all the things that have made your life exactly that – your life. What a luxury – I wish someone would write my memoir for me!

Apart from this gift being an opportunity for the recipient to spend time enjoying their memories, in what other ways do you think such a present would be so valuable?

To me the most wonderful thing about someone having the story of their life celebrated in such a way is its permanence. There it is – your time on earth – in your very own book.  I’m as guilty as the next person of over-dependence on electronic communication these days: so many enjoyable exchanges that are then almost instantly forgotten – who ever reads through old emails?

You sound like a fan of paper and ink?

Absolutely! I am a true book-lover, and have very few possessions other than books. Admittedly I have a lot of them, but they’re not just for show; I have read the majority. I’m not in any way precious about them either: I’m happy to spill coffee on them, fold down corners . . . I just like having them around me.

How does being a writer of fiction help when ghostwriting?

Being a ghostwriter is so much more than taking a list of dates and significant events from someone’s life and turning them into prose. A good ghostwriter will, after interviewing the client at length, be able to understand their distinctive character and voice, and weave it into the narrative. The memoir is then very clearly the client’s own story. So creativity and imagination – essential qualities in a fiction writer – can be used in ghostwriting to produce enjoyable, and true, memoirs.

When did you first become interested in writing others’ memoirs?

About ten years ago, when I began as a volunteer life-stories’ assistant at my local hospice. Here I helped patients who wished to leave a record of their lives. This was primarily through the written word although some patients chose to compile memory boxes, photo albums, etc. The three years that I spent there were incredibly rewarding. Working in this way with people with life-limiting illnesses made me appreciate even more the importance of being able to leave behind a record of your life. These life-stories not only gave the patients a feeling of closure, but their families also greatly appreciated being given this precious reminder of their loved one’s life.

Have you ghostwritten memoirs for any of your family or friends?

No, and as far as my parents are concerned, it’s a real regret. My father, who died ten years ago, was a wonderful man and had had an interesting life. Despite being told by his school that he should try for Oxbridge, he signed up instead to fight at the start of WWII, and soon found himself, aged nineteen, alone in charge of a Sudan Defence Force unit. After the war ended he was unable to settle down for many years, visiting and working in many different countries. Apart from an incomplete list of dates, I have no record of his many adventures. I still have lots of letters from my parents (my mother died in 2010), and photographs, but how I would love to have their life stories too. But, of course, it’s too late. So to all of you who are looking for a way to show your loved ones how much you value them, I urge you to give them the gift of a Story Terrace memoir. It will, without a doubt, be the best present you’ll ever give.