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Writing Your Life Story? Our 7 Must Reads!

So you’re writing your life story. So far so good – but writer’s block can get in the way of reaching your potential. So in this article we’re focusing on the creative solution to writers block: Inspiration. We’ve rounded up 7 of the most inspirational blogs to help write your memoir, autobiography or life story. Check them out!

1. Positive Writer

Writing Your Life Story with Positive Writer

Positive Writer is a blog for writers and all creative people, providing tips on overcoming fear and doubt, created by writer Bryan Hutchinson. If you find yourself stuck in doubt or uncertain of your abilities, this is the blog to read to truly get inspired.

Small hint: this article will certainly help you to get started with writing your life story.

2. Marion Roach Smith

Writing Your Life Story with Marion Roach Smith

Marion Smith believes that everyone has a story to tell and created this website providing many useful tips to write your own. The website offers everything you could possibly need to write your life story, such as online classes, blog posts, books and much more!

3. Scan Your Entire Life

Writing Your Life Story with Scan Your Entire Life

Writing isn’t the only stumbling block when it comes to creating your autobiography – you may get stuck trying to digitise your photos. Founded by Curtis Bisel, this website will provide you with useful tips and articles: from organising your memories to restoring and scanning your photos.

4. Memory Writers Network

Writing Your Life Story with Memoir Revolution

Jerry Waxler founded the MWA with the idea that the act of writing about your life can be considered a tool of change that may develop a more interesting future.

On the website you will find many useful blog posts that will inspire you to write your life story, autobiography or memoir.

5. Shirley Hershey Showalter

Writing Your Life Story with Memoir Magic

This blog started when Shirley Showalter wrote her first memoir about her childhood ‘Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World’. You can sign up for the weekly Magical Memoir Moments which include photos, writing prompts and the ‘Write a Memoir’ eBook for free!

6. Memories and Memoirs

Writing Your Life Story with Memoirs & Memories

Meet Linda Joy Myers, president and founder of the National Association of Memoir Writers and Memories and Memoirs. This blog will help you find all kinds of information about writing your life story as well as upcoming events and coaching classes such as ‘Write your Memoir in Six Months’!

7. Memoir Writer’s Journey

Writing Your Life Story with Memoir Writer's Journey

Founder of this website, Kathy Pooler, believes that we can all benefit from the stories that we share with each other which is why she is currently working on her second memoir. On the website you will find many inspiring blog posts that encourage you to join the conversation, writing tips, workshops and events.

Feeling inspired yet? Make sure to read through these helpful blogs and start writing! You can also check out our article: “7 Amazing Apps that Will Help You to Write Your Autobiography”.

By Büsra Nur Yürür

Writing therapy: How writing your life story can benefit your health

Did you know that writing about yourself can benefit your physical and mental health?

It may sound strange – but multiple scientific studies have shown that the simple act of putting pen to paper reduces the risk of depression and other illnesses.

In the last two decades, research has demonstrated that writing about painful memories and traumas can be an effective form of therapy. More recently, scientists have found that writing about yourself in a positive sense is also linked to better health.

Either way, the claim is the same: writing about yourself is good for you! Let’s review the evidence.

How writing about trauma helps

According to Psychology Today, painful memories can have long-lasting effects on our mental health.

One reason for this is that such memories are fragmented. The events they record may lack explanation or seem senseless – for example, the sudden death of a loved one. Since the brain is not able to work through the fragments of memory, the same thoughts constantly resurface, making it even more difficult to gain a sense of closure.

It turns out that writing about your memories could be the answer.

Dr. James W. Pennebaker, a social psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, is considered to be the pioneer of writing therapy.

Dr. James Pennebaker

In 1997, a study Pennebaker and his colleagues showed that writing about psychological trauma is an effective form of therapy. Participants were asked to spend three consecutive days writing about a traumatic event. They were compared to another group that wrote about unemotional topics, like management. Over time, the individuals who participated in this study reported fewer illnesses and suffered fewer symptoms of depression in the future.

Pennebaker’s basic paradigm for expressive writing experiments remains widely used today:

Pennebaker’s Typical writing instructions:

For the next 4 days, I would like you to write your very deepest thoughts and feelings about the most traumatic experience of your entire life or an extremely important emotional issue that has affected you and your life.
In your writing, I’d like you to really let go and explore your deepest emotions and thoughts. You might tie your topic to your relationships with others, including parents, lovers, friends or relatives; to your past, your present or your future; or to who you have been, who you would like to be or who you are now.
You may write about the same general issues or experiences on all days of writing or about different topics each day. All of your writing will be completely confidential.
Don’t worry about spelling, grammar or sentence structure. The only rule is that once you begin writing, you continue until the time is up.

The objective is not to write a story for someone else to read, but to create a coherent story for yourself, that can be linked to those memories. The act of constructing a story about a traumatic event helps to break free of endless mental cycling. It is safe to say that writing about traumas works as psychological closure. Pennebaker concludes:

“When people are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals, they often experience improved health. They go to the doctor less. They have changes in immune function. If they are first-year college students, their grades tend to go up.”

According to Susan Lutgendorf, PhD, of the University of Iowa, it’s even more beneficial if you can focus on the meaning behind a memory. She found that individuals who derived meaning from their writing reported better health than those who wrote about their experiences without focusing on meaning:

“You need focused thought as well as emotions. An individual needs to find meaning in a traumatic memory as well as to feel the related emotions to reap positive benefits from the writing exercise.”

Susan Lutgendorf, PhD

Writing about Personal Goals

If this all seems a bit too gloomy, don’t worry. If you would rather focus on the positive, it turns out that writing about yourself can still improve your health.

In 2001, the researcher Laura King took Pennebaker’s writing paradigm a step further. She began to assess the benefits of writing about positive life experiences and goals. In her study (The Health Benefits of Writing about Life Goals), 81 undergraduate students were randomly assigned to four different groups: one group that wrote about traumatic experiences, another group that wrote about their best possible future self, a third group which was asked to write about both and the last group which wrote about a non-emotional topic. Each group was asked to write for 20 minutes a day for four consecutive days.

The results of this study were equally interesting as the ones presented before. Three weeks after the assignment, it was noted that writing about a best possible future self was less upsetting than writing about traumatic events. When students were studied five months after writing, those students who wrote about a traumatic life event, those students who wrote about a best possible self, and those students who wrote about both—all of them experienced a decrease in illness. Only the students who wrote about a non-emotional topic showed no change.

King draws the following conclusion:

“The act of writing down our deepest thoughts and feelings is key to the benefits of writing. However, and importantly, the contents of our deepest thoughts and feelings need not be traumatic or negative. Quite the contrary, examining the most hopeful aspects of our lives through writing—our best imagined futures, our ‘most cherished self-wishes’—might also bestow on us the benefits of writing that have been long assumed to be tied only to our traumatic histories.”

It turns out that writing about yourself can help to deal with trauma, but it also makes us happier and healthier if we focus on the positive. The best approach is down to you – think about your personal history, and what you’re most comfortable with.

By Büsra Nur Yürür

References:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/ulterior-motives/200910/trauma-and-the-benefits-writing-about-it: 21.06.2017 11:20

Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychological Science, 8, 162-166.

Ullrich, P.A. & Lutgendorf, S.L. Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression. (2002). Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 24, 244-250.

King, L. A. (2001). The health benefits of writing about life goals. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 27(7), 798–807.

7 Amazing Apps & Sites that will help you to Write Your Autobiography

Old Manual Typewriter

Writing your life story can be difficult. Even if you think it through carefully, everything ends up looking different on paper. To give you a hand, we have gathered a list of useful websites and apps that will definitely help you write your own autobiography! Here are 7 of our favourites:

1. Organise your ideas with Evernote

Evernote helps you gather your thoughts and have them available on all your devices. With this app you can easily create multiple notes, project to-do lists, archive what has been written and share your ideas with others.

 

2. Focus on your writing with Writer

 

Compared to other word processors, Writer, offers a more ‘basic’ writing experience.

From taking notes to writing longer texts on your phone or tablet, Writer emphasises its motto of keeping it simple by leaving out unnecessary features that may disturb the writing process.

 

 

3. Find fellow autobiographers with Meetup

In case its name didn’t give it away, Meetup is an online social networking program used for organising and coordinating different meetups in various localities with people that have common interests. So if you want to exchange your thoughts on writing your autobiography or get inspired by other people’s experiences, Meetup is a great platform to meet fellow writers near you!

 

4. Find interesting courses on Udemy

After finally having your thoughts gathered and being inspired, it is still a common problem to get into the creative flow of writing your memoirs. After all, writer’s block is not just a thing among professionals. Udemy is an online platform that offers a broad range of classes and courses for all kinds of topics. Just type in ‘memoir’ to find lots of courses to help you out.

 

5. Join The Memoir Writing Club

In 2012, the Memoir Writing Club was founded by Irene Graham based on the idea that everybody has a story to tell. The MWC is a resource for writing courses – compared to Udemy, there may be less choice, but it provides a specialised service focused on memoirs and autobiographies.

 

6. Correct mistakes with grammarly

Let’s eat grandpa’ or rather ‘Let’s eat, grandpa’? We can all agree that the comma makes a huge difference here. To make sure that your writing is mistake-free and unambiguous, the app grammarly helps by checking your writing – it even suggests changes to make things easier to read.

 

7. Scan your old photos with PhotoScan

PhotoScan is a new scanner app from Google Photos that makes it easy for you to save and scan old printed photos glare-free by only using your phone’s camera. Another feature is that it automatically crops, rotates and enhances your scans.

 

‘Writing is a process, a journey into memory and the soul.’

Isabel Alende

 

Are you ready to write? Let us know what you think on Facebook!

By Büsra Nur Yürür

 

Dear Dad: The Secret Story of Father’s Day

When thinking of your father, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Hard work providing for you when you were young? Tough love to make sure you did well in school? Or what about his old stories – past adventures that taught you so much about life? Every dad is different, but we can all agree that fathers can be true heroes: protectors, advisers, and even friends.

It’s Father’s Day this month, so today we’re looking at all things dad related:

The Mysterious History of Father’s Day

The first Father’s Day was celebrated in the state of Washington on June 19, 1910. Interestingly, there are two rival theories about the holiday’s origin.

The first story begins with a tragic mining disaster in West Virginia in 1907, considered the worst in American history, killing 362 mine workers. The story goes that in 1908, Grace Golden Clayton (one of the orphans affected) had the idea to honour all the fathers that had perished in this tragic accident. She persuaded local Methodist ministers to organise a church service, the nation’s first event to commemorate and honour those 362 men.

The other Father’s Day theory tells the story of Sonora Smart Dodd, the daughter of a civil war veteran from Arkansas, who wanted to honour her father. Her mother had died in childbirth when she was only 16, leaving her father to raise her and her five siblings by himself. In 1909, while listening to a Mother’s Day sermon, Dodd felt the urgent need for a special service celebrating fathers as well. Like Clayton, Dodd managed to convince Methodist leaders to dedicate a day in homage to fathers.

An Inspirational Grandfather

The idea of paying tribute to fathers is deep in Story Terrace’s DNA. Our founder, Rutger Bruining, had a very important person in mind when he started the company: his grandfather.

When Rutger was a boy, he loved listening to his grandpa’s stories. He would sit in a room filled with cigar smoke and listen to tale after tale while they played backgammon.

It was only years later that Rutger realised he had lost so much of those precious stories. The strong emotional impression remained, but try as he might he couldn’t recall the details.

Rutger was determined not to let this happen to his stories – or to anyone else – so he founded Story Terrace. You can read more about Rutger’s story here

Truly the ultimate gift – in time for Father’s Day

There is an old Yiddish proverb that goes, “When a father gives to his son, both laugh; when a son gives to his father, both cry.
So how about crying tears of joy with your dad? Story Terrace gives you the ultimate Father’s Day idea: immortalising the most important man in your life in his own autobiography, to share with family.

Here is a simple three-point plan to follow (tears of joy guaranteed):

  1. Purchase a Story Terrace package today, and receive our beautiful Gift Package in time for father’s day – complete with a luxury pen and notebook, and a wax-sealed welcome letter!
  2. Present the gift to your dad as a surprise on Father’s Day. What better way to show your dad his story matters to your family?
  3. Your dad will enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime chance to reflect on his life with an attentive professional writer. As soon as 8-12 weeks later, you can present him with his very own ghostwritten autobiography, to share with family, friends and future generations.

Make this Father’s Day truly special with a gift that will last a lifetime! Now is the time to show love, especially on a day that has been celebrated for so long, and rightly so! This Father’s Day, don’t just write him a card, write him a book with Story Terrace.

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.

How Story Terrace matches you with your perfect ghostwriter!

Congratulations! You’ve decided you want your very own beautifully bound Story Terrace book. Our professional ghostwriters will help you to make your life story the best it can be.

The next step is to find your writer. With the largest pool of specialist ghostwriters in the world, part of what makes Story Terrace unique is our ability to pair you with your perfect biographer.

As our Managing Editor Alice Nightingale says, “we pride ourselves on matching our clients with their ghostwriters carefully.”  That means you can rest assured that you will work with a writer who can capture your story, find your voice, and make the process relaxed and enjoyable.

This happens through Story Terrace’s tried and tested method of ghostwriter selection. So, how does it work?

4-2

Step 1. Getting to know you

After you’ve decided to write your life story with Story Terrace, you’ll have a brief consultation with your editor. We try to gather as much information as possible to ensure the perfect fit.

“Everyone I spoke with at Story Terrace were absolutely lovely and listened to all I had to say,” Isabella Matthews, Story Terrace customer.

We want to know about your personality!  For instance, matching you with someone who shares your sense of humour can help to build a rapport between you and your ghostwriter, making the writing process much more enjoyable.

At this stage, learning about your background is also extremely useful. It’s important that your writer understands you. When it comes to forging a mutual bond and finding your voice, a shared background or a common experience can make all the difference.

We also use this stage to ask about your preferences. We can accommodate most requests – whether it’s something small – ‘I don’t want to work with someone that supports my rival football team’, or something more personal: ‘I would feel more comfortable sharing my experiences with someone of my own age’. Our goal is for customers and writers to feel comfortable, and create an atmosphere conducive to writing.

Step 2. Writer Search

Story Terrace works with hundreds of professional journalists and authors – the largest pool of specialist ghostwriters in the world. That said – we know our writers like the back of our hands. Using the information from your consultation, your editor will propose ghostwriters who are a good fit for the project. Click here to have a look at some of our writers’ online profiles.

Alongside your background, personality and preferences, we also consider your location. Interviews with your writer form the backbone of your story. We are almost always able to match customers with writers who are close enough to conduct the interviews in person, face-to-face. We think this makes the process more enjoyable, helping to develop a relationship between customer and ghostwriter, and making the end result more personal.

Step 3. Consult the ghostwriter                            

Next, we contact the top candidates for the job, and tell them about you and your project! It’s important for you to like your ghostwriter, and also for them to like you. If a mutual relationship flows, the final outcome becomes of a labour of love.

It sounds obvious, but we also make sure that the writer is available for the duration of the project! You can read about the packages Story Terrace offers here. For example, if you’ve purchased a Compact book package, your ghostwriter must be available for 2-3 hours of interviews and able to produce 5,500 words of your story. If you’ve paid for a Novella, the ghostwriter must carry out 8-10 hours of interviews and produce 20,000 words.

Whichever package you choose, the writer will be committed to the project from beginning to end, ensuring you have the time together to tease out your life story!

“Sara really took the time to help me find the structure in the story of my life!” Teresa Samuels, Story Terrace customer.

Step 4. Getting in contact

Hurrah, we’ve found your match! Now it’s time to put the two of you in contact.

You will have an initial phone call with your writer, and make sure you’re happy with each other. This is an important opportunity to really discuss what you want to the book to be about. Even at this stage, if you aren’t happy – you can choose a different writer. Writing your life story is with Story Terrace is, from beginning to end a collaborative effort.

“Initially, we chatted on the phone and Lisa made it clear from the outset that if we didn’t ‘hit it off’ she would bow out gracefully and I could choose another writer”. David Taylor, Story Terrace customer

So there it is, how we find your perfect ghostwriter! Still want some more information? You might find the following articles helpful:

If you’re ready to get started, contact us to begin your Story Terrace experience today!

The most sentimental gift for your parents

With mother’s day approaching fast, we’re thinking about gifts to give our parents.

Every year a plethora of occasions – birthdays, Christmases, anniversaries – call for a new and different gift.

Just buying something expensive isn’t enough to show you care – it’s the thought behind the present that counts. So here is a unique idea – what gift could be more loving than capturing your parents’ life stories in a memoir or biography?

At Story Terrace, we bring together family stories to create beautiful books. Our specialist writers can tease out your parents’ memories, and carefully craft a coherent and lasting record of their experiences.

Read how we do this here.

Here are three great reasons to gift your parents a book about their lives.

1. Give your parents the opportunity to reminisce and reflect

The older we get, the more we have to be nostalgic about. Cries of “I remember when”, “back in my day” and the ever-familiar “the good old days” reverberate through conversations with Grandma and Grandpa.

A Story Terrace biography is as much an experience for your parents as it is a beautiful product. Many of our customers tell us their favourite part was the process of making the book.

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” Teresa Samuels, Story Terrace customer.

They get the opportunity to regale a keenly interested ghostwriter with their experiences, and document their stories. Here, they get to reflect on the adventures they have had and the decisions they made. They are able to propel themselves backwards and delve into their past, in what can be an equally therapeutic and entertaining experience.

I found the whole process to be relaxed and enjoyable” David Taylor, Story Terrace customer.

After the book is finished, it can be shared with beloved family members and friends – to be taken out at family gatherings time and time again. It truly is the gift that keeps on giving!

2. Recognise your parents’ achievements and accomplishments

As young children, we tend to think of ourselves as the prime accomplishment of our parents lives. Often, we take for granted the hard work and struggle that supported us in our early years.

By helping your parents to write their memoirs, you are showing them that their story matters to you, and that (finally) you recognise the value of everything they’ve done for you.damians-70-year-odyssey

They can open their book and think “Yes, I did that”. More than that, they can say their daughter or son sees what they have done. Giving your parents the gift of their life story is like giving them a trophy at the end of a marathon.

The Damianos children had this in mind. As a tribute to their father for his 70th Birthday, they collected stories and photographs from those that knew him. Together with Story Terrace, they created Damian’s 70 year Odyssey, a book that celebrated his many accomplishments as a businessman and a father.

3. Discover a deeper connection with your parents

For most of us, our parents lived their lives for 20+ years before we entered the scene. We only see them as the figure they represent: they are simply ‘Mum’, ‘Dad’, ‘Grandma’ and ‘Grandpa’.

How Well Do You Know Your Parents?

Your parents are individuals in their own right – but it’s likely you don’t know much about their formative years. Even after you were born, there will be much you weren’t aware of, or didn’t fully understand.

From time to time, you may hear the odd story – but these little snippets don’t give you the full picture. Taking the time to record your parents’ life story can be a unique bonding experience. They can share a part of themselves with you, and you may be surprised by what you learn.

The Damianos children saw their book as reviving the ancient role of ‘the storyteller’:

The role of the storyteller was to connect the past and the future and carry lessons across generational lines, and it formed the ties and held families together through time.

Giving your parents the gift of a Story Terrace biography can make them ‘the storyteller’ for your family. Their stories can be passed down through generations and become their legacy. What present could better?

 

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 mum 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 biParents memories ography.

It’s also an opportunity to digitise 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 digitise old photos for more information!

 Be your own family’s archaeologist

If you’re really serious, it’s time to have a root 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 mum 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 mum?’

‘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 tidbits 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.

“Writing my life story” An interview with a Story Terrace customer!

In this blog article, we’re interviewing Story Terrace customer David Taylor to find out how he found the process of writing his life story, ‘A legitimate life’ and how he found working with ghostwriter Lisa Chilvers!

Confused about what a ghostwriter is? Click here for more information.

Why did you decide to write your life story?

Having been born in 1939, as my life has progressed into my late 70s, along the way, I’d often thought about writing my life story down. This was spurred on by the fact that my forbears have left no ‘footprints’ of their lives, so all that I have to go on is their birth, marriage and death certificates – little about their lives, their trials and tribulations, their achievements, setbacks and relationships. For example, my mother died when I was aged just five, and as I was illegitimate, I know nothing of my father’s background and little about my mother.

Had it not been for my elder son & his wife, who were keen that our three teenage granddaughters should learn a little more about my journey through life, the book would never have been written. It was they who commissioned the book as a very thoughtful surprise present on my 77th Birthday.

Did you have any concerns or reservations about writing it?

I had an unpromising start in life at the onset of WW2 – my mother was unmarried, became pregnant at age 36 and was turned out by her family as was the norm back then. There was no sympathy for those in that predicament from family or from society in general. It’s a matter of great comfort to me that she chose to keep me, though she died of T.B. just after my fifth birthday.

Given this bleak start in life and with WW2 raging, my overriding concern was that I didn’t want my story to come across as a ‘misery memoir’ or to have an air of ‘ain’t it awful?’ about it. I had a carefree childhood and have had a wonderful and eventful life. My other concern was that I didn’t want my achievements in life to seem boastful, immodest or conceited, nor for it to sound as though I had any ‘chips on my shoulders’ or had had a raw deal in the lottery of life.

I knew right away that her writing style had a close fit to my own take on things

How did you deal with these reservations? 

It was important to me that the chosen ghost-writer would be sensitive to these concerns, and that as closely as possible would reflect my own personality. I hoped the end result would be a book which others would find interesting to read and which would be a ‘page-turner’.

Why did you choose your ghostwriter?

I chose Lisa Chilvers to be my ghost-writer as someone who I felt could best ‘empathise’ with me and who would have a writing style which would have a close fit with my outlook on life. Initially, we chatted on the phone and Lisa made it clear from the outset that if we didn’t ‘hit it off’ she would bow out gracefully and I could choose another writer.

Describe the process of working with Lisa

Lisa visited me for a three-hour discussion as a starting point.

Though structured, the discussion was free-ranging and I was able to recount early events in my life which I’d long since forgotten. From those initial discussions, Lisa prepared a draft of the first chapter or so, and I knew right away that her writing style had a close fit to my own take on things. I couldn’t think of a title for the book, and given that I’d been born illegitimate, Lisa suggested why not ‘A Legitimate Life’? In all the circumstances, that seemed an apt and creative title, and so it was.

Lisa interviewed me a second time for several hours and we had a good rapport.  As the interviews were conducted in my own home I felt more at ease than would have been the case had we met at some other venue. As the book progressed, Lisa was in touch by telephone and e-mail to receive feedback and amendments to the draft texts. The end result was a joint effort.

I found the whole process to be relaxed and enjoyable

Were you pleased with the final product?

As to the book itself, I was impressed with the quality of the binding, the choice of chapter titles, the layout of the text and photographs and the front cover. I’m pleased to say that my son and his wife, and our three grandchildren – to whom the book is dedicated – have read it from cover to cover. They have been able to contrast my early years three-quarters of a century ago, with theirs today – a contrast which couldn’t be more different.

How did you find the overall process of writing your life story?

All in all, I found the whole process to be relaxed and enjoyable and the finished book – both in terms of content and overall quality – has been excellent. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Story Terrace and the use of a ghost-writer. What a thoughtful birthday present from my son and his wife this has turned out to be!

Want to write your life story? Contact us here

Interview with Row Smith about her experience writing The Earth Moved

People write their memoirs for many reasons: some want to record family stories for future generations; some want to reflect on their experiences; and some people – like Row Smith –  decide to share their story to make a difference in the world.

As a survivor of the 2015 Nepal Earthquake, she has used her story to raise thousands of pounds for victims of the disaster. Read on to discover Row’s incredible story, and her experience of creating her charity memoir, ‘The Earth Moved’.

In April 2015, Row and her husband Tom embarked on the adventure of a life time: trekking through Nepal’s beautiful Langtang Valley.

On the 25th April, just as they began their descent from the highest peak Tsergo Ri, disaster struck.

“The earth was literally moving beneath me, dropping away and then coming back in waves, tossing me into the air. My mind couldn’t process it – the ground was supposed to be an ever-present solid entity beneath your feet and the end of that could only mean that the world was literally falling apart”.

Nepal had been hit by a devastating earthquake, measuring a crippling 7.8 on the Richter scale. The final death toll reached over 8,000. 22,000 were injured and 3.5 million people became homeless.

When they returned home, though Row and Tom both suffered from PTSD, they were determined to help the Nepalese people they’d left behind. They set up a Just Giving page, raising £7000 for the charity Community Action Nepal (CAN).

Then Row had the idea of using her story to raise awareness and funds. With the help of Story Terrace and ghostwriter Emma Donnan, she wrote The Earth moved. Her book alone has raised hundreds for CAN and amazingly, one generous donor upped their donation to CAN by £1000 purely because of reading her story.

You can buy a copy and read her incredible story for yourself here.              

Recently, we caught up with Row to ask her about her experiences of creating the book.

How did you come up with the idea of writing The Earth moved?

When I returned from Nepal I decided to write down all of my experiences as a way of trying to offload what had happened. I was so traumatised and I felt it was a way of trying to get it out of my head so I could make sense of it all. Soon, I realised it didn’t help as I was suffering from PTSD. Then I came up with the idea of using what I had written to turn it into a book to raise money.                                

Why did you decide to write this book?

When I returned I helped a lot of people from Nepal financially, using most of our savings. I could no longer afford to do this out of my own pocket and wanted to find a sustainable way of helping the Nepalese people. Also, I wanted to raise awareness for Nepal and what it is like to suffer from PTSD after such trauma.

How did you find the process of writing the book?

Working with Story Terrace and Emma (my ghostwriter) was amazing. Emma turned my traumatic (very long story) into a good read for people to get my point across in a shorter version.

To Story Terrace:

All of you were and have been brilliant and made this project possible. Knowing you all did it to help such a great cause without making any profit was amazing. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. I couldn’t have done it without you.

After writing the book I felt so proud of my achievements. I felt a lot of my guilt had gone, as I could say to the Nepalese people I can now help through sales of my book (rather than not being able to help them personally).

Were you happy with the final product?                                               

I would have liked the book to be longer as there was a lot more that happened whilst experiencing the trauma, however we couldn’t raise enough funding to do this. However I was so happy with the content that we did cover and the finished book.

After writing the book I felt so proud of my achievements. I felt a lot of my guilt had gone, as I could say to the Nepalese people I can now help through sales of my book (rather than not being able to help them personally).

What impact did the book have on a larger scale?  

Row and Tom in front of Langtang before the Earthquake

Row and Tom in front of Langtang before the Earthquake

It’s raised awareness for some of the awful events that we experienced but more importantly raised awareness for the Nepalese people. Many people have since been able to approach me to ask further questions.

I think it’s so important to talk about PTSD as it raises awareness. I’ve also helped many people to consider therapy. I desperately wanted people to relate to us so they could see how much worse it was for the local people. It would then encourage people to donate money or tell people to buy the book.

What impact did the book have on you personally?

The biggest thing for me has been the amount of people that have contacted me privately about the book. Many survivors from Langtang have come forward to tell me their stories relating to what happened and how they also suffered from PTSD. My book made them feel normal as they realised someone else had also suffered from it.

I also found I had some pieces of the jigsaw answered. For instance, survivors contacted me telling me the about the deceased woman I climbed over on the avalanche. One man helped rescue her husband and child, and they have remained friends since. They also told me that the two women with broken backs had been rescued and were taken to hospital. There were many parts of my survival story about certain individuals that were left unanswered, so it was nice to have some clarity.

I desperately wanted people to relate to us so they could see how much worse it was for the local people.

Why do you think it was so important to tell your story?

I wanted to tell people about our experience, not out of sympathy for us but to make people aware of the sufferings in Nepal.

So many people lost EVERYTHING — their entire families, limbs, friends (anyone they ever knew), their homes, and their jobs. Simply everything. It is so hard to imagine but everything was completely wiped out and we saw it with our own eyes. The government did not help them and still hasn’t, they are solely relying on charities or individuals to help. I’m hoping my book will continue to be a huge success and will slowly start to rebuild Nepal. The devastation was so huge I don’t think in my lifetime it will ever return to the way it was but knowing I’m trying my best to help people is good enough.

True love stories: Issy and Steve

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

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

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

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

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

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

A life of fun and dancing

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

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

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

True love stories: Stanley and Anneliese

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

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

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The bank of the River Bode

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

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

Their love blossomed from that point onwards.

Post war struggles

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

The apartment in Bonn

The apartment in Bonn

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

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

 A New life in England

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

Celebrating their golden wedding anniversary

Celebrating their golden wedding anniversary

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

Anneliese said of their love story:

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

True love stories: Simon and Becky

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

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

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

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

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

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

University and marriage

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

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

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

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

Married life

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

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

Simon, in his book, says of Becky:

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

The power of true life stories

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

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

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

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

True life stories are relatable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They inspire empathy

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

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

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

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

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

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

They teach you about real things:

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

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

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

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

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

Why write my biography? Because your story matters

‘Biographies are for celebrities’.

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

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

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

1. You should share your experiences with your family

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

Our life stories are important to our loved ones.

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

What better gift to give than your memories?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

three-women-three-powerful-stories

3. It’s important to reflect on your experiences

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

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

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

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

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

No one says it better than Doctor Who:

We’re all stories in the end’.

Behind the cover? Ghostwriting for success

What is ghostwriting?

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

Read What is Ghostwriting? for more information.

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

Why use a ghostwriter to write a life story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Successful ghostwriting in popular culture

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

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

LIVING A LIFE WORTH WRITING ABOUT

Living life to the fullest

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

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

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

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

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

This was Robert’s answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does Remembrance Day mean to you?

Remembrance Day Poppies

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robert, what does Remembrance Day mean to you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is a ghostwriter?

a photo of someone ghostwriting

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

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

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

Different types of ghostwriting

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

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

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

Ghostwriting autobiographies

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

Empathy

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

Visualisation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much do you really know about your grandparents?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what Dominic found out:

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

Magdeburg was devastated during the war

Magdeburg was devastated during the war

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

Stanley in Italy during WWI

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

Stanley & Anneliese together in Bonn

Together in Bonn

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

 

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

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

The family together at Christmas

The family together at Christmas

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

Learn More:

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Three Women, Three Powerful Life Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sue Hodges, 67,
Gloucestershire

hodges

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

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

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

hodges family tree

Sue Hodges’ family tree

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

Watch Sue talking about the experience of creating her memoirs:


Ichko Gombodorj, 38,
Sussex

first chapter RB 5

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

first chapter RB 12

Ichko as a child in Mongolia

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

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

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


Teresa Samuels, 73,
London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn More:

Interested in this topic?

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How to Collect and Record Memories

Turning the meaningless into the meaningful

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

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

Why record memories?

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

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

Collecting Memories

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

Photographs and Films

photographs for collecting and recording memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diaries and Letters

diaries for collecting and recording memories

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

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

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

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

Newspaper Clippings

newspaper clippings for collecting and recording memories

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

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

Mementoes

mementoes for collecting and recording memories

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

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

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

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

How to Collect and Record Memories - Infographic

Written by Amber Hicks

Does Your Story Have Legs?

The second instalment of The Life of a Backstory.

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

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

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

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

She picks up the phone …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He stopped trying.

Sally eventually needed Julia more then Julia needed Sally.

Julia’s guilt and fears consumed her.

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

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

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

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

Written by Story Terrace writer Kerrin Cocks

Questions to Inspire Memories and Life Stories

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

Storytelling:

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

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

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

Asking Questions:

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

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

Homelife

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

Holidays

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

School

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Amber Hicks

How To Write My Life Story

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

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

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

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

Structure:

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

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

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

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

Execution:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Amber Hicks