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How do you define Life Writing?

How do you define life writing?

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

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

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

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

Life Writing Formats

Autobiography

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

Biography

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

Blog

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

pexels-photo-45718-largeDiary/ Journal

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

E-mail

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

person writing on loose paperLetter

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

Memoir

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

Personalised Essay or Statement

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

Testimonial

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

Why should you write about your life?

black and white image of a person reading a book

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

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

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

When should you start life writing?

Right now.

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

What could you write?

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

There are so many things that you could do.

Happy writing.

Fayola Nivet, Story Terrace

The Importance of Dementia Focused Books

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

What is Dementia?

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

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

Where do their searches bring them?

To books.

So what exactly is a “Dementia Book”?

cover of title novel Still Alice by Lisa Genova

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

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

 

 

An educational tool for:

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

A memoir written by:

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

A picture book

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

A “Memory” book

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

Why do these “Dementia Books” exist?

To educate Diagnosticians and Carers

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

To help to understand the diagnosis

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

Providing catharsis

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

Giving comfort

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

Where can I find more help?

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

What can I do to help?

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

Fayola Nivet, Story Terrace

Creative Writing Tips

Photo by Hilke Kurzke

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

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

1. Finding inspiration

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

Use writing prompts

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

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

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

Keep a notebook

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

Writing in a notebook

Photo by Fredrik Rubensson

Read widely

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

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

2. Developing your ideas

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

The Snowflake Method

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Writing it up

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

Practice

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

A typewriter ready to be used

Photo by Pauline Mak

Don’t get bogged down with editing

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

Don’t write to sell

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

4. Polishing your work

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

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

Photo by Seth Sawyers

Use friends and family

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

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

Perform cold reads

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

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

Julia Watts, StoryTerrace

How the internet has transformed the Life Story

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

Project365: 233/365

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

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

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

 

Picture by Unsplash

Picture by Unsplash

 

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

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

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

 

internet life writing 2

Picture by Steve Rhodes

 

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

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

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

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

 

Picture by StockSnap

Picture by StockSnap

 

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

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

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

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

 

Picture by Thomas Hawk

Picture by Thomas Hawk

 

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

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

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

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

 

internet writing 4

Picture by Unsplash

 

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

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

Caolan Blaney, Story Terrace

Writing to preserve memories

Photo by Fredrik Rubensson

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

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

Parting the curtains

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

grandmother reading to grandchildren

Reconnecting

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

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

Writing the wrongs

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

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

Different purposes, same result

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

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

Nepal Earthquake One Year On: The Earth Moved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can support and donate to ‘The Earth Moved’ at www.mystorystarter.com/Nepal

 

Fayola Nivet, Story Terrace

How to write a good biography

Picture by starmanseries

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

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

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

The Start of Your Biography: The Idea

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

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

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

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

picture by Jose Maria Cuellar

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

The Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make sure to prioritise research when writing your biography.

picture by Leo Hidalgo

The Writing Process

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

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

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

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

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

picture by Chris

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

Writing a book is said to follow 3 stages:

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

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

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

Caolan Blaney, Story Terrace

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

Thank You Mama Gatha | Testimonial

 

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

A tribute to Mama Gatha

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eleanor Brooks Photograph from Eleanor Brook's book

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eleanor Brooks' class picture

Interview with Entrepreneur Adam Goodall

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

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

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

ST: What sparked the idea for your first company?

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

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

ST: What made you sell your first business?

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

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

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

ST: Did you always have an entrepreneurial spirit?

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

ST: What’s next?

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

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

 

Writing your life story can be easier than you think

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

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

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

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

“I’m a terrible writer!”

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

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

“I just don’t have time…”

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

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

“I’ve never done anything interesting enough!”

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

So, really, what are you waiting for?

What’s the Difference Between a Memoir and an Autobiography?

Until recently, the words autobiography and memoir were distinctly separate, though similar, words that described the first-person, written depiction of the author’s life. For hundreds of years, as the popularity of sharing life stories has grown, the two forms have co-existed in playful harmony.

If you’re reading this post, chances are you might be confused about the similarity between these two terms. It seems that people these days often use the two words interchangeably – a real disservice to the form and function of the delicate, but mighty, memoir. Well, fear not, gentle reader, because today is the day that the record will be set straight, once and for all, about the memoir and why it deserves its own place in everyone’s vocabulary!

 

Structure

If we are going to investigate the difference between these two types of story, it’s best to begin at the beginning, which, of course, is the basic structure of the memoir. Unlike its autobiographical counter-part, which could span an entire lifetime, the memoir is a narrower, more personal, approach to the story of its writer’s life. Consider the memoir as a series of snapshot from an entire photo album or a few scenes from a full-length movie.

Content

Being narrower does not necessarily mean less content. The benefit of a memoir is that the story can be more focused on a certain aspect or significant event of the writer’s life. This will allow the writer more opportunity to reflect on the emotional aspects of their life rather than just the straight facts without creating a book that could rival the Greek epics. The memoir has been a vehicle for written accounts of wars by soldiers, businesses by CEOs, tell-alls by celebrities and much, much more!

Research

The autobiography often includes more intricate details involving the family history and writer’s upbringing that might not necessarily have a direct effect on the major events of their life. This choice is generally for a writer who wants a broader narrative account of their lives or, perhaps, that feels a thorough understanding of their childhood is essential to their life story. This approach benefits from, or is detracted by, the amount of minute detail. This could include: the date and birthplace of your great-great-grandparents, when your grandparents moved to a new town and bought their first house or even the history of your family name.

 

The choice of whether you want a memoir or an autobiography is entirely up to you and the way that you feel your life will be best represented. If you want to speak about a specific event in your life like Row Smith did with her book, The Earth Moved, depicting her journey of survival after the 2015 Nepal earthquake, then the memoir is a better option for you.

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

The important thing to remember is that there is a difference!

 

5 Incredible Memoirs & Biographies to Read Now

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

 

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

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

 

Saving Anne the Elephant Book Cover

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

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

 

Asylum Book Cover

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

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

 

My Paris Dream Book Cover

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

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

 

Into the Light Book Cover

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

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

4 Unique Luxury Gift Ideas for Mother’s Day

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

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

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

 

Vanity Case with Jewelry

For the mum who loves jewelry…

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

 

 

For the mum who loves stationery…

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

Leather Poker Game Case

 

For the mum who likes a good game…

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

 

 

 

Open Twisted SpitFire Cocktail Shaker

 

For the mum who likes her drinks mixed well…

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Q & A with Story Terrace Ghostwriter Clare Pugh

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

You sound like a fan of paper and ink?

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

How does being a writer of fiction help when ghostwriting?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Writing Can Take Me Anywhere | Writer Feature

For this month’s Writer Feature, we bring you the story of Robin Tudge, one of our contemporary writers. Tudge shares how he came to the realisation that he could successfully wield the power of words and be a published writer. Read his story below:

 

* * *

 

I first became a writer in 1999. I was living in Hanoi, eking along teaching English in a then very poor country that’d opened to westerners only five years before. I’d been there about 18 months, had had some lovely students and some great classes. I’d also had some amazing adventures, having driven all over the country on my not-so-trusty old Belorussian motorbike, including a solo drive from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, had been to Cambodia, partied a lot. But a lot of things hadn’t worked out as well, a lot of good friends had come and gone, I’d wrestled with the language but not really connected with the locals, and it was a languid, humid city where a foreigner could easily live very well on only a few hours work a week, meanwhile becoming trapped in a seedy state of apathy. By now I was tired and homesick. Trouble was, I had no idea what I was going to do back home, and not knowing which way to go, nor how to give up, I was stuck.

Then I got a phone call from one of the receptionists at an English school I’d quit from some months before. I’d received an email to my old office email address, so I assumed it was obviously something out of date and useless, still I asked what it said.

‘I can’t tell you on the phone, it is secret,’ she said.

‘So secret you read it already?’ I asked.

I could positively hear her smile down the phone as she replied, ‘Maybe. Anyway you must read it in person.’

So I drove across town, a classic muggy Hanoi day, the sky with dirty billowy clouds like a sweaty duvet. Then when I got there she refused to hand me the printed email. Instead, she’d got another receptionist in on the game and they drew out the tension by ransoming the email for ice-creams. Two ice-creams later, they gave me the email, which was to the effect of ‘this is the commissioning editor from the Guardian Weekly, we’ve published your Letter From article and need an address to send the £120 fee.’

I couldn’t believe it. As an expat I’d subscribed to the Guardian Weekly newspaper, in which it had an open-mic column of sorts, the Letter From … column, written by people like me dispersed across the world. I’d noted its style, typical subject matter, and solely as a punt I’d sent in an article about getting smashed on snake wine at a snake restaurant in Hanoi. But that was months ago, and I’d assumed the piece had sunk somewhere, like I was doing too much in local beer and moonshine.

Except the piece hadn’t sunk, it’d been printed, indeed, printed and read worldwide, in the Guardian Weekly no less. My surprise turned into elation, then came pride, and then hope. I could do something. I could be a writer. And with that came a feeling of total liberation – being a writer could take me anywhere, real and imagined.

 

It Never Gets Easier, You Just Go Faster: Cycling Tour from Milan to Nice, 2014

Each month we like to spotlight a recently finished Story Terrace book to showcase the range of titles and types of books we produce.  For February, we’ve brought you the story of Ian Bagshaw and Mark Dickinson and their book, It Never Gets Easier, You Just Go Faster: Cycling Tour from Milan to Nice, 2014.  Bagshaw and Dickinson came together to commemorate the outstanding dedication, and physical triumph, of 35 individuals who helped raise over £100,000 for charity. Read on…

A common cause, a sense of humour and a raised glass can go a long way. After Dan and Danny passed away within months of each other, their friends and families proudly united through a shared purpose; doing something that they both would have loved to be a part of, to raise money for two charities established in their names.

It all started when Mark Dickinson and Ian and Gary Bagshaw took on the challenging Tour De Force cycle event in summer 2013. Inspired, they devised the idea of creating their own cycling event and splitting the money raised between the charities that mean a huge amount to them: The Daniel Bagshaw Memorial Trust and The Danny Fullbrook Fearless Foundation.

With the help of the PIE (Passion in Events) team, they worked on planning a cycling route from Milan to Nice: 400km of gruelling hills and Mediterranean coastal beauty. By January 2014 they had started recruiting friends, family, colleagues and anyone else they could persuade, bully, cajole or blackmail along the way.

Of the thirty-five riders that were eventually conscripted, many were inexperienced; recruited at family barbecues, lunch dates or over a pint in the pub. A quarter of participants didn’t even have their own bike to begin with, and many found themselves struggling with sweat, pain and accidental U-turns. But through stories shared and friendships forged, every rider finished the punishing final day of the ride; not only achieving personal greatness, but also helping to raise over £100,000 for two fantastic causes.

Philip Hamlyn Williams | Writer Feature

Every month, we like to shine the spotlight on one of our talented writers, sharing their life story and written works to give you insight into the range of diverse backstories and writing styles available through Story Terrace.  Today, we’re featuring Philip Hamlyn Williams, one of our critically acclaimed writers.

Williams worked as an accountant for 25 years before spending 14 years in the non-profit sector. Now, with 15 years of writing experience, and an MA in Professional Writing from University College Falmouth, he recently embarked on the adventure of writing his debut book, War on Wheels.  The book is set to be released in September 2016 by The History Press. It tells the story of the thousands of ordinary men and women who together worked to mechanise the British Army in WWII.  Read on below for a special excerpt from the book:

 

* * *

 

In 1934 the army had a total of 4,000 vehicles, mainly left over from the Great War. In the ten years leading up to D Day that number had grown to 1.5 million, massive depots had been built, the way the troops were supplied had been completely re-imagined. D Day was to be the ultimate test.

The job of Ordnance Beach Detachments was to follow on quickly behind the assault troops and set up ammunition dumps just behind the beaches ready to issue ammunition to replace that used in the initial assault. Stan Carter had boarded a landing craft at Tilbury loaded with 200 tons of ammunition destined for the Airborne Division which had flown in by glider to take Pegasus Bridge.

The 21st Army Group was to invade three beaches: Gold, Juno and Sword. Each beach had attached to it Ordnance Beach Detachments and Ammunition Companies. Advance parties came ashore within an hour or so of the first assault troops and created sector dumps just off the beaches. The main stocks were anti-tank and anti-aircraft ammunition, Landing Reserves, stretchers and blankets for casualties and survivor kits. These latter were complete changes of clothing and kit for soldiers who experienced a ‘bad’ landing. Landing Reserves were designed to supply troops with spare parts for the first four weeks and comprised 8,000 cases calculated to maintain a brigade.

Stan had been promised a dry landing but in the event was offloaded into 5ft of water some 15 yards from the sand. To make matters worse his job, with one other, was to pull a handcart to carry the ammunition from the craft up the beach to the dump, and all under mortar fire.

Accounts of other landing craft laden with ammunition talk of DKWS being used to transport across the beach. I noted, from the War Diaries of Brigadier Readman at Chilwell, that right up to D Day there had been a problem with supplies of DKWS. Perhaps Stan’s craft drew the short straw and so ended up with the handcart.

Just as Stan made it up the beach the first time, the Bren carrier next to him ran over a mine and some of the resulting shrapnel embedded itself in Stan’s thigh. He didn’t remember pain, rather the need, with his mates, to get on with the job. The ammunition was duly stacked and issues made, again all done under fire from German mortars only yards in front. Stan recalled that once on the beach all the good intentions to keep records of issues went out of the window.

A mortar hit an adjacent petrol dump and burning petrol spread toward the ammunition. Stan spoke of his Captain’s bravery in putting out the fire with his bare hands, an act which cost Captain Thompson his life. The wound in Stan’s thigh couldn’t be left and so he was taken to the field dressing station and from there back to England. He did return to France and his story continues later.

* * *

Kickstart Your StoryStarter Biography Group Gift

Looking to give someone special in your life the opportunity to write their life story and create their own biography? We can help!

With our crowdfunding platform StoryStarter, you can collaborate with friends and family to share stories, memories and photographs, and pitch in on the funding.  Once the crowdfunding portion is completed, the person receiving the biography as a gift will be sent a Welcome Pack with a compilation of all the shared stories and photos. Find out more information on the next steps in the Story Terrace biography process here.

This step-by-step guide will help you get everything setup on StoryStarter so that you can move on to the fun part of sharing your stories and photographs.

Step 1: Register

From the MyStoryStarter home page, create an account by either registering with your email address, or signing in with Facebook, Twitter or Google. After filling in your relevant account details, you’ll be directed to your new home dashboard.

Step 2: Create Your Campaign

Near the top right corner, click on the “Create Your Campaign” button. On the next page, you’ll be directed to provide us with important details regarding your planned gift Story Book, such as who the book is for, which Story Book package you’ve selected and whether the book will be crowdfunded or self-funded. You also can decide to keep the campaign private, meaning only people you invite can access the campaign, or make it public.

It’s important to thoroughly consider the date you set for your deadline. If you’d like your Welcome Package (which compiles the stories and photographs collected through StoryStarter) to be ready for a special occasion, then set the deadline at least 3 weeks before then. If you would like the finished Story Book (which will include the interview process with the StoryTeller and our ghostwriter, to produce the final book) to be ready for a special occasion, set the deadline to at least 3 months beforehand.

Step 3: Invite Contributors

Next, you’ll be able to begin the collaboration process by inviting your friends and family to share stories and photographs, and help to fund the project. Send out invites via Facebook and email to let everyone know about your group StoryBook gift. Or, if your campaign is public and you would like to share with everyone, simply send the link to your contacts and over social media.

StoryStarter Dashboard Screenshot

Step 4: Request Stories and Photos

Post a call-to-action directly onto your StoryStarter campaign home page to get everyone excited to contribute stories, photographs and memories.  

Step 5: Inspire to Incentivise Funding

Encourage contributors to donate towards your Story Book campaign by offering rewards for contributing, such as with special acknowledgements and perks.

 

Sue Hodges Testimonial Video

Last month, we brought you a case study of Sue Hodges’ book Don’t Switch Me Off with exclusive excerpts and photos.  Today, we have a special testimonial video, in which Sue shares her personal reasons for wanting to create a bespoke book to pass on to her children and grandchildren.

She also discusses her experience working with a Story Terrace ghostwriter.  Through this process, Sue was able to recount and record her exciting life story, which included many years of travel that led her from London to Turkey and finally to Greece, before returning home to the U.K.

Take a moment and listen to Sue’s perspective on the Story Terrace process.

10 Things We Loved About Amsterdam

Recently, the Story Terrace U.K. team flew to Amsterdam to visit our Dutch counterparts and boy are our arms tired! In between many important meetings, PowerPoint presentations and frenzied tram rides, we took some time to appreciate the finer things that this historic city had to offer.

  1. Hanging out with the Story Terrace NL teamWe love seeing the Dutch team on Skype during our weekly meetings and they proved to be great hosts as well! The gals were able to quit plugging their government-appointed dikes long enough to give us an amazing tour around this colourful, historic city and the country hadn’t even fully flooded before we left. What luck!Story Terrace Team Photo
  2. Leaning Row House Hooks – Due to their narrow hallways and staircases, most row houses have a large arm and hook which sticks out from the top of the building that the Dutch use to hoist oversized objects up to the top floor and in through their large bay windows. These can also be conveniently used to carry your flatmate up to his bedroom after he’s spent too much time at the nearby coffeehouse.Dutch Row Houses
  3. Houseboats – Though they have become an iconic part of the residential landscape, these charming little floating abodes were only adopted within the past 100 years! In a city full of canals, the opportunity to stay in one of the bed & breakfasts or even renting for a longer stay is one to be sure not to pass up. Just make sure you are securely anchored before you go to sleep because, trust us, you do not want to wake up in Rotterdam!Houseboats in a Dutch canal
  4. Gouda – First of all, it is pronounced ‘HOW-da’, not ‘GOO-da’ and is best when paired with a hoppy, pale beer. This pungent, semi-hard cheese is much stronger and harder in its homeland than it is in other countries which not only surprised us but also the airport security guard who found them taped to my torso. I’m still not sure whether I had to declare it at customs.Goude Cheese for Sale
  5. Gevulde Koeken – Literally, it means ‘filled cookie’ which may, literally, be the least creative name for one of the nation’s most popular treats. The simple name hardly does justice to this sweet, crumbly, almond-filled cookie, but, considering Dutch is a very straight-forward language that calls gloves ‘hand socks’, we gave them a pass for creating this delicious confection in the first place.Dutch Gevulde Koeken Filled Cookies
  6. Bikes – You may be seeing bikes everywhere now that cycling has become this generation’s aerobic jogging, but you’ve never seen quite as many as you will in Amsterdam.  With over 1,000,000 bicycles either in motion or locked-up, you have to be constantly alert to the possibility of one flying towards you from either direction. Look out! These cyclists are really moving and they won’t be the first one to get out of the way. The Story Terrace bike is another story, though, and has never hit another person since its adoption.
    Row of bikes in Amsterdam
  7. Brown Cafés From the name alone, brown cafés don’t sound like a must-see stop on a visit to Amsterdam but these cosy wooden pubs might be the closest a tourist can get to strolling into a Dutch living room without being chased out by the person living there. The walls are decorated with kitschy artwork and mementos from the bygone era they were originially built in hundreds of years ago and the grizzled owners step out every ten minutes for a hand-rolled cigarette (though the walls are often stained from nicotine, smoking has since been banned indoors). Drinks in Amsterdam Brown Cafe
  8. Oudemanhuispoort Book Market – The Old Man’s Port Gate is not your average used book market. The arched alleyway that hosts this hidden gem is a display of red-brick architecture that harkens back to the olden days and the books found within range from famous philosophical and critical art theory texts and to classic novels. Finally, a used book market that isn’t glutted with cast-off copies of the Shades of Grey series.Oudemanhuispoort Book Market Display
  9. Tiny Vehicles –  Look at this tiny little vehicle! At just under two meters high, this maneuverable, three-wheeled mini-truck doesn’t look like much but the sight of them brings joy to tourists from all over the world (except for Japan and India where they are also quite common). They can be found all over Amsterdam carrying everything from prepackaged lunches to, I assume, miniature construction supplies and dry goods. Three-Wheeled Mini-truck
  10. Van Gogh Doppelganger – Despite his total lack of both art experience and ability to differentiate between irises and tulips, our US editorial intern Jake was turning heads in Amsterdam due to his uncanny resemblance to famous Dutch artist, Vincent Van Gogh (pictured below). Well, not really, but the team felt that there were at least enough similarities to warrant the constant badgering that led to this picture (left ear conveniently not pictured below).Van Gogh Doppelganger

HONORARY MENTION: Stroopwafel – Our U.K. Editorial Assistant Julia really liked these. Be sure to wait a few weeks before you visit so the city can restock.Dutch Stroopwafels

Tot ziens!

Holocaust Memorial Day: Ride For the Living

To commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day, we would like to share a special excerpt from Robert Desmond’s book Ride for the Living, produced by the Story Terrace team. After being struck by the gravity of Auschwitz during his first visit at the age of 22, Desmond decided to return, this time by bicycle from London.  He biked along the route taken by the Allies as they fought back against Hitler and chronicled his journey online to share the experience with the world.


Day 18: Weiden, Germany to Pilsen, Czech Republic, 115km (1685km total)

Another unforgettable day on this incredible journey involving another puncture, a visit to a concentration camp, being stopped by German police and questioned, crossing to the fifth and penultimate country of the trip – Czech Republic, nearly getting knocked off the bike by some of the awful Czech drivers and finishing with some of the toughest hill climbs to really test my stamina.

After waking up early this morning I headed to the local McDonald’s to sponge their Wi-Fi for a few hours of productive work. Upon leaving the restaurant it started to rain again. Onwards and upwards into the forests, and I got a front wheel puncture this time. It was time to change the tyres! A half hour walk back to town to find a bike shop proved fruitful and within the hour both tyres were brand new. Back on the bike to take on the hill for a second time. However, the anticipation of visiting the camp caused my legs to give up in protest to the journey.

The mist filled the forests until I eventually arrived at the camp that was just 1000 miles from home. The town of Flossenburg has a huge source of natural granite, and this camp was set up to harvest that from the hills. Initially there were about 400 prisoners there, but it grew rapidly with an influx of mostly Polish people, then Jewish people and then others, such as homosexuals or political activists, that had no place in the Nazi regime.

It was meant to house several thousand at once, and was massively oversubscribed. When new inmates arrived at the camp, they would be stripped and washed with either boiling or freezing water from a hose cannon. They would be left to stand outside in front of everyone in the roll call area. Those that survived would be given thin prison uniforms.

It was in this roll call area where punishments, hangings and other executions would take place daily in front of the others to try to maintain order. The workers would mine the granite from the hills and were even hired out to the locals as cheap gardeners and labourers. The local population benefitted from the increased number of soldiers in the area by renting out accommodation and charging for local facilities. The exhibition here also showed how local electric and plumbing companies approached the camp to try and secure their business – they definitely knew what was going on.

For the inmates, like in all the other camps, there was insufficient food. This caused serious malnourishment leading to widespread illnesses that went untreated and resulted in mass fatalities.

Over the years approximately 100,000 prisoners passed through the camp, with approximately 30,000 of them perishing at the site for various reasons, all brought on by the ridiculous Nazi regime and by the soldiers who ran the place.

In the final stages of the war, the Nazis conducted a death march from here to Dachau in Munich. It would be a great effort for me to cycle there with sufficient clothing, breaks, hotels and food. I cannot even imagine being forced to walk there without any of the comforts I have had on my trip.

A female officer was reported to have screamed at those too weak to complete the walk and ordered them to be shot. However, she was not sentenced after the war. There are many similar stories, which is hugely upsetting.

I wandered around the grounds to the various memorials and passed several groups of German teenagers on school trips. Incredibly difficult to contemplate and deal with. I managed to compose myself and came to a building lower in the valley where the crematorium room itself was still intact. It’s moments like these that visiting alone is difficult. I remember having the support of my father, cousin and friend at Auschwitz a few years ago, and a good friend at Dachau years before that. People can help bring you back to modern reality, but I had only German school kids around me, and 80 kilometres of lonesome cycling before the day was out.

Pushing on through the hills, I was pedalling slowly contemplating this experience. I know this whole series of events called the Holocaust happened. I have seen so much evidence over the years, and now I am following a route that was taken by many soldiers to free the surviving captives. But I still just can’t imagine it ever happening in my world. We are surrounded by health and safety that puts preventing a person’s potential injury as being more important than anything, even if it means wasting a lot of time for something very unlikely. Here they just threw people into impossible work with no care for them as human beings whatsoever. If they die, then just replace them. I just can’t imagine this happening today in the world I live in.

How It Works: The Story Book Process | Step 6

In six simple steps, you can take part in creating your life story to save and share for generations to come. In this article, learn about the final, sixth step in the Story Terrace story book process.

Once you’ve finished working with your experienced ghostwriter on making edits to your story, the finalised manuscript will be sent to your Story Terrace editor for review. Now you can sit back and let our skilled editorial team ensure your book is thoroughly edited and proofread.

{Tweet: Learn about the 6th step in the @StoryTerrace biog process. Go from final manuscript to printed hardcover #book. http://bit.ly/1TXSEHO}

Next, before the edited piece is sent off to the typesetter and printer, your editor will email you print-ready PDFs for approval. We won’t have it printed until you’re 100% happy with the final manuscript.

In the final stage of production, the manuscript will be sent to a professional typesetter, who will design your book using the Story Terrace house style. The photographs and captions you submitted in Step 4 will be included in full colour, woven appropriately throughout the book. When the whole typeset piece is ready, the printer will produce 4 standard copies, which will be delivered directly to your home.

Once you get started, you can have your beautiful, hardcover bound books in your hands between six and eight weeks.

Interested in creating your own Story Terrace story book? Click HERE to contact us today!

To learn more about how the whole story book process works, follow this link: https://storyterrace.com/how-it-works/.

Out of the Darkness, Into the Light

In 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.

Cover to Into the Light

“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

Click the button below to read the rest of Teresa’s testimonial and read excerpts from Into The Light.

Testimonial available here

Teresa’s brilliant writer Sara Walden lives in London and worked as an investigative journalist for the Sunday Times.

Tracing Family Genealogy Back to 1681

Sue’s story in a nutshell…

Every month we like to bring you some insight on a completed Story Terrace book. Providing you with an overview of the varying biographies created with us. This month our focus is on a lady named Sue Hodges, her life story is being featured in line with our genealogy themed month. Enjoy…..

Though 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. 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.

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.

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

The Le Patourel Family Genealogy Tree

Below you’ll find some excerpts from Sue’s book Don’t Switch Me Off

 

 

Sue Hodge's Story Book Contents Page

Sue Hodge's Story Book Prologue

Sue Hodges Story Book excerpt

<p style=”text-align: center;”><a class=”ut-btn theme-btn small round” href=”/how-it-works/” target=”_self”>How it works</a></p>

About us: Story Terrace helps customers to capture personal stories in beautiful books alongside a professional writer. Our writers have a range of backgrounds and interests, sharing one passion: Portraying individuals through carefully crafted anecdotes and lively stories.

For more information on having your stories written down, send an e-mail to info@ or get in touch via our contact form.

7 TIPS FOR RESEARCHING YOUR FAMILY TREE

Is it time to research your family history?

Has something come into the fore in recent times that’s made you decide the moment has come to embark on one of life’s biggest projects that will mean so much – are you about to tackle researching your family history? If so, we have gathered 7 tips to help you on your researching way – it’s certainly going to be a journey of highs and lows, breakthroughs and lulls, but this is a commitment that will enable you to understand who you and your family really are.

1. Write it all down and begin to build your family tree 

Start by writing information closest to you, all the things that you know straight away without having to research. It might be an idea to buy a long roll of paper and set it up somewhere in the house to start visually building a diagram of what your family tree already.

2. Collate information 

Information such as dates, places of marriage, births and deaths, will be a great place to start and geography will play an important part in your future research too. List these findings in an order somewhat similar to below;
• Full name including women’s maiden names
• Date and place of birth
• Date and place of marriages and divorces
• Date and place of death and burial
• List of siblings and children
Another tip when collating information is to gather sentimental objects from your family’s past – documents such as birth certificates, wills and military service papers can start to fill in early stage gaps.
Photographs are also incredibly important as they can provide links to people that may bridge that all important gap. If you’re sourcing all the mentioned above from a relative, remember you must tread carefully to respect their privacy, this could be difficult and sensitive for some.

3. Read ‘how to’ books

Read a collection of ‘how to’ do Genealogy, you don’t need to read the entire book, just gather facts and advice that will help you make progress, and inevitably, make you feel in control. The more you know the more confident you will be. Especially when it gets to the stage when when you’ll be speaking to professionals (if you choose to go down this route).

4. Collect family stories

Speak to everyone in the family by gathering personal stories and anecdotes. You can spend your time reminiscing, which should bring lots of relevant and interesting facts into the search. Family members can be a wealth of knowledge, remember to start with parents, aunts and uncles, and then work back a generation if you can. Speaking to your grandparents can open up a whole new world of information too, as they are the passage-way to finding out about the unknown generations.

5. Help and guidance
There are some pretty good websites, blogs and networking options for you online, to find these out start by searching on social media via some genealogist’s pages. There are whole communities on the web like Crest Leaf and you can utilise these to help guide you through this researching frenzy. Another option is to find a local genealogical society or family history event in your area. Attending classes about family tree research, family history records, and how to avoid brick walls is an important step to finding answers for all levels.

6. Organisation and formatting
Keep everything in folders and adopt an order of information that works for you – remember it needs to be one you can maintain with ease. Remember to check new findings and triple check to ensure you’re logging information that is valid. It’s always a good idea to check names and dates against official records.

7. Getting started
Using all these tips, each project will be performed in their very own way – with different influences and paths taken. Consider working with us at Story Terrace to write your family memoirs – an option that allows you to create a book of your family history with one of our professional ghostwriters. Get in touch today to share your story.

Create your family history book with Story Terrace

About us: Story Terrace helps customers to capture personal stories in beautiful books alongside a professional writer. Our writers have a range of backgrounds and interests, sharing one passion: Portraying individuals through carefully crafted anecdotes and lively stories.