Will you write your Memoirs?

When I was invited to travel to New Zealand in 2003 to talk with a client’s mother and write her memoirs, I felt extremely privileged and very excited. My subject, a thoroughly engaging ex-Liverpudlian, had endured a lonely childhood surrounded by stern adults in an austere environment, with the added trauma of being a wartime evacuee. She fell pregnant, married young and commenced “living with the in-laws in cramped conditions with no hot water and a bath that hung on the wall.” A few years later, eager to escape the post-war doldrums and dreary English winters, she and her husband made a momentous decision to begin a new life on the other side of the world. So in 1953, struggling with two small children plus another on the way, they subsequently undertook the long sea voyage to far off New Zealand, heads and hearts full of hopes and dreams.

The Value of Sharing your Personal Story

I grew up in New Zealand and when we were kids we used to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night with a huge bonfire and the usual array of fireworks. What I remember most though, is that after the excitement of the fireworks display was over, all the children gathered around the fire with hot mugs of cocoa and listened to stories told to us by the adults. And during the years since, whether in the outback of Australia, the Sahara Desert, or in the remote Scottish Highlands, there have been many times when people’s stories have held me spellbound.

As human beings, we are fascinated by other people’s lives, as evidenced by all the reality television shows and racks full of “tell-all” magazines. Clearly, as the result of their life experiences, relationships with others and the world around them, everyone has their own unique story to tell. And it is by sharing those personal stories that we enrich the lives of others, who can often relate to our triumphs, struggles and difficulties. 

How many times have you heard people say: “I wish I’d remembered to ask my grandmother more about her life” or “I wonder what life was like for my grandparents when they first arrived in Australia?” 

Imagine the 95 year old who rode to school in a horse and buggy, experienced the first electric light and has lived through two World Wars. There is so much valuable personal history woven into long and eventful lives which should be shared and cherished by other family members. And we all want to be remembered, both for the good we’ve done and for the significant accomplishments in our lives. 

There is satisfaction in a life well-lived – and remembered.

What to include in your story

You don’t necessarily have to record your complete life story in chronological order and in fact you may prefer to focus on a particular period or event. For example, someone who has excelled in motor car racing or another sport may simply wish to record those experiences. Or perhaps a family member who has recovered from a life-threatening illness may want to share their story to help others. 

In particular, I often hear children of the early Australian immigrants say that they wish they had taken the trouble to record their family history. And I’m sure that from time to time we’ve all been subjected to a few stories from keen ex-military personnel who are just bursting to share their war-time experiences with us.

The process of writing your story

There are no hard and fast rules as to how you tell your life story because that’s all part of your individual experience. And, personally, I like to create a different style for every family memoir I write. During a flight back to Melbourne from interviewing my lovely New Zealand client in 2003, I considered how I might present her story. Rather than just do a predictable historical walk-through, I decided to ‘break the journey’ into what I felt were interesting chunks of information. This meant considerable re-organising of material once it was transcribed, and this editing proved to be a very lengthy process. Ultimately, however, I felt that future readers would find the stories more interesting and entertaining. 

You may be keen to tell your own life-story, so of course it would be a good idea to keep a diary or journal where you can record events as they happen. There are also many journalling and memoir-writing courses available. As always, I believe that motivation is the key. 

If you decide not to write your story yourself, I suggest employing a biographical writer who will most likely wish to interview you. This is a very intimate process, requiring sensitivity on the part of the interviewer.

How does it work?

Personally, I consider that nothing can replace interviews when it comes to documenting history, whether it is personal, family, or business.  Telling your story to an impartial, interested witness is often extremely therapeutic, as well as exhilarating and exhausting.  I have a warm, empathic interview style, and because the process can be tiring, maintain a strict one and a half to two-hour time schedule.  I prefer to conduct face to face interviews with people in their own surroundings to help them relax. I have found that in most cases a natural closeness develops with the interviewee, and this facilitates a more authentic memoir. Little nuances of speech, grammatical expressions and so on become an integral part of the final written work. 

There may be other people you wish to have interviewed for your story, including friends, family members, or in the case of a business history, close associates or even clients.

All interviews are recorded with a digital recorder, which I then transcribe and begin drafting your story. When the manuscript is completed, you will receive a draft to review, and once this is completed to your satisfaction, I can assist you to select photographs to illustrate the different times and people in your life.

The finished product

Nowadays, with digital printing technology, it is possible to produce a very professional and attractive book for a reasonable cost. In most cases, I have found the client will want to print a limited number of books to give as gifts to family members. Of course, should you so aspire, it is also possible preserve your legacy with an elegant, leather-bound finish. 

How long is a memoir?

The length of your memoir depends on how much content you want to include. Surprisingly, details you may consider to be mundane may be of huge interest to your family and friends. For example, the way you were brought up, the clothes you wore, how you travelled, and how you spent your time, become more fascinating the more the years roll on.

How long will my memoir take to write?

Sometimes there will be a need to complete a book in a short space of time, but from experience, most projects will take from six months to a year.  (Actually, the longest time I have worked with a client is over 20 years, but that is most unusual!!)

What is the memoir writing process?

As a general rule, I prefer to conduct face to face interviews. Each interview usually takes one to one and a half hours, as I have found that people tire easily, especially the elderly. This is a relaxed time where I simply prompt you with questions about your life and we talk about your life memories.  I will use a digital recorder during this process.

Should I be interviewed alone or have family/friends with me?

I prefer to interview people one on one, although having someone else with you can sometimes jog your memory regarding certain incidents and events.

Extra Interviews

Clients often ask me to speak with other family members or close friends.  In the case of company histories, I am often asked to talk with past and present staff members and find that they are very happy to be involved in the book.

Is it a good idea to complete a book about someone as a surprise?

I think that it’s always better to get the information straight from the person involved, but of course you can document various short stories and anecdotes provided by family and friends.

Do I have to write anything?

Not if you want Write Creations to do all the work. All you have to do is answer questions about your life and I will write the book for you.

How much does it cost?

Writing a memoir is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, and this means that costs naturally vary from project to project. 

Factors that determine the final cost include the number of people interviewed, the length of the story, whether you want a paperback or hardcover book, the number of photographs you wish to include, and how many copies you require.

There are many options for your book and I am always happy to work within your individual budget.  For example, you may want an A4 size book with a paperback cover in a larger font for easier readability.  Or you might prefer a smaller A5 hardcover book.  Some people’s books will likely contain poems or short stories written by or for them.  There may be more photographs in one book than another.

Confidentiality

All information you give me is held in the utmost confidence.

Who decides what goes into my Memoir?

You have the final say on what goes into your memoir.

Can I get sued for the contents of my book?

If references to people in your book are maliciously false, or defame someone’s good name—yes. We discuss these possibilities at the outset to make sure you don’t make yourself vulnerable to any legal action.

Does the cost of writing my memoir have to be paid up front?

A deposit is required and then the balance is paid over the following months.