Memoirs and biographies aren’t just for the Big Names
Sometimes I find out stories about my great grandparents that I had absolutely no inkling about. Incredible stories. My dad will just drop them into conversation in passing. And I’m always amazed. The lives they lived, the things they saw.
But I’m only getting that information second-hand, sometime third-hand.
My great grandparents died when I was in infancy, some before I was born. Without being a part of my life, I didn’t grow up with their stories. And as a child, my grandparents weren’t forthcoming with stories about their own lives either.
Approaching 60, my dad still comes out with stories about his youth that I had no idea about. And that’s the thing, what you don’t know, you can’t ask about.
You can’t just say, ‘tell me about your childhood’ and expect great stories. Memory and storytelling doesn’t always work on demand.
Recounting tales often requires in-depth sessions of essentially interviewing. The brain needs time to mull over questions and remember long-past events that were minor, but brilliant.
And when someone dies, those stories often die with them. The stories of working in Egypt during the 50s when the British withdrew. The stories of eating a whole pack of ice cream in one go because there wasn’t a fridge or freezer in the house. The stories of a time that wasn’t that long ago, but when things were so, so different.
Memoir or autobiography?
While the two are often used interchangeably, there is a difference.
Autobiographies tends to be a detailed overview of your entire life while memoirs are specific stories around a theme.
For instance, my memoir In Bed with the Atlantic (Fernhurst, 2018) is the story of my three-year sailing voyage. More than travel writing, it’s a narrative of personal change, challenge and a life-changing adventure.
Memoirs can span considerably longer periods of time though and tend to be filled with reflections and thoughts as well as experiences and facts.
Is your life interesting enough?
A story about a famous person having raced a platoon of marines up Gibraltar’s peak one afternoon might not be all that fascinating. But the story to me is brilliant and hilarious because it wasn’t done by a famous person, it was done by my dad.
The great task of storytellers is to enable their readers to connect with their characters, but when the characters are people you know and love, you are already connected.
That’s one of the reasons why writing your memoirs simply to pass down to your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren is such a powerful thing to do. No matter how interesting or uninteresting your life seems to you, they will find it fascinating.
They could be reading your stories in a year or in thirty years when everything has changed. When they’re growing up in a different time. And your life, perhaps lived out even before they were born, will be extraordinary.
Memoir isn’t just for those who have gone on great adventures or lived through extreme experiences.
Wouldn’t you love to have known the daily routine of a great grandparent a hundred years ago? Loved to read about how their car broke down and who they asked for help?
A hundred years ago they might not have even had a car, wouldn’t you love to know how they got around and the scrapes they got into?
Even when you’ve never met a family member, they’re still your family, still connected. Their actions lead to your life.
And that’s why your memoirs will be fascinating to the next generations in your family. You don’t need to have done anything that you consider overwhelmingly noteworthy.
You just need to have lived.
Having your memoirs ghostwritten
Because you’re in the process of living your life, it can be hard to know where to begin. It can be almost impossible to sit down and start remembering and writing.
Many people choose to have their memoirs written by a ghostwriter because we can make the process a lot easier.
I sit down with my clients and listen, so you can just talk without having to think about the best way to present the story. As you recount tales of your life, you’ll find other stories leap into your mind.
This interviewing process is done at your own pace and sometimes it takes a while for you to remember events that happened so long ago. Sometimes, it’ll be easy, and you’ll wonder why you’ve never spoken about it before.
After the interviewing process, I go home and turn your stories into a memoir, written in your voice.
From there it can be printed and bound as a hardback or paperback for you to pass along to the next generations in your family.
We learn from each other and stories that sound simple to you, could be life-changing for your grandchildren who are growing up now.