“Everyone has a book“: Ordinary people record their stories, and the memoir industry thrives | Autobiography and Memoirs DayDayNews

Brian Lewis grew up on a tough council estate after arriving in the UK as part of the Windrush generation. At the age of eight he developed an interest in chess and joined a team of council estate children in tournaments, often competing with children from more privileged backgrounds. At the age of 12, he challenged and defeated an international grandmaster.

You may never have heard of Lewis, but he is one of thousands of ordinary people who have joined a fast-growing trend of preserving their life stories for future generations through ghostwriting autobiographies. Demand for these services has skyrocketed in the wake of the pandemic.

“I think during lockdown, people may start thinking about their own and their loved ones’ deaths,” said Rutger Bruining, founder and chief executive of StoryTerrace, one of the UK’s fastest-growing biography services. “People don’t see their parents, the kids don’t see their grandparents, and people don’t know how long this will last.”

The company has a team of about 750 interviewers, many of whom are journalists or former journalists, who are deployed to ask subjects. Prices range from £1,800 to £5,850, depending on the package.

Some stories about hope already look like they’re out of a book, like the Desiree Home story. She lives a privileged life in a big house when everything changes. She was diagnosed with bowel cancer, her husband lost his job and they ended up living in a caravan.

Her daughter is homeless and living on the streets.

Her life seemed to change irrevocably until one day her husband bought a EuroMillions lucky draw and won £1 million.

Brian Lewis with his ghostwritten autobiography.

In such a life, Home, who lives near Maidstone, Kent, always knew she had a book on her mind. She even has a title. “If I ever wrote my life story, I always said it would be called then... Because whenever I tell people about my life, just when they think I’m telling them the most important thing, I say: ‘Then…’,” she said.

But she never had time to sit down and write, so when she saw StoryTerrace mentioned in a magazine article, she got in touch, got writing samples from potential ghostwriters, and chose one after a phone consultation.

She added: “One of the reasons I do this is because I used to tell my kids the stories my grandma told me and I realised that no one was passing them on by word of mouth anymore and I wanted to write it down and write it now I have grandchildren and great-granddaughters.

“Also, talking about my own story is cathartic for me – it helps keep me grounded and I can pick up my book anytime and remind myself of what’s going on.”

Brian Lewis at age 10
From a biographical memoir by StoryTerrace of Brian Lewis at age 10

Still others want to document major changes in their lives. Noshad Qayyum is one of them.

A fine Muslim son, he married a woman his family recognized, but on his wedding day, disaster struck. His father stood up to give a speech and died of a heart attack on the spot.

Qayyum suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, had suicidal thoughts and sought help, and later devoted his life to helping men cope with mental health issues.

“In the period after the incident, when I was in therapy, I kept a diary a lot,” he said. “It was part of the recovery process recommended by my therapist, and it was also at this time that I sadly lost so many male friends to suicide.

“It seemed like I had an opportunity to do something about it, to give some perspective on it and raise awareness, because we can’t live like this.

“It’s kind of in place that I can use what I know and write a book, or have someone help me do that, as a way of speaking.”

“The process of writing a biography was like a form of therapy in itself – going through the interview process with the ghostwriter and documenting my experience was amazing. It allowed me to organize my thoughts, coordinate what happened, and put it together That translates into a way that someone can walk away and read it and know that no one is alone — especially those whose suicides affect us disproportionately.”

People want to document their lives for different reasons, Bruining said. “Sometimes, their motivation for writing a biography may be the result of an important moment in their life, an achievement or a turning point, good or bad. But many times, the motivation is simply their own desire to pass on their story to their family, or their of families want to document the stories of their parents or grandparents.”

He said the impetus to start the memoir company came as a child, when he spent school holidays with his grandparents.

“My grandfather was a great storyteller, he started a resistance group in World War II and later moved to the Caribbean with my grandmother, where they started a GP practice.

“There are a lot of stories and there always seems to be new stories, or additions to the old ones. But when they passed away, the stories seemed to come much faster than I expected and I regret that I never asked the questions I should have done. “

StoryTerrace isn’t the only company that ghostwrites ordinary people’s stories. Book of My Life was started by Alison Vina in 2007 when a neighbor asked her if she would ghostwrite her life story. With a background in writing and editing, Vina founded the company that provides biographies of up to 50,000 words, including images.

The business has grown steadily, and her team of writers now produces about 100 books a year, she said. “We have noticed a significant increase in sales during the lockdown,” Vina said. “I believe it’s partly because people have more time for reflection and the opportunity to continue doing work they’ve long wanted but didn’t do — like writing a memoir.

“We’ve written books for businessmen, scientists, nurses, doctors, peers, teachers, etc. I’m fascinated by the stories of all of our clients, especially because of the world they grew up in 60 or 70 years ago versus the world as we know it So different.”

Standout stories, she said, include the Ukrainian engineer who fled to Germany during World War II, the female entrepreneur who changed the General Post Office’s policy on women wearing pants, and the advertiser who founded the Lunch Voucher Company, which was founded in 1946 by providing food stamps to employees. Ways to get tax relief.

Rutger Bruining, founder of life memoir company StoryTerrace
Rutger Bruining, founder of life memoir company StoryTerrace.

“My advice to anyone who wants to write their own story or write a life story for a loved one is that it’s not too late,” she said.

“Many of us regret not learning more about their lives from our parents and grandparents when we had the chance, but I have yet to meet anyone who regrets writing their stories.”

Not all biography writing services are for profit. The Hospice Biographers was founded in 2017 by Barbara Altounyan, a journalist who, prior to her death, documented her father’s life story through a chat with her terminally ill father and realized it was a service that could be offered to others .

The charity recently changed its name to Life Stories to reflect its expanding brief; it is providing free services to people receiving palliative care in a variety of settings.

Stories for Life is funded through fundraisers and donations, and instead of producing a printed book, it provides professional-grade audio files of interviews with subjects conducted by its team of 100 volunteers.

It’s about to launch a paid service that anyone can access, with revenue going back into a free biography program.

“A person talking about their life can be very therapeutic,” said Claire Carter, president of Stories for Life. “A lot of times, during interviews, they’ll recall things they’ve forgotten and may have stories from their lives that even their own family members don’t know about.

“Traditionally, family stories are always told at parties, and I think that’s kind of forgotten. Especially during Covid, when people can’t meet up, the opportunity to pass those stories down to the family is taken away. I do think that Get people thinking about wanting to keep these family stories for the future.”

According to Bruning, the biggest obstacle for people trying to write biographies is that they don’t think they are important enough. “They said: ‘My life is so boring, I haven’t done anything,'” he said.

“But it wasn’t boring for their families, and their stories showed how the world has changed. We’re not trying to write a bestseller — we’re telling real stories.

“There’s an old saying that everyone has a book, and it’s true – it just doesn’t need to sell 100,000 copies to be effective.”

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: