Why every life story is worth recording

Several years ago, I was asked by a prominent businessman to write his life story.

“It’s not for me,” he said, “it’s for my family, so that future generations get some understanding of how our family got to where it is today.”

We sat down for what became a weekly one-hour session. He spoke, I recorded.

After about 10 hours of interviews, I went away and started writing. After editing, I eventually presented him with an electronic version of his life story to do with what he wanted. He paid me the agreed sum, had several copies printed and gave them to family members and some business clients.

Since then, I’ve written four more biographies, three for families and one for a golf club which wished to honour a life member, and I’ve learnt that such exercises are very satisfying for all concerned.

“It’s my legacy,” one of the subjects told me as he held the book in his hand. “I just wish my parents had done one. There are so many things about them that I don’t know, and never will know.”

I was able to understand this final point first-hand. My father was moderately famous but he died, suddenly, at 45 without me knowing as much as I wish I’d known. Fortunately, Ben Hills, a noted journalist and author, wrote my father’s life story and the book was printed for the mass market.

That book told me so much about his early life that I didn’t know and corrected some things I thought I did know.

A few years ago, I was doing some work for Ross Perrett, a fine golf course architect, and that brought me into daily contact with his partner, the late great Peter Thomson who won five British Opens.

One day, I asked Peter why he’d never written a book. He said he planned to, but he was 75. I doubted he’d ever get around to it, because writing your own story requires enormous energy and large doses of self-discipline.

As arguably our greatest ever golfer, I thought it sad that Peter might die without ever telling his own story, so I put a proposal to him. I’d ask questions, he’d answer them, and I’d transcribe them into a book.

A year later, we produced a book which, 11 years later, is still selling and which I hope Peter was proud to have put his name to.

But you don’t have to be as famous as Peter Thomson to have a biography written. I’ve written about people you’ve never heard of – a brave woman who fought breast cancer for 12 years, and a businessman who enjoyed success in his own field.

“I just hope,” one of these subjects told me, “that something I’ve done might inspire just one person, and if it does, the exercise of recording my story will be worthwhile.”

My latest biography was the idea of two sons who wanted their father’s story recorded in words and photos for future generations of the family. They gave him the signed contract as a present.

I spent several hours with this gentleman and, while he was skeptical at first, he later admitted that he’d enjoyed talking about his life.

So what’s the first step?

If you decide you’d like to investigate having your life story recorded, contact a biographer, discuss it further and ask for an estimate of costs. The later will depend on the size of the book you have in mind and the number of copies you wish to have printed.

Remember, this is something that will be passed down through generations and will fill in the gaps for future generations.

And remember, everyone has a story. Everyone.

*There are a number of businesses that specialise in biographies. You could also email Steve to discuss any potential projects.

Have you kept a record of your life to share with family? Have you kept a diary that would be of interest to family?

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