The most personal Christmas present you can give
An Extraordinary Gift For An Anything-But-Ordinary Christmas
Create a beautiful book of your life story and give your family the gift of a lifetime – yours
We all know that books make a great gift and the Christmas market is particularly lucrative for publishers, with bestseller lists often dominated by accounts of the lives of well-known public figures – from politicians to royalty to renowned stars and personalities.
But, as Francis Wilson, a judge of the annual Spread the Word Life Writing Prize says: “You don’t have to be rich, famous or a celebrity to have a life story that people want to read”; Francis adds that “there has been a growth in the number of people who are writing their memoirs and autobiographies because it has become a much more democratic form” as well as a surge in the popularity of Life Writing more broadly (creative writing based on autobiography).
This is echoed by Bryher Scudamore – erstwhile journalist and Editor of the top rating BBC One programme That’s Life! and inventor ofautodotbiography – who is a passionate advocate of getting people to write their life stories, not least as a valuable and interesting record of family history for future generations to refer to – but also to inform their wider sense of personal identity, by giving them a better understanding of their ancestors and heritage, and so perhaps answering questions they have about themselves.
“The unprecedented times we are currently living through – when the truth often seems stranger than fiction – seems to be a key motivator for people to write their life story. I’m increasingly frequently approached by people wanting advice on how to write their life story, and capture their first-hand experiences of what will undoubtedly be a reference point for ‘momentous world events’ for many years ahead. Many have bought autodotbiography as a result - often with a view to using the current lockdown period to complete it in time for Christmas and give it to family and friends as the ultimate personalised gift”, says Bryher.
Alternatively, it makes a great present to give to others – and potentially makes for a project to bring the whole family together virtually to work on, helping to maintain family bonds at a time when Covid-19 threatens to split them apart. Bryher adds: “It’s something you can involve your children and grandchildren with too – they may have questions to ask about your life, or perspectives to add that you hadn’t even considered – and it’s a great way to bring together geographically distanced families.” Furthermore, it can be purchased up until 11:59pm on 24th December, requires no wrapping, and won’t suddenly go on sale on Boxing Day.
Autodotbiography is an award-winning online system that makes it easy for anyone, no matter how good or bad at writing – or who may feel daunted at the prospect of tackling it on their own – to create a beautifully written and lavishly illustrated hardback book of their life story for their family. All the writer has to do is answer simple questions, add photographs and documents and autodotbiography does the rest, turning the words and pictures into a beautiful, premium quality hardback book. At its simplest it is a virtual ghost writer (with back up support offered by phone and email) and a virtual book designer.
Bryher’s idea for autodotbiography was borne of her own experience of suddenly losing her mother and, notwithstanding that they were very close, realising how many questions she had about her mum’s life that would now never be answered. She says: “I never asked her about her childhood, or how she met my father, or stories about my grandparents. Her memories died with her, leaving me with many unanswered questions – poignantly brought home while I was dealing with her probate and came across boxes of photos of people I didn’t recognise alongside letters and her wedding certificate. And many people told me had similar regrets about not asking more about their parents’ and grandparents’ lives.” And they are not alone: it’s a sad fact, but according to an Ipsos-MORI poll, more than half of the UK population can’t name any of their great-grandparents.
“With their sadness ringing in my ears, I investigated the various options available to people who had a precious story they wanted to tell their family – in the main comprising of ghost writing services that were prohibitively expensive for most people, often costing thousands of pounds. So I set myself the task of creating an affordable, accessible, DIY option – also making for a more authentic and personal account, so that future generations can almost hear your voice and feel your presence in their present.”
So, this Christmas, instead of buying the bestselling celebrity ‘autobiography’ (usually ghost-written), why not create your own memoir – a totally unique gift which is unavailable to buy and is guaranteed to appeal to family and friends, and that, instead of ending up as landfill after the festive season is over, will take pride of place on the shelves of your nearest and dearest for generations to come.
Turn your memories of Christmases Past into a Christmas Present…and remain present in all their Christmases Future
Hundreds of people have used autodotbiography in the decade since it was launched – and Bryher has advised hundreds more on how to approach writing their memoirs – earning herself the reputation as one of the UK’s leading experts on writing life stories.
Here she shares some of her top tips:
1. Stop making excuses – just do it! “The most common reasons people give are “I don’t have time”; “I don’t know how”; “I don’t have a story to tell”” says Bryher. “You make the time for important things and there is no greater legacy for future generations than passing on your life story.”
2. Photographic memory: The easiest way to bring back memories is to go through your photographs. Choose those you wish to include in your memoir and then identify who is in the picture, and why they are important to you. “Many people, including me, have old family albums but no idea who the people pictured are” Bryher says.
3. School reports: This is a source of fascination to grandchildren. Your school life, and childhood generally, will be so different from their experience. Bryher says “I am left-handed but was forced to use my right hand by the teachers who taught me to write, tying my left hand behind my back. That would never happen today! We didn’t have iPads, mobile phones, or the internet and most of our playing time was spent out of doors, often in the street, because there were hardly any cars in the 50s.”
4. Life’s events: Think about your childhood, education, work, romances, having a family, holidays, your health, friendships, your triumphs and disasters. Be as descriptive as you can, to bring events to life in the reader’s mind. Someone reading your words in 200 years’ time needs to see the world through your eyes. For instance, if you are describing your father, or grandfather, write not only what he looked like but how he made you feel. Was he nurturing or very strict? Did he have a familiar smell? What sorts of clothes did he wear? “Write down as much of his life and that of your mother and grandmother, as you know, that way your family will know the names of their great-grandparents and a great deal more. Often, the very act of writing down your recollections helps you access additional memories you’d forgotten about.”
5. Sensory stimulation: smells and music are known to be great memory triggers. Perhaps play some of the ‘soundtracks to your life’, or cook some of the recipes that your granny or mum used to make to help transport you back to times gone by.
6. What format? Bryher says “no one size-fits-all. You could write your story by hand, on a computer, or by videoing or dictating into a smart phone. Or, you could use autodotbiography, the online system I created, that makes it easy for anyone, no matter how good or bad at writing, to create a beautifully written and lavishly illustrated hardback of book of their life story – and an heirloom for their family.”
Interviews with Bryher Scudamore, as well as access to case studies and high res images, available on request.