Making it easy by Bryher Scudamore
How to write your autobiography - part 1
Let me introduce myself
First I should explain who I am and why I am so passionate about why people should write their life stories for their families.
I have spent the whole of my professional life helping people tell their story, first as a local newspaper reporter and then as a television producer and editor at the BBC. I ran the most popular factual programme the BBC has ever transmitted – ‘That’s Life!’ – where every week we told stories to 20 million viewers that changed the face of Britain. Playgrounds had safer surfaces introduced because of our campaign, rear seat belts were put into cars to save lives, we campaigned to have changes made to tranquillizer prescriptions and got them recognised as highly addictive for the first time – and because of Ben Hardwick’s story thousands of children have had liver, kidney and heart and lung transplants, a thing never attempted in the UK before our appeal; also as a result of Ben’s story the public perception of organ donation changed.
And of course in 1986 we did the first stories about child abuse and helped launch ChildLine, the charity for children in trouble or danger. Then when ‘That’s Life!’ came off air I went on to become Editor-in-Chief of BBC Online. And then for reasons explained a little further on, at the age of 60, I started my own business for the first time in my life and to my utter delight I got royal approval in the form of the award for ‘Best New Digital Business’ from PRIME – the Prince of Wales Initiative for Mature Enterprise - in November 2012.
So, as you can see, I have spent the last 44 years as a professional writer and communicator and now I want to help you to tell your story to your family.
So, why do I desperately want everyone to write their life story? Because 14 years ago my beloved mother, Peggy, died unexpectedly. She and I were extremely close but there were so many things about her life, and my own early life, that I didn’t know and suddenly it was too late for me to find out. For instance, until I did her probate I didn’t know that my parents were married on Christmas Eve - as children we were all too busy preparing for Christmas Day!
So the very fact that you are reading this and have got this far means you are interested in writing your life story but perhaps you feel daunted by the task. You worry that you don’t have an interesting enough life or you think it will take too much effort.
I will do my best to hold your hand through the process and make as many helpful suggestions as possible. Some of you may hope that a publisher will take up your book but I would suggest that at this stage you just concentrate on getting your life story written down for your family. If it is good enough for a publisher, that will come later.
First, there is no right way or wrong way to do this – just your way. I will put forward a number of easy steps but you can do them in any order.
I have a terrible memory but I found as I wrote my own story that memories started to come back – sometimes in the middle of the night! Others who have used my autodotbiography system have called the process ‘WD40 for the memory.’
First get yourself a notebook that is going to be dedicated to noting down memories about your life as they come to you, or use your computer, or tablet to keep notes.
Then I suggest you gather up all the photograph albums you can find and all those packages of pictures that you took but never had time to put into an album. Photographs are a powerful way of bringing back long forgotten memories. Unfortunately not everyone has photographs – a house fire, or a home move and they disappeared – but if you do they will be very useful, first in bringing back memories and second in illustrating your story. Photographs can fascinate the younger members of the family when they see how strange the clothes we wore in the 40s, 50s and particularly the 60s!
You don’t have to do this all at once, so find a space where you can keep them together so when you have some free time you can flick through them. If you are like me you will love having an excuse to look through all those photos that you haven’t seen since they were developed.
Use your notebook/computer/tablet to write down the stories that the pictures remind you of because you may not want to include the image but the story is still worth telling.
At the same time try to find those old school reports your mother kept, or your swimming certificate, or the scroll that shows you were a member of the second football team. Whatever documents you have such as birth and marriage certificates are worth looking out because they will all be useful in illustrating your life story.
Alongside your notebook/computer/tablet it is worth having a large envelope or a box that you can sue to store the pictures and documents you want to use in your book. And if you are computer literate I suggest at the end of each session flicking through the photos you scan those that you might want to use onto you computer and save the images as jpegs in a special file so you can find them again easily when you come to put your book together.
In short if you are going to print your book you need the images to be of a reasonable resolution – for an autodotbiography they need to be 300dpi. And make sure you crop the pictures so you have just the image you want and not bits of the scanner bed, or torn edges of old photographs. And if you need help to renovate damaged old pictures find out about Photographs Forever here www.photographsforever.co.uk
So for this first tip you need
· A notebook, or a computer, or a tablet.
· Time to find as many family photographs as possible, going back as far as you wish.
· Look out all the important documents you can find.
· A large envelope or box that you can safely store the best of the images.
· If you are computer literate then scan in the photographs and documents so they are easy to upload into your document/book in the future.
I know this can sound daunting.
I have loads of photograph albums and until I started my business, autodotbiography, I had piles of paper wallets with thousands of photographs that needed to be put into albums. In the end it took a lot less time than I feared sorting through the photos and documents and I loved every moment. But, I was constantly crying out to my husband, “Oh darling, do come ad have a look at this one!” when I found a picture of our early years together when he still had red hair and I still had a waistline.
Don’t worry about structure
For the moment all you doing is remembering. Don’t worry about how you will structure the book, or properly write up your memories, that will come later.
As with most things in life, the better the preparation the better the finished product. It took me 14 years to develop and launch autodotbiography and most of that was in the development of the autodotbiography Book Builder so it would be incredibly easy for anyone, no matter how skilled or unskilled at writing, to create a beautifully written, lavishly illustrated hardback book if their life story.
What to Remember
Now start to think about your life. Your story is part of history. Where you grew up and what it was like when you were a child will be completely different from how it is now. For instance, when I was a child I didn’t know anyone who had central heating. When I woke up on cold winter mornings there was ice on the inside of my windows and so I used to get dressed under the covers before getting out of bed into the freezing room.
We didn’t have a telephone and when we did get one it was a ‘party line’ shared with our next-door neighbours and if we wanted to make a call we would have to wait until they finished their call if they were on the line. When I was a child the blue police box at the end of the road was how the beat Bobby communicated with the local police station – now children think it is a Tardis for Doctor Who. They cannot imagine a world without mobile phones and everyone in constant contact.
So when you are thinking about your childhood think of how it was different from today, how you lived, what you ate, and what your home and street was like. It will fascinate future generations.
Of course you must also include the important facts about your life – your date of birth, your place of birth, what part your father played in your arrival into this world if any. If you don’t know the answers to these questions don’t worry as they are just a guide to help you on your way.
Part Two of this guide will be available next week. But if you have any questions or need any help getting started do get in touch and I will be glad to help because I want you to tell your family your life story.
Liz Robertson, whose father did his life story using the autodotbiography online system said: “I just wanted to let you know that the three books I ordered arrived on Saturday. I am absolutely delighted to have them and I am so glad that my brothers and I decided to do this for my dad. It is a wonderful for our family to have. The book is absolutely priceless and I know I will always treasure my copy. Thank you so much for making this happen for us.”
So what is stopping you? Your family will be fascinated by your life story.
Part 2 is here
Par 3 is here
If you would like to try a free trial autodotbiography the the award-winning online system that makes it easy for anyone to create a beautifully written, lavishly illustrated book of their life, for one month, then click on the link below.