Biographies are a popular form of writing. Too often, however, you find yourself reading one just because you feel you should. This is often the case when people decide everyone must know about someone who is famous.
In this case, the individual was not someone well known internationally or even nationally. Dan decided to write a book about his grandfather.
Dan’s grandfather was not an adventurer. He never travelled outside of England – except for that one disastrous holiday to Scotland. He spent his days working hard to support his family. He was a small shopkeeper in Hastings, East Sussex.
The author had his own ideas, but he did not know how to place the material in an orderly or at least easily read fashion. He wanted something for his own children to have to pass on to their children. Since his Dad had died when the children were still small, the work was an important way for Dan to memorialize his father and show children and grandchildren and all the children to come what he had done.
The work is an attempt to recreate the era of his grandfather, with glimpses at old Hasting including the old Central Recreation Ground, the old Pier and the Memorial. It is essential we all record and retain these flashes of the past. It is also vital we make the material as enjoyable as possible. If a biography – or any other work for that matter, is not compiled and then written in a agreeable manner, it will not serve its purpose but will sit languishing on the shelf.
World War II is a time many remember, although the amount of people who actually experienced it is decreasing. That is one reason why it is incredibly important to record your memories, your parents’ memories and your grandparents’ memories of these times. With this in mind, I am looking forward to helping out on this next project. It is historical, personal and even dramatic.
When WWII began, Lily was 17 and her sister Ivy was 15. This is their story told through letters, diaries and personal reminiscences. Lily and Ivy grew up in London. When war came, they both did their bit. Lily drove staff officers around; Ivy worked in a factory as a “Bomb Girl.”
As the war was coming to an end, they both met and married soldiers. Both these men were from Canada. When the war was over, Lily went with Tom to a farm near Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Ivy returned with John to a small city outside of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The two war brides exchanged letters for a period of years, even after Lily left Tom and returned to London.
This is a collaborative work. It requires sorting through the many personal letters, looking through the entries in diaries and talking to both Lily and Ivy. Since Ivy is quite elderly, the process is slow. The daughters of both women are helping to complete the project.
These particular memoirs are fascinating. They tell the life of two women over a period of decades. The material of their lives would make a great novel. It could even be a documentary or a film.
Modern medicine is slowing coming to terms with alternative medicines. While not exactly embracing the old home remedies with open arms, it is becoming more common to combine traditional and current medical practices – this is complementary medicine. While doctors may express surprise that many old methods or home remedies actually worked, your grandmother or grandfather certainly would not. This is the reason why the daughter of one such woman came to us.
Her idea was a simple one – to put together a “semple” – a book on the remedies she used and knew to be effective. These were tried and proven remedies passed to her from her grandmother.. in turn, her grandmother got them from her mother and so on. She had the ideas and the material; what she wanted was to compile the material in an orderly and highly readable fashion. Since not all of the material was computerized, the task was slow.
In the end, however, she got what she came for – a book she can be proud of – in truth, her own “semple.” It comes complete with an index – something her grandmother and great grandmother would have appreciated. Moreover, plenty of space was allotted for her to include any further material she wishes to add, before passing it on to her own grand-daughter (she has only one son).
She is also thinking of putting together a book for her family on non-medical home remedies, which will include information and recipes on a variety of topics. Among the proposed topics are house cleaning, stain removal, garden plants, laundry and animal care.
A Spell Book – that’s right. Not an easy project. The number of spells is sufficient, but how to put them together to create an orderly and easily read book? Spellbooks are available in several forms. There are the cute approaches such as How To turn My Boyfriend into a Toad. There are also spell books looking at specific types of spells and dividing the chapters accordingly e.g. spells on love, making money, good luck, etc. Some spell books are for amateurs; others look at methods used by various Pagan groups.
The challenge was to create a simple but interesting spell book, but the interest of the author in history and mythology made the choice simple. The selected format was a simple one – a spell book formed around the days of the week. The proposed title Spelling The Days Away is succinct, and it tells the reader exactly what the book is about.
The first suggestion was to create and include an introductory chapter on the history behind the concept of a “week”, together with a brief explanation of what spells are and how they work. After this, the work could flow more easily, with each chapter focusing on a specific day. This created a simple division for both the writer and the reader.
In the completed work, each chapter looked at the history, astrology and mythology behind the day of the week. Sunday, for example, is named after the Sun. Monday is from the Moon and Wednesday is from Odin (Woden). Sayings about the specific days, pertinent deities, astrological signs, associated festivals as well as an odd bit of poetry provide the backdrop for the actual spells.
For each day the authors listed the specific correspondents e.g. moon phase, elements, gemstones, numbers, animals, plants and other related items required to “pump-up” the ability of the spell to be effective. The spells, themselves, were geared to be performed on a certain day of the week. Instructions were provided, but obviously, some spells require more elaborate preparation than others do.
In all, this project had all the basic material, and the work required some creativitiy and organization, plus of course basic editing, to create a very readable and viable book.
The old joke goes that somewhere inside us in a story crying to be heard and in most cases, it should be left that way – unheard. Fortunately, we don’t believe that. Everyone has had an eventful life. It may not seem that way to them, but, once written down, it becomes clear that this is a story they need to tell.
Susan is a clear case in point. To all intents and purposes, she is a housewife. She always had been and still is – although at her age, according to her, she has actually slowed down. Yet, Susan’s life has been anything but mundane.
At 80, she has lived through many changes. As a young child, she and her family – she was one of six, grew up in Yorkshire. It was a tough life. They had a small farm and sometimes only eked out a living. When the Great Depression struck, life became even harder. She was young at the time, having been born in 1927, but she still clearly remembers life at this time.
This was phase one of her life. Phase two came when war came and her brothers went off to fight. A young woman, she began to take on more responsibility. Although soldiers were not common in her small part of the world, she did meet up with several. In fact, she eventually married a pilot.
He survived the War and the story goes on from there. Schooling, children, starting a business, failing and being forced to start from scratch. Susan tells it all with no bitterness. She is straightforward. At times, we needed to coax out more than the basics. She needed a little more detail – not “fluff” or idle chatter, but clarification of a few points or expanded description or even simply more information on certain things she said. This is common as we know what we mean and what happened and forget that others do not know the people or circumstances like we do.
Language and euphemisms are other options. In some instances, a footnote explains what a specific Yorkshire saying means for those of her great grandchildren (and any other readers) who no longer know. The same applies to certain farm equipment that has long gone the way of the dodo. This is important if an autobiography, or any other work, is to be read only by the author.
Susan’s intent is to pass on to her children knowledge of their heritage. She needed clarification for some episodes. Hers is not a story of the grand and the mighty. It is a story of one life lived with courage, determination and even wry humour. In other words, Susan has put together an autobiography book of her life as she has lived it.
Poetry books are a personal expression. Working with poets can be a delight or very trying. There is an exactitude poets expect. They have put the best (or even the worst) of themselves into their work. They expect you to do the same.
This is usually not a problem. Compiling poems, presenting them at their finest is something we have to do. This was the case with Steven’s poems. A political studies teacher, he wanted a solid publication of his words to show his students how poetry can be relevant. He was reaching out to his students and showing them there was more than one way to express political ideas, ideals and events constructively. Obligingly, I went to work and tried to figure a way to package the poems so the senior students would be able to see them at their best.
Steven’s poetry focused on political, social and even labour issues. He talked about past and present politicians in an accessible manner. His work looked at current problems, but it did not offer solutions. Sometimes, it was a running commentary on social issues. This was not the rhythm of Shakespeare. It bordered more on Rap. He actually brought in a few sketches and we utilized free pictures of the political figures to add another dimension to the work.
In the end, Steven had a political statement. His students could understand what he was saying. They could even see why he was teaching political studies. With this book, he was showing them how a teacher could work within the academic strictures and be creative at the same time.
Some people spend much of their life traveling. Others work hard, saving up money for that one great trip a year. Phil is in the latter category. For him, work exists only to provide money to do what he wants to do. As a result, every year, he leaves his job – either quits it or takes an extended period of time off, and travels.
Last year, after talking to a few friends, Phil decided to work with us to put his travels together into book form. In essence, this work is a travel journal. It contains snapshots and/or in depth descriptions of where he has been during his travels. Since Phil liked to go to places that are more out-of-the-way e.g. Baffin island, Nunavut, Canada or the Galapagos Island, the book is not your run-of-the-mill travel book.
Adding to this Phil’s aversion for hotels, preference for hiking and general avoidance of densely populated regions and you have a very unique approach. It was up to us to compile the information in a way that made sense. Since Phil is let’s say a little slapdash with his writing, the book required more hands-on work than is the norm. In this case, the nature of the work and the character of the author encouraged close interaction. This book was demanding but, in the end, the hard work paid off. Both of us were very happy with the final product.