1. BillyDee
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    BillyDee New Member

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    Advice on writing a biography

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by BillyDee, Feb 3, 2009.

    My great-grandmother recently passed on aged 94 and we have been going through her possessions. During her working life, my great grandmother was a self-employed seamstress/dress-maker who ended up making a lot of formal/wedding dresses for rather noteable high-society members. As a "thank you", and sometimes through sheer jaminess, my great-gran also got to attend the functions that she made the dresses for.

    Amongst her belongings, we found a scrap book that she made, including photos of the dresses she made, and articles from local and national newspapers reporting on the weddings and events the dresses were made for.

    I am convinced there is a book to be made out of this scrap book. Whilst my great grandmother her may not be noteable enough to have an autobiography, certainly the world she was catering for and had access to is worth writing about (as indeed, many royal and political aids have done in their memoirs). I also think it would be interesting for people who read about fashion.

    I am fortunate that I still have living relatives who can help me fill in the personal gaps of GG's life, and these noteable people would require looking through obtituaries, Who's Who and the Oxford Dictionary of Biographies, but I was just wondering if anybody had any experience with writing a biography, or indeed helping to get a book published? Also, would you want to read a book such as this?

    Any help/advice is welcome and greatfully recieved

    Many thanks
     
  2. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't have any particular advice, but I can tell you this: Ann Frank was just one of millions of Jews hiding from the Nazis, and her book is famous. Frank McCourt was nobody special growing up, and Angela's Ashes is very popular. Just because she herself was not famous does not mean there is no interest there.
     
  3. Mercurial
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    Mercurial Contributing Member Contributor

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    First of all, I love fashion, so I think it's really great that your great-gran was such a fabulous seamstress. Second of all, people like to read about other 'ordinary' people; even though their lives may not parallel or really even relate, people often have the same drives and desires. If it is well-written, I dont see why anyone wouldnt want to read the book. :)

    I've never written a biography before, so I cant give you any advice as a writer, but I can tell you what I would want as a reader. I've read biographies that start out horribly. IE: "I was very, very tiny when I was born..."
    The key to writing a biography is making the entire piece as entertaining as a thriller even when it's someone's everyday life, and that could be hard, especially because everyone has those 'dull' parts in their lives. If you can figure out how to not really cut anything out yet keep the story interesting, I think you'll be good. :)

    I dont have much advice as far as publishing goes, either, but there is a separate forum dedicated just to publishing if you look. ;)
     
  4. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've got vague memories of The Great Gatsby here. Wasn't the narrator a bit of a gatecrasher on the social scene, always looking in from the outside, not part of the group himself? It's not the least bit important that your great-gran wasn't famous herself, it makes it all the more fascinating that she was witness to these gatherings and met these people. I do hope you'll be able to use this material, it sounds very interesting.
     
  5. BillyDee
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    BillyDee New Member

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    Rei and madhoca: Thank you very much for your positive comments!

    Mercurial: Thanks for your comments. I did see the publishing forum, thank you, but didn't want to post this in there as I do not yet have a book - sorta fel like running before I could walk! I was really just wanted tips and advice to writing a bio, but the non-fiction section seemed more about submitting work, so I posted this here. Thanks for your suggestions though - my initial reaction was to write it in almost in the style of a novel. After all, it is - to all intents and purposes - a story, it just happens that this one is true!
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    billy...
    i was also a seamstress and dress designer in my old life [including of my younger sister's wedding dress and veil], so this caught my eye, needless to say...

    what you seem to have is not biography material so much as a 'coffee table book' with your great-grandma's reminiscences of the rich and famous scattered among the photos of her creations and some news clips... as such, i can see where it could definitely interest publishers who specialize in such books...

    as a plain, text-based biography, i don't think it would have as much appeal, since it's really the gowns she turned out that are the focus of the 'story' and they need to be seen, not just read about... but, of course, the more 'odd' to 'shocking' happenings she may have written about in her diary/scrapbook will only heighten interest in the book among the book-buying public, as well...

    i've helped with a number of such projects, so if you want any info on how to go about putting together a proposal for agents or publishers, just drop me a line any time...

    it sounds like a great book, so i wish you the best of luck with it...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  7. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Billy...

    Are you a professional writer? If not, I would add one thing to mammamaia's comment. This story/coffee-table book will need good quality writing. I don't know if you have that level of writing experience...maybe you do...but I got the impression that you are not an experienced author. If true, I would suggest you hire a ghost writer to make your great grandmother's "story" come to life in a reasonably short time span.

    I don't know if mammamaia would be "up" for such a commitment, but she would certainly be my first choice if she would do it. And, I suspect she can provide you with several good resources if you decide to engage a ghost writer.
     
  8. BillyDee
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    BillyDee New Member

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    mammamaia: Thank you, this is exactly the kind of feedback/advice I was looking for. The "coffee-book" table idea does sound interesting. After all, as you quite rightly state, it is the gowns and the parties that are the main focus of the book, as opposed to my Great Grandmother's life per se. And of course, I am lucky to have pictures of the gowns, as well as newspaper cuttings of the parties and weddings that she made the dresses for. It is definetly a new angle for me to think about, and I could always add a potted biography of my Great Grandmother as a foreword or introduction to the book, so people are still aware that it is her work that they are looking at, but keep the focus on the gowns, as you suggested.

    Thank you also for your offer of help. If things go further, I shall certainly drop you a line. ;)

    NaCl : No, you're right, I'm not a professional writer. That said, I am a confident writer. I have won competitions for my writing (admittedly at amateur level) and I have had an awful lot of experience writing lenghty texts (albeit in an academic context). However, I would be the first person to admit that that might not be experience enough to do the book justice. A ghost writer may be helpful, but as this project is very personal to me - and my family - I would have to talk long and hard with them about it, and indeed, about who I would pick. Thank you, though, for recommending mammamaia. I shall certainly keep it in mind.

    :D Once again, thank you everyone for your feedback. It has really given me a lot to think about :D
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    for the record, it would be a labor of love for this former seamstress and dress/gown designer to help with the writing of such an intriguing book!
     
  10. BillyDee
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    BillyDee New Member

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    I was round my Nan's house yesterday and was able to have another look at the scrap book. I took a couple of photos (sorry for the bad quality, I had to use my phone camera which is a bit naff) of the kind of stuff she had:

    THIS
    [​IMG]

    Is the basic layout of the scrapbook. The invitation to the wedding or event next to the photo(s) of the dress. There are a couple of gaps (ie just invitations), but as they were mostly noteable people, I am sure using something such as LexusNexus or Who's Who would help me fill in the historical gaps. I'm equally sure my Nan and my Great Aunt (her daughters) would help me fill in the gaps for her working life.

    detail of the dress:
    [​IMG]


    She also made the wedding dress of singer Selena Jones (look her up on YouTube). Whilst she was not invited to the wedding, we do have a lot of newspaper cuttings from the time.

    [​IMG]

    Finally, there are also a lot of "Thank You" letters (happily, most of them are letterheaded, such as this one from the British Embassy), which I can put in.

    [​IMG]

    Another one I should have taken a photo of are a couple of miscellanious items, such as a pass my GG was given to attend a banquet at the House of Lords, she has also kept hold of the menu.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    this is truly a goldmine of material for your proposed book, billy!... now, if you can just add enough narrative about your great-granny's life and anecdotes in re some of the famous clients, i suspect you'll have a winner of a coffee table book...

    the market will be history buffs, brides, former brides, celebrity-hounds, fashion-buffs and more i can't think of off the top of my head before i've had my breakfast and green tea... with the right arrangement of photos, etc. and good writing, you should have no trouble selling this to a major publisher...

    again, if you need any help with it, i'd be happy to see you through the process...

    hugs, m
     

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