News, Culture & Society

It’s a growing trend: firms that turn your golden memories into a glossy biography

When older relatives say, ‘Did I ever tell you about the time…?’ it’s easy to roll your eyes and make a sharp exit. Sometimes it’s only when it’s too late that we wish we’d listened harder.

Or, better still, written it all down. I’m sure my mother-in-law Jo Russell won’t mind me admitting that I’ve inwardly groaned a few times on hearing how she used to get the bus to school on her own aged five; how she’d push the hated school dinner sausages through gaps in the plaster of her Cheshire convent school; how she saw the Beatles in concert at Northwich Memorial Hall aged 16 in 1962; or how she once spent her entire term’s student grant on a pair of Mary Quant-style white boots.

But it’s anecdotes like these that make up a person’s life story and live on in our memories. The pandemic has reminded us all of the fragility of life, and unless you commit words to a page, or a voice to a recording, these stories could be lost for ever.

It’s why I asked one of the booming memoir writing companies, Master Storytellers, to create a book of Jo’s life, so my teenage children will always have access to their amazing granny and her colourful tales.

Jo, now 75, ended up as an English teacher in two Home Counties convent schools, and she spent 28 years writing her PhD (‘So long that my supervisor had retired by the time I’d finished!’). It was on the poems of Stevie Smith, who wrote Not Waving But Drowning — now the title of the book we are creating.

Jo is working with a ghostwriter on her memoir. Such writing services have seen business boom since March 2020; many firms have had triple-digit growth in the past year, with plenty of new start-ups entering the field.

StoryTerrace packaging, pictured

StoryTerrace costs from £1,600 to £5,250; the most popular package is priced at £2,950. Pictured, a book by StoryTerrace

Nick Boulos was one. He started Master Storytellers last June when his travel writing income dried up. ‘I started thinking about my grandmother and how much I missed her and regretted not learning more about her life before she passed away,’ he says.

‘People were dying without being able to say goodbye and it made me think of all those stories being lost.

‘Sometimes people say, “Oh, I’ve got nothing to say, my life’s really boring”. But it’s our job to extract the stories and present them in a way that’s richly layered and interesting. Once people get started, they love the process and surprise themselves with the stories they have.’

Here’s our round-up of the best autobiography writing services…

SMALL FAMILY FIRM

Forever Stories, from £550 to £6,850 (foreverstories.co.uk)

Forever Stories (pictured), from £550 to £6,850 (foreverstories.co.uk)

Forever Stories (pictured), from £550 to £6,850 (foreverstories.co.uk)

THIS business was set up in June last year by copywriter and aspiring novelist Julian Coles and his fiancee Fabiana Harrington. The designs are fresh and modern, and the couple put great emphasis on the fact that it’s a small, family business that can offer a personal service.

What you get: The top-price package costs £6,850 for a 240-page life story with 50 photos, involving 11 to 14 hours of interviews — cheaper than some larger firms.

You also get a digital copy of your book. The company will also do books of family stories collected from each member, or a book of your child’s early years. The couple are passionate about sustainability: for every life story they create, they plant at least one tree in the Scottish Highlands.

Best for: A lower budget. If you don’t have thousands to spare, the £550 will get you an 18-page collection of short stories from your life — gleaned from one hour-long interview — with ten photos.

EXPERT WRITERS

StoryTerrace, from £1,600 to £5,250; the most popular package costs £2,950 (storyterrace.com)

StoryTerrace, from £1,600 to £5,250; the most popular package costs £2,950 (storyterrace.com)

StoryTerrace, from £1,600 to £5,250; the most popular package costs £2,950 (storyterrace.com)

London financier Rutger Bruining set up StoryTerrace in 2015 after years of niggling regrets that he didn’t ask his grandfather more about his time leading a Dutch resistance group during World War II. It’s now a huge company, with £10 million sales, more than 650 writers and 2,500 completed books. Growth is up 400 per cent since the pandemic began.

What you get: The cheapest package, at £1,600, gets you a 55 to 60-page hardback book with up to 20 photos based on four hours of interviews. The priciest, at £5,250, is the ‘novella’ with up to 125 pages, 40 photos and ten hours of interviews. The books are modern, concise and crisply written.

Best for: Writer choice. Opt for a junior, senior or premium writer, and browse their CVs; many have written mainstream non-fiction, are senior journalists, or are former editors at publishing houses.

MASTERFUL QUALITY

Master Storytellers, from £2,800 to upwards of £9,000, master-storytellers.com

Master Storytellers, from £2,800 to upwards of £9,000, master-storytellers.com

This was a lockdown project for travel writer Nick Boulos. ‘We aim to paint a picture of what the world and society was like at that time, not just the memories of one person,’ he says. It takes around three months.

What you get: Choose between bronze, silver, gold and platinum packages. The cheapest (bronze) will get you 10,000 words and two interviews. The most popular is silver — a 100-page book written with three interview sessions (£4,560). The writers are seasoned interviewers and biographers.

You can also buy an audio version, using a professional voiceover artist or your own voice.

Best for: High production values — Nick’s creative director worked on magazines at Conde Nast for 20 years. The covers are slick and the paper used is the same as in commercial paperbacks. ‘My goal is for every single book to look like it could be on the shelves at Waterstones,’ Nick says. It’s the only company to offer an optional photoshoot with a celebrity hair and make-up artist and an acclaimed photographer.

PLUSH PRESENTATION

LifeBook, from £7,500 to £15,000, lifebookuk.com

LifeBook, from £7,500 to £15,000, lifebookuk.com

LifeBook, from £7,500 to £15,000, lifebookuk.com

When his father Jules was 86 and becoming frail, Roy Moed asked his secretary Kathy to record Jules telling his life story. He died several months later, but it was years before Roy turned those recordings into a book.

His family found the finished result so moving that in 2012 Roy set up LifeBook. It has 10,000 books in circulation globally, and 2020 saw triple-digit growth.

What you get: It’s unashamedly expensive: the most popular package is the cheapest (the Royal at £7,500) and will get you up to 200 pages in hardback books with 60 images and a USB with highlights of 12 interview sessions.

Roy says: ‘A book is 150 hours’ work. And what price do you put on people’s stories and social history? It’s priceless.’ Books are sewn and handbound for durability, and they arrive in a plush presentation box.

Best for: Interviewer matching. Unusually, your interviewer and writer will be different. That allows LifeBook to find highly empathetic interviewers who live locally and can develop a rapport with you over four or five months.

HEAR YOUR VOICE

Record A Life, from £999 to £3,499, recordalife.com

Record A Life, from £999 to £3,499, recordalife.com

Record A Life, from £999 to £3,499, recordalife.com

Set up by oral historian Mike Tapia in 2017, the focus is on hearing your authentic voice: both literally, in the recording you’re sent based on your interviews, and in your book, which contains your exact words.

‘We aim to provide a lightly edited flowing narrative, where you hear the “voice” and character of the person,’ he says.

What you get: A hardback book, e-book, audio CD and a USB stick containing all the material. The cheapest package of £999 gets you a 50 to 60-page book with up to 20 photos based on two hours of video or phone interviews.

The most expensive (£3,499) uses ten hours of interviews to create a book with up to 250 pages and 80 pictures. You pay from £50 extra for interviews using professional recording equipment.

Best for: Hearing your true voice. Both the audio and book version are edited, but you’ll sound exactly like you — including a smattering of verbal tics and mannerisms.

PERSONAL TOUCH

Bound Biographies, from £4,000 to £7,000, boundbiographies.com

Bound Biographies, from £4,000 to £7,000, boundbiographies.com

Bound Biographies, from £4,000 to £7,000, boundbiographies.com

Mike Oke has been helping people write memoirs for 29 years and has produced some 400 books.

What you get: Mike spends a long time interviewing his subjects: six meetings of six hours each to produce a thorough book of around 50,000 words, which can take up to a year to produce. There are no contracts to sign, and you only pay at the end.

He takes pride in his ability to unearth ‘golden nugget’ anecdotes: ‘A couple will often find out things they don’t know about each other.’ The books, usually paperback, have a homespun feel but are packed with detail.

Best for: The personal touch. Mike doesn’t run his interviews strictly to time, unlike some bigger companies, and has ended up friends with many clients. If you prefer to write your own story but need help, Mike can do this, too.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk