Writing a memoir

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Do you want to tell your life story or maybe someone else’s?

There are many reasons why people chose to write a memoir; probably the most obvious example is the celebrity autobiography written to try raise a flagging a career! But there are other reasons too such as people who have a head a very hard life and want to help others by sharing lessons learned, or perhaps the book is written about one family member as gift.

One type of memoir I’ve been involved with a number of times is where the book is being used as marketing tool to set out the author’s experience and knowledge when operating as a consultant or adviser. But whatever the reason, Books from Start to Finish is here to help and the first thing I need to do is to explain the different types of memoir and essentially there are three.


When most people think of memoir they think of an autobiography of a famous person; the cover says it’s written by that person but in nearly all cases it’s written by a ghost writer; just like us! These are written as narrative of the entire life or period the life in essentially chronological date order.


Then there is the biography, written about a famous person either with or without their consent! This of course causes controversy sometimes, but quite often they are written as a eulogy to that person who is admired by the author. Again, it likely that the narrative will be written to follow the experiences of the subject as they happened.

Not everyone who approaches me wants to write about their own life, sometimes they want to write a book about someone else, maybe famous, who had a major influence on their life, or it’s about beloved family member.

Roman a Clef

Created by Madeleine de Scudery in the 17th century to provide a forum for her thinly veiled fiction featuring political and public figures, the Roman a Clef is the third type of memoir where the story of the person’s life is written in the form of a novel. There are four main reasons for this.

The first is that the person at the centre of the book wants to tell their life story but wants to remain anonymous or they want to use false names for other people in the story, perhaps family member, so as not to cause upset or offence.

Second is people writing memoirs where they had contact with famous people and want to avoid ending up in court! The roman a clef is a common tool here, where names are changed and perhaps descriptions, but the reader is really meant to see through the ‘fog’ to recognize who is being described!

The third reason is to write a form of a biography where the life of some famous had a major influence on the life of the writer and the basis of novel is used to intertwine those lives together through the medium of a story.

The fourth reason for writing a memoir as a novel is purely to improve marketing. If the life of a person who is not famous is not terribly exciting then generating interest in the book is not going to be easy; most readers of memoirs will only read about famous people. However, if the life of the person is put into a novel that can have all the characteristics of story  as opposed to a life story, it can be much more commercially successful.

Choosing the right type for your memoir

The best first step is to talk to me and tell me about what you are looking to achieve and we’ll take it from there. It could well be that commercial success isn’t that important or it may be a key goal.

The information I’ve given you above about the different ways to write your memoir, be it about yourself or about someone else, will hopefully give you some initial ideas but it’s always going to be worth exploring things with me.

Writing your memoir

As with any other book, as I described on the ways to write your book page, you can have as little or as much involvement as you wish. If I am writing it for you and it’s about your life we will either need to get your story recorded or you can write your own notes and we can take it from there. If you chose to have it written as a Roman a Clef then essentially we will follow the process as laid out in the writing a novel page.

If you want to have a book written about someone else and it’s a family member, perhaps you can arrange for recordings or the preparation of notes. If the book is about someone not know to you then it’s going to be a matter of yourself or me doing the research.

There is also the consideration here of possibly contacting the person for approval and turning the book into an ‘authorized biography’ which is likely to improve the marketing later. Again, a Roman a Clef could be chosen should you wish to mix your life with someone else’s, and then the writing a novel steps will be followed. This is a quite popular approach for those who wish to ‘meet their hero’ on the pages of a book! Ready to discuss some more? Contact me today!

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