A lovely article in North Shore Living Magazine about me winning the Allen and Unwin prize to help me fine tune my biography of Emeritus Professor Michael Cousins AO, one of the world’s leading pain medicine researchers, clinicians, educators and advocates.
As we head towards the dawn of a new decade, it is timely to reflect on the previous one—the special moments, ups and downs, challenges, victories and learnings. I don’t know about you, but the first decade of the 21st century, and particularly its final year, seemed like a time of extremes to me. The mounting evidence of the ravages of climate change, with extreme heat, more catastrophic weather events and bushfires on our doorstep, and the impact of our lifestyle on our ecosystem as evidenced by the extinction of so many species, including the iconic koala. An unexpected Federal Election outcome, a terrorist attack in New Zealand and the death of so many musical, literary and cinematic icons…
The New Year is a time to recalibrate and to commit to implementing important changes in our life—changing jobs, retiring, starting a new course or business, taking up exercise, giving up smoking or drinking, or losing weight.
The beginning of a new year is also an ideal time to start writing your memoir—whether you write it yourself or ask Share your life story to write it for you.
A memoir is a tremendous legacy you can leave for your children, grandchildren and future generations. Your memories are precious. Writing a memoir is about remembering. It’s about preserving and sharing your life journey. A memoir is about holding onto the ordinary moments, and occasionally the extraordinary ones. It’s about recording your special memories, anecdotes and the quirky things that make you who you are, the person your family loves so much.
Storytelling is a powerful way for you to communicate what you stand for, the lessons you’ve learned in life, the exciting journeys you’ve embarked upon, the knowledge you’ve gained and the love you feel for your family and friends.
The health benefits of memoir writing
Harvard Medical School recently published an article about the health benefits of writing a memoir as we age. It said that rather than focusing on what we’ve lost through illness and ageing, sharing our story can renew our vigour as we retell stories and share memories from the past. People who are bored can feel more motivated and those with depression may experience relief from symptoms as they share their stories.
Writing a memoir can help us re-establish a sense of personal power by exploring ways we coped with difficult times in the past. It can also help us recapture our life meaning through connection to the past and increase our feelings of relevance and importance. Passing wisdom and life learnings on to children and grandchildren and being taken seriously can help us improve our self-esteem and confidence.
If you would like to know more about writing your memoir, please get in touch with Gabriella on 0408 256 381 or via the Get in touch page.
As Christmas approaches are you struggling to find the perfect gift for your partner, parents or grandparents? Do your father and grandfather have enough socks and undies to last a lifetime and is your Mum’s bookcase and that of your Grannie bursting at the seams with recipe books they never read?
Have you thought of giving your parents or grandparents a memoir or life story as a Christmas gift? It is a gift for your entire family as it enables your parents’ or grandparents’ stories to live on forever.
A memoir is a tremendous legacy your parents and grandparents can leave for their children, grandchildren and future generations. Their memories are precious. Writing a memoir is about remembering. It’s about preserving and sharing their life journey.
A memoir is about holding onto the ordinary moments, and occasionally the extraordinary ones. It’s about recording your parents’ or grandparents’ special memories, anecdotes and quirky things that make them who they are, the people you love so much.
Storytelling is a powerful way for your parents and grandparents to communicate what they stand for, the lessons they’ve learned in life, the exciting journeys they’ve embarked upon, the knowledge they’ve gained and the love they feel for their family and friends.
Giving a gift voucher for a memoir
The beauty of giving your parents or grandparents a gift voucher for their memoir to be written is that siblings and cousins can join together and contribute towards its cost, making it an affordable option.
This Christmas if you’re struggling to think of a special gift for your parents or grandparents, consider giving them a gift voucher for their memoir to be written. It’s a gift your whole family will treasure.
Share your life story offers gift vouchers for mini-memoirs, memoirs and life stories, so please feel welcome to get in touch if you would like to have a chat if you’re thinking that it would make the ideal gift this Christmas for your loved ones.
This year I felt honoured to be asked to edit the memoir of Wilfred (Bill) Peatman, an amazing man who this year turned 101.
Bill wrote his memories in an exercise book over many decades and his story is truly inspiring.
One Life: Two Worlds is the memoir of Jeanne Rockey AM. I wrote the book for her this year and had a wonderful time each week as she shared her amazing life story with me. Jeanne originally trained as a physiotherapist before living overseas for several years. She was instrumental in getting the Starlight Foundation and Foodbank up and running in Australia and she actively contributed to several other charities over the years.
Mosman biographer Gabriella Kelly-Davies last night won the coveted Allen and Unwin Faber Writing Academy scholarship to study ‘Writing True Stories’ with Patti Miller, an award-winning life story writer and educator. During the course Gabriella will be developing her manuscript of the biography of Emeritus Professor Michael J. Cousins AO, one of the world’s leading pain medicine researchers, clinicians, educators and advocates. In 1990 Professor Cousins founded the Pain Management Research Centre at Royal North Shore Hospital, which is recognised internationally as a centre of excellence for pain research and treatment.
Gabriella, who has written memoirs for several Mosman residents, says she feels honoured to have won the scholarship. ‘As a writer I am always looking to enhance my writing and Patti Miller is such an accomplished teacher that I’m confident she will help me to write a compelling biography of Professor Michael Cousins that captures his driving passion for improving the management of pain.
‘In the late 1960s and 1970s Professor Cousins was inspired to devote his life to improving pain medicine by three exceptional pain medicine pioneers who revolutionised pain research and clinical care.
‘My overwhelming goal is for Michael Cousins’ biography to inspire the next generation of researchers, clinicians and educators to dedicate their life to scientific discovery and the pursuit of better ways of preventing and treating illness, particularly chronic pain.
‘I am also eager to share with people living with chronic pain the latest approaches to pain management that do not involve addictive drugs such as opioids.
‘Professor Cousins’ vision for a national approach to interdisciplinary pain management and the systems and processes he and his colleagues put in place to realise this vision are having ripple effects across the nation. The system-wide changes he drove through the National Pain Strategy, Painaustralia and the NSW Pain Management Plan are improving the way pain is funded and managed.
‘There is still a long way to go, but Professor Cousins’ relentless advocacy has raised the priority given to pain management within Australia’s political circles and the health system.
‘Through setting up and leading the pain centre at Royal North Shore Hospital, Professor Cousins and the teams of clinicians and researchers at the Pain Management Research Centre demonstrated the benefits of interdisciplinary pain management. The research at this centre was ground-breaking, profoundly influencing the management of acute, chronic and cancer pain and providing the evidence required to support Professor Cousins’ advocacy for more funding for research and specialist pain services.
‘Michael Cousins’ colleagues speak of his forward-thinking ability and phenomenal driving energy. Several colleagues said he was a ‘force of nature’ and an inspirational leader who would clearly and passionately articulate his vision, bringing them along with him to achieve that vision.
‘With vigorous support from many colleagues over the last four decades, Professor Michael Cousins has been able to advance the way pain is prevented and treated and has put in place systems that will benefit people living with pain now and into the future.
‘I’m fervently hoping that Patti Miller’s course at the Faber Writing Academy in Crows Nest will help me to inject vivid detail and realism into my descriptions of Michael Cousins’ life and work that will captivate readers and keep them reading to the last page,’ she added.
About Gabriella Kelly-Davies
Gabriella is a Mosman-based biographer and the founder of Share your life story. Gabriella has written the life stories of businesspeople, medical specialists, surgeons, musicians, journalists and multi-generational families who have lived in the same home for over a century.
She has studied creative writing, creative nonfiction, narrative nonfiction and feature writing at Sydney University, the University of New South Wales and the University of Technology (Sydney) and life story writing through Oxford University, the Australian Writers’ Centre, NSW Writing and the Writers’ Studio.
She is currently writing the biography of Emeritus Professor Michael J. Cousins AO, one of the world’s leading pain medicine researchers, clinicians, educators and advocates.
More information: www.shareyourlifestory.com.au
I feel so honoured to have won the Allen and Unwin scholarship to do Patti Miller‘s Writing True Stories course at the Faber Writing Academy next year. I have so many questions to ask Patti and can’t wait to get started. Here is the announcement: http://faberwritingacademy.com.au/Scholarships2020information.html#.Xctn-tUzaBY
This afternoon as the insistent blustery wind buffeted the magenta bougainvillea on our balcony overlooking Balmoral Beach in Sydney, I listened to an interview with Oxford University’s Jeremy Hughes and Virginia Woolf’s biographer, Hermione Lee. Jeremy asked Hermione whether writers can employ similar techniques to photographers to produce different images of the same subject.
Hermione’s response fascinated me. ‘Yes, I think that’s a very good suggestion, and I think we should, and I think that if you hold a middle distance shot all the way through your biography, it could get a bit dull,’ she said. ‘The equivalent in writing is to have moments in the biography where you treat with very minute close-up a particular day in the life, or a particular incident, or a particular thing that someone said, and you really home in on it and you spend a lot of time on it. Then you might jump back and say, “Okay, the next six weeks nothing much happened.”’
Hermione’s advice is to get anecdotes from the subject of a biography because that is what readers want. She cites Elizabeth Gaskell who wrote Life of Charlotte Brontë. Elizabeth had pinned above her desk a little message to herself which said, ‘Get anecdotes. If you love your reader, get anecdotes.’ Hermione says that’s what people want. They want the stories. ‘Even if they’re very well-known stories, they still want those stories, and there are things you want to get at, like what kind of clothes did they wear? Did they wear make-up? When did they get their hair cut, and why? What did they have for dinner? Those are things that people really, really want to know, and it’s very important to get that kind of detail, and to close in on that kind of detail.’
Hermione advises writers to let a subject’s habits speak for themselves rather than providing commentary about them. ‘Biography hovers in this weird, interesting, liminal limbo land between fiction and history,’ she says. ‘Historians are often very suspicious of it, fiction writers sometimes hate it, because they think if they’re a fiction writer and there’s a biography written of them it’s going to undo their secrets. I don’t think biography should be entirely fictional in its methods. I think that there are ways in which you tell a story and set a scene and colour, use colour, context and colour that is fictional in its methods, because you’ve got to love your readers. The readers have got to want to read this thing.’
If you are searching for a life story writer who can bring your story to life contact Gabriella at Share your life story at firstname.lastname@example.org or 0408 256 381. She is qualified to write your story so that it uses colour and context so that your readers will be enthralled to the last page.
I often mentor people who are writing their memoir and one of the questions they frequently ask me is: ‘How can I make my memoir more interesting for my readers?’
One way you can make your writing more compelling is to create vivid scenes full of sensory details. These scenes fuel a reader’s imagination and draw them into the story. Our memories are stored as sensory memories, so if you are recreating a scene from your past meditate on it—immerse yourself in the scene you are remembering and see if you can recall the sounds, smells, sights, feel and tastes.
Your job as a writer is to enable your reader to see, smell, taste and respond to the scene in their own way. Show your reader what a person is like or what is happening. Help the reader interpret the scene for themselves based on the precise details you provide rather than you interpreting it for them. So for example, use the words, ‘sparkling aqua water’ at a beach rather than saying the water is lovely because lovely is your interpretation of the scene.
Write characteristics that stand out and are distinctive to a person you are writing about. These include how they look, how they feel when you hug them, what they wear if it is distinctive to them, their aroma and behaviours. Use concrete words that convey sensory details that appeal to the creative right side of the brain rather than abstract words that appeal more to the analytical left side of the brain. If your mother always slept with her hair in colourful plastic curlers, include that detail. If she drank tea from a white bone china cup with a rose pattern, mention it. If your father wore Brut aftershave say so and try to describe the spicy fragrance. And if he always changed into his pyjamas as soon as he arrived home from work, the reader would love to know about it as it will help them to imagine your dad’s personality.
When writing dialogue, include the characteristic vocabulary and style of speaking of the people you are writing about. If you can’t remember the exact words they said, make them up so the dialogue reflects the essence of the conversation. If your younger sister injected ‘like’ into every sentence when she was a teenager, include ‘like’ in her dialogue from that time. Also include a person’s actions, gestures and behaviours while they are speaking as this helps the reader to imagine the scene and the person’s personality with greater clarity.
A vital aspect of setting scenes is to recreate the setting—where things happened, time of day, weather, clothes, furniture, light and details specific to the scene. Don’t give your interpretation of the scene by saying the lounge room was beautiful. Instead, describe the furniture, curtains, wall colour and carpet in precise detail and enable your reader to interpret the scene for themselves.
Of course, you need a mixture of showing and telling. If your memoir is all showing it will be too intense and get bogged down in detail. So balance out the showing and telling. Telling gives us space and context—it is descriptive and gives your reader a breather. Showing slows down the pace in the moment, telling speeds it up. Showing describes the minutiae of lived experience, telling gives us an overview.
If you would like some help creating vivid scenes in your memoir please feel welcome to call Gabriella on 0408 256 381 or email: email@example.com