Consultant in maritime history and creative lifestory
Lifestory exploring and recording
Real people's histories – not just those of celebrities – deserve to be told. Such slices of 'ordinary' life reveal hidden histories.
I can help you as:
Working with a lifestory group:
Jo fourth from left.
- An oral historian, making exhibitions and books of many people's stories, photos and artefacts
- A teacher/ facilitator, showing people ways to create their lifestory
- A 'lifestory midwife' who you can hire to help you explore and re-present your past in a way that works for you and others
How it works if we work one-to-one on your book
Despite lockdowns and being 350 miles apart, I'm working with Michael, a former ship's steward, on the lifestory he is going to have self-published. After a year we're nearly finished. It's exciting.
This is how we've worked together.
- When he thought up the idea he consulted me on strategy. 'What sort of book could this be?' I suggest possibilities.
- In this process some people need 'carrots'. Some need 'sticks' and some benefit from a mix of both. I try to be his encourager
- He drafts chapters and emails them to me. I make suggestions about what to add in. I ask germane questions like 'what else was happening that year?' Individuals' narrative are even more fascinating when the lived life is put in its social contexts.
- Sometimes it's hard to figure out what to omit. Michael asks 'Might readers find that too-on-the-nose, Jo?' We work out tactful ways to phrase things.
- He acts on my suggestions and sends the revised version. 'Is that better?' Yes! It always is.
- We're working out the best cover and title for it. Should a title be subtle? No, clear. Does the picture suggest the content? Is it arresting? I've linked him to an artist who can enhance his picture.
- NEXT. I'll be there to advise on copy editing, publishing, promoting and distributing.
I can help you in any Mix-and-Match way you want. You're the expert on YOUR life. But as an outsider to it, I can suggest possibilities you'll enjoy, as well as steps that will enrich the process and product for you.
How to do it
It's often quite hard for people to get that huge and puzzling lifestory out, let alone write it creatively. As 'a lifestory midwife' I found it works to take oblique approaches to it, such as
- Make a memory box of key items. This could include making a representation - say knitted or in FIMO - of a special moment for which you have no other record. Sometimes making a box helps you towards making a book or booklet. You find exciting new thoughts and ways of arranging them.
- Starting from now and writing in reverse chronological order. It'll give you new energy and insights, and stop you getting bogged down.
- Make a rag book of your story. Tell it wordlessly in textiles.
- Create subjective maps of places in your past. Or represent your life as a map. One of the best workshops I ever did with Manchester's Transforum, where people tried to draw their life as a Metro system, with its tiny branch lines and major termini. What's your circle line called?
- Play do-it-yourself Desert Island Discs. Identify the key pieces of music in your past then structure your memoir around that. I teach this and other courses at Higham Hall, near Cockermouth. A wonderful place for a Lakeland break, it also offers the bonus of scores of interesting co-participants too.
- Contact me  if you want me to lead a workshop on creative lifestorying, or to give you news of my next one.
- Try my book
- Use me as a consultant by phone, Zoom, Skype, Teams, and Facetime by the hour. For starters contact me by email at I'm experienced with all levels of ability, having taught lifestory writing at Bradford and Leeds Universities and at leisure classes in London, Cumberland and Scotland.
- Look at really innovative creators like Solveig Gott and Christian Nold.
- Use The Oral History Society if you are doing Oral history.
- You may also like to gain company and ideas by joining these organisations or being on their mailing lists. As a member I recommend: