• Helen Gregory

A client admitted to me recently that she only had a handful of photographs with which to illustrate her life story book. It got me thinking about the importance of looking after your photos, not just those old black and white prints in dusty boxes, but the ones scattered across phones, tablets and digital cameras.

When you're ready for a project, why not start by discarding prints that are blurry, feature your thumb or are too bright or dark. When you've selected those worth keeping, write a quick note on the back of each one using a soft lead pencil - never a ballpoint pen, which can damage the surface or seep through - labelling either the event it took place at, the people in the photo or where it was taken.

While you’re sorting photographs, remove any glue, tape, staples, rubber bands and paper clips. Then when you’re ready to store them, prevent them from sticking together using sheets of acid-free tissue paper before fixing them into albums with photo corners, never glue, and if possible don’t keep them in the loft, where they could be exposed to fluctuating temperatures and damp. One easy way to safely store your prints is to digitize them – scanning or photographing with a good quality camera, and then organising them into folders and albums - by date, by event, and by who’s in the photo.

When sorting out all the pictures on your phone and computer, pick those you feel are especially important, name the file, then create folders for them. Make at least two copies - one for your computer or laptop and make another on a DVD, portable hard drive, or on the cloud – better safe than sorry.

With the nights drawing in, use the darker evenings to sort out both those modern and vintage photos. Not only will you feel a sense of satisfaction at clearing out cupboards, you’ll also find it’s a great way to spark memories and conversations with friends and family– and your life story book!

  • Helen Gregory

On a trip to the British Library this weekend I really enjoyed seeing all the early manuscripts and authors’ first drafts, but was particularly taken with The Book of Margery Kempe - the earliest English autobiography.

A former brewer and horse mill owner in East Anglia, Margery was the mother of 14 children who became a visionary and mystic. The book, written in 1440, records, “hyr felyngys and revelacyons and the forme of her levyng” (her feelings and revelations and the form of her living), providing a window into the life of an ordinary, middle-class woman in late-medieval England.

After her two businesses collapsed, Margery saw it as a sign that she was being punished by God and decided to devote herself to a religious life. She made pilgrimages all over the world, attracting attention to herself by wearing white and weeping loudly when she was moved by devotion. Suspicious locals doubted her motives, which resulted in several arrests, accusations of heresy and she was even threatened with being burnt alive in the street.

It isn’t a dry, factual account but contains plenty of great detail to help us visualise her life, for example: “It befell upon a Friday on Midsummer Even in right hot weather, as this creature was coming from York-ward bearing a bottle with beer in her hand and her husband a cake in his bosom…”.

The British Library calls it a, “startling document which often feels open, honest, unvarnished and unashamed”. And despite it being nearly 600 years old, I can see some parallels with my life story writing as Margery couldn’t read or write so dictated her book to an amanuensis – a scribe who wrote it down for her.

Margery’s life might have been a bit more dramatic than most, but I’m glad she made the effort to record it. Who knows, perhaps in another 600 years people will be reading some of the life story books I’ve helped to write!

  • Helen Gregory

Now that lockdown is easing, I’ve been enjoying getting face-to-face with friends and family again - the simple pleasure of sharing tea and cake in the sunshine has been wonderful. These all-pervasive rules around social contact were important, but hugely constraining on our lives and relationships. Most of us have had to adapt to the new normal of Zoom conversations, but I certainly won’t miss failing wi-fi connections, frozen faces and echoes.

Let’s face it, virtual meetings can sometimes be awkward. We usually connect better if we meet someone in person rather than communicating via a screen or phone. Our conversation flows more naturally, particularly because we can read facial expressions and body language more easily. And how many of us have sent an email and then realised that someone has misunderstood or misinterpreted a request or off-the-cuff remark.

Human beings are social animals. We naturally want to meet and interact with other people – it’s a good way to establish trust and build strong relationships. When we laugh together, smile at one another, shake hands, or share a meal, we bond on a primal level that can’t be replaced by electronic communication. Someone who sees your face on a screen isn’t likely to feel the same connection to you as someone you meet personally a regular basis. Social contact is even said to help to improve memory formation and recall, and protect the brain from neurodegenerative diseases.

As well as seeing my friends, I’m really looking forward to doing life story interviews face-to-face again. It’s a privilege to share memories with a client about their life – and meeting in person makes it, well….more personal than a virtual meeting. So let’s all enjoy those chats together in the sunshine - tea and cakes optional!


If you're ready to write your book but don't know where to start, contact Memory Lane Books and we'll take you through the process from start to finish! 


07799 764414