Jilliana begins a series of interviews Catherine Smith in Lewes where she talks about her prolific poetry writing aand teaching creative writing. Another example of a relaxing interview with Jilliana – enjoy!
Video interviewing: dynamic life story telling
Interviewing people and drawing them out to tell their story is an art. Jilliana Ranicar-Breese has a natural talent for this while making interesting interjections that are often quite amusing. Please enjoy the following:
We can all learn from an expert in their craft.
Keep up the good work Jilliana. Notice how she always ends on a cliffhanger. A page turner on paper, of course.
Roger Bluff (author) explores Istanbul
Travel for enlightenment
I understand if Mick Jagger hadn’t had a spectacular career in music with the Rolling Stones, he would have liked to have been a travel writer. Some people argue that travel writing jobs are probably the best vocational work you can get. The dream, for many, is to travel to far off exotic locations, to write about them and, of course, get paid. Ideally, it would feel like you are always on holiday. This type of work may even be more enjoyable than ghostwriting jobs.
Nevertheless, as with all writing, it is best to have a purpose, a reason for your diary or account. Ask yourself: what is it you want to tell or convey to your readers. To gain an insight into the places you visit, its history, the people you may meet and their customs are all of great interest and are worth becoming part of a journal or travel story. Location can also be an important part of a memoir that in itself provides useful material for a prospective traveller. A good example is Istanbul: Memories of a City by Orhan Pamuk. It talks about his life and growing up in this fascinating city. If you want to know what it is like to live in Istanbul, this is the book to read.
Incidentally, I do remember my visit to Istanbul. It was near Christmas so it could be a little damp at times but never cold. In the old quarter in the square overlooking the famous mosques there were plenty of opportunities to have your shoes cleaned or to buy a pictorial guidebook. Dogs and cats roamed around and if you like animals, particularly dogs, then one will make friends with you and follow you around.
I was lucky enough to gain a friend on my visit. And of course every restaurant one walked past, a helpful person would invite one in. All I would say, while carrying my guidebook with my sparklingly clean shoes was, ‘Can I bring my dog with me?’ The answer was always no, so I missed out on many of their kind offers. Well you can’t win them all.
A favourite for any visit to Istanbul is the Grand Bazaar. In this huge place are loads of leather goods. People will offer to take you away to be measured up for a leather jacket. I kept away but I understand there are good bargains to be had. Next time I will be less cautious.
However, I did negotiate to buy some Turkish delight. After some hard bargaining on my part, I got it down to a low price and closed the deal. The proprietor then brought out his family and some Turkish tea and we all celebrated by eating his moreish samples of Turkish delight. It became quite a little party. I then began to wonder how much I had paid for my Turkish delight. The lesson is one should be prepared for a visit to the Grand Bazaar.
During my stay, I travelled around on buses and local ferries. The crossing of the Bosphorus is great fun and Turkish tea is always served. I became hooked to this drink and a healthy addiction too, I would think.
One bus journey my wallet exploded with all the receipts I had gathered as I paid for my ticket. A lady traveller helped me with my debris and gave me a little bag to put it all in. An inept male visitor she must have thought. But local transport is a great way to meet people and a good way to integrate into the local scene.
A lasting memory I would like to share, however, is my crossing to the East. As we know this is a City where East meets West. After a short walk from one of the ferry drop offs, you can find Kiz Kules or The Maiden’s Tower that requires another boat trip but a shorter one this time. There is a legend associated with this fine lighthouse situated as it is in the bustling Bosphorus. But what I was told, if two people tell each other they love each other while they visit this place, then they will never be parted. All I can say is go there and try it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
How to do travel writing
This is a difficult question. Moreover, an even more pertinent question to ask, possibly, is how to do good travel writing. It goes back to what it is you want to write about and why. Travel writing prompts are particularly relevant here. For me the ultimate travel writer is A. W. Wainwright. This dedicated man spent a decade or so walking the English Lake District, climbing its mountains and detailing all the routes up those peaks. His purpose was to show people how to make the best of the beauty of, quite arguably, one of the most stunning places on Earth. His style and approach, in my opinion has not been equalled or bettered.
His method was to climb each route during the spring and summer making notes while taking loads of photographs. In the autumn and winter he would then painstakingly write up his notes and use his photos to draw exquisite illustrations of his journeys up the mountains. Little sketches of the routes were included along with invaluable snippets of information. With these travel guides, a walker could enhance the enjoyment of his hike immensely. Of course, for any exploration of a National Park in this fashion, ordnance survey maps and a compass are still essential.
A.W. Wainwright had a purpose and a goal and he achieved it and more with him going on to setup a wildlife sanctuary in the Lakes with the proceeds. He was a great man, a tremendous walker and, from our point of view, a fine travel writer.
We don’t need to spend decades on one piece for our travel writing career. Although in A. W. Wainwright’s case he produced some seven detailed volumes of his initial guides that were progressively published over the years. But what you need is an objective and a target so that as you set out to do some travel writing you have an angle you want to explore. It is worth thinking about before you set out.
Meeting people is easy
Interestingly, travelling not only broadens the mind but it can be an easy way of meeting people. As a writer, you should be receptive to people. Being a good listening is so important. It is good to meet local people, to hear and understand their points of view and to understand about their lives. It is surprising how people will open up and will tell you about what is worrying them and also probably giving you a feel what it is like to live in their country.
I have found a good way to meet people is to walk around. I have enjoyed several trips in a motor caravan with my two dogs. When I arrive at a location, I usually find a local park where I can walk my dogs. Soon I am talking to the local dog owners and I am finding out what is going on in the area. I learn what is good to see and do, etc. Sometimes I am mistaken for a local as I have my dogs with me. I always take this as a compliment.
Meeting people, involving them in your travel story can be the best part. It will add great interest. And of course for this sort of writing you need to enjoy meeting different people.
Pick your destination
As we discussed at the beginning, travel writing jobs are right up there in the desirable vocations league. But to break into this field, you need to be original and interesting. There are always new trends and fashions. You will always find people are looking for new experiences.
A good place to start is to think about your interests. You may like to enjoy short breaks that take in the history of a City, its museums and sights. Think about your motivation for wanting to go there and record how successful you were in doing all you wanted. Could this make an interesting story? Could it help others who want to do something similar? The answer is probably yes in both cases.
I have a friend whose ambition is to travel to the Planet Mars. Just think of the travel writing books that could be written about this trip. Ultimately, your choice of destination will be limited only by your imagination. You have the whole Universe to consider.
Researching background to a story
For any ghost writing project, checking the availability of background material can often be a good starting point. This can involve looking through pictures, diaries, letters and any other source documents that come to hand. Magazine articles or newspaper clips are always useful in any ghost writer jobs.
It is probably a good idea for us all to keep a diary. One never knows when one will want to remember something or even want to write a memoir. Nevertheless, for research, a diary is invaluable. Memory is imperfect. Rereading a diary, or even looking at old pictures can trigger long forgotten memories. If you don’t believe me, try digging out some old photos and see what happens. I feel sure something will come back to you. And I hope it will be a pleasant memory. You will find it an interesting experiment. Some memories do not open, of course.
In the old days photography had to be thought about. Nowadays, with smart phones, photographs and even video can be taken and shot respectively, almost at will. These can then be transmitted to social media for all your friends to see as you go. The question is now how permanent will these captured memories be?
I would recommend backing up your photos, and print them off even. Any computer problems, lost phone, etc., could be a disaster otherwise.
All this will probably mean ghost writers will be spoilt for choice for records made in the digital world in any future ghostwriting jobs.
Facebook has recognised the power of memories associated with posts and photos. They have introduced their ‘On This Day’ whereby a user can post to their friends and others their old posts and pictures from way back. This is a great, innovative idea that will help future ghost writers no end.
The importance of setting for memories
Often a person’s story can centre, or revolve around locations that are significant in their overall memoir. Like a living photo album. A visit to these places can be useful. But as it is a living place, things do change and evolve. These visits can then be a disappointment to some people. A ghost writer would have to take these changes into account so that they can interpret what the place meant to the person during the era of their memory. This sometimes can take a lot of imagination.
Of course the magic of the location can still be there. And certainly a visit under those circumstances can be rewarding for me as a writer and a person whose memories we are trying to recall. These can be personal, memorable, happy, sad, traumatic, the whole gambit of human emotions.
This part of the process can sometimes kick off other ideas and memories that can become part of the story.
An example of my own experience
When I work with someone, I will try to understand their feelings for a place. I remember my own experiences. This helps me to focus on my ghost writing and the ways I can help.
I have fond memories of outings with my father when I was a small child. I used to own a tricycle which was an important form of transport for me in those days.
We used to go to a small lagoon that nestled a little in land from an expansive beach. For me, this location was and still is special. I would go there for walks with my father and my dog. When I go there, even today, all those happy memories flood back.
Anyway, on this particular day my father and my dog were enjoying their walk while I was cycling round the lagoon. There was a steep slope at one point that led to the water’s edge. I carefully missed this part as I completed my circuits.
After a while, I started to wonder what would happen if I cycled on this slope. I took the plunge, literarily because as I enter the slope my tricycle and I toppled and both of us entered the lagoon.
I was wearing a heavy rain coat and my cap. I shouted to my dad to save my bike. Almost instantly his big hands pulled me up by my shoulders. I was dripping wet and worried only about my tricycle.
We walked back to the car, me following my father who was holding my tricycle with one hand and the dog with the other. Usually, he would give me a bar of chocolate. That day I missed out on the chocolate.
Later my father told my mother about the story. My mum told me he laughed because all I was worried was my bike. Of course, in my life, I have always been loyal.
As I stand by that water’s edge today, I think of my father, my dog and of course my tricycle. This is why memories are so important. I hope you can keep yours.
So try and research some of your old memories
On a quiet day, a wet one maybe, try and dig out some old memories. Is it a place you visited? Were you with someone important? We are our memories. As a ghost writer, I can’t help but think how important it is to keep your memories alive.
I know they may not all be happy. However, I feel we are the sum total of our experiences. While helping people to write their stories, I have found that looking backwards, so to speak, can help them go forward. And this can be a great honour and privilege to achieve.
How to interview someone about their life story
The first stage in helping someone to write their story is to start off with a series of informal interviews. These will aim to build trust between the interviewer (ghost writer) and the individual that has a story to tell while also distilling what it is likely to be about and outlining the best way of structuring it. This is achieved by asking good questions with sensitivity and empathy.
Asking the right questions
Ghost writer interview questions need to be carefully constructed to allow the interviewee to gradually release the essence of the story they want to tell. The ghost writer interview needs to be relaxed and informal so the people involved can get to know each other, forming a bond of trust and goodwill. A questioning template can be used but the ghost writer has to be flexible in their approach and adapt according to the interviewee’s answers.
As the interviews progress, avenues of inquiry can be explored to examine their fruitfulness. The ghost writer will be looking to extract a structure for the story, where it should start, its scope and the main characters involved and the setting. While also investigating and highlighting any research needed and any material for the background that needs to be gathered. The interviews should ultimately derive an outline for the story to be told. It is important to see where the reader will be taken and why.
Emotional sensitivity and empathy
Where a person could be describing a life changing experience that could be part of their story they want to tell, a sensitive approach is important. Confidentiality is vital but a person should not be rushed into telling their story. It should be allowed to unfold naturally when they are ready to convey their feelings in the incidents and events they want to describe.
Showing empathy to the person explaining their story is also important. To show consideration and interest in an individual’s experiences, are vital skills for a ghost writer. It will come across in the final book if a memoir is told with feeling, understanding and attentiveness. This will reflect in greater responsiveness from the reader. And, indeed, if they have experienced similar episodes in their life, they will gain much more from the book. These issues are key in the interviewing sessions.
To be able to listen to a person that wants help in telling their story or memoir is imperative for a ghost writer. Whilst questions will be used to prompt an interviewee, there will be times when the client will want to open up and just talk. And it is then a ghost writer should listen and start to help the client to focus on the story that is to be told.
Listening skills are also important for building up trust between the ghost writer and client. The ghost writer will be trying to distil the essence of a story and preparing to make suggestions on how best to tell it. Listening effectively combined with a two way discussion will go a long way to achieving this aim.
What is the purpose of the story?
The interviews should aim to establish the story to be told and its purpose. Will it inform? Will it share experiences for people who have faced or will face similar situations? Will it entertain with an enthralling, complex story? This needs to be known and understood so that the focus will be on realising this intent.
Whatever its reason, a story should be told in a compelling way that captures the interest of a reader right from the beginning. A ghost writer will be able to help in achieving this aim. All stories should be told in an absorbing manner.
Regular feedback sessions
Once the story moves from an outlining stage to its formulation and eventual writing, regular feedback sessions should be held. A client should be willing to give comments and critiques where they can on work in progress. This will improve the final book and will ensure there are no shocks and all the expected subject matter is covered, for example.
Also regular meetings, reviewing how far the work has gone, may help flag up new ideas and provide an improved understanding of where the book should go. This method of working generally enhances the creative atmosphere between the ghost writer and client. Nevertheless, critiquing anyone’s work needs to be handled with care and tact.
The interview stage of a writing project, leading to outlining the scope and structure, can be a rewarding and stimulating endeavour for the ghost writer and client alike. Something new is being created that will tell the world the client’s own story.
Why write your life story?
There can be many reasons why a person gets to a stage in their life when they feel they want to tell someone their life story, and their life experiences. This can take several forms, from talking to family and friends to wanting to write something down on paper. Nevertheless, I have found a pattern in my encounters and quite possibly there are five main reasons people want to write their life story book.
Writing stories for my grandchildren
With well-established family traditions, there can be a strong draw for a senior family member to perhaps want to capture and record some of these values to be shared by future generations. Otherwise, in an ever changing world, these ‘old ways’ may become lost.
These stories may include children’s tales stories and fables from an individual’s cultural background. An important aim can be to encourage a grandchild’s imagination and love of lifelong reading. These morality stories can be interwoven with a person’s life and can be a treasure trove of fantasy and timeless truths for children. Illustrations can also play an important part in this form of storytelling.
Sharing life experiences with others
Another important category is one where a person’s life changing events can provide stories that may inspire or help people going through similar situations. This could be the loss of a love one, a complex divorce, a lived through trauma and other life transforming incidents.
It could be a businessman talking about the secret of his success; it may be about growing up in a certain environment. While for some these stories may help some people through what they must face, for others it could allow them to see things they would never be part of or consider could never occur in their own lives and they will be able to see things, potentially, from another person’s point of view. Another way of putting it, would be to say that readers of these stories can experience many lives while only living one themselves. Overall though, helping others is a major driver for these story tellers as reflected in their altruistic behaviour.
Cathartic healing process
Sometimes a person needs to get something off their chest. And going through their story, telling others can be a big release. This again can relate particularly to traumatic episodes in a person’s life. In writing their story, it is possible they can begin to understand or put some meaning to what has happened in their life.
Life writing is a process of looking back but it is also a way of rebuilding and preparing for the future. This may also help others that read a person’s story who will face similar issues or have been through them already.
Family tree stories
As many families tend to live apart these days, there can be a need to pull the story of a person’s relatives together, to bring the family tree alive. These examples of family tree stories can provide a record for future generations. Otherwise, in time they can be forgotten.
This activity can also bring the generations together as they learn about their heritage as a family. For some this can be an illuminating journey.
We have a good story to tell
Then they are people that through their life experiences, they come to the realisation that they quite possibly have a riveting story to tell. They believe they have a page turner and all they need to do is to write it down.
This may indeed be the case and through their drive and determination to succeed they will set about telling their story. Often though they seek help, as they either they don’t have the time or the necessary skills to see the project through.
What all these reasons have in common, however, is a need to work out how best to structure the stories that need to be told. Where to begin and where to end them are key questions. Readers will want to relate to the characters involved, their motivations, and the tensions and conflicts they face. These are all key ingredients in telling stories in a compelling manner creating can’t put down books. A ghost writer can gladly assist in all these areas.