The Challenge of Biography Writing

When I set out to become a writer, my eyes were firmly focused on fiction. I had list of plots (which I am still working my way through) and set out on the journey. Then, I was introduced to a man – a successful and highly intelligent professional – who, I was told, had an interesting story to tell and was looking for someone to write it. We met for a coffee and the project started.

He told me that the book would be called ‘Susan’s Brother’.

Writing biographies had never been in my plans, but this story just had to be told. I agreed to write a trial chapter and I delivered it a week later. I strolled into the centre of Lyndhurst whilst Susan’s Brother read the chapter. When I returned from my stroll and he opened his door to me, there were tears in his eyes. Reading what I had written had clearly been very emotional for him.

I submitted the trial chapter for review by a coterie of writers at a well-known writers’ café . It was favourably received and I was accepted into the circle. It seemed that I was on the right track.

The next three months included a series of interviews, research and writing. Interviews were occasionally very emotional and the whole process was obviously cathartic for him. Some of his memories were sketchy and others were crystal clear. It took well over six months before a working draft was ready and further meetings followed to finalise details and make corrections.

Even then, there were issues about some content. As an adult some family relationships remained strained and there were disputes about family estate matters which could not easily be addressed, as well as salacious details which I did not feel it appropriate to write about in any detail.

From a writing perspective this was no ordinary biography – the subject was alive and I wanted to try capture his thought processes and emotional state at critical times in his childhood, as he recalled them after more than fifty years. I achieved this using a particular writing construct to uncover these aspects.

If you read it, let me know whether you think I succeeded.

James Marinero