Last Thursday, October 18, one of my first authors died. Gerard Mason was 80 and passed away peacefully at Canterbury Pilgrims Hospice.

I was very glad to have visited Mr Mason (as he was to me) to say goodbye a couple of days beforehand. He was a lovely man and I really enjoyed getting to know him as we worked together on his book – Memories Of A Lancashire Lad.

I offered to help Gerard’s daughter with any of the tasks that need to be done when arranging a funeral and I’m glad to say that she took me up on this offer. I wrote an overview of Gerard’s life for the humanist who will be talking about Gerard at his service.

My process for doing this was to open the final edit of Gerard’s memoir on my computer and copy it to a new document. I set about editing this new document and reduced it from 30,000 words to 4,000. I left in the ‘important stuff’. When and where Gerard was born, where he went to school, where he worked, which regiment he was in in the army, houses he lived in, where he and his wife, Jean, married and honeymooned, the dates their children were born and some of the associations he belonged to.

What was cut away were the anecdotes. His despair on missing out on a Christmas present he wanted, his emotion at hearing war declared, how much he loved toast, dripping and tea served in enamel mugs by Bill the Brazier, his sorrow at the death of his mother, how he scored a goal to commemorate the death of his father when he couldn’t get to the funeral, his opinions on modern-day footballers, his love for his dog Pal, amusing escapades and much, much more. I left some in, to give the reader a flavour of the man, but 26,000 words worth of Gerard’s life had to go.

Most of us know the ‘important stuff’ about our parents. When they were born and where, their houses, jobs, where they were married, football team of choice, where we ourselves were born. But what about the other stuff? Anecdotes, feelings, memories, love, amusing escapades, regrets, wishes, dreams and wisdom. What happens to the truly precious stuff?

In Gerard’s memory I implore you to speak to the people dear to you. Ask them about their lives. Record them as they tell you. Let them ramble on. One day, you’ll be grateful that they did. And start writing yourself. Now. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be captured.

As I edited Gerard’s life to an overview, it occured to me that if Gerard hadn’t written his memoirs, he would have taken those 26,000 words of memories with him when died.

They would have been lost forever.

Fortunately, they weren’t.

Thank you Mr Mason and goodbye. I will never forget you x




This September I am teaching a 10-week memoir writing course at the Horsebridge Arts and Community Centre in Whitstable, Kent. And to celebrate the birthday of Your Memoir which was one year old on Friday, August 10, I am giving away a place on this course worth £80. Yay!

The classes will take place each Monday between 12.30 and 2.30pm and all the details are can be found on the link above.

If you would like to enter this competition and participate in these classes, please email me at with the answer to the question below by midday on Friday, August 31*. I will put all the names in a hat, pull one out at random, and announce the winner by 5pm on that same day.

Competition question:

On what date did Your Memoir celebrate its first birthday?

Good luck everyone. I look forward to meeting the lucky winner in September.


*I have extended this date again (!) as the Whitstable Times are kindly mentioning the competition on Thursday, August 23 and I want to give people ample opportunity to enter. Thanks for being so patient those of you that have already entered 🙂


I met with a printer friend of mine this morning and he told me this touching story…

Several years ago, a man came to him with his autobiography and asked for it to be printed in hardback. Eighty copies to be given to friends and family.
“Certainly.” said the printer.
“How long will it take?” asked the author.
The printer ummed and ahhed. “Two weeks?”
“Any chance you can do it in a week?”
“I’ll try.”
A couple of days later a sample of the book was ready and the man came into the printer’s to see and approve it.
“That’s great,” he told the printer.
“I’d like to do a laminated cover,” said the printer.
“How long will that take?”
“A couple of days extra.”
“I’ll pass then.”
“It’ll protect the book forever.”
“It’s fine as it is. When will it be ready?”
“Any chance for Friday?”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
On Thursday, the author phoned the printer.
“What time tomorrow? First thing?” he enquired, hopefully.
The printer smiled. “I’m afraid not. It will be late afternoon.”
“Any chance for first thing?”
The printer stayed up all night getting the book done. He delivered it to the man at 8.45am on the Friday. The author was delighted and took the book with tears in his eyes. He thanked the printer.
The man died at midday.

This was several years ago but telling me today, the printer cried at the memory. “I had no idea the man was dying,” he told me. “He was hanging on for his book.”

This reminded me just how precious memoirs are.


I’ve had quite a few people ask me if I’m running any memoir writing classes and the answer was always, “No, but I could…” And now, I’ve done it. I’ve got myself organised and I am going to be teaching a memoir writing course from September 2012.

The class will be taking place at Whitstable’s lovely Horsebridge Arts and Community Centre here in Kent, UK.

Here are the details. I hope very much to see you there. Please tell your friends and family.

Memoir Writing Class

“A memoir is how one remembers one’s own life.” Gore Vidal

Always wanted to write your life story? Ghostwriter and founder of Your Memoir Marnie Summerfield Smith leads a ten-week course to show you how.

Do you secretly wish you could write your memoir? Maybe you’ve started writing and now you’re a bit stuck. Or perhaps you love reading memoirs and are keen to think about them a bit more deeply. Whatever your interest you will be made very welcome on my new course.

I am a writer of 11 years experience and a published ghostwriter. In 2011 I founded through which I help people write their memoirs. With this course, I will be helping people who want to try writing themselves but feel they need some guidance and support.

We will look at why we write memoirs, who we are writing for, what we should include, what we should leave out, structure, how to remember, themes, voice, the distinct types of writing that make up a memoir, how long a memoir should be, keeping the reader interested and what to do with our memoirs once they are written. I can offer advice on publishing.

I aim to keep the class small and friendly. Sessions will consist of feedback from the previous week, discussion and writing exercises. Bring a notebook and pen. Ongoing support will be available when the course is completed.

“That’s one regret I have. I didn’t get as much of the family history as I could have for the kids.” Robert De Niro

The class begins on September 10, 2012 for 10 weeks (excluding Oct 29 – half term). Mondays 12.30-2.30pm. Cost £80 payable weekly £8. Visit Call Marnie on 07710 721 389 or email for details.


Much of last week, due to a lousy cold, I was under a blanket and a dog on the sofa. This meant that I was able to get more reading done than usual. I read two short books. The first, Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas, I had read before and loved, obviously. The second, The Diving Bell And The Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby, I had attempted before but been unable to get through it. It’s sometimes like that with books, isn’t it. I don’t know why. I chose both these memoirs because they are short and I wanted to tick ‘read books’ off my to-do list. Sad, maybe. But true.

I’m currently thinking about teaching some memoir writing one-day workshops and possibly a weekly course. While pondering the course structure, I thought that one topic I would be sure to discuss with my students would be that of themes in memoirs.

Three Dog Life and Diving Bell deal with similar themes – loss, grief, extreme trauma, courage, coping, change (to put it mildly), illness, imprisonment of kinds, adapting and the nature of life. Nothing major then!

Abigail Thomas’s story tells of how her husband, Richard, got hit by a car while out walking their dog, Harry, and suffered permanent brain trauma which destroyed his short-term memory. I bought this book originally because it had dogs on the cover. I am always interested in people’s relationships with dogs. Of course this book is mainly about Abigail’s relationship with Richard and how that changes but the comfort she gets from her dogs is reassuring. It tells me, a dog lover, that I might be able to get through most things if I surround myself with dogs. I love this book and  am now going to buy Abigail’s book Thinking About Memoir. I can’t wait to read it and I’ll let you know how I get on.

The title Three Dog Life is a saying of the Australian Aborigines who sleep with their dogs on cold nights, the coldest being a ‘three dog night’. A beautiful expression of the relationship between dogs and humans.

Diving Bell is about Jean-Dominique Bauby, who was the editor-in-chief of French Elle. He suffered a stroke and was left with locked-in syndrome. He was totally paralysed apart from hs left eyelid – with which he was able to dictate his book. The title of this book refers to the diving bell, which he feels he is wearing, weighing him down, trapping him, locking him in. The butterfly is his mind, free to fly wherever it wishes. I don’t know why I didn’t get through this book the first time because I whizzed through it this time around. Bauby reassures me that as horrific as his condition was, I as a writer might, just might, be able to get through it, if only I could still write in some way.

I recommend both these books to the memoir lover. They are both sad but uplifting at times too. I don’t feel totally comfortable that someone else’s suffering was uplifting for me, but life is fragile and I am grateful to both of these writers for sharing their experiences.

What are the themes in the memoirs you’ve read?



As you may know, a couple of weeks ago, I was interviewed on BBC Radio Kent about Your  Memoir. The interviewer was the lovely broadcaster Pat Marsh. Some of you have said that you couldn’t listen in, but would like to hear it, so here it is on jolly old Audioboo…

You need to click on the little picture of my face. A ‘play’ arrow comes up. Please let me know what you think below…


…So, slightly delayed (due, happily, to extreme busyness* caused by a mini publicity campaign and drop-in sessions) I am announcing the winner of February’s Moleskine of the Month!

There is a scientific way of doing this (a widget I can get for my website apparently) but in pursuit of cracking on with it, I wrote down the intials of my Facebook likers, the people subscribed to my mailing list, everyone on Twitter who re-tweeted the tweet and asked my neighbour to close her eyes and stab a pencil onto the list and the winner is…MARTIN GRANT, A FACEBOOK LIKER!

Well done Martin and thank you all for entering. Please keep your eyes peeled for March’s Moleskine of the Month. You can enter by liking Your Memoir on Facebook, re-tweeting my Moleskine tweets on Twitter and by signing up to my mailing list at

As I say, I have been extremely busy. This is because some recent publicity around some drop-in sessions I organised resulted in lots of people coming forward to enquire about having their memoir written . Many of the people I met said to me that they have been carrying their story around for years – unsure of what to do with it. Then, seeing an article about my service in local paper or hearing me on local radio, they got in touch. How sad to think that these stories might have been lost forever or that the authors might never have got their experiences off their chest by writing it down – a common desire. A sad thought, but how glad I am that they found me.

So, what sort of stories are coming forward? I’m keeping Your Memoir diary and have just looked through to see. Here’s a list so far…

…domestic violence, sailing, adventure, charity work, travel, business, being a war baby, life as a dominatrix, brain injury, WWII evacuation, love, sex, life in a Barnados home, the Dutch resistance, life in a German concentration camp, adoption, finding unknown siblings, IVF, incest, the navy, army injury, secrets the family don’t know to be published after my death, refugee experiences, alien abduction, being a prisoner of war and life as a London cabbie.

Surprised? What would you like to write about? Let me know…


On Monday, March 12th 2012, I’m holding two FREE drop-in sessions at the Horsebridge Arts and Community Centre in Whitstable, Kent (UK).

This is a lovely opportunity for you to pop by, say hello and ask me any questions about having your life story written from how the process works and the costs, to the time it takes and about the printing.

I set up so that having a memoir is accessible to everyone, so here I am – accessible and willing to share cake, no less. Plus, if it’s a nice day this is a great opportunity to have a wander about on Whitstable beach and even pop to the harbour for some shellfish or hot, delicious chippies!

Your Memoir offers gift vouchers, so do come if you want to know more about giving the gift of a memoir to your parents or grandparents, perhaps for a special birthday or anniversary. So many people tell me they regret not having asked their relatives more about their lives before they died.

Remember, anyone can have a memoir written. You don’t have to had an extraordinarily dramatic life because your memories alone will be precious to the next generation. That said, if anyone does have a particularly interesting tale, I can present it to my literary agent for consideration and we can chat more about this process at the sessions. Plenty of people have already started writing their memoirs, and I also offer a reading and editing service.

I’ll be in workshop five on the top floor (there is a lift) between 10am until midday and then 6pm until 8pm. If you can’t make these times, let me know by calling 07710 721 389 or email marnie at yourmemoir dot co dot uk. I’ll be around all day and we can find a quiet spot to talk either in the Horsebridge cafe or elsewhere. Or I can meet you another day – no obligation.

I look forward to meeting you on Monday, March 12th. I’ll be offering my usual discounts to pensioners, Armed Forces personnel, people with disabilities and those in financial hardship as well as a special Meeting Marnie discount – regardless of whether or not you bring me cake or let me share the aforementioned chippies…

See you then! Marnie 🙂

P.S. I’m looking for opportunities to do free talks about Your Memoir, so if you know of an organisation that might consider this, please get in touch.


So, why do you read memoirs?

Is your own life so boring that you need to know what other people get up to?

Wouldn’t you be better off living your life rather than reading about someone else’s?

Of course not. Humans are curious by nature and are especially curious about what other humans get up to. You can read about other people’s lives and still have your own. But asking this question has led me to ponder how I choose the memoirs I read. Time is precious and I don’t want to waste my time on muppets. The Muppets maybe, but not muppets.

I can’t remember how I came to be interested in The Mitfords, an aristocratic English family of six daughters and one son. Possibly I read about about fashion icon and heiress Daphne Guinness, who is often referred to in her status as grandaughter of Diana Mitford and was lured to read more. The six Mitford sisters in whom I am mainly interested were, or are (one remains alive, Deborah or Debo, born in 1920) extraordinary. One sister married Sir Oswald Mosley, another was infatuated with Hitler and a third – Jessica, or Decca – was a socialist and ran away to the Spanish Civil War.

All of these very different choices require a great deal of conviction, I think. Confidence in one’s own decisions, regardless of the ethics and I think that’s what I find interesting about the Mitfords.

The memoir I have just read is called Hons and Rebels and is by Decca Mitford, the fifth sister (pictured above, courtesy of It’s very well-written, written as Decca speaks I imagine, and goes into great detail about the upbringing of the Mitford children with their parents Muv and Farve, their staff and governesses. It does answer some of the questions I had about how the Mitfords grew up to be so Mitford-esque. Mainly, I think that isolated boredom and aristocratic brains are a potent mix. The Mitfords, imaginative and curious, influenced by their desperation to escape Swinbrook and rattled by their combative father, went on to live hugely dramatic lives. Diana, Nancy (a novelist), Unity, Debo and Decca in particular. Their family motto could have been, ‘To hell with consequences’.

Of course there’s more to the Mitfords than I could ever understand or blog about. They were and are real people, not cartoon characters. Decca does a good job of painting them all sympathetically but honestly showing the devotion and division that existed between her and her siblings.

As well as because of their aristocratic poise (different from my own Whitstabubblian poise), their life in 20s and 30s England (a fascinating time) and startling life choices, I was drawn to the Mitfords and this memoir because their lives couldn’t be further from my own.

If you’re interested in Evolutionary Psychology – the science of how our behaviour is connected to our evolution – then you might know that curiosity is supposed to be linked to intelligence. The more curious we are, the more intelligent we become.

So it’s good to be curious. It’s good to read memoirs.

And it was great to learn a lot more about the Mitfords.

How do you choose who you read about? I’d love to know…