March 13, 2010

Caroline Moorehead gave a class on biography at Somerset House.

Top Tips

  • Establish your purpose in writing – portrait? forensic examination? a way of telling social history? what can you bring to this particular subject?
  • Think through your structure – where do you start and how? where do you end? written in chronological order or by theme? how many chapters?
  • Telling the story – will you bring yourself into the narrative?
  • What will you call your subject – Mrs Woolf? Virginia? Woolf? how many main characters will you have? how much history? how will you go about bringing your subject to life?
  • Sources – are there private papers, letters, diaries? how much original material is there? what else has been written about your subject? what contemporary portraits? newspaper articles? will you do interviews?

Recommended Reading

Hermione LeeBiography: A Very Short Introduction
Iris OrigoEssay on biography in A Need to Testify
Michael HolroydWorks on Paper
Richard HolmesFootsteps
Lytton StracheyEminent Victorians
Geoff DyerOut of Sheer Rage
Janet MalcolmThe Journalist and the Murderer
Colm ToibinThe Master
Hilary MantelGiving up the Ghost
Alain de BottonHow Proust Can Change Your Life
Priscilla NapierA Late Beginning

This masterclass was run in collaboration with the Arvon Foundation. The class was open to writers at all stages, and it was a discussion as much as anything, with people bringing their own ideas, skills and views.