Why Writing A Memoir Is More Important Than You Think

In 2017, Peter Billingham – funeral celebrant and specialist eulogy writer – interviewed me for his podcast, which you can listen to here. We’ve kept in touch as we have much in common from our love of dogs, travel and motorhomes to celebrating people and preserving stories. He’s a lovely, genuine man and a super writer. So I thought we would all enjoy his thoughts on why writing memoir is important. Thanks Peter!

Peter Billingham is a funeral celebrant at Memorable Words. He is a writer and the author of two books. Peter is working on ‘The Sundial Series.’ Combined in ten short books, it teaches how to document the stories of your life. Also, he is writing a memoir about his travels across Kerala in India.

I have stood next to 700 coffins or more. It has been my privilege and honour to stand so close to death.

But I do more than stand there. It is my responsibility to write and say fitting words about the man, woman, young person or baby, a few feet away. Why? I am a funeral celebrant. I am grateful for this vocation. It gives meaning and purpose in how I spend my days.

Because I am a funeral celebrant, it makes me realise the reason you are turning your memories into a memoir could be much more important than you think. Let me tell you why.

From sweet lives not yet begun, and they are always the most challenging, to Briton’s oldest living woman for a time – Hilda Clulow. Incredible – Hilda was almost 112 when she died. It is my privilege to write eulogies, short life stories of people every age in-between.

We All End Up As Stories

Each life is a story. Your life is a story too. That is why you are writing your memoir. No two lives are the same. Not even similar. Heroes journeys, or rags to riches. Sometimes back to rags again. One day, we will all end up as a story someone tells. What will they say about you?

This life is precious. But here’s the rub. One day, before you know it, someone like me tries to compress all that life lived into a eulogy. That is what I do. I try to capture the essence of a life into twenty minutes. Years into words. Decades into minutes.

Sometimes, honestly, those stories are hard to find. Some lives don’t appear to have many stories. Some lives had no control over the hope and future stolen from them. Then ‘life’ happens, and I’m sadly scratching in the biscuit tin of a life for the crumbs of a story.

There is a moment asking about the life of the person who has died, I dread. These are saddest words I ever hear.

‘I wish I’d asked my mom, dad or grandma about their lives when I had the chance.’

I see it in their eyes and pick up in their voice, the poignant realisation that they lose forever those stories. People don’t tell the stories of their lives before it’s too late. Why?

The Harmony of Life is Louder The Murmur of Death

I am so close to death, it can’t help but impact the way I experience life. Hearts resonate with ours. In the way the strings of an unplucked violin vibrate with the sounds of a violin played nearby. It’s called mood contagion, or limbic resonance. When we see, hear and feel the goodness of those around us, their dignity, kindness and generosity resonate. The same with sadness and loss. Their loss becomes mine. It could make me maudlin and sad. No, instead, it makes me love life even more.

We do not make lives out of time, but moments. That’s what people remember about those they love. It makes me realise how important it is to document those moments of life into a memoir. The benefit is not only for you, but for the generations that follow. Someday, if you write them, there will be a library of your memories. It can make the telling of your life story rich and authentic and helpful and healing. For the day when they say farewell to you.

Yet, there is another benefit. It is even more remarkable that comes from writing your memoir. Something that could sustain you as your years pass. It is this. As you document those memories into stories, the richer your life becomes. You relive the moments all over again. You can do that over and over. Let me tell you why.


Photo by Kasturi Roy on Unsplash

The Granaries of Our Past

I was in Vienna last winter when the phrase, ‘The full granaries of the past’ came to mind. My wife and I clambered two flights of stairs. It was in an ornate building, on Mariannengasse, a side street north of the city centre. We were glad of the warmth, as the wind outside was frostbiting cold. The mouthwatering smell of bread from a bakery close by was drifting upwards with us. We pulled ourselves up the steps by an elaborate, ornate ironwork handrail. It wrapped around the staircase, each spindle a work of art itself. The walls breathed in the history of generations of people who had lived there. Now it was exhaling its riches. There was one person in particular who once lived there that interested me. We reached the second floor and to a small museum. We entered the former home of neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl.

Man’s Search for Meaning is an incredible memoir. No matter how many times I read about those days in Auschwitz, it fills me with inspiration and hope. It’s Frankl’s words about storing the memories of our life forever that have stayed with me. We lose nothing of our life; he says. The promise comes with a caveat.

Viktor Frankl says it this way.

“In the past, nothing is irretrievably lost, but rather, on the contrary, everything is irrevocably stored and treasured. To be sure, people tend to see only the stubble fields of transitoriness but overlook and forget the full granaries of the past into which they have brought the harvest of their lives: the deeds done, the loves loved, and last but not least, the sufferings they have gone through with courage and dignity. From this one may see that there is no reason to pity old people. Instead, young people should envy them.”

Every experience and every event. Every twist and turn down sunny lanes and up the dark alleys of life is ‘irrevocable stored.’ Shaping the person I am today, good and not so good, by those deeds done. The loves I have loved, and whatever sufferings just or unjust I have experienced. What strikes me more is how Frankl soothes the sores of facing the future short years. He does it by reminding me that everything in these ‘granaries of the past’ we never lose.

And here is that caveat – if we write them.

The memories are ours alone in our head when we write them; they become open storehouses also to those we love. Writing your memoir is the best way you can tell the story of your life. Why wouldn’t you want to recall memories of your past, write them in the present, and preserve them for the future?

It is a gift to yourself. But here is the best part.

Your memoir is more important than you think. Because, one day, it will be a blessing for your descendants.

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Dear Marnie

I had the pleasure of working with Marnie as she carried out a manuscript assessment for my memoir. Marnie was referred to me by Jericho Writers. She’s truly an expert in her field. Marnie’s written feedback to me was valuable, relevant, insightful and very encouraging. She clearly set out the areas that were working and…
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Margaret Davies

With my current health problems, I do feel content and happy that I have been able to write my life story for my loved ones. My grandchildren are very young, but in the years to come they will enjoy and appreciate reading my memoir Darlo Boy. Thank you so much for your assistance Marnie.
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Alan from Walsall

I felt as if Marnie was holding my hand throughout. She wanted to do the very best for me. Her caring and compassionate nature was evident from day one. Apart from being extremely intuitive, her wonderful writing skills seemed contagious and I found myself expressing myself like I had never done before! She gently prised…
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Nic Bolt, A Bit Of A Stir

If you’ve already written your memoirs but need a bit of guidance as well as an experienced memoir checker, then you need look no further.  I contacted Marnie about a memoir  I had already written entitled ‘The Life and Times of a Seminary Kid’ which was a humorous look at five years of my life at…
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Ged Leach

My books have arrived! I am so excited and delighted. You are the best ghostwriter. I felt totally comfortable confiding in you, and your kindness and understanding has helped me come to terms with things that have happened. I am sure you’ve helped a lot of people.
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Christine Temlett

My memoir is written from different points of view. Marnie recommended adding more of my own emotions, that I sew the story together using my voice and feelings as the thread. She is open-minded and encouraged me by understanding the atmosphere I am trying to convey about a sensitive topic that informs the lives of…
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Dorothea Paiva

Working with Marnie was a dream come true! She as so helpful and encouraging with my memoir, we corresponded a year before we started working together and she gave me very helpful advice from the start. We worked together editing my memoir over seven months. Marnie is very patient, understanding and kind, traits that are…
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Amanda June

I found the entire process with Marnie as my ghostwriter to be cathartic in every way. Where I had felt nervous and anxious about putting pen to paper, I found myself feeling optimistic and often excited.
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Sally Woodmansee

I wouldn’t have managed to do it (the launch or the book) without Marnie. If you know the story of Dumbo who thought he could not fly without holding the feather in his trunk, well I call Marnie my feather.
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Jane Bloom

Marnie conducted my interview at the Whitstable Book Festival with skill and sensitivity. She was a good listener and took a genuine interest in her subject. We had a capacity audience for what was a very successful afternoon.
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Terry Waite CBE

Once I had decided that I needed to write a memoir, the next question was: where on earth do I start? I am so grateful that it was Marnie’s website that caught my attention first, as from the very moment I spoke to Marnie, I knew I was in good hands.
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Joanne James

I first met Marnie when she interviewed me at Harbour Books, Whitstable about my book Kill The Black One First – a memoir. I found her a very warm and helpful person. She was very well researched and her questions incisive and pertinent. She certainly helped make the event a success.
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Michael Fuller QPM

Throughout the whole editing process I felt both expertly held and simultaneously challenged to push my memoir to rewarding new heights. Marnie instinctively knows how to inspire with insightful suggestions whilst marshalling disparate strains of thought into cohesive order. My project was particularly exposing on a personal level and Marnie handled everything with extraordinary insight…
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Paul Beech

Although I met you when the book was almost finished, you were a breath of fresh air, who helped me dig deep and bring the suppressed memories to the surface in a couple of the most difficult chapters I had to write.
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Hana Ali

I was delighted when Marnie agreed to provide a workshop for the 2018 Kent Festival of Writing. Zuihitzu, the Japanese art of following the pen, proved a very attractive proposition for our delegates and we were oversubscribed. Neither Marnie or I wanted to turn anyone away, so it was a packed event!
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Sue Bassett

Thank you for your help in making this happen, and for putting Neil’s words together so accurately. We were so pleased that the first draft arrived in time for us to read it as a family to Neil. I know he really enjoyed his couple of days with you. Thank you. Sarah Vines, brother of…
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Sarah Vines

In the run-up weekend to our 2018 festival Marnie hosted a very well attended day of memoir-writing events, beginning with a moving, eloquent discussion in which she talked to author Sarah Pullen about her memoir A Mighty Boy. As an interviewer Marnie is a true professional, asking thought-provoking yet sensitive and heartfelt questions, and putting…
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Amanda Dackombe

My darling, I have read the book from cover to cover out loud. It is a wonderful book. My excitement is so great darling, you’re a star. Let’s write another one! Lady Sandra Bates, seventh bunny at the original Playboy Club, London, and author of How To Be A Kept Woman
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Lady Sandra Bates

It was a pleasure working with Marnie on the Writer’s Weekend. She was approachable, professional and communicative in the lead-up to the event and during the weekend she was wonderful. All delegates commented on her kind manner, her knowledge, and her ability to bring out the best writing in them. I can highly recommend collaborating…
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RedDoor Publishing

While reading your feedback yesterday the hairs were literally standing on my arms because I knew you were the right person to make this manuscript the best it can be…
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Tony Barbieri

A couple of weeks after the Memoir Writing Weekend, I am reflecting on what a difference it has made. For a long while I have had a desire to share my story, I did not have a clue how or where to start. All I knew is that there was at least one story there…
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Rose Smith

All I knew was: I wanted to share my story, write my memoirs. I Googled ghostwriter and Marnie was the first person I contacted. Marnie made such a great first impression that I felt no need to look any further.
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Anthea McCarten

This was a brilliant weekend – way above my expectations. Marnie just knows about memoir and her presentations were superbly focussed and paced. It’s rare to find someone who combines a high level of professional knowledge with the relational skills that make it all work. If you are needing support with your writing, hire this…
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Edna Murdoch

I found Marnie to be such an affable person. Not only that, but she gave me the confidence to finish my memoir.
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Martin Davies

I have been lucky enough to work with Marnie on several occasions where she has interviewed, hosted and compèred events I have been managing. Marnie is a joy to watch at work. When the lights dim and she takes the microphone, I feel totally at ease knowing that everything will be safe in her hands.…
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Nancy Clark

Thank you so much for the edit. It was actually perfect. There were places where I knew the words were not quite right but I somehow couldn’t find a way to fix it and it’s exactly where you edited so I’m chuffed about that.
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Anon

Marnie interviewed me about my memoir Have You Been Good? for Whit Lit in 2015. Before we met at the festival, we had a long telephone conversation and I was struck at how quickly she understood my book. Her intelligence, warmth and sensitivity made the interview on the day feel more like a conversation with…
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Vanessa Nicolson

(My life) was a living nightmare. Thanks for listening to it and helping me come to terms with it and enabling me to write this story.
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Anon

Thank you for interviewing me for my event at the London Fashion and Textile Museum in November, 2018. You made me feel so relaxed and I appreciate your unerring and priceless support. You made the talk possible for me and I’m incredibly grateful. Liz Wilson, owner of Eclectica Vintage
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Liz Wilson

A very good service. As well as helping us write our memoirs about our adventures as wartime entertainers, Marnie arranged for us to be interviewed on BBC Radio 4, and organised a wonderful book launch for us at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley.
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Mollie and Peggie

I attended the Red Door Memoir Writing Weekend because my daughter was one of the organisers and I wanted to support her and the Red Door publishing house. I was a little interested in memoir writing but now… I’m passionate about it.
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Alastair Burtt

Thank you Marnie for sharing your insightful and inspirational creativeness with me – well, and all of us. I loved the weekend and have come away full of excitement to write write write. Actually perhaps it’s more to organise organise organise! Oh well somehow I am determined to get my ‘stuff’ together. Thank you again.…
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Penny Wadsworth

Absolutely loved every minute of this amazing memoir writing retreat, and the time spent with such lovely people, sharing their deeply touching life experiences. Special thanks to you Marnie for all your encouragement, support and know how. Marnie helped me with my first book and now I am going to write the sequel myself. Feeling…
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Sally Woodmansee

I found the memoir retreat very inspiring. I was touched by Marnie’s professionalism as well as finesse in her comments. A truly enlightening weekend. Thank you so much for all the encouragement. Mona Radwan
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Mona Radwan

Marnie is a truly special person with a wonderful gift. She is sincere and compassionate. I loved working with her. My book was rather complicated.
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Suzannah Ridgway

Marnie helped my father to edit his memoir Once A Sapper Always A Sapper. He really enjoyed working with her and looked forward to her visits.
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Sam

This book that was written with Marnie, has totally opened the door and changed my whole outlook on life.
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Brian

Marnie is a delightful lady and immediately made my Dad feel relaxed and start to chat about his life and wartime experiences.
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Michael

I’d like to say how much I enjoyed reading my aunt’s memoirs that Marnie collated and wrote.
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Diana

I’d just like to say a huge thank you for the dedication and passion you gave while ghostwriting with me.
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Sally Woodmansee

I am amazed at what you’ve done. I’m excited. I think my memoir will be wonderful.
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JK

This is something I have been waiting to do for a long time, but when I lost my sight I thought that was it. And then I found Your Memoir.
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Jan

All the books we ordered have sold and people are asking for further copies. People have been so interested! We’re really happy with everything Marnie did.
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John

Marnie has the superb ability to write as if she is inside your head – and your heart. Marnie gave me new hope when I was struggling to write my own book.
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SB

I came to Marnie for editing and printing of my life story. I could never have hoped to do the excellent job that Marnie did.
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Gerard

Marnie ghosted our memoir of motorbiking around Europe for charity. The whole experience was very relaxed. Marnie was very friendly and accomodating yet professional.
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Jane and Reg

Home From War is a very moving and touching story of love triumphing over all that life dealt this young soldier. A very captivating read, could not put it down. Would recommend this book.
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Amazon

Home From War is a truly inspirational and moving account of how love can conquer even the hardest things.
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Amazon

I received your book. It is absolutely fabulous. I really enjoyed reading the letters from my grandfather to you.
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Lloyd