I’m writing a book


I have finished the first draft of a book about how to record your family history and family stories. The proofreader is about to do their stuff. Some people have warned me about “selling the farm” in terms of writing a book about what I do, but the way I have got it figured, I couldn’t possibly record all the worthwhile stories out there in ten lifetimes so it is a better idea to show people how to do it themselves.

I have almost settled on a title. I can’t believe how difficult that has been. Every few days another better title pops into my brain and rattles around for a while. If you or someone you know would like to receive an E version of the book before it is published, for free, let me know. Simply send me an email I would be happy to send it to them. michael@thelifelogproject.com.au

The proof should be back in a fortnight so I will email it out to anyone interested. I have really enjoyed writing it and it has forced me to go right back to the start and truly think through the entire process which has been great fun. While it is clearly not as simple as pointing an iPhone at someone, it can almost be as simple as that. The book shares interview skills, tips on interviewing particular types of people, question lists, equipment for recording, how to get started, even some parenting tips in there.

For anyone interested in how best to gather their family stories before it is too late to do it, this book will help you for sure. With Mothers Day just past, a Life Log would be a perfect present for a new mum.

Ah the critics.

I shied away from writing for about thirty years following my formal education. Every time I put pen to paper, or fingertips to the keyboard, every bad memory of my horrible schooling came rushing back to me.

As part of my new job (a decade ago), I was required to write a regular monthly article for the trade magazine, which I approached with great trepidation initially. Having come from radio and before that my life as an auctioneer, I had no problem talking, but writing, wow, that was a whole new adventure. I realise now that this is a classic chicken and egg thing, because i didn’t want to write I had to hone my speaking skills, so no shock that I finished up in gigs that didn’t require writing right?

Having served my writing apprenticeship after three or four years I found the constraints of writing a monthly trade article (effectively toeing the company line) just too restricting and I found myself looking for other opportunities to express myself.(I know, get me!)

I then began writing a newsletter, sent electronically as a subscription service to the very same people who were readers of the magazine. It started from just my email list of about 60 people, soon I had 1200 subscribers. So far so good. I was able to be cheekier than the monthly corporate article and have a little fun along the way. Then I got an email out of the blue, from someone who was not a subscriber, giving me advice that I had not requested, none of which was complimentary.

It went something like this “who do you think you are? what arrogance, opinionated, childish dribble etc” My immediate reaction was one of shame and disappointment. My gut reaction was exactly that, physical and forceful, it felt like I had got all of this wrong, and let people down by publishing my thoughts and ideas. I went straight back to that time in school when the teacher was handing out yesterday’s test results.

Then, as my gut reaction calmed, I had another look at it. He wasn’t a subscriber, no-one was forcing him to read the newsletter. In fact he had to go out of his way to read it. Why then would someone go to that extra effort, and then be critical of the author? And even more than that, why would you bother to get personal and send it to the author? Are people really that mean and keen to hurt?

After some consideration, I concluded that, yes indeed some people are that mean. In this world in which we live there are mean, cruel people hell-bent on destruction. People without a moments care for the ramifications of their appalling behaviour. They feel it is their divine right to be critical and no fear for the collateral damage. The real issue then is, for me, should I listen to them?

Should I have sleepless nights worrying that I am not doing the right thing by writing? Do I really write childish drivel? Should I just hit the delete button on his email? Should I write back to him giving him both barrels or perhaps apologising for wasting his oh-so-valuable time? Should I give it another thought? Well that last question is an easy one, of course I was going to think about it some more.

I have in the past been guilty of catastrophising and then relying heavily on my bride to supply perspective in matters of these kinds or whenever I feel that I may have lost objectivity. So, back to the well I went and asked for her honest opinion. She told me that my writing had improved out of sight and was now fun to read. As a fully paid up member of the “Harsh but fair” party, she wouldn’t lie to me about stuff like that. So I decided to take on board the input that my writing style was not for everyone, but was sufficiently popular to keep going.

I tell this tale because most people who know me, may be surprised that the foul words of someone I have never met would upset me or indeed have any effect on me at all. But they did. So I would ask you to be considerate when complaining. Which means have a little think about it before you do it. That’s all.

Footnote: Michael is the Curator of The Life Log Project. A commercial operation based in Sydney Australia that helps people tell their story, captured on digital media for the benefit of future generations. For more information on the service check out http://www.thelifelogproject.com.au

5 Books that changed my life

5 Books that changed my life
Books and I have had a strained relationship for as long as I can remember. My older sister was an avid reader as we were all growing up, and I laid the blame for all her wacky behaviour on books, and the effect they had on her by removing her from the real world. I was quite determined that I was not going to go down the same path, so studiously avoided reading for as long as I possibly could.

In fact it was not until I was married and well into my twenties that I read my first book, cover to cover. I had started many books of course, some of them compulsorily for school, but had lost interest pretty quickly, and almost always long before the section in my right hand was smaller than the bit in my left. I was able to reconcile that by repeating the mantra that “I was about living, not reading how someone else lived.” Which for the most part worked pretty effectively.

That all changed when at 26 I was given a book for Christmas by a family friend and as much to escape the misery of the recent death of my wonderful father in law, as any other good literary reason, opened it up with the intent of getting lost or being devoured.

I am sure Bryce Courtenay could not have imagined how that one book would change the course of a life so profoundly. It did take me an eternity to read it, as my reading skills were just appalling back then. Not quite the finger across the page but not far from it either. ‘The Power of One” screamed at me from every page. it felt like Mr Courtenay was writing just for me. It was quite magical and opened doors and lit pathways, I could never have imagined were possible.

The second book is not a book at all, but rather a short story. Ray Bradbury is a prolific american writer, most famous for “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Martian Chronicles” but so much of the brilliant work he produced had nothing to do with Science Fiction at all. “Hail and farewell” is an astonishing short story that got me thinking for the first time in a voice other than the first person. In a few short pages he was able to turn my focus inside out and gave me the chance to see a whole new way of looking at the world.

The Little Prince is one of those classics that I come back to every few years when life gets confusing. It has some wonderful guiding principles that have consistently resonated with me.

The last two powerful books are both non fiction and they resonate with me for different reasons. “Any given Team” is a wonderful treatise on how to make teams work at their best. If you have never been a part of a team, either a work team or a sports team, you have my sympathy. Team environments are extraordinarily dynamic, exciting and powerful. The very nature of working closely with people means that the forces at work are more art than science and more craft than technology and I am perfectly comfortable with that.

For anyone that is confounded by teams and the people in them, Ray McLean has developed a really down to earth, incredibly simple way of making them work better. Like all the best ideas, simple doesn’t mean easy. In fact in this case, simple can be too hard for some people. Which is one of the reasons I love this book so much.

Finally, Bounce by Matthew Syed was one of the books that made sense of a lot of disparate information, trends, observations and statistics. One of my great loves is sport, and this book laid the pathway to my better understanding of the subject. I don’t expect it will change everyone’s life. In fact if I had not been working in the field at the time it may have simply interested me rather than send bells going off all around me for weeks.

I have never been a believer in the “You can do anything you set your mind to” philosophy or view of the world. For instance it was quite clear from my primary school years that I was never going to be an astronaut, or a world champion high jumper, or win Wimbledon. Nor have I subscribed to the “you were born to do this” theory. However, I have always thought that most of us are capable of much more than we think we are capable of. Many of us are limited by our understanding of our horizons. All five books back up that thinking by resolutely showing that extraordinary things are possible if you are prepared to put in the work and engage fully in the process.

These five entries are a good illustration of the importance of timing, when it comes to reading. The right piece at the right time. That is why I would encourage people to read widely.