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 Lee Biography: A Very Short Introduction
Iris Origo Essay on biography in A Need to Testify
Michael Holroyd Works on Paper
Richard Holmes Footsteps
Lytton Strachey Eminent Victorians
Geoff Dyer Out of Sheer Rage
Janet Malcolm The Journalist and the Murderer
Colm Toibin The Master
Hilary Mantel Giving up the Ghost
Alain de Botton How Proust Can Change Your Life
Priscilla Napier A 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.