Fri, 1 October 2021

3:00 pm - 4:00 pm BST


How To Write Your Family History – a Three Part Masterclass

Peter Parker

Who do you think you are? In this three-part livestream course taught by historian, biographer and critic Peter Parker, you’ll learn to research and write your family story.

Whether you belong to an ancient lineage of princes or your grandparents arrived in a new country without a penny to their name, the story of your ancestry is precious and unique. We all have a family history that deserves to be told and preserved; a relative, or relatives, whose lives offer rich insights into why we ourselves are who we are.

But where do we begin? How can we separate fact from mythology, history from anecdote? And how do we turn that material into a compelling narrative that we can share with others? In this three part course you’ll discover how to write your family history, using the skills of professional biographers and historians to tell a story of your own.

Taught by Peter Parker, one of Britain’s most notable historians and an associate editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, you will learn how to marshal your material, place your characters in a social and historical context, structure your narrative and find your authorial voice.

Session 1:

The first class will explore the goals and methods of writing a family history: what is the scope of your project? Who is your book for? In your research, how do you ask the right questions, and go to the right places, from the local library to the web?

Session 2:

The second session explores the structure of your family history: beginnings, middles and ends; gaps, secrets and surprises. We will also investigate the art of characterisation: what literary techniques can help you bring people alive? How do you utilise paintings and photographs?

Session 3:

The final session explores your place in the narrative: how do you find the right tone for the project, and develop your voice? What role do you play in the story? We will also consider the importance of editing and revision to fully realise and complete your history.

Peter Parker

Biographer & Historian

Peter Parker is the author of two works of history, The Old Lie: The Great War and the Public-School Ethos (1987) and The Last Veteran: Harry Patch and the Legacy of War (2009), as well as biographies of J.R. Ackerley (1989) and Christopher Isherwood (2004), both of whom wrote their own family histories. His most recent books are Housman Country (2016), a biography of both A.E. Housman and his famous book of poems, A Shropshire Lad, and A Little Book of Latin for Gardeners (2018). He edited (and wrote much of) A Reader’s Guide to the Twentieth-Century Novel (1995) and A Reader’s Guide to Twentieth-Century Writers (1996). He was also an associate editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), with responsibility for modern literature, and remains an advisory editor.

Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1997, he judges the annual PEN Ackerley Prize for literary autobiography and is a regular contributor of book reviews and features to numerous newspapers and magazines. An animated film of J.R.Ackerley’s  My Dog Tulip, for which he collaborated on the script and acted as advisor to the producers, was released in 2010. He is currently working on an anthology for Penguin of gay life in London, 1945-1967.