Writing Family History

 1. What kind of book do you want to write?

The typical family portrait (Australia c1920)
The typical family portrait (Australia c1920)

If you are contemplating writing your family history the first things to ask yourself are Who is your readership? and Why do you want to write your family history?

The two questions are interlinked of course. If it’s just the immediate family and very interested friends you’re aiming at then of course all you need to do is a lot of research and put it all down in a clear and readable manner.

However one of the joys of family (and social) history is the way in which it shines a light onto events of the time.  A family does not have to be extraordinary to be worth writing about. Family history is social history told through the eyes of ordinary people: ‘ordinary’ in the sense of not famous, and never having played a major part in big events, is what makes them identifiable, like us. 

To broaden the appeal of your book, set it in its context. Some of the most gratifying reviews for Worst Country have come from people with no connection to me or my family at all. As my editor Shelley Weiner said when I queried the amount of personal family history in the book, the more specific and detailed you are about your own family the more appealing it is likely to be to a wider public.

My great grandfather
My great great grandfather GM Pitt, subject of my next book

My book went through several metamorphoses under different titles until I landed on The Worst Country in the World, which perfectly summed up what the book is about: namely the story of how a country that began its colonial life as a penal colony that no Europeans wanted to set foot in turned into what is commonly described as one of the ‘luckiest’ countries in the world. All this as seen through the eyes of my ancestress and her offspring.

Thus, I thought and hoped, the book might appeal not just to family members but to anyone interested in the early origins of colonial Australia, as has turned out to be the case.

Sydney c1800 by Conrad Martens (artrecord.com)
Sydney c1800 by Conrad Martens (artrecord.com)
Next: Producing and publishing your book


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