LifeBook is a project I came across and fell in love with during a family gathering where I found myself listening closely to the story of Roy Moed, a man who founded a company that transforms life stories to life books, immortalising memories in the most nostalgic way possible. After a well-though process of 12 weeks, one’s words are translated into written ones, and a LifeBook is born. From first words to first heartbreaks, unkept promises to kept secrets, LifeBook reveals as much as one is willing to; without any judgement or prejudice…
What is the process of writing one’s story?
There are 3 steps;
1. 12 meetings are done whereby the subject is interviewed and recorded.
2. The recorded interviews are written by a ghostwriter.
3. The finished book is edited and typeset.
Following on from this, the book are printed and hand made in London on archive paper and stitched and bound.
Do you interview other people related to the person who is writing their story? After all, some stories need double- checking…!
No, the stories are purely the authors stories, and we say it is the ‘authors version of the truth.’ None of the stories are researched or fact-checked. After all, they are not for sale and are for private consumption by the family.
Once the book is written, the person is asked to come up with a title. Why do you think it’s important for a person to come up with a title themselves?
Sometimes the author has a title before they start. I also think the title in some way defines if it is aimed to be a serious autobiography or an amusing look back on one’s life. We are often asked to help with the title.
However I have tried to ban “ My Life.”
If you were to title your life story now, what would it be?
“What was that all about?“
Most of your clientele is above the age of 70 I assume…
Most, but not all. Youngest is 40, the oldest is 103. (We also do some for terminally ill people, where it is not age that is the defining factor, more so the longevity of life.)
Have you read all the stories that have been published?
No, it would be impossible! We have +-20 books a month coming through, however I do try to flick through all and if a Project Manager says ‘you should read this one‘ then I do. Also remember these are peoples private stories, so not everyone is allowed to read them. (Further, we have a number of stories in languages I don’t understand such as Greek, German, Turkish, Norwegian etc.)
What is one of your favorite anecdotes that you’ve come across so far?
The saddest is one where a father writes to his daughter and wife on the evening that he goes off to the gas chamber in Auschwitz, explaining why he divorced his wife as she was Christian and it would save her and the child, but he still loved her. The funniest (although perhaps not very PC today) was the ‘developer of the little drone parachutes (the one that pulled out the main parachute) in the 2nd World War had to test them and they did not know how until the neighbors’ cat walked past by… They tied it to the drone parachute an went up to the 3rd floor and threw it from the window! The author wrote “…and it didn’t work.“ and all we could imagine was the cat limping back to the neighbor, dragging a parachute and a broken leg!
What are some of the things that the interviewers are doing to help the person re-visit those long-lost memories?
This is about the backstory; first day at school, you remember your school uniform, what the weather was like, any smells or colours, who the teacher was, did they have a best friend… And so on.
What LifeBook gifts people is a journey back in time, almost creating something to hold on to. This could even prolong one’s lifespan, or establish grounds for a healthier human being, no?
Before launching LifeBook, I spent time over 2 years with a brain health institute in Toronto, Baycrest. There, I did some trials on the best way to help slow down cognitive decline in elder adults. As with other forms of engagement, what we found that little and often is the best way to do it.
Rather than 2 or 3 4-6 hour sessions of interviews, we do 12 x 90 minutes over 4 months. This helps process, digest, and reminisce. LifeBook is a project, we have clients prepare for their interviews; go to the hairdresser, engage with other family members for photos, facts or stories… LifeBook is therapeutic, but is not a therapy. Yes, we have worked with psychologists who claim that after the reminiscence and the fact that ones values and legacy is recorded, one is left in a far more satisfactory from which to age.
What do you think is the advantage of having someone else interview to write one’s life story, as oppose to writing it on their own?
After a certain age, it’s hard to dig into the recollections or even remember some of them. This is different for everyone, and people find it is hard to do on your own, but not if you are interviewed. Asking people their first memory comes up with anything from being in a pram and seeing people staring at them to first day at school. Our 103 year old is crystal clear about a story when he was 4… 99 years ago…
Unless you are a natural writer, it is almost impossible to write it yourself. You just can’t sit down and think about the first day of school, how you felt when your grandfather died, or your brother got killed in the war, and what happened then, etc… Also, never get a family member to do it, as the story will be told in a very different way.