Why have I produced these online courses?



The question I’m asked most often by genealogists is this:


“How do I write something interesting when I’ve found nothing but dry facts for my ancestors, when I have little more than names and dates?”


     It’s a great question, a valid question. Because we’re unlikely to find much more than names, dates and places for most of our ancestors.  

     However, think about this. For every fact we find about our ancestors, we’ve also found a world of lived experiences. So we can tap into these lived experiences in a way that brings them to life for the reader.

     This does NOT mean fictionalising our family histories. This does NOT mean “recreating” scenes or conversations involving long-dead ancestors.

     How can I state this with such certainty?

     Because I don’t make things up in my “popular histories”. My genre is called “narrative nonfiction” – history told as a story – and I’ve worked out how to use the literary tools we all have at our disposal to turn dry facts into exciting narrative. Indeed, The Fabulous Flying Mrs Miller is being turned into a $10 million budget, internationally-produced TV series because it's such an extraordinary gripping story. 

     Of course, your response might be: “Well, you were already dealing with a dramatic story. My ancestry is full of agricultural labourers and tradesmen who are barely mentioned in historical records.” 

     Yes, that’s true. My mainstream publications are indeed dramatic stories because a major publisher wouldn’t pay a five-figure advance for a story about a nonentity.

     But how do you think I built up the writing skills that ultimately produced these gripping stories?

     At the time I received my first writing contract, I’d probably had less writing training than you’ve had. I’d obtained a minor in literature at university (which involved writing analytical essays). I’d been researching my family history since I was a high school student and had written a couple of family histories. And I’d written some articles for genealogy and history magazines. That’s all. I hadn't undertaken any courses in writing or read any books on writing.

     My pre-professional writing style was very dry as you’ll see from some of the writing examples in this syllabus. However, along the way, as I strove and struggled to turn dry facts into interesting prose, I developed a style that has enabled me to write gripping history.

     Of course, I wasn’t telling stories about my own labourers and tradesmen in my popular histories.  However, a good writer can turn even the driest of facts into something interesting.

     It’s all in the writing.

     That’s what I’ll be teaching you in this Writing Fabulous Family Histories syllabus. And that’s why my logo says:


Teaching you how to write, not just what to write.