It’s not only BIG facts that matter
A great family story includes, among the all the sensational events, insights that give a powerful sense of the everyday fabric of family life – things that usually slip unrecorded into the past.
Some of the most wonderful things are beautiful heartfelt fragments, many of them seemingly inconsequential.
It’s the contrast between
a) the sensational and
b) the everyday
that gives each its power to move.
Give yourself time to let that sink in: neither the sensational nor the everyday is enough on its own.
Where to start?
But if all the everyday details are to be considered interesting, well, it’s hard to know where to begin. Which is why we created The Family Project.
If you want to capture _and shape the big things and the small things that matter most, and if you like the idea of a creative adventure with the most important people in the world (your family) we think you will like The Family Project.
We designed it to help you stop feeling overwhelmed by the scale of your project. It gives you a clear framework, so that you can do it bit by bit. It needn’t take several years, like Roman’s conversations with his father. Just a few weeks.
In The Family Project we’ll give you specific exercises, to break the job into manageable chunks. And you’ll quickly discover what matters most. Your beautiful heartfelt fragments will acquire an overall shape, and pattern. And you’ll have something wonderful to share.
About the creators of The Family Project
John-Paul Flintoff and Harriet Green
That picture shows us when we first met, as English students. Quite a while ago now. It was taken on JP’s grandfather’s camera, from the 1940s, with a timer that went whiiiirrrrrrrr-CLICK. It’s a bit dim, because our rooms were in the basement. With damp walls. But we didn’t mind too much.
Since then, we’ve started our own family project (we have a daughter). More importantly (for you, anyway) we have spent years telling, writing and editing family stories. And we’re here to help you with yours.
As you work on your Family Project, you’ll see that some stories are especially powerful. They need to be lifted out of the general archive and given more space. That’s where we can help you even more.
How to maximise the impact?
For a decade, Harriet edited The Guardian’s legendary Family section. First from the dingy old offices on Farringdon Road, then the elegant newsroom in King’s Place.
Over ten years, she helped thousands of people to maximise the impact of their family stories, by looking at the structure, and injecting emotional impact. Most of the credit goes to the writers, obviously, and the incredible stories they have to tell. But Harriet did a bit to help.
Stories so powerful, and human, can have an incredible impact. You’ve probably seen that on Facebook with stories that get lots of Likes, and Shares.
One story Harriet published was a mother’s memorial to her daughter. In less than a week, it got more than two million page views. It was shared 166,000 times. Yes, one hundred and sixty-six thousand. People who read it left comments like this for the author:
“A beautiful, moving piece. I can see where your daughter got her literary talents from. Thank you for sharing and best wishes to you and the family.”
Other articles turned into books and award-winning movies. For instance: Philomena. If you didn’t see it, you probably heard about it. The true story of an Irish woman whose son was taken away from her by nuns.
For years, Philomena wondered what had become of him, while she started a new family who knew nothing about him. Then one day she decided she had to find him, and set out on a journey that would lead her to the US – a happy discovery – and heartbreak too.
The journalist Martin Sixsmith wrote a book about it, and then an article for Harriet. It was a great story, beautifully written. As usual there was a bit of to and fro over what to show, and what to hold back. (That’s what editors are for.) And when it was published, the actor Steve Coogan read the article.
He decided immediately to turn it into a film. As Coogan told another major paper, it was the article that triggered his excitement:
But we want to be clear about one thing. Philomena was not ABOUT somebody famous, or well connected. It was about a seemingly ordinary person with an extraordinary story.
And here’s another thing: there are millions of extraordinary family stories out there. Perhaps yours is one of them.
Let’s look at this from the writer’s perspective…
As a writer, John-Paul worked for years for the best papers and magazines in English. He’s published five books, in 16 languages worldwide, including fiction, and two memoirs. The late Nobel prize winner Harold Pinter once said this about John-Paul’s writing:
“Very good. Very funny… In fact, it made me laugh”
- Harold Pinter, writer and Nobel Prize winner
But John-Paul knows how hard it can be. He learned by experience that people won’t always like what you write. Even including your agent. And editors don’t always return calls. Even publishers who say they love your work might suggest radical surgery.
Out of frustration, he taught himself to self-publish one book, and crowd-funded another. Probably the hardest things he ever did, but eventually both books were published by “proper” publishers. And reviewers were generous:
“I found the book intriguing, joyously difficult to put down. It kept calling me back from whatever I was doing, urging me to read on. The form feels anarchic yet sumptuous. A feast for readers who enjoy their books stylishly written and cleverly plotted.” – Victoria Lambert
“I couldn’t put it down. It was moving and utterly brilliant”
– Rachael Matthews
And John-Paul felt incredibly grateful for all the support he’d received. (Read that last bit again. It’s terribly important. We’ll be coming back to that.)
Over seven years, as a visiting faculty member at The School of Life, he’s taught several thousand people.
“We love you JP”
- Alain de Botton, founder, The School of Life
In short, we’ve got a lot to share with you
In The Family Project, we show you:
1. how to find your story,
2. give it shape,
3. heighten the emotional impact, and
4. share it widely (if that’s what you want)
Sound alright? You’ll have to do the work, obviously. Your Family Project won’t write itself. But if you hit a wall, we’ll be there to help.
So: are you excited about the possibility of finding, shaping and telling your family story?
Hurrah! We thought so. But you probably have lots of questions.