There is no greater agony than
bearing an untold story inside you.
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings



My inspiration to take up life-writing is my grandmother, Elva Agnes Wiles.

This is her first ever passport photo. Born in South Shields in 1912, she was orphaned at the age of seven and brought up by the Sisters of Nazareth in Middlesbrough. Widowed by the age of 22, with a toddler and another baby on the way and with no relatives of her own, she stayed where she could, with relatives of her late husband reluctantly giving her some shelter.

Nanna lived an amazing but ordinary life. She had a wonderfully colourful turn of phrase and a bottomless treasure trove of stories to tell. Nobody was merely “lucky”. She’d say: “He was so lucky, if he fell in the North Sea he’d have come up with a mouth full of herrings!”

My family all told her she should write it all down. Her life-story could have been a bestseller, a real-life Catherine Cookson page-turner. But she never did write it and died a few years ago, leaving us with only the recollections of her that we regularly exchange with each other.

That’s how I came up with the idea of writing people’s life stories for them. I’d give a lot of money to have Nanna’s story to pass on to my children. I hope others will make it happen for their families before it’s too late.