Biographies have become very specialised. All biographers need to be adept at listening and asking the right questions to draw out the stories that made the narrator (the subject of the biography) the person they were, who they have become, who they are now. All this happens in real-time in an interview. So much comes down to feel and judgement – which topics should be pursued; which have the greatest charge, and which topics aren’t going anywhere?
But there are also very different skills that need to come to the fore. The biographer must be a master of detail yet be able to focus on the big picture. The biography demands synthesis – to bring the big topics and narratives together with those details in a creative and engaging way. At the end of the day, a biography needs the same rhetorical appeal as any story does. The writing must be a weaving of the voices with the dates, events and photos. When these different skills and materials come together, the biography or family history is bound to capture of the attention of the children, grandchildren, for generations to come.