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Are there any people out there writing biographies of obscure people?

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Showing 1-25 of 319 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 Dec 2009, 14:07:57 GMT
Who are you writing about and how do you find out about the people?

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Dec 2009, 15:37:19 GMT
Hi Markus, I sort of wrote a biography about an obscure person who had a fascinating story. The book is called Allah's Garden: A True Story of a Forgotten War in the Sahara Desert of Morocco. Sales are good in the US on Amazon.com I found about about this person because I reside in Morocco and was introduced to the man, a doctor, who had been held captive for nearly 25 years in the Sahara Desert. I intertwined the narrative with my own story as a volunteer in Morocco.

Posted on 29 Dec 2009, 21:38:32 GMT
Last edited by the author on 4 Jan 2010, 14:44:25 GMT
Digger Dave says:
Hi Markus.
They don't come more obscure than me :). I recently published my 'Cockney' childhood memoirs, detailing happenings between the ages of 8-14. Life in the 1960s was pretty tough for a lot of families, but there was a lot of fun to be had too! Walking My Walworth: A Sixties ChildhoodThe book has been well received on Amazon.co.uk and is gathering some interesting reviews.

Posted on 30 Dec 2009, 02:03:03 GMT
Maggie: I've just gone and bought it. Seems just the tonic I need to start off a new decade of reading.

Regards Markus

Posted on 30 Dec 2009, 13:56:14 GMT
That sounds like a great book too! I will check it out. With Allah's Garden, a contest is taking place where you can enter to win a trip to Morocco. You can also buy the book on http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0964142392 and visit http://www.allahs-garden.com to register your Amazon purchase and enter the sweepstakes. The trip covers all in-country expenses for two travelers on a ten-day private trip where the winner can choose the dates in 2011 or 2012. Thanks!

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jan 2010, 14:43:18 GMT
Digger Dave says:
Many thanks. Would appreciate your comments, maybe even a review? :)

Posted on 5 Jan 2010, 21:01:01 GMT
Obscure? My daughter is documenting my mother's life. She says she's going to publish one day - it's still in the works though!

Posted on 9 Jan 2010, 12:59:59 GMT
Tonto Books publishes biographies by one or two 'obscure' people.
New titles for 2010 can be found here: http://www.tontobooks.co.uk/products.php?cat=33

In reply to an earlier post on 9 Jan 2010, 17:24:32 GMT
Markus - I am fascinated by the people who led quite extraordinary lives but who appear to have 'slipped through the net of recorded history'. In 2005, my biography of the Antarctic explorer, WWI fighter pilot, treasure-hunter, and film-maker, Frank Bickerton was published. That book is called "Born Adventurer". Then, in 2008, "Ice Captain" was published; this tells the equally exciting story of Bickerton's close friend and fellow explorer, J.R. Stenhouse. Both men led incredible lives, and Bickerton was taken as the model for the character of Leonard Anquetil in Vita Sackville-West's novel, "The Edwardians" (1930). Because these men are obscure it can take years to ferret out information and manuscript material - but their stories make the huge effort very well worthwhile. Both books are listed on Amazon, with all the press notices etc. Coincidentally, the aeroplane that Bickerton piloted in Antarctica was rediscovered on New Year's Day 2010, and was reported worldwide!

Posted on 9 Jan 2010, 22:47:02 GMT
Dave Arthur says:
A few years ago I wrote the biography of Gilbert Sargent a Sussex countryman. He was born in the late 1800s and died nearly a hundred years later. I met him whilst writing a radio series on 'interesting' peope. He was a gamekeeper/chauffeur/water bailif. And remembered seeing Queen Victoria on a couple of occasions - 'She were all bums and bosoms.' He had a remarkable memory for the old country ways and was a fund of amusing anecdotes such as the village woman who set up in business on a mattress in the bushes outside Pippingford Park, which was the camp for thousands of Canadian and American troops in the 2nd World War, and the wombat that Gilbert kept in the garage on the estate where he worked, the magpies he taught to whistle 'After the Ball is Over' etc. He was also an ambulance driver in the First World War and his memories of his time in Italy and France are unique. There is also a lot of information on the horses and horsemen who left the villages and went across to Europe to fight. It was great fun to write and preserved some wonderful memories of English rural life which hadn't changed in Gilbert's childhood for five or six hundred years. It has been out of print for a few years but copies are on Amazon and Abe's books. It's called 'A Sussex Life' Originally published by Barrie and Jenkins, and reprinted as a paperback by Chapel Press.
I've just finished another biography, this time of A.L. 'Bert' Lloyd who went out to Australia in 1924 as a 15 year-old assisted migrant. He worked for six years on sheep and cattle farms during which time he educated himself by borrowing books by mail from the Sydney public library service. He came back to London in 1930 and got a job at Foyle's Bookshop, where amongst others he got to know Alistair Crowley. He became a friend of all the Left-wing writers and artists in Fitzrovia and hung out with people such as Dylan Thomas. In the mid-'30s he published the first English translation of Lorca's 'Death of a Bull Fighter', and the First English edition of Kafka's 'Metamorphosis'. He taught himself several languages especially eastern European ones such as Rumanian, Hungarian, Bulgarian - also Norwegian (learnt while working for the 1937/8 season on the factory whaling ship the Southern Empress), Russian, Spanish, French, German..... During the war he first trained in the Tank Corps and was then seconded to work on a Russian language magazine for the Ministry of Information. After the war he worked for ten years on Picture Post travelling the world with the photographer Bert Hardy, and they contributed some of the most famous Picture Post features. He spent some time with Evita on one South American trip. In the 50s, as a Communist, he found himself out of work so became a folklorist specializing in east European folk music, in which he became a world authority. He also produced the first British collection of industrial folk music, mainly from the north-east coalfields, and wrote what some people believe to be the definitive work on the history of English folk song. With Ralph Vaughan Williams he edited the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs...etc...etc.. He did a lot more, including hundreds of BBC radio and TV scripts and play translations on everything from 'The Common Cold' to Brecht's plays. The above will give you an idea of an amazing, little known life. Enquiries as to it's publication date and availability can be got from <derek@dschofield.demon.co.uk>. The book is entitled 'Bert: The Life and Times of A.L.Lloyd' and is to be published by the English Folk Dance and Song Society. The more you hustle him the quicker the book will be out!!
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Posted on 11 Jan 2010, 13:08:08 GMT
I am delighted by the response to my question and amazed by the number of people who have written or are writing biographies of forgotten people. But I wonder how do you find out about these people when letters, diaries, and reminiscences of people who knew them rarely survive? By the way the reason I started this discussion was because I recently saw The Magic Box with Robert Donat about the first man to produce moving images on a screen (the founder of moving pictures) but who by 1921 (his death) was completely forgotten and I must admit (though I am a film buff) I had never heard of him previously. How is it possible that so many worthy people are so easily forgotten. I think a prominent publisher such as Penguin or OUP should set up a national prize for the best biography of an obscure individual.

Posted on 11 Jan 2010, 14:05:41 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 12 Jan 2010, 17:38:10 GMT]

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Jan 2010, 15:01:41 GMT
Last edited by the author on 11 Jan 2010, 15:11:56 GMT
mckavitt says:
Hello Marcus.
Your question provokes two comments from me, neither a direct response to it: first of all, Nancy Milford spent some 30 years writing her bio of the now largely ignored Edna St Vincent Millay (tho' the name is hot, it is true), after an equally flaring one on an equally pining personality, ZELDA, married to F Scott Fitzgerald. The Millay has rekindled that candle she spoke movingly of burning at both ends, Mildord's venture a plea for re-reading her who in her lifetime was as almost politely infamous as famous (up to the reader to decide whether deservedly so on both or either counts).
Secondly, i would just like to say that if often enjoy reading (and even end up treasuring) obscure poets, whom i find in different Penguin Anthologies of English Poetry. If i may make the comparison with musical figures, who can listen to Beethoven all the time? As i see it, we can learn and derive pleasure from "small fry" as well as those blazing a trail eternal.
Sorry i haven't got an author, either obscure or famous on the stove, but who knows? Thanks for bringing the subject up, indeed an interesting one.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Jan 2010, 15:24:40 GMT
mckavitt says:
Enjoyed reading your post. Am just now re-reading the Dylan Thomas opus and a number of books about him as well. He is being reconsidered critically (i read one critic who said he wrote two poems--and you can probably guess which two, they are so very word-worthy). Nonetheless, tho' he takes work, the success he enjoyed in his lifetime cannot have been due uniquely to his eloquent basso readings.
Will pay special attention to the body of your post in greater detail, now i've got the above off my chest.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Jan 2010, 17:32:38 GMT
Dave Arthur says:
Hi Marya - How nice get your email. Much as I love the images and the language of Under Milk Wood, and the power of Do not go gentle into that goodnight, I find many of Dylan's poems much harder going than his delightful stories. If you're reading up on Dylan I really, really, recommend you get hold of a copy of Closing Times a collecton of biographical essays by Dan Davin. Davin was head of the academic wing of OUP for many years and was a personal friend of many of the most interesting writers of the '40s, '50s and '60s. Closing Times is a beautifully written book, and up amongst my favourite biographies. I had the privilege of knowing Dan in his latter years and contributed a small memoir in Intimate Strangers: Reminiscences of Dan Davin, a book also well worth reading. Dan was a delighful character, immensely erudite and a wonderful raconteur.
A few years ago I made a 'pilgrimage' to south Wales visiting Dylan's various homes and haunts, one of the results of the trip was a poem 'Poet in Aspic' which remains unpublished but might interest you.

Poet in aspic

Now, from the wall of Brown's Hotel,
the poet stares, transfixed in time,
forever young.
No thinning hair, or lines that tell
of life long-lived beyond its prime.
Just praises sung.
Beside the trophies on the wall,
within a yellow'd frame he sits,
and though no time is called
in that grey land where he exists,
he never drinks, nor thinks
of deadlines passed.
And none insists
that he should leave his bed
and crawl through bleary mists
in search of errant scripts,
he'd lost upon a bar- room floor.
What bacchic god decreed that he,
the drunken wizard of Cwmdonkin Drive,
should die, yet live,
while we, mere sober mortals,
may only live to die?
What goddess, verse-beguiled,
took up the golden knife,
and killed for him the bitter tree of life?
Shaman? Trickster? Sacred Fool?
Whose fans still worship at the shrine,
and some, through drink,
would be like him,
and touch the muse divine.
He paid a tithe to Hell,
and purchased everlasting life,
on the wall of Brown's Hotel

(After seeing a black and white photograph of a young Dylan Thomas on the wall of Brown's Hotel, Laugharne, and thinking about the advantages of dying young, and the immortality a photograph confers on the subject)

Wishing you all that's best with your Dylan research.

Dave Arthur

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Jan 2010, 17:49:53 GMT
mckavitt says:
Gorgeous, Dave, thank you so much for sharing it with me.
And now get busy publishing it so you can share it with the numerous numbers, both even and odd.
What a tactically precise yet lyrical poem! Thanks again. If we stay in touch, i'd be glad to share a verse or two of my own confectioning.
I agree (and believe i said or implied) that DT's (who must have suffered from them, right?) poems are hard, obscure, all that, but worth the sit-in, for me.
I agree with you on the stories, which i've been residing in for the past month or so. SONOROUS as in story and not as in poem which is SOUND, especially in his case, but not devoid of meaning, despite what some literatti are now saying, sort of behind his back, if you will.
Am also reading Caitlin and his daughter. What stories people do tell--but none so lubberluscious as his own.

Posted on 12 Jan 2010, 04:53:49 GMT
I don't know how obscure they are now but Songs of Blood and Sword is on pre order currently - a family history and political memoir of Pakistan's Bhutto family

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Jan 2010, 15:40:01 GMT
Look at The Sausage Boys written by John Davey - simple, funny, poignant book about two young lads who formed a double act in the 1970's. Interesting story of their journey and the then famous people they encountered!! They could have been the new Morcombe and Wise of the ninetys. Semi autobiographical story.

Posted on 16 Jan 2010, 16:33:20 GMT
microfiche says:
IMO the problem with writing, or finding, books about obscure people is that such books are published either by local history societies, and don't sell well outside the local area (if they sell at all) or by vanity presses / self-publishing. I found a fairly well written autobiography of a man who grew up in Toronto in the 1920's, published by iUniverse - one of those presses. His life was not so book worthy. He was an ordinary man, like my father was; but the research he put into filling out his memoirs lifted it up. For example, his recollections of going to the Canadian National Exhibition, Toronto's annual 'fair': he remembered the sights and smells, but he also looked up who was on at the Grandstand that year and the background of what he remembered. It was not an exhaustive look at 'The Ex'. That would have been boring. But he backed up his memories with pertinent details culled from research. It won't mean much to anyone uninterested in his life or in Toronto in the 1920's; but it's a good, informative read for anyone who is interested.

Posted on 30 Jan 2010, 16:15:00 GMT
Joyeuse says:
I don't know if one would consider R S Thomas (most poets being unknown to a wide audience) to be obscure but Byron Rogers' biography of him - The Man who Went into the West - is a wonderful read and surprisingly, for the tale of a dour clergyman who moved to progressively more isolated parts of Wales through his career, quite hilarious. He's got another one on J L Carr coming out any time which promises to be rewarding.

Posted on 21 Oct 2010, 14:57:27 BST
Last edited by the author on 21 Oct 2010, 15:02:49 BST
Louise says:
If by obscure you mean non-celebrity, there are plenty about. Try DROPPED IN IT, true story of a WWII veteran at Operation Market Garden, Arnhem,1st Airborne Division

Obscurity certainly isn't always dull. One of the best bits was when age 12, sobbing at his mother's funeral he was told "Cheer up, she wasn't your real mum anyway - you were adopted!"

Posted on 22 Oct 2010, 23:45:25 BST
Mary Seymour says:
I do not know if there are any prizes for the most obscure person, but for the last 50+ years I have been writing the "Life & Times" of a mediaeval monk. The actual known facts about his life would fit on one page of A4 - and two of those facts are mutually exclusive! However, he was the child of two famous people (famous in mediaeval circles at any rate !) ABELARD and HELOISE and if he had not been born, their tragic love story would have been different (but probably no less tragic). Far from being a nonentity, I have discovered that the boy, ASTRALABE, was very much his own man and not swomped by his parents' reputations, that he was deeply embroiled in the messy politics of twelfth century Brittany, that he was a scholar, musician and probably also a beautiful caligraphist, and that he was sent as a trouble-shooter to be abbot of a Cistercian Abbey which was on the brink of collapse through internal ethnic conflict, that he saved the day and this monastery is STILL flourishing after nearly a thousand years. I keep hoping to finish the biography. It IS nearly finished, only one chapter and some revision to do. Give me another couple of years - but I've been saying that for ever ....

Brenda M Cook

Posted on 25 Oct 2010, 07:29:54 BST
Last edited by the author on 25 Oct 2010, 07:34:03 BST
Somehow, I managed to produce a biography of my grandfather, a very ordinary man.Letters from the Trenches: A Soldier of the Great War It was based on his letters from the First World War and seems to be quite well received. There's a companion blog to supplement the book. Amazingly, the blog has just passed the three million page loads mark.wwar1.blogspot.com

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Oct 2010, 12:47:39 BST
Jerry Kuntz says:
Baseball Fiends and Flying Machines: The Many Lives and Outrageous Times of George and Alfred LawsonA Pair of Shootists: The Wild West Story of S.F. Cody and Maud Lee

I like to research obscure people who exhibited curious actions over a long period in many locales, i.e. their contemporaries weren't aware of their complete histories. I use old newspapers as my sources; archives of these newspapers now allow researchers to trace entire careers.

In reply to an earlier post on 30 Oct 2010, 04:00:19 BST
Hi Marcus, I found out things and people through my travels. The book I have written contains plenty of information. It is very educative. The title is "Travels of the Mind" I hope you to read it.
EttoreTravels of the Mind
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