A creative project, with the people who matter most

It’s astonishing that some people devote years to finding out about long-dead relatives when there are so many amazing stories to be gathered from people we live with.

This video contains a short interview we did with our friend the author Roman Krznaric.

He’s talking about conversations in which he learned his family story.

Watch till the end, because it puts everything that follows into context:


Everyday matters

A great family story includes, among the all the sensational events, insights that give a powerful sense of the everyday fabric of family life.

In other words, it captures things that usually slip unrecorded into the past.

Some of the most beautiful heartfelt fragments, often seem inconsequential.

The photographer Joakim Blockstrom has created an exhibition by photographing everyday items that people called “heirlooms”.

They include dog-eared books, cassette tapes, toy soldiers and lamp stands.

With Joakim’s help, people told moving stories about these unlikely items.

We’re sure you could easily find similar items of your own.

You should try, because when you create your family story, you’ll see that it’s the contrast between

  1. the sensational and
  2. the everyday

that gives each its power to move.

Where to start?

But if every last detail is interesting, 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 project 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, by giving you a clear framework.

So that you can do it BIT by BIT.

We’ll show you how to make a huge breakthrough in just six 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 with the people you love.

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…

We didn’t mind, though. First place we could call our own.

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.

And THAT’s where we can help you even more.


How to maximise the impact?

For a decade, Harriet has edited The Guardian’s Family section.

(Editor’s note: John-Paul wanted to call it “The Guardian’s legendary Family section”, but Harriet wasn’t having it. This is our compromise.)

First from the dingy old offices on Farringdon Road, then the elegant newsroom in King’s Place…

Over ten years, she has 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 enormous impact.

You’ve probably seen that on Facebook.

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 have turned into books…

…and award-winning movies.

Take 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, she wondered what had become of him – while starting a new family who knew nothing about him.

Until one day she decided she had to find him.

And she set out on a journey that would lead her to the United States of America…

…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…

…and decided immediately to turn it into a film.

As Coogan told another major paper, it was the ARTICLE that triggered his excitement:

Hurrah, etc.

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.

Create an heirloom

John-Paul’s experience is slightly different. If you don’t read The Financial Times, The Guardian, or The Sunday Times, you may have missed his writing there, as associate editor and magazine writer.

And you may have missed his books. He’s published five, including two memoirs, published in 16 languages worldwide.

Apart from writing, he runs quite a lot of courses, online and in real life. Sometimes he teaches on residential writing retreats.

Here he is, working hard:

The best thing about residential courses is the chance to focus, and freedom from distraction.

But they have a downside…

For a start, there’s the cost: £750.00 a week (about US $1000.00) is typical. And they take you away from home, where you may be needed.

Last year, John-Paul taught on a residential course with some great students (and a brilliant co-tutor, the novelist Alice Jolly).

REALLY GOOD writers. Some were hoping to get an agent, find a publisher.

Some of what John-Paul provided was essentially technical.

But that can have a bigger impact. One participant felt transformed:

Which is wonderful. But there’s more.

What would you like to make?

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)

We’ll show you how to do it using a variety of different media.

Take a look at this picture, of John-Paul with his phone.

On that phone, John-Paul has two 90-minute interviews recorded with a family friend.

Somebody who has lived an incredible life, making a fortune, losing some of it again, and risking death among dangerous people.

John-Paul’s going to hand over the recordings…

…a typed transcript…

…an edited version…

…and a bound copy, in hardback.

It’s not hard to create that kind of thing. Much easier than you probably imagine.

(We’ll show you how.)

But can you imagine the pleasure it might bring?

And if you want to create something more playful, we’ll show you how to do that too.

Like this little book, made out of ordinary printer paper and cardboard boxes and brown packing tape, plus lots of bottled ink.

It was a present for Harriet, from John-Paul and our daughter.

Finding, telling and sharing a family story can feel like you’re creating a legacy, perhaps even an heirloom. Here’s how one participant put it, after that same residential course:

Mind you: you’ll have to do the work.

Your Family Project won’t WRITE ITSELF (obviously).

But if you hit a wall, we’ll be there to help. We’ll give you accountability, so that you do something instead of postponing it forever.

So: are you excited about the possibility of finding, shaping and telling your family story?

Hurrah! We hoped you might be.

The Six-Week Family Project Course is opening soon. We’re keeping it relatively small, so if you want to join, you need to be quick.

But before we press “GO”, we want to be sure we haven’t missed anything.

And that’s where you come in. Please take a moment to answer just TWO questions in our short survey. It’s right here:

When you’ve done that, we’ll be in touch again with details of how you can get started at once. Watch out for our emails and messages on Facebook

JP and Harriet