A forum for the discussion of biography in the 21st century.

Author Archives: Steve

Writing minor lives

April 14th, 2011 | Posted by Steve in Discussion - (6 Comments)

I specialize in writing the lives of minor figures … principally nineteenth century working men who were politically active as Chartists or who sought to establish themselves as poets/writers. With this sort of work comes the problem of fragmentary primary source material. Sometimes – for example, in the case of the Chartist & peace lecturer Arthur O’Neill – there isn’t a great deal that can be recovered about their early years; and sometimes – for example, in the case of the Chartist insurrectionist Robert Peddie – they just disappear from view. Perhaps the most frustrating part of researching & writing the individual lives of nineteenth century working people is getting publishers interested in bringing out such work. I have written or edited about a dozen books & the best of them – a study of the Chartists Thomas Cooper & Arthur O’Neill who formed a friendship that lasted fifty years after sharing a prison cell – was very difficult to place with a publisher. Eventually, it was published by Peter Lang, who required both camera-ready copy & a subsidy (& who also retain the copyright & pay no royalties). Though the book has had some terrific reviews, I don’t think it has sold very well. In spite of these difficulties, I believe strongly in recovering the stories of working people & shall carry on with this sort of work. A shame, though, that these days, unlike in the 1970s, there aren’t the range of publishers interested in such research. Now if I was offering them a life of Gladstone or Dizzy …