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Autobiography Challenge: Meet your judge!

Kirstie McLellan Day knows a thing or two about writing autobiographies. She's penned bestselling memoirs with a slew of famous Canadians, including hockey greats Bob Probert and Theo Fleury - and has a new memoir with Ron MacLean coming out this October called Cornered. In a few weeks, Kirstie will be choosing a winner for the Canada Writes Autobiography Challenge, but while your entries roll in, we took a moment to get her take on how to turn a life story into a bestseller.

How did you get into the business of writing life stories?

All my life I've been compelled to write. I was one of those kids with the flashlight up till two or three in the morning reading True Confessions, Alfred Hitchcock and mysteries. Then I tried to emulate what I read. I'd write stories constantly. My mom had five kids, yet she always made time to type out my stories, no matter how bad they were. When I was married and had some journalistic experience, I decided to try a book. By happenstance, a woman named Liba Cunnings was my massage therapist, and as I got to know her, I learned that she used to be Liba Dolejs - her ex-husband had murdered their two children, aged 10 and 12. We built a bond of trust and she allowed me to write her story [which became the book No Remorse]. During the process, I saw a certain amount of healing take place, maybe even some closure. And it was inspiring and beautiful to behold. 

And that's something I've kept with me, even as I got more into writing about hockey stars - it's always been about the person, and the story.

kirstie-action.jpg With the upcoming Ron MacLean book, Cornered, you'll have penned three hockey memoirs. Are you a hockey fan? 

I'm a big hockey fan, but my books aren't about hockey. They're about people. I have a working knowledge of the sport, but the people I write with are experts. The book shows their expertise. 

What makes a good memoir?

I'd say there are four golden rules:
  • First and foremost: story and structure. An autobiography is dependent on them, just like a piece of fiction or any written work. The writing has to be tight, has to move.
  • Be honest. I've learned to address every subject. Don't hide anything. Face it head on. Tell 100% of the truth, because readers are very smart.
  • Always start with action. Writing a good autobiography is like a screenplay. If you're standing still or it's slow, you'll bore your reader.
  • Dialogue is important. Think about the most fun you've ever had at a party. Why was it so great? Because you were talking to fascinating people. Grab the essence of that magic for your memoir, and readers will feel the same way.
How do you know where to begin a memoir - what do you write on Page 1? 

It strikes you like a bolt of lightning. When you're writing, you'll get to a part and you'll say, "Oh, my goodness - this is the beginning." 

Have you ever considered writing your own memoir?

Nobody wants to read a book about me, and I know that! People come up to me all the time and say "You should write my story," or "You should write about what happened to my brother" - yeah, right. Save it for your grandkids!

The Canada Writes Autobiography Challenge closes on Friday. Have you sent us your entry yet?

Photo credit: pyramidproductions.tv

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