Why do people read about other people’s lives?

Why would anyone want to read about my life and why did I write ‘An English Baby Boomer: My Life and Times’?

Benjamin Franklin said:

B Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

‘Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing’

In my case, I think I stand up to that test on both accounts. It is not just the life story but all the ‘add ons’ – the anecdotes, the jokes, the poetry, the reflection – even a few naughty bits – and the meetings with remarkable personalities that make it interesting. ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ is a an intriguing programme because of the social history and exposure to the unusual or extraordinary that is often triggered by the story of the main character.

Josceline Dimbleby has said of my book – ‘evocative of changing eras, described with humour’ – see what I mean!

My favourite biographies

To know more about me – before you read my book – check out which biographies have appealed to me and why? What does this say about my character? Here are a few in alphabetical order.

Blood and Sand by Frank Gardner – the heart rending story of Gardner’s recovery after being mowed down by Islamist gunmen in 2004.

Blue Remembered Hills by Rosemary Sutcliffe – the most charming, poignant childhood memories of the author of The Eagle of the Ninth – a youthful favourite of mine. Struggling with Still’s Disease as a child, she was left permanently disabled, but went on to write forty novels for children.

Cherry by Sara Wheeler – the extraordinary tribulations of Apsley Cherry-Garrard with Scott of the Antarctic and his writing of the The Worst Journey in the World. Apsley’s deep sense of guilt, because he felt he had let Scott down, haunted him for the rest of his life.

Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves – his time at Charterhouse, experiences in the Great War, attempts to readjust to civilian life in the twenties and develop his writing.

J S Bach by Albert Schweitzer – one of the first definitive biographies of an early hero of mine. A genius who had to cope with a difficult working environment and managed to father 23 children.

Memoirs of a Survivor by Doris Lessing – not quite under the same heading but thoroughly thought provoking nevertheless.

Mercenaries, Missionaries and Misfits by my son Tarquin Hall – for obvious reasons. Adventures of an under-age journalist in America, Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Bacha Saqqao, Afghan Brigand and one time King of Afghanistan

My Life from Brigand to King – by Amir Habibullah, the autobiography of an illiterate son of a water-carrier, who fought his way to the throne of Afghanistan and lost it within a year.

My Khyber Marriage by Morag Murray – the extraordinary life of a Scotswoman who married an Afghan Chief.

My Wicked, Wicked Ways by Errol Flynn – an amazing yarn – from Tasmania to Hollywood and a very different story from mine. Certainly his own man!

Rothschild: A Story of Wealth and Power by Derek A Wilson – the story of a family that came from abject poverty in Frankfurt to become one of the wealthiest and most powerful in the world.

The Education of a Gardener by Russell Page – the biography of one of the most talented garden designers of the 20th century.
Witness by J G Bennett – his search for truth following a near death experience in the Great War. Meetings and studies with G I Gurdjieff, P D Ouspensky, Pak Subuh and various Sufi teachers. Following a spiritual path while following a high profile career.

In all these works, it is the stories that appeal to me. As in a film, people like to enter another world. We may laugh, or weep, or identify with pain. We may hold up an anecdote like a crystal ball and say to ourselves, ‘I see; that’s how he dealt with that situation’. We may wriggle with delight when reading passages of nostalgia or steam with derision when reading something annoying. In some cases, we learn deep lessons which open up new avenues of thought and – in my opinion – experiencing some stories, autobiographical or not, can significantly change one’s character, possibly even one’s DNA. Human evolution requires answers to questions – other people’s lives and experience often supply the answers. I, for one, am an addict for reading the daily obituaries in the broad sheets!

‘Afghanistan’ appears three times on this Blog. This wonderful but sad country and its people have been a subject of abiding interest to me for many years. In fact, my book starts with my journey up the Khyber Pass in 1990.

I hope you enjoy reading ‘An English Baby Boomer: My Life and Times’ which will be available on Amazon from mid-March. Incidentally, nearly all the books above come up in my narrative and I have met and known some of the authors.

FEE! FI! FO! FUM! – I smell the blood of an English Baby Boomer.

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