Skip to content

Preserving people's life stories

New Westminster resident helps people publish their stories and memoirs

Everyone's got a story inside. The tricky part is getting it out onto a page where it can last forever.

That's the specialty of Lynn Duncan, a New Westminster resident and co-founder of Vivalogue, a small publishing house that has found a niche in helping people get their story, be it a memoir or fiction, published and into the hands of the right people.

"People tend to feel like they want to leave a legacy for their descendants. I think that's a fairly universal feeling, and yet almost no one does it," Duncan said.

Clients often approach Duncan with an idea for a gift for close friends and family members, for whom such personal stories are most meaningful. Duncan has built her business around the fact that some people want to tell their story but often don't have the wherewithal to write and produce it themselves.

"Lots of people are terrified of writing, and there are very few of us who can look at that silently accusing cursor and not feel a little overwhelmed from time to time," she said. "But people will talk. They're not intimidated at all. If you can get them telling these stories, out they all come."

Depending on the size of a memoir project, Duncan will schedule about eight hours of interviews with a subject. Each two-hour session is transcribed, ghostwritten by Duncan as a chapter of the memoir and reviewed with the subject, though Duncan said her subjects almost never ask for revisions.

Duncan also has a knack for taking the diaries, photos, letters and pieces of a person's life, sometimes even those who have already died, and giving them a new narrative, in a book form.

Duncan started Vivalogue with Kilmeny Denny, her business partner in England, when Denny's mother wanted to publish a collection of diaries she kept while married to a British diplomat.

Duncan and Denny pre-pared a run of 50 copies of Travels With the Sahib: Diary of a Not-quite-mad-enough Foreign Service Wife. Denny's mother had no interest in selling them commercially, but the people featured in the book were eager to purchase a copy.

"They wanted to know what she wrote about them," Duncan said with a laugh. "She felt like a published author. It looks like a real book. It has an ISBN number. It's in the library and archives. To her, it's a real book and she was thrilled."

Amazing stories turn up in unlikely places, Duncan said. Among her favourites she has encountered in publishing have been a man meeting his German spy lover in a concentration camp and arranging for his Jewish fiancée to be spirited out of wartime Croatia, and a Canadian man being the first person in the world to photograph the Soviet satellite Sputnik.

And it isn't just non-fiction that Vivalogue can produce. One woman came to Duncan with a children's story and illustrations she had made about the exploits of her children, growing up at the cabin. The woman wanted to give the book to her grandchildren as a Christmas gift, but she didn't have the technical know-how to do more than physically tape printed text over pictures.

When Duncan was done with editing, layout and professional printing, it looked like it could have come from a major publishing firm, complete with a dust jacket.

"She was thrilled. She had 25 copies. All her relatives got one for Christmas. She felt really good because it was her creation," she said.

Duncan also edited and designed Coven of the Unholy for local self-published author David E. Burnell and helped him get it on the shelves at New West's Renaissance Books.

Vivalogue is also now venturing into specialty cookbooks based on the unique menus at English country inns and local wilderness resorts.

Duncan said her clients are almost universally satisfied once they see their name in print, often for the first time in their lives. And family members treasure seeing a loved one's life story organized and made permanent in a book, guaranteeing it won't become lost to the ages.

"There's a feeling of accomplishment and it should not be taken lightly. It is a big process. It is a sustained effort to produce a book. I think people like the feeling of it. They like the immortality of it. There's something timeless about books that I think is quite evocative," she said. "My goal is to find ways to make it manageable for people. If they only want to do 20 pages and one copy, we can do that. If they want 300 pages, we can do that. The idea is to break it down into something acceptable so they don't get overwhelmed and never do anything," she said.

Vivalogue can be found online at www.