"But I’m nothing special…”: Reflections on Writing the Lives of ‘Ordinary’ People

Tony Gray runs a small publishing consultancy that helps normal people record their life stories for family and friends. For two decades he has been privileged to work with a wide variety of clients, many of whom hesitate to write because they don’t think they have anything special to say. But is anyone ‘ordinary’, and do we not all have something to contribute? Tony reflects on the people and the process of recording life stories.


Tony Gray completed his DPhil at Wolfson College Oxford in Philosophical Theology before entering the publishing industry. Through his company Words by Design, Tony has worked on over a hundred private biographies (clients have included a polar explorer, a chimney sweep, peers of the realm, WWII POWs, CEOs of multi-nationals, hoteliers, teachers, missionaries, pilots and builders); researched and written a number of significant family histories (including histories of the Schwarzschild, Hajduska, Howarth and Quarmby families); and acted as a consultant for other publishing companies (helping set up and establish private presses and small independent publishers).

His research interests include theology of religions (his best-selling book was a cartoon guide to the basics of theology), family history (especially his own, where he has so far completed two out of a seven-volume series), human rights (having worked on edited collections such as Maternal Mortality and Human Rights and Contemporary Human Rights Challenges), and the histories of buildings (in particular the histories of small churches and their congregations, having so far worked on the histories of Chipping Norton Baptist Church, Stow-on-the-Wold Methodist Church, and Lydney Baptist Church).