something special in hand

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My mother has been talking about writing her biography for a LONG time. I was a little weary of the idea when she first mentioned it five years ago. Mum is unceremonious, audacious and straight up crazy at the best of times. Her biography seemed to me, at the time, like the fastest way to be exposed to enough overshare to necessitate intense psychological treatment and ongoing mental health care.

But that was five years ago. 

Only a month ago I suggested to mum that we work on her biography together. I figured that I'd probably notch up enough reasons to need the afore mentioned treatment anyway - may as well get on with it. Also, I'd been thinking a lot about mum's childhood and all the stories that I'd always loved - truthfully, I couldn't think of anything I'd rather to work on!

Mum grew up in South Africa during Apartheid. The historical, social and political context of her stories alone are facinating. Add to that a bevy of crazy relatives, four displaced siblings, poverty, daily injustices and the challenges of being a "Coloured" but looking like a "White". Oh and also that fact that mother dear has a habit of talking herself into and out of the most bizarre and hilarious situations.

So we met at the library the following Saturday morning to plan the basic framework and chapter breakdown. And well, we laughed so hard that even the high school students attempting to study around us gave us dirty looks. At our next meeting (in a coffee shop) we began writing a chapter from her early childhood, living in an orphanage with her sister. Again we laughed a lot, but then there were these moments where we found ourselves overwhelmed by the sadness of those experiences and suddenly tears would spring up out of no where.

I started this journey with mum because I wanted to help her get these incredible stories out. I also thought it would be great to have another project to get my mind off my WIP novel, when it gave me grief. But in less than a month this exercise has come to mean so much more to me. To hear my mother talk about herself as a little girl, her feelings at climactic points of her life or in South Africa's history. To see the links forming between all the stories I grew up hearing. To talk about my father (who was murdered a long time ago). To talk about the history of my country and my family. It's a really beautiful thing and I feel incredibly lucky to be sharing it all with this wild, determined woman.

I'll keep you updated with our progress!

Do you have a writing project that means a lot to you? Have you written a biography? Do you think you'll ever give it a try?


  1. Ive never done anything quite like a biography, but in year 10 I think, I did a project on my Grandfather's life - fascinating.. He was born in 1912, so remembers the end of WWI, the influenza epidemic, the great depression, the 30s, was a conscientious objector in WWII, etc etc...

    and unless i'd been forced to do the project, i don't think i would have ever have known!

  2. It's great when you uncover these stories that were under your nose the whole time right? We miss you and shell very much Simon!

  3. I cant wait to read that biography!

    I think its so important for future generations to know your mum's history - Just recently I was trying to eek out some details on both my grandpas - one fought on Kokoda, the other for the Polish airforce. The former went to the grave without disclosing the details.

  4. OMG THE daddo makes an appearance! Thank you Kristy and Mr daddo :)

  5. I hope you and your mother get to do the collaborative biography. I currently have my father's autobiography that I need to finish scanning and editing. I've been trying to talk my mother into recording her life story onto tape so I can transcribe it--she won't write it. It's hard to do--I live 3000 miles away, otherwise I'd be over there with a tape recorder encouraging her to do it.

    Tossing It Out

  6. Remember when the disgruntled worker came home for money from me!Francois had fired him. You were peeping over the couch.

  7. Mother, you've worked out how to comment on blogger - albeit under the wrong name... This is not a good thing! :)