Silence was a habit I was born into.
When my father spoke, he did so publicly. He silenced my father, and in time the silence spread to every person in the country.
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War came, as my father had predicted it would—an implosion of rage and violence which went on for more than ten years, finally ending in The impact was greater than I had imagined: newspaper and radio interviews, public engagements, serialization, a TV documentary. Nowhere was the desire to hear me discuss what I had written about greater than in Sierra Leone. In a talk I gave at the university, those who could not get into the auditorium sat on the grass outside and listened through the open windows.
Back then, there were not a great many memoirs on the market. The decade and a half that has passed since has seen a resurgence in the form. Today, there is no subject I can think of that has not been excavated by the modern memoir: family, relationships, childhood abuse, both physical and mental illness, sexual adventure, sexual assault, sexual identity, addiction, bereavement, divorce, childhood, coming of age, mothers and motherhood, fathers and fatherhood, siblings, home, travel, exile, war, each of the decades from the s on.
In the months after I published mine, people I knew seemed to look at me in a new way, as though I was totally different from the person they thought they knew—which was, in some ways, true. Others read the book and seemed promptly to forget everything they had read. Sometimes, in later and unrelated conversations, they would ask me a question to which they knew the answer because they had already read it.
I have done this, too: separated the person and the author of a memoir as though they were entirely different. You must also, once your book is published, deal with the reactions of strangers. I received hundreds of letters from readers who said my book had affected them.
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I always wrote back, more than once I even met with a correspondent. I once had lunch with a South African woman who had written to me, whose life was shaped by the disappearance of her father. She had never shared her story because, she said, the family was ashamed. They relocated to Britain and told nobody. I remembered our own years of silence. The letters, now more often emails, have never stopped.
There were also those people who were crass, or unthinking, or downright prurient, to whom my life had become spectacle.
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They expected me to talk on demand about those events I had written about, as if I was on stage. I had written about events and experiences that are painful to talk about, but which I felt must nevertheless be described. That is the simplest reason people write about themselves—because talking hurts too much. We were walking to the stage at a literary festival where I was about to interview her. We could talk and even laugh among ourselves in a way that was impossible in front of others. The writer of a memoir must necessarily reveal a great deal about herself or himself, and often about other people, too.
You sacrifice your own privacy, and you sacrifice the privacy of others to whom you may have given no choice. They may enjoy the attention or be enraged by it. I knew who might sue or come after me—members of the regime that had killed my father. I comforted myself with the belief that they had for the most part been exiled or discredited, or had gone underground.
The only person I allowed to read the unpublished manuscript was my stepmother, because I was concerned about her safety even more than my own. She still lived in the country, and the violence can ricochet for months after a civil war. In the final draft, I changed one name only—of the man who had betrayed my father for the promise of money, agreeing to give false testimony at his treason trial on behalf of the regime.
He admitted this to me during our interview. I despised him and I knew other readers of the book would despise him, too. He had a pitch selling Lotto tickets in Freetown, a small city. Anyone could find him just by asking around, as I had done. Already, one or two one or two suspected former rebel soldiers had been lynched in the city. For this reason, I changed his name, and privately decided that I would change any other names that my stepmother wanted me to. But without saying this, I let her read the book. When she gave it back to me, she made no comment.
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These people may have experienced relatively little adversity or danger in their lives. She or he may be the survivor of domestic abuse, perhaps, or of illness, or crime. Linda Robinson has proudly been the face of Pacific Wines and Spiritsfor 23 years. In she lead the company as President and became a shareholder in Linda is responsible for the Western Canadian sales teams and their markets. Linda was appointed La Confraria do Vinho do Porto for her significant contribution to the education and promotion of port wine.
In she was appointed a Keeper of The Quaich, an exclusive and international society that recognises those that have shown outstanding commitment to the Scotch Whisky industry. In she was inducted into the Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne, the official fraternity of Champagne brands whose mission is to promote the variety, versatility and taste of champagne across the world.
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