When Murdoch Books asked if I would write my mother’s life story, I was a bit gobsmacked. I’d been working on the Australian Memory series for Murdochs, and was having Christmas drinks with some the publishing staff. The conversation drifted to parents and I told them how, in 1945, my mother had taken me, as a two year old, from Palestine to London. We travelled through the Mediterranean aboard a passenger ship guarded by a flotilla of British warships She was on a romantic mission to join her lover, the man who later became my stepfather. Hazel Flynn, Murdoch’s editor, heard this story and thought my mother sounded fascinating. She was right, but what Hazel didn’t know was, I didn’t really like my mother. We’d battled all our lives and I couldn’t think how I could write about our relationship and expect readers to feel any empathy for her.
However there were people who adored her. Beautiful, smart, talented; impatient, dissatisfied, critical, she was many things to many people. In a life filled with love and drama, hope and disappointment, she had to reinvent herself again and again.Her pampered childhood in Germany ended abruptly in flight from the coming Nazi terror. Suddenly she and my grandmother were living hand-to-mouth in Palestine where her dreams seemed to be blowing away in the dust.
I realised if I were to agree to write the book I would have to step outside the narrow prism of my experience as a daughter. In the end I decided I could write about her , but only by focusing on the beautiful love story between Ursula and my stepfather Nigel Hall. Ursula risked everything to follow this path of love that began in the midst of the wartime chaos, and withstood the many difficulties that took them first to England and then Australia.
The writing was a harrowing process. I had a deadline of just 12 months, and I was also working fulltime. On top of this I had to do an enormous amount of research, and deal with the emotional stuff as well. My siblings were a fantastic help and somehow I got through it – just about in time, but that’s another blog.,
Ursula: A Voyage of Love and Drama was published in 2006 . Here’s the review Bruce Elder from the Sydney Morning Herald wrote.
“This could have been just another life touched by the great events of the 20th century, but told by Naseby, who writes with an effortless beauty, it attains the emotional power of a carefully crafted novel. The psychological complexity of the characters, their dreams and frailties, are captured in a book of great honesty.”
I’m running a memoir writing course in June called appropriately Skeletons & Dirty Linen. I have been teaching this course for a few years now, using my own experience to guide potential memoir writers through their own perils and pitfalls.Watch this space for details or contact me for more info.