Mem’s The Word
My adult autobiography, the Australian edition, is out of print.
The USA edition of the same book. It has a slightly different first chapter as well as American terms and spelling, but essentially it’s the same book. And it’s still in print.
Quote from Chapter 10 : In late November 1977 I decided to have a mole removed from my left shoulder. Anti-Cancer Foundation leaflets had been scattered all over the staff lounge at the college and I had read one. Moles were mentioned. I’m covered with moles so I read that section with care. Yes, I had one mole that seemed to be growing. Yes, it was getting blacker. Yes, I’d had a lifetime of sun. I wasn’t worried. I decided to have it removed as a precaution because I wanted to get tanned in the summer and thought it sensible not to tempt fate. I went off to the doctor, without telling the family, quite jauntily on a Friday afternoon…
When I understood the kind of phenomenon Possum Magic had become I felt I’d have to write my autobiography sooner or later. The task hung over me like the black cloud of a school assignment so I got on with the job. I’d had an interesting life, growing up in Africa, working in Switzerland, going to drama school in London in the swinging sixties, meeting the love of my life, teaching in Rwanda, moving back to Australia, having a baby and loving a daughter, having cancer, writing the best selling book of its kind, and learning to love America. I wrote it all down and then cut most of it and rearranged it in such a way that it reads like a true-story novel—I’d wanted to write a novel and grabbed this as a second-best opportunity. So it does read intentionally like a rollicking story. I even copied Dickens’ technique of finishing each chapter in such a way that readers had to read the next chapter to know what happened. Cheeky.
I know it’s been the much-loved choice of many reading clubs (if my correspondence is anything to go by) since it is, I guess, a book for women. I hear of women reading it in bed and and saying: ‘Listen to this,’ so often their partners have been driven to reading it themselves. According to the stream of long, self-revelatory letters I still receive about it, it seems to make women howl with laughter and weep with recognition. That makes me happy.
Don’t look for a sequel. Enough is enough.