Grasping tightly onto my biro, poised ready to write, I stared at the ceiling as if waiting for a divine revelation. Something had compelled me to tell my story but at 15, I was fundamentally lacking in words or emotional maturity to contextualise my situation. Had I told the story then, it would not have been what it is now. Like a good whisky that matures with age, and without future foresight of what my life would become, it would have been an impossible task. Years later, I read Jung Chang’s Wild Swans and that felt like the story I wanted to write, but that was in my early twenties. I had places to go, night clubs to explore and I wasn’t a bore that would shut out my busy social life for that of a reclusive author. I nonetheless promised myself that I would write a book just like that. Fast forward years later, with clubbing being a distant memory and like planets in alignment, a sequence of events parachuted me on to my keyboard, possessed with anger and contempt. My time to write was nigh.
A torrent words flowed out of my deep well of pent up emotions. There was no turning back. Having put everything on paper, then it was a question of finding a way of arranging the story. From the history of time, right across cultures, people have always enjoyed stories, but history is a major turn off for people. My biggest challenge was giving enough context without it making a history lesson. That history also happened to be a big part of the puzzle and the decision to tell the story from my perspective only came last minute. At first, I was compelled to only write about my parents. It’s only when I began writing from my perspective that I thought, wow, my perspective was as disturbing as my parents. And suddenly it made sense.
Writing is a very solitary affair, and one reads out sections of the book to office furniture without a care in the world but when asked to bring the story alive for audio, I was petrified. I was very aware of my lack of fluidity when reading aloud, combined with word blindness which means I mispronounce things. Audible were amazing. When I went for my test reading, they made me feel really relaxed and being in a recording booth by myself I felt less conscious. In the quietness of the room, I lost myself to the story except the reminder from my rumbling tummy and my guardian angel of a producer Lizzie offering me tea and biscuits. A welcome break.
The first time I heard the recording I cringed, but as the story went on I became more forgiving of my accent and tone. It felt real and authentic. Like I was whispering the story to a patient friend’s ear.
Through the Leopard’s Gaze by Njambi McGrath is available now on audible.co.uk and in bookshops. It is part of Jacaranda’s #Twentyin2020 campaign