The Birth of a Book

The writing of 'Out of the Dark' has been a fascinating experience. When I came through the depression I had suffered, and was asked to make a video outlining what had happened to me, I was amazed. It seemed incredible that an experience that had so devastated my family and me, could now be used to give hope to others. The video was completed by John Ray of 'Sunrise Video', as part of a video library he was building up to encourage people who were trying to cope with physical or mental difficulties.

Remembering how books and articles I'd read had encouraged me when I was struggling, I then considered writing a book outlining my experience. With this in mind, I looked back over the notes I'd written during the three years I was in therapy with Dr. Robin Royston. As I did so, I was reminded of the confusion I'd felt when I first began seeing Robin. Knowing nothing about Psychotherapy, I asked how he could find out what was wrong with me, when I didn't even know. In reply, he told me about an experience he had while climbing a mountain in Spain:

He said that soon after beginning the climb, the mountain became very steep. He was wondering how to proceed when he noticed a narrow path leading towards a bush. Following it, he found that it led around the bush and up the mountain in a zig-zag pattern, and he realized it was a mountain goat track. He was only able to see a short section at a time as he continued along the track. Sometimes the path crossed over barren and rocky earth, and he had to stop for a while and detect where it began again. Other times the path led downwards, beneath a rocky outcrop, before ascending again. By following just as far as he could see, Robin reached the top of the mountain.

He told me this was pretty much what he and I would do. He would accompany me on the 'goat track' of my life. As I told him about it, we would both gain insight and, hopefully, begin to understand why I was suffering from such severe depression.

This concept comforted me, and I remembered it often during my therapy.

With this in mind as I thought about writing a book, I looked back over the notes I'd kept during my depression, and traced the parts of my therapy that, to me, were milestones on my 'goat track'.

I then wrote a synopsis of my experience and sent one copy to Robin, thanking him for his patience and care, and another copy to a publisher. The publisher replied kindly, saying that although it sounded like a very interesting story, I was an 'unknown' person and there were already a lot of books about victory over depression.

A little embarrassed, I put my manuscript away.

Robin and I kept in contact sporadically over the next few years. In June, 1996, while speaking at a conference in San Francisco, he came to stay with Chris and I for a couple of days. He was pleased to see that I really was over the depression and effects of my childhood.

A year or so later, I received a manuscript in the mail. To my surprise, Robin had also gone through my notes and traced the milestones that were important to him. We had discussed the possibility of using my notes as the basis of a book from his point of view, as well as mine, a few times over the years, but I had not realized he had decided to actually do it until I received the manuscript. To read about my therapy from my therapist's perspective, was fascinating. I had always appreciated Robins honesty, and my respect for him grew as I read his side of the story. He could have hidden behind his 'therapist' cloak and approached his view of my therapy in a very academic and analytical way. Instead, he was open and frank, and allowed people a glimpse into his own life, as well as into his role as a therapist.

Fascinated by dreams, Robin was writing a book on the subject of the link between dreams and physical illness. Going into London to see his literary agent, Mark Lucas, one day, he decided to take a copy of the manuscript he had written from my notes. Mark felt that my story was worth telling, and we began to discuss the best way to do so.

We all agreed that if it were told from both Robins and my perspectives, it could be a good and helpful book; both for people suffering from depression, and also as a case history for therapists.

While I have always enjoyed reading, and was able to write descriptively, what I wrote was initially far too 'wordy' for a book. Mark knew an extremely good ghost writer by the name of Michael Robotham, and arranged for he, Robin and I to work together.

From what Robin and I had written, Michael wrote a synopsis. I then went to England, and Mark took Robin and me to meet some publishers who had read the synopsis, and wanted to know more about the book we were intending to write. At first I felt a little intimidated, but this was soon replaced by apprehensive excitement. Transworld Publishers stood out not only because the meeting was held in a large conference room lined with well known books, but because the interview was not conducted by just one editor. People filed in one by one, until the room was full. I sat facing them, feeling very small as they introduced themselves and began asking me questions. It soon became clear that they were genuinely interested in my story, and I was able to relax and enjoy talking to them. A few days later Mark called me to say that they had made an offer for the rights to publish our book, and would be sending us a contract. It took a moment to sink in, then I let out a 'Yeeehaaaa' that would have made a cowboy proud!

Michael was living in Australia, Robin in England, and I in America, so we communicated by e-mail, and sent our writings back and forth by e-mail attachment. As we began crafting the book, Michael taught us about the publishing world: we only had a limited number of words. If we went over this limit, the book would either have to be thicker, or the print smaller – either of which would put prospective readers off, especially as Robin and I were 'unknowns'. It would also put bookshops off, as the books would take up more space on the shelves, and there would have to be less to the box when they were transported.

Amazingly, the country Michael loved best after his native country, Australia, was Zimbabwe. He and his wife had visited the area a few times, as they had good friends who ran Safari camps in Zambia. Michael had decided to spend a year or so in Zimbabwe, and this coincided with the writing of my book. Instead of him coming to America to meet me, we agreed that I would go to Zimbabwe and stay with him and his wife for a month.

I had been away from Zimbabwe for 19 years, so the opportunity to go back was a dream come true. The journey from America to Africa is a long and tiring one. I was in transit in England for hours before catching the night flight to Zimbabwe. Sleep eluded me; I dozed off with fatigue, then woke up with excitement, dozed and woke…. Then the flight attendant announced that we were just 30 minutes away from Harare airport, and would begin our descent in a few minutes. I looked out of the window, and watched the black night turn to grey, and then gold, as dawn broke over Africa. Zimbabwe lay below me, and the shadow of the 747 skipped over the trees and rivers as we approached Harare. The large jet landed smoothly, and the doors opened. It had rained during the night, and the smell of the rain on the hot earth catapulted me back to my childhood, bringing back vivid memories of my father playing in the rain with my sister, brothers and me.

My beloved niece, Tanya, surprised me by collecting me from the airport with her three children whom I'd never met. I spent the day with them before continuing to meet Michael and his wife, and beginning an unforgettable four weeks.

Michael and I began to go through my life, working out what should go into the book, and what should be left out. It was incredibly difficult for me at first. I struggled with leaving anything or anyone out, and was concerned that the reader would not understand my story completely unless it was told in its entirety. Michael very patiently explained that if I tried to give a moment-by-moment account, the book would be far too long. What we needed to do was use Robin's goat track analogy; we needed to look back over my life and pick out the major parts, then go over them and weed out anything that was unnecessary to the story we were going to tell in this book.

This book was not to be just about my life. It was to be a three part story: my life in the present, as I tried to make sense of my emotional breakdown. My psychotherapist, Robin Royston's, side of the story, as he worked with me. Then my past, told in flashback, as I described my childhood in Africa, and Robin began to get to know me.

Whenever I think of Michaels guidance, I can almost hear him saying 'Set the scene. Show the story, don't just tell it – think of it as a movie. What was around you? What could you see, or smell, or hear? What did people say?'

Being in Zimbabwe, the very place I was writing about, made this easy. I just closed my eyes and listened to the birds chattering in the trees, the frogs croaking in the pond, the cicadas and crickets and million and one noises that make up the sound of Africa, and memories of childhood times and places came flooding back.

All too soon, my time in Africa was over, and I returned to America. Over the next couple of years we edited and rewrote the book many times, working out the most clear and concise way to capture the essence of our story.

Then came the time to decide upon the title and the cover. The working title of the book had been 'Plucking the Moon from the Bottom of the Sea', after a move in the Chinese game of mah-jong, by which you win the game. This was felt to be too long and too ambiguous, as the reader would only grasp the meaning when Robin mentions it at the end of the book. I wanted the book to be called 'The Goat Track', because Robin's explanation had meant so much to me, but others felt that it was a little strange and obscure, and could put people off. In the end 'Out of the Dark' was chosen because, in four simple words, the reader would know that I had been in the dark, but had survived and come through it.

'Out of the Dark' apparently had over 30 covers put forward by the marketing department, before a cover was selected. (Some of these covers can be seen by clicking on 'Covers').

By this time, the foreign language rights had been bought by Germany and Denmark. Germany decided to keep the title 'Plucking the Moon from the Bottom of the Sea' (Ich pfluck dir den Mond vom Grunde des Meeres'), and designed a cover to reflect this. Denmark chose it's title and cover independently, calling it 'The Track of the Man' ('Het spoor van de Maan'), and depicting a shadowy person on a grey cover.

As I began by saying, writing this book has been fascinating. During my emotional breakdown, and therapy, my feelings were too raw to do much more than tell Robin about specific parts of my life. Writing the book allowed me the privilege of looking back over my life and therapy, yet again – but this time from a healthy vantage point, where I could piece it together and capture it. It was painful at times, but also liberating and cathartic.

Passing through Heathrow Airport on my way to Africa after the release of the hardback and special edition paperback in April last year, I went into WH Smith to see if 'Out of the Dark' was there. It was not in the 'Autobiography' section, or the 'New Releases' section, so I concluded it had not reached the airports yet. As I walked out of the bookshop, I saw it in the 'Best Sellers' section. I was alone at the time, and was overcome with emotion; amazement, joy, a feeling of great victory, and absolute awe. I sat on a chair in the hall, opposite the bookshop, and just soaked in the moment while I thanked God for His healing.

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