Some thoughts behind writing the Sally Little story: Investing in Common Ground

Writing about the life of another is never easy. Other people’s stories are never in chronological order in their minds and even if they are asked to remember, if they are not writers, they don’t often relate them in ways that are interesting to the widest possible audience.

This is the reason why autobiographies often utilise ghostwriters to structure the narrative, use the right colouring and other devices to make the story compelling. These writers emphasise some aspects and downplay others to make the story as memorable as possible.

When I first met Sally Little, I realised then already, that if I were to get her to share her story with me, I would have to invest in building mutual trust and develop some common ground for her to share her personal stories. But I also realised one other critical matter: I would have to suspend most of my agendas so that it would not blind me to the various threads of her biography.

So, from the get go, I decided to allow Sally to tell her stories, the way she remembered them and allowing her to go all over the place, often telling several incidents as she went. I referred to this streaming of consciousness as her “fuzzy logic” that I would then retell in a more flowing, ordered account of her history.

In such a universe it is also important to create a centre of gravity that would help the storyteller feel grounded as they conjure up their tales. This ‘gravity’ also creates a thread that the reader will later sense as the chapters unfold, holding the entire story together. In this instance, it was the Native American account of How Rabbit Stole the Fire.

Through all of this, I was also quite conscious and deliberate in bringing the reality of world events into the picture, as people’s life stories do not play out in a vacuum. This meant research in political events as it related to the time of the subject’s storyline, popular culture and other such relevant touchstones that help indicate the flow of time


Leave a Reply