11 Aug 2015 / General
Diana Morgan Hill first visited Arvon 17 years ago, ready to start writing her story. A young business woman with her own PR firm, her life was turned upside down. Diana became a double-leg-amputee at the age of 29 after falling under a London train. To add to the horrific trauma she learnt a few days later whilst still in a hospital bed that the railway company were going to prosecute her with the view that Diana trespassed onto their railway line. She has kindly written a piece for the Arvon Friends Newsletter of how her 3 visits to Arvon helped her finish her memoir.
It is over 15 years since I first discovered the ‘Arvon Magic’. 1997 and that Arvon initiation week at Totleigh Barton is crystal clear in my memory: writing, talking about writing, cooking with strangers, laughing with nearly everyone. By the end of that wonderful time I had fallen in love with the Arvon experience, and realised that while the memoir I had written was a long way from perfection, it was good. When I nervously read an extract, a first for me, my words made most of that fabulous group of people weep.
One of the tutors, Livi Michael, had declared in a one to one tutorial that the emotions my writing had produced were profound, the themes so ‘big’ that I should not be worried if the memoir took many years to write. I agreed, but even I didn’t think it would take a further 17 years to finally complete the work – and for it to finally be published! ‘Life’ has basically ‘got in the way’ of my writing about such difficult and at times complex subject matters. I have also written throughout this time – two half novels (making a whole one?!), magazine features, CEO reports, TV research documents, a blog, and countless notes and ideas. Extracts from the memoir were published back in 1998 in both a national women’s magazine, the Daily Mail and re-circulated in both Australia and South Africa, but most of the time when it came to continue writing my biographical story, I, quite simply, did not want to dwell on the dreadful process of my experiences with the legal system…so I wrote other words, focused on full time work, enjoyed my life as much as possible.
Love & Justice has been through three agents, countless publisher rejections and four titles – The Judge’s Breakfast (too obscure), Resurrections (too ‘worthy’), and for the last few years, Nice Face, Shame About the Legs, which I thought was ironic and amusing – being a skit on the pop song Nice legs, Shame about the Face. Until it was pointed out by one of my advance readers that it may even go into the ‘Comedy section’ of the title genres, and could be deemed a ‘little crass.’ It was only five months ago, eight weeks pre-publication that, in a flash of brainstorming, and with sighs of relief, my publisher and I came up with the title – Love & Justice.
With its various titles, my memoir has also been to Arvon three times – all at Totleigh Barton. I had taken a novel in progress to the second visit to Devon, but my focus that week was on Christine Aziz, a friend I had taken with me. One of the tutors, Philip Hensher, suggested that she ripped away most of the first chapter of her novel. She did and this acutely edited prologue that ran to only a few paragraphs won her the Richard and Judy ‘How to Get Published’ prize in 2005. She was awarded both the publication of her book: The Olive Readers and a £50,000 advance. The Arvon magic had once again weaved its spell.
The last course I attended was in 2013, a screenwriter’s week, with Kate Leys and a guest appearance from Peter Kosminsky. I took a screenplay but it was my pre-edited memoir that ended up being my lead words that week. I met a new friend Ian who wanted to read my book in pre-edit form. His screenplay’s main character was, with incredible synchronicity, a leg amputee. He was so ‘blown away’ with the writing that it was his type of encouragement, and a brilliant publisher, Stephanie Zia at Blackbird Digi Books, persuading me that Love & Justice should, finally, be ‘born’. So Arvon, yet again, had provided some of the magical chemistry that ignited the publication of another book – mine. I am so proud to say that my memoir has become a best-seller, topping over five of the Amazon genres including: Love and Romance, Biographies, and Legal, and has to date garnered nearly 100 reviews on Amazon, many of them 5 starred.
It took considerable emotional maturity for me to countlessly edit, proof read and research the photos as every time I had to relive the harrowing parts of story, again and again. Not a task I believe I could have taken on all those years ago. Also, the timing felt right, and last year, after the passing of my beloved Mum, I HAD to honor her wish that the book find an audience and set forth to finally finish it. And yes, the sense of achievement is, aside from childbirth, like no other.
Every book has its own life or ‘journey’. The genesis of mine has been a long one! I had decided from the outset that my ‘voice’ would be novelistic in style, I was determined to keep the pace and action tight, and hopefully in truly showing not telling, would allow the themes to reveal themselves, rather than sho ve them down the reader’s throat. I comment rarely in the book, as one might normally in a biography, and added depth with techniques such as using song titles for the chapter headings. I had written out 40 or so chapter titles, some of them tenuously based on songs – for example Simple Minds Alive And Kicking – I added a (No) so it now reads Alive and (no) Kicking…my hope being that as many of the songs are well known, the reader’s eye would quickly acknowledge the titles, but their subconscious brain would be relaying the songs in their minds as they are reading the book. A further example is Amy Winehouse’s Rehab – in the readers head they can all hear that infamous line: ‘I don’t want to go to Rehab, I say No, No, No.’ The added depth is that Amy had a choice whether to go to Rehab or not- I had no choice, if I wanted to learn to walk again, I had to go to rehab!
As Arvon tutor Livi Michael said all those years ago, the themes are ‘big’. Even the book title names some of the themes, …Was ‘Love’ possible after such devastation? Would I secure justice, did I achieve ‘justice’? Back then I was not even aware that these were the questions the book would be asking. For all of us writers, our greatest wish is that not only are we published, but also that our words resonate with our readers. From the reaction so far from the many thousands of readers of Love & Justice, all my writer dreams have come true. Worth the wait?
You can buy Love and Justice here – http://goo.gl/FtdSam
Follow Diana Morgan Hill on Twitter @moviediana
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