Try Me is a fascinating memoir of one woman’s search for belonging. Damji takes the reader on her own personal journey right from turbulent childhood days in Africa, dances in her drug crazed partying teen-adult life in New York to her prison life as an adult. Try Me is a painful but powerful memoir and Damji’s story is one which will haunt its readers for some time. The Asian Writer caught up with Farah Damji to find out more…
1) What was your initial motivation for telling your story?
I have been told I should write a book for as long as I can remember. In 2003, an agent from Curtis Brown read a commentary piece I wrote after Idi Amin died and took me on and I wrote a book. He was very inexperienced though and wanted a different book to the one I gave him. It wasn’t this one, because obviously I didn’t have the experiences or the depth of life from which this story is told. I wrote it to tell the truth, which can be painful but instructive. I wrote the book because I have always wanted to write a book, it’s been a lifelong ambition. And God knows there is enough material!
2) Did you ever have a change of heart, or lose faith whilst you were writing your story?
Every day. Writing is a discipline and I naturally react violently against anything which takes a great deal of effort and concentration! It passed though, once I sat down and started actually writing and not thinking about or talking about doing it
3) You don’t ever hold back in the story, its really a tell all – looking back now, do you wish you’d left some things out?
No. It’s the whole story. It was hard to write about some of my criminal past. I have been judged and rejudged and sentenced for life by complete strangers who think they wear a wig and red robes and sit on a bench when it comes to my life. But in order to tell the story, I couldn’t leave anything out, it added to the understanding of the whole picture. I had to distance myself completely from any perceived or anticipated reaction and write it as if I was writing in a vacuum, without a thought for other people’s sensitivities.
4) Have any of your family read the book yet? What do they make of it?
I know my beloved estranged aunty the Yazzmonster is worried about it, there’s quite a lot of information in it about her she would rather not have out there for public consumption, my brother whom I haven’t seen for twelve years asked my son (aged 11) to tell me to not to publish it. They haven’t read it but as I have always said, this is MY story and there’s a memorable line in Desperate Housewives which says “The truth is just a previously agreed upon set of lies.” Everyone’s versions of the same event are going to differ dramatically. I am sure my parents live in the delusion that they did a wonderful job
5) Was the process of writing for you, painful or therapeutic? Did it offer closure on some aspects of your past?
Incredibly painful but ultimately healing. I’ve said it was like childbirth, but it’s like 9 months of labour pains. It offered closure in as much as writing down something forces you to relive it and come to terms with it in your own head. Then you have to move on and I did. There are some things that I will never understand but they don’t have the same power or control over me anymore.
I have absolutely nothing to hide any more. my life is quite literally an open book. It’s all in there, anyone can read about it. There’s a lot of freedom in that because I am not obliged to uphold any “fake” or inauthentic version o myself that has been propagated for years by others and myself. I was afraid of who I was and the process of delving into the darkest parts of myself forces the light onto those events and experiences that lurked there, and actually scary monsters that torture our nightmares are not so scary in the day-light.
6) You re-live some horrible moments in the book, right from a turbulent childhood to a confused young adult life…what did you learn about yourself when writing about that time in your life?
I wish I had had proper adult role models, not fucked up cardboard cutouts around me.Yasmin, my parents and family can’t be called “normal” or “functional” in any way. I learned I have a strong centre and that is unbreakable. I learned to have faith in my ability to survive, no matter what. I learned I have some very good friend who have never turned their backs. I think children who grow up in crazy alcoholic homes have to become resilient way before their years and we see the world through adult eyes before we should. I feel much compassion for the child in me who lost her innocence but a lot of healing happened when my own daughter was born because she offers me so much hope and love.
7) Who did you write the book for? And what do you hope people will get from it?
Anyone who wants to read it. It’s every woman’s story to some degree though not every woman goes off the rails ( or has the opportunity to) like I did. Men have said they are interested in it because women don’t usually write about openly about sex, relationships and power in the way that I have.
8) I like the fact that you talk about disturbing personal experiences, without ever sounding like a victim even though you can be perceived in that way…did you make a conscious decision to move away from the common misery memoir genre?
I have never considered myself a victim of anything. I created the chaos around me, I was the result of the upbringing I had but I could have turned out a very different person. There are so many things that come into the mix when it comes to fate but ultimately I believe we control our karma. I think if we take on the victim mentality, we invite more abuse in some shape or form, kind of Cosmic Ordering inverted.
9) Although you may have been written about in presses long before this, you’ve never come out and had your say or told your version of events…is your memoir an attempt to redress this balance?
Maybe subconsciously and also on a superficial level, there was some need to tell “my” story but even this isn’t safeguarded. People can quote from it what they want, only salacious sexy bits and leave out the underlying themes which are bigger. I wrote it because I think the books has something to say, beyond just “my” story. As for as balance, I don’t engage in any public squabbles with anyone, so this is more of a statement, a drawing a line in the sand and saying, “this is it,” rather than an invitation for debate.
10) Is it easier to write from life or imagination? And what should writers who want to follow in your footsteps take into consideration before embarking on writing a memoir?
I like writing from life, I am not sure which is easier, I think it depends on what you prefer to write.
Things to consider before writing a memoir:
1) Be prepared to burn bridges because your version of your life is going to be different from that of those around you. They didn’t live it in the same way you did..
2) Be HONEST,
4)Tell your story without embellishment and embarrassment. Step away from it and imagine it is someone else’s story so you can get some objectivity around it. It’s easy to be vicious and quite delicious but remember that everything you write for print will be around a lot longer than you ever will.
5) Remember that ultimately you are spending time on it, creating something of value for yourself. Enjoy it!
Try Me is published by The Ark Press in July 2009.