One day, in a town famed for its ancient walls, a girl was taken to a local, trusted doctor to find a cure for her ailments. She suffered continuous colds throughout the winter and lacked motivation for most things.
Dr Rao was from a far-off land and did not speak the native tongue, so the girl’s mother asked a friend’s daughter who did speak the doctor’s language to accompny her child. Her friend’s daughter was me.
At Dr Rao’s surgery, the doctor listened intently and he soon came to a decision. ‘Go and read life stories! Biographies, autobiographies, memoirs. Reading the stories of those who have done this all before us, will help you in so many ways.’
Years later I recalled the doctor’s advice to my flu-prone, lethargic friend and I became an avid life story reader myself! I soon began interviewing people about their lives and afterwards, I would write-up their story. They gave me a job title of ‘cub reporter’ and I worked for a local newspaper and even a radio station. However, I always wanted to delve more deeply than the set 250 words would allow.
In time, I returned to study and discovered an old celebrity profile written in an enchanting way. Gay Talese was the writer and ‘Frank Sinatra Has A Cold’ was the title of his 1966, Esquire master piece. The piece was enchanting because the reader came to understand Frank Sinatra. The writer showed us what happened scene after scene.
From that moment I thought, ‘This is how I want to write life stories!’ This style of writing about true stories which ‘read like a novel’ was coined ‘the new journalism’ by Tom Wolfe in the 1970s.
l then became more creative in the way I wrote these stories of peoples’ lives. I said to myself, ‘This is actually an old way of telling new stories,’ and I decided to dedicate my life to telling these untold tales, in this way. So often, this is the balm needed to understand and empathise – with a lived life.
Your life story writer, Natasha Collins
(photo by Natasha Collins, illustration by Gianluca Floris)