I had an idea of what I would like to write from Molly Maud’s notes, but was there a place for it in the market? Could it compete with some of the titles already out there?
Autobiography, biography and memoir although often bundled in the same category have obvious differences. Further definition of the elements of these three writing genres helped to define my overall idea for Molly Maud’s biography. I wanted to concentrate on a specific era of her life and include any emotional truths in the first person point of view. I also wanted the narrative to contains key facts relating to the political environment, education and her relationships to highlight her personality. The non-fictional facts will be true, but with any narrative non-fiction there is a fine line between reality and embellished fiction which makes a story more interesting.
When I started my research at the beginning of 2017 to discover if there was a place for Molly Maud’s biography in the marketplace, the UK Amazon Top Biographies were a mixture of sports personality, celebrity autobiographies and a few historical biographies. I had to sift through the listings to identify biographies and then go deeper to find ones with an African or Kenyan theme. I uncovered their existence but I also uncovered their unpopularity. Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation, hit the top of the rankings and was placed 5,596th, however, this was undoubtedly due to the recent film release, A United Kingdom, which is based on the book by Susan Williams.
Other more popular titles in the top 5 African themed books were: Elspeth Huxley: (C. S. Nicholls); Straight On Till Morning: The Life Of Beryl Markham (Mary S. Lovel); The Temptress: The scandalous life of Alice, Countess de Janzé (Paul Spicer); and Isak Dinesen: The Life of Karen Blixen; Out of Africa (Judith Thurman). The only title which was not a reference book or penned by a literary author was In Strength Not Our Own: Caring for Kenya’s Children (Irene Howat and Georgie Orme). Close to Molly Maud’s subject matter, it was a Christian sponsored book, depressingly low in the rankings at 2,018,001th.
Conclusively a book based on Molly Maud’s life may not sell millions of copies but at least there was a precedent that similar books had been backed by the publishers which suggested continuing with the project would be worth a chance. The possibility of spending 3-5 years to get Molly Maud’s biography to press, even if a publisher was interested, disheartened me until my eyes were opened to the realistic possibility of self-publishing at the London Book Fair. I realised there was an audience out there somewhere for Molly Maud’s story, even if it didn’t grace the shelves of Waterstones. I just need to to find them.
My market analysis into the viability of the project opened up a whole new reading list to me. Luckily amongst all the political books at the Uni library Defeating Mau Mau, creating Kenya : counterinsurgency, civil war, and decolonization (Daniel Branch), History of East Africa (edited by D.A.Low and Alison Smith Volume III), I also found Two lives : my spirit and I (Jane Tapsubei Creider) and the delicious Out of Africa (Karen Blixen) and White Mischief (by James Fox). All of which I dived into with a scholarly impatience. West with the Night (Beryl Markham) and The Ghosts of Happy Valley: Searching for the Lost World of Africa’s Infamous Aristocrats (Juliet Barnes) are still waiting to be discovered and devoured.
Out of Africa is beautifully written and gives a fantastic insight into Karen Blixen’s life. The lush environment, endearing characteristics of the indigenous population, their standing within in the colonial society were all useful elements. However, the book’s biggest impact on my own work is the slow and rhythmical tone of Karen Blixen’s voice. I felt a connection between Blixen’s personality and Molly Maud. Two headstrong, stubborn, foreign women who did their best to survive in the mid- century, racist, sexist, ageist state of the Kenyan colony.
White Mischief was a lesson in the structure of colonial society and a masterclass into detailed investigative research. Combining his findings with those of Cyril Connolly, who was obsessed with the Lord Erroll’s murder in 1941, until his death, Fox’s research was meticulous and compelling.