Wednesday, 28 August 2013

September's must-read: Everything to Live For by Turia Pitt & Libby Harkness

Destined to be a best seller: Everything to Live For
A few months ago, before Burned was even in the bookshops, I was invited to talk at a meeting of freelance writers in Sydney. The meeting took place in Glebe, an area I don't know well, so I was delighted when another writer suggested we travel together.

Her name was Libby Harkness. As we traveled across this beautiful city by car, ferry and bus, we had plenty of time to talk. And talk we did. Libby told me about her life as a ghost writer; about the stories she had told and those yet to come. At the time she'd just finished working on Turia Pitt's story, Everything to Live For. Most people in Australia know Turia, if not by name then through the now iconic images of this former model wearing a mask. Here's her story in a nutshell:
"In September 2011, Turia Pitt, a beautiful 25-year-old mining engineer working her dream job in the far north of Western Australia, entered an ultra-marathon race that would change her life forever. Trapped by a fire in a gorge in the remote Kimberly region, Turia and five other competitors had nowhere to run. Turia escaped with catastrophic burns to 65 per cent of her body. Everything to Live For is the story of one young woman's survival against extraordinary odds, a testament to the human spirit."
Libby explained to me that writing Everything to Live For presented several challenges: "First, as a ghostwriter writing in the first person, I have to capture that person’s voice; but I didn’t know what Turia’s voice was like before she was burnt. The burns altered her mouth and the tight grafted skin on her face plus the black face mask she wore, all  affected the way she spoke. Second, she was still very fragile when I first started interviewing her and tired easily so it was difficult to push for more information; this related to the third difficulty – that she remembered very little after she was burnt and during the long wait for rescue. Then she spent weeks in an induced coma.

“I made a decision to limit her voice to two parts of the book – the four chapters in 'My Life Before' and four chapters in 'My Life After'. The rest of the book I wrote from my research into everything that had happened. I interviewed everyone I could that had been involved: other survivors, family, friends, her surgeons. I even flew over the Kimberley region in a helicopter with the pilot who had performed her heroic rescue and landed in the valley below the escarpment that the survivors had scaled when trying to escape the fire. I felt the outback heat and could only imagine how terrifying it must have been to be there in the face of the raging fire that day.

“By the time the book got to editing stage, Turia was much stronger and was able to add much more to her voice and describe her own feelings during her long rehabilitation. I have written many books but never one like this before. It was a challenging process and... ultimately very rewarding. And Turia loves the book.”

Libby Harkness says writing Turia Pitt's story was challenging but rewarding
The book isn't due to be published until 3rd September but is in the bookshops now and selling fast. Interest in it book has no doubt been fuelled by 60 Minutes; in last week's programme Turia took off her mask and revealed her face to the world.

After 16 surgeries and nearly two years of treatment, her medical bills have topped $2 million. Race organisers, Racing the Planet, have not contributed a cent to these costs and are still promoting marathon events in Asia, Africa and South America for 2014.

Turia's story is a terrible one. Nobody should have to go through the things she has. But if she is brave enough to share it, I think we should be brave enough to read it. What do you think?

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