By Tymon Smith for the Sunday Times:
McIntosh Polela is spokesman for the Hawks and a former television news journalist. His memoir My Father, My Monster is his account of his childhood and his attempts to reconcile with his father, who killed Polela’s mother.
What made you decide to write this book?
I had just returned from the UK where I earned a masters degree from the London School of Economics. It was the highlight of my life at that moment. But I soon realised that I was still unhappy and unsettled. Doing some soul searching, it occurred to me that I was never going to be happy if I didn’t go back and face my childhood.
I had spent my entire life running away from myself, and it was at this point that I had exhausted the space into which I could run. I decided to document my pain to find closure, but to also share my story with the world. I was aware very early on that I was not just telling my story, I was narrating the story of many other people around the world.
It’s a very personal story, how hard was it to write about these experiences?
It was a very difficult experience venturing into the abyss and reliving my pain. It made it so fresh and raw, as if it had just happened the previous day. In some way, I felt like I had suddenly allowed the past I had spent my life running away from to catch up with me.
As I typed away on my laptop, I broke down repeatedly, paused to wipe away the tears and typed some more. Sometimes I spent weeks dreading the lonely experience of looking into my soul. It took me 18 months, a really tough time during which I got to test the limits of my emotions and forgiveness.
What was the most positive aspect of the experience for you?
For the first time, I had answers to the questions that had haunted me for so long. Why was my mother killed? Why did my father kill her?
Being able to ask these questions, among others, and receive answers was a cathartic experience. I had members of my extended family opening up for the first time in 26 years. My sister and I have always been close, but the experience of writing this book made us even closer. It got us talking even more and made it easier to share our pain. I came out stronger, freer and ready to move forward and face the new challenges in my life.
Have you been surprised by the response?
There were times when I doubted that anyone would be interested in my story. I doubted if I was going to find a publisher. It was a total surprise when it took only a couple of days for Jacana to tell me they were going to publish my story. The media interest around my book came as a total shock. Even more shocking was the response from readers.
I’ve had so many people, total strangers, sharing their personal stories through Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. My book becoming a bestseller was an overwhelming experience, and being shortlisted for the Alan Paton Award is very humbling. I’m still trying to convince myself that this is all real.
Are you planning to write another book?
Yes. I have more books in the pipeline. But the pressure of writing another successful book is sometimes unbearable. As a result, I spend more time talking to my publishers and doing some soul searching to make sure the next book to hit the shelves is the right one. It’s scary when I think about the success that My Father, My Monster has had. I keep asking myself, how do I top this? I’m a perfectionist and writing a book for the sake of it will not wash. There is also the time factor. I’m a busy person. I have a full-time job. I’m also studying towards a three-year diploma in French through Alliance Francaise.
I have to navigate through all these aspects of my life. But for the readers, there is definitely another book coming.