In an exclusive interview, Books LIVE spoke to Associated Magazines chairperson, Jane Raphaely, about her recently-released autobiography, Jane Raphaely: Unedited.
From a childhood marked by deprivation, an alcoholic father and a loving mother, Raphaely (then Mullins) plucked herself out of obscurity, and used reading and a good education to make a way for herself, a way that would lead her to an audience that included power players in the industries of publishing, entertainment and politics.
Detailing encounters with such influential people as Oprah Winfrey and Nelson Mandela, Raphaely’s story is one love, encouragement and friendship. A woman who has put her own name on the map, she talked to Books LIVE about the genesis of the memoir and her hopes for it and the country she has come to call home:
This is the first book Associated Media has published. Will there be more? And, if so, what would you like to publish?
We are now a book publisher. We haven’t finished with this one, we have different plans for it, so until that’s done, we can’t do the next one, but just know that we are now in the business of books.
Initially half this book was a recipe book, but a good person (Sean Fraser) looked at it and sanity prevailed. He said “well that’s nice, it’s a good way to end the book” and I took that as a sign. I do write a bit about food in the book. I still think if there was a way I could take our advertising budget and punt our food…I would do it. Just sell the world on the cuisine here, oh how well it would work! I mean we have the most amazing food here, and it can rank amongst the likes of El Bulli.
I started off this book as one about women I admired and those whose voices I felt needed to be heard or written about. Then when I had people look at the first drafts they asked where I was in all of it. “Why are you telling everyone else’s story and not your own?” was the question from an editor at a literary agency who had a look at it.
Nelson Mandela is one of the people who asked you to take up the challenge of continuing to inspire women. There were many others who asked you to write this book. Do you feel this book will do just that?
This book took four years to write. I initially wanted to publish it in 2009, but it needed something. I do mention that process in the book. Sean Fraser, thank goodness, was there to guide me through parts of the process. Of course there are many people, friends and family, who helped with the book, and I’ve also mentioned that.
So, we’ll see how this one does and if, as you say, it has wisdom and it can teach people something…there will be others, probably similar, but from other people. There are people whose stories I have wanted to tell. Let’s see how people receive it, and if there’s a formula there, we’ll take it from there. My dream is to turn it into a school book, and get it translated into the other languages in the country.
What do you think people will be surprised about? Reading it, I hadn’t realised how much of a hard-scrabble life you led in your younger years.
People didn’t know, even some close to me, how much I struggled in Stockport. There is still that assumption, and even more so now than ever before, and as much as it was back then, that people from the North of England are deficient. There is this prejudice in the southern parts of the country about people from the north, where I am from. And of course the Jewish thing! Oh, the Jewish thing! And even worse – being “half” Jewish. Imagine if it was my father who had been Jew, then we wouldn’t have had a chance. What I am, and what made me in part, is my tendency to tell the truth, always. That’s a very northern thing, we call a spade a spade.
Growing up in the way I did, a lot of people assumed you were inferior. Prejudice towards the working class in the north is as rife as it ever was, if not more now.
Did you encounter a lot of bullies along the way? Especially in a male-dominated industry?
Always. They were always the most polite gentlemen to me, but I always spoke my mind. People were threatened by me. I had this terrible habit of telling the truth. It’s a very north of England characteristic. It took me a long time to decipher what was going on in South Africa. People were saying quite openly here what would never have been said in England or America. They were very frank about their prejudices, yet about themselves they were extremely opaque. Journalism gave me a way of having a conversation, without people running away screaming. In a way, my demon aunt Billee was my cattle prod, and this was good for me after all.
As a self-made woman, what is it that you realise people do not know about you and that you’re sharing for the first time?
I think people are a bit shocked. I’ve said many things that were not previously known to the public. They didn’t expect some of the things I’ve been through. Mind you, family and friends are reading the book to their children. Hmm…I wonder if that’s a good idea…. Anyway, it’s done.
What I think not many knew is that I had to overcome various obstacles. So they might be surprised by that, and other things. Especially my fear of public speaking. Imagine getting over that? That’s what I do, essentially I communicate, and here I was with this crippling phobia. I want people to know that coming from my background, and with what was an impediment to begin with, you can still achieve so much. That’s what I want people, in similar circumstances especially, to come away with. You can overcome the things that are holding you back. It’s luck, it’s determination, more than anything. If that is what the book does, then it would have been so worth it.
You are a book lover, through and through, and place a high value on education. How do you see books and what they have done for you?
Books are my bridges. I always say this. I call books bridges that take you where you want to go. Libraries are the temples of learning. Reading is the closest that I will come to flying.
What are you reading at the moment?
Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up The Bodies. There is this line, “her eloquent eyes”…I mean, it’s just three words, but I can’t stop thinking about them. And, of course, Mantel has a real love affair with words – she loves them, and you can see that.
They [The Oprah Magazine] asked me to draw up a list of four of my most inspiring reads. It was really difficult – there are so many, how can you possibly choose? But they’re there. I would recommend to you John Irving, who wrote The World According to Garp. It says in the Sunday supplements of the British papers…One thing I absolutely love about it is these supplements are so good. In this one they’ve featured John Irving, who you absolutely must read and, if you haven’t, start with his latest, In One Person, and then go backwards. But, as they write here, he is known for some of the most substantial female characters in literature. He’s also known for his views on abortion, he supports it.
What’s the important thing about writing a memoir, or any book for that matter?
Number one it’s got to be readable. Of course it’s important what you have to say, but make sure it’s readable.
This book is highly readable, are you pleased?
Yes? Then that’s good. We’ll see how it does, how it’s received. What we’ve done is put it into the library system. At its heart, this book is also a love letter to libraries. We’ve sent 12 books already to Western Cape libraries. We shall also have a copy in the Gitlin Library, which is the library of Jewish record.
My wish is that eventually it ends up in schools, on their reading list.
What do you want, ultimately, for people to take from your autobiography?
I want this book to help women. For them to see what they can achieve and dream of. I always wanted to learn from someone else, to have read that book that told me how to be an editor. I always wanted to know how Mary Grieves [editor of British publications Woman and Woman's Own] did it. If I could have tracked her down, I would have.
If women could say what they wanted in South Africa, this country would be a different place. I still feel that there is a lot of inhibition and fear that holds women back. Also, people should understand that failures are part of success. We all learn more from failures than successes. Things are getting better than they used to be. I’m fascinated by this new Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega. From all accounts, I’ve heard many good things about her. I think that maybe a good woman is exactly what’s needed. From everything I’ve heard, she seems to be as frank and forthright as anybody in the north of England.
I want men to read this book and learn more about women, and how we use instinct. Many men don’t understand women. I think they will learn a lot about a woman’s mind, how a woman uses her instincts. I hope it gives people ideas.
I am somewhat of a pack-rat, I don’t let go of books or notebooks. People generally tend to think I have a very good memory, and I do, but I also take a lot of notes. I have diaries from my first time in New York (in the early sixties) and of course the telegram my grandmother sent when I returned to England at that time. Of course, it is good to know what words Granny imparted, but to have the feel of it, in my hands, is priceless.
Perhaps, one day someone will find this book on a shelf and read it. And she might say, “I saw my grandmother reading this. Oh, that’s what made her laugh out loud.”
Do you feel that a book is like sending a message to the future?
Oh, yes. And that’s what magazines do! I really hope that people also use magazines to learn something. I once said that nobody ever lit a fire with a magazine.
Do you at all fear for print and its future?
Absolutely not, print is everywhere. What’s happening is that something like the Kindle, which I of course have, is just an extension of what you’re doing as you take notes. But you do use a different part of your brain when you write something down, as opposed to typing it. I am very worried about the future of cursive handwriting. I really think parents will have to sit down and either re-learn it themselves, or go teach their children how to write in cursive.
What I see is that when I go away somewhere a Kindle is a wonderful thing, and I thank God for it, but the first prize goes to what I can put on a shelf. We are going to put Jane Raphaely: Unedited on Mxit. Isn’t that wonderful? It’s so exciting! Imagine. That’s another book worth reading, Mobinomics.
How would you like to be remembered?
As someone who made people laugh.
What is the one thing that you will always be associated with in the South African publishing landscape?
As someone who made people think.