19096603I confess that I didn’t go into this book with a light heart. Everything connected with children touches a particularly chord ever since David was born. It’s likely I wouldn’t have given Spirit Child a chance if it hadn’t been ghostwritten by one of my favorite (former) bookbloggers, Lyndsey Jenkins. That got me curious.

The topic – Ghana’s spirit children – promised a gut-wrenching experience, but surprisingly it turned out to be a very informative and uplifting reading experience.

Spirit Child is the autobiography of Paul Apowida. When he was five, eight members of his closest family became sick and died in quick succession, so Paul was labeled a “spirit child”. “Spirit children” are usually born in rural, impoverished areas, with physical disabilities or identified as being the cause of misfortune. They are then mercilessly killed at the hands or at the request of their closest relatives.

Paul was lucky. He survived more than one attempt on his life, mostly due to luck and the intervention of local nuns. Spirit Boy is about his childhood experience, his growing up in an orphanage and his return to his home-village as an adult after very eventful years.

In the book, the spirit child phenomenon ends up being just a small (although crucial) part of a much richer story. It was Paul’s childhood that kick-started his amazing path, but it’s didn’t become the central event in his life. Spirit Boy is much more about the fascinating story of an Africa child who was at the same time tragically unlucky and amazingly fortunate. You need to read it to really understand what I’m trying to say.

I liked knowing about the spirit children (a phenomenon much more complex than pure superstition), but it was equally interesting to have insights into, for instance, how an orphanage in rural Ghana became self-sufficient, the daily life of a Ghanaian art student or the routine of a British soldier in Afghanistan.

Spirit Boy is also full of characters that seems straight out of a novel, in particular the two strong women in Paul’s life: Sister Jane, one of the most strong-minded people I’ve ever read about, and determined Georgie Baker, the founder of AfriKids. I work in the non-profit sector, so I enjoyed knowing more about AfriKids’ long-term path towards the abolition of spirit children, in particular the slow process of working with the community, challenging dogmas and changing mentalities.

This book was one of the good surprises of the year. An easy-read about complex topics, compelling but not melodramatic. I closed the last page feeling I knew Paul well and wishing him all the best in world.

***

Taking advantage of knowing the (ghost-)writer, I asked Lynsdey some questions about the “behind the curtains” part of Spirit Boy:

I’m curious about the logistics of the process. Can you tell me a bit more? How was it working with Paul Apowida? How often did you have to meet? Did you record the conversations or just made notes? Did you intervene often or just let him tell his story?

Paul and I met six or seven times over the course of a year and each time would spend several hours on the interviews. I also interviewed several other people who knew Paul – including Sister Jane, Georgie, and the Gordon-Martins, who all appear in the book.  It was particularly important to meet Sister Jane, as she remembers Paul’s early childhood and witnessed everything that happened at first hand.I recorded and transcribed all the interviews which was quite time consuming but also useful to get the rhythm of Paul’s speech. I would start each session by returning to the previous one and filling in the gaps – in the process of writing up an interview, I would come up with all sorts of questions that I *should* have asked last time! I did usually ask a lot of questions: Paul takes a lot of his extraordinary story for granted and is naturally a modest and humble person and so does tend to underestimate himself or what readers might be interested in.

The narrator’s voice is very distinct, I “got” Paul. How challenging was it to ensure this happened while writing a compelling story? 

I have been a speechwriter for several years and so know that half the battle is getting the voice right – if you get it wrong, then the story won’t ring true.  It doesn’t really matter who you are writing for – the important thing is to listen to the speaker and tell the story as they would tell it, in their words, using the expressions they would. It was particularly interesting doing this for Paul because he has a very distinctive, Ghanaian, way of talking – it’s almost musical at times.

You were a book blogger for some years. What’s it like to be on the other side of the fence, promoting your work? 

It is weird!  But I haven’t blogged for so long I feel a bit fraudulent claiming to be a book blogger any more. It does mean, however, that I get the importance of bloggers and having the community talking about the book – and it has been very nice to see how many were interested in reading it.

Is ghostwriting the gateway drug to your own book? 

Definitely – I have just finished a Masters degree and I am hoping that my dissertation will become the next book.  It’s about a very rich suffragette, the granddaughter of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who went to prison and on hunger strike for the cause. The authorities refused to force feed her, so she went to prison in disguise in order to expose the hypocrisy and double-standards of the Government. Afterwards, she had a stroke and was paralysed, and lived the rest of her short life a complete invalid. So it couldn’t be more different to Spirit Boy!

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Paul Apowida
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