Olivia Chow, My Journey. (In loud praise of the memoir ghost writer/memoir project manager.)

This blog post is in loud praise of the memoir ghost writer/memoir project manager.

Olivia Chow – member of Parliament, would-be mayor of Toronto (yes, please!) and widow of former New Democratic Party leader, Jack Layton – has written an appealing and moving memoir, My Journey. I particularly enjoyed learning about Chow’s country and family of origin (Chow and her parents came to Toronto from Hong Kong when she was 13 years old), and how Olivia and Jack met, merged and married. These personal details are not as well-known as the couples’ political lives, and the battles, losses and victories therein.

I recommend the book as a smooth and entertaining read – and a heart-breaking one. Most Canadians are still so sad about Layton’s untimely and difficult death from cancer in 2011. He could have been our Prime Minister! And a splendid one. But how much more would his soulmate wife still miss and mourn him, these scant three years later … Chow’s writing on loss and re-invention of self after it, will touch any reader, not just those who have lost spouses.

There is a particular point I want to make about the book, though. It has little to do with whether or not you, the reader, may pick it up to read and enjoy, and everything to do with how the memoirs of busy and brilliant people sometimes come to be.  I’ll hand the mike to Chow herself here, who addresses this subject in her acknowledgements: “But for this book project of mine, I needed a great deal of help and professional assistance. I also needed a plan. With a demanding career as an MP, and many personal and political commitments, I had limited time to conduct research I would require to accurately recount all the key events of my life and career. My real forte is organizing and strategizing, as I have for countless political campaigns in the past. So I pulled together a team and set a process in place.”

Heading the team was none other than bestselling author and journalist Lawrence Scanlan – who has ghost-written/memoir-managed for other Canadian memoirists, Margaret Trudeau, among them. What Scanlan is particularly brilliant at is helping the memoirist find and keep their own voice throughout the book. He’s also a dazzling researcher and a dogged project manager: the people he aids, finish excellent books.

Here’s Chow on his contribution: “He waded through mountains of material – electronic folders of my files from my time as a school trustee, city councillor and MP. Old articles and reports. Transcripts of interviews with myself, Layton family members and close political colleagues. Larry spent many months working round the clock, enduring my late-night e-mails. Without his assistance, this book would not have been possible.” (bold, mine)

Brava, Olivia; and bravo, Larry. ( Lawrence Scanlan, I love your books: The Horse God Built;  Wild About Horses; Little Horse of Iron; Big Ben, etc), and am amazed at your skill in helping others write theirs.)

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