"The book was difficult" - Kelly-Eve Koopman on writing 'Because I Couldn't Kill You'

20 October 2019 - 00:00 By kelly-eve koopman

Published in the Sunday Times (20/10/2019)

The book was inspired by my publisher, Melinda Ferguson. She approached my partner Sarah and me at a talk we did at the Open Book festival two years ago on our platform Coloured Mentality, a webseries and online dialogue space dedicated to grappling with conversations around coloured identity. Melinda propositioned us to write a book together.

Writing a memoir is hard. Writing a memoir that attempts to simultaneously chronicle the experience of two people is harder, so my partner graciously gave me my time and left me to the page.

Before writing this book, I was not a fan of creative non-fiction. I put fiction on a pedestal. When I started writing the memoir I realised how close fiction and memory are and how they can be one and the same thing. I am a South African, born just shy of free. You'd think I'd realise how easily fabricated narratives become history. For me the experience of navigating through the personal was a lot like this. I felt like a magpie of my own consciousness, scavenging through things.

The book was difficult. I started with no narrative structure, trying to navigate the stream of consciousness that came like a flood - stories about me, my family, my father, my collected life experience that jumped between time and space and synapses. I was a nightmare to edit.

The book took me about eight months from start to finish. It was a process of stealing time late at night and on weekends, coming up against anxiety, depression, imposter syndrome. But I began to see writing as an extension of life, as a way of living. I now realise I have to write to survive. I come from a cultural upbringing where we don't really talk about things. We love each other quietly and irrevocably. A lot of the things I didn't get to talk about demanded their space on the page.

It's a slim book. I still have a lot to say. It has some hard themes. Mental illness, race, abuse, gender, love, history, all the identity politics that we constantly try to find intimate and resonant language for. Because I Couldn't Kill You is a weird mishmash between personal storytelling, political commentary and the constant questioning around memory. It's the book that I had to write right now.

Because I Couldn't Kill You: A Memoir by Kelly-Eve Koopman, MFBooks/Joburg, R240