Barbara J

Premium Writer | St. Leonards-on-Sea / Beziers, France

With 20 years as a foreign correspondent in Africa, and a war reporter in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, Barbara was always drawn to the human stories, exploring the emotional ingredients that motivate people - the great, the good and the man in the street. She has ghost-written four biographies and enjoyed putting aside any personal ego or judgement to properly portray the person telling his or her own story. Barabara has a home in rural France where the pace of life is almost medieval, and a seaside home in East Sussex within easy reach of London and its inviting energy.
As a StoryTerrace writer, Barbara interviews customers and turns their life stories into books. Get to know her better by reading her autobiographical anecdote below

During talks with Christo Brand, who was Nelson Mandela’s prison warder on Robben Island and who over the years became his close friend and confidant, I was very conflicted when he one day took a phone call from Mandela’s daughter Zindzi.

The call came when Christo was at my home being interviewed for the book we wrote together, ‘Mandela My Prisoner My Friend’.

The great man was gravely ill and believed to be on his deathbed, slipping in and out of consciousness.

Zindzi believed that Christo’s voice, a familiar comfort to Mandela, might wake him sufficiently for family members to talk to him. She wanted him to come to their home in Johannesburg, take his hand and talk about old times. The journalist and writer in me was desperate for him to agree but Christo, decent and honest man that he is, gently told Zindzi it wouldn’t be right. “This is Tata’s time with his loved ones”, he said.

I was somewhat exasperated but that was the spirit of Christo. He had a raw charisma which probably came from his Christian upbringing on a farm in such a remote part of South Africa that he hadn’t come across black people’s suffering during Apartheid until he became a prison guard and met Mandela and his fellow activists on Robben Island.

It was Mandela who was the first to comfort Christo when his own son was killed in a night-time car crash. I needed Christo to tell me about this and about his much-loved son, but I was afraid it would be too emotional for both of us. He would always weep at any mention of his son.

I thought if we met somewhere public it would be easier for us to talk. I arranged to meet him for lunch at a quiet hotel in Cape Town. I had my laptop with me to take notes. We both knew it would be painful and of course during the process we both shed many tears. Sometimes it’s almost unbearable to listen to a first-person account of terrible tragedy but I’ve learnt that it is an important part of the process. You must put away your own feelings and just listen.

You know for sure that if you can retell the story well it may touch the hearts of others and may even help them through tragedy. That has to be worth doing.

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