Good Reading : September 2005
goodreading 11 cover story ‘I got into some very deep and dark stuff, on childhood trauma … yes, it was heart- breaking and horrifying really, but I didn’t put a human face on it.’ As the book is written from the perspective of an eight-year-old and Flock’s stepdaughter is around the same age, it was essential that she kept an emotional dis- tance from the tragic stories she came across while researching the book. ‘My husband suggests that maybe I am pathological – he was looking through it [the research] one night and he said, “How are you able to read this stuff?” and I thought, “God, what’s wrong with me that I’m not falling apart reading this?” But I think it’s the reporter in me that is still able to separate.’ Since embarking on a publicity tour for Me and Emma, how- ever, Flock has been forced to put several human faces to her story. ‘I’ve been startled by the number of people who have come forward, at readings and signings, and told me their own stories of abuse, sometimes stories quite similar to Carrie and [her sister] Emma’s. In fact, one woman called me – our phone number was listed at the time – to say that this book was in essence her story. In my book there is one particularly brutal episode and she told me that that was “nothing” compared to some of the things she endured, though she did not elaborate on the nature of her own childhood abuse.’ The episode Flock is referring to is when Carrie and her sis- ter Emma are brought back home after attempting to run away. As their stepfather has been humiliated he decides to humiliate them, and proceeds to chain them up outside the house – like dogs – and feed them dog food. Understandably, dealing with these sorts of stories has been an eye-opener for Flock, and will also be for her readers. ‘My heart aches for all children – for me it is so far away, so distant from the life that we lead and the kids that we are sur- rounded with that it just doesn’t feel real, but when I do bump into someone or see someone at the market … that little quiet girl who you know has heartbreak ahead of her.’ Flock is no stranger to dealing with challenging stories. As a journalist she worked on high-profile publica- tions such as Vanity Fair and Time, where she covered stories on Chinese gang activity and the siege at Waco. So she has never been one to shy away from dealing with difficult issues. When she moved into television at CBS the high-profile and challenging stories came thicker and faster.At CBS she worked on stories on the handover of Hong Kong to the Chinese from the British, the meeting of Pope John Paul II and Fidel Castro, and Princess Diana’s death and its aftermath. Despite the enormous pressure she was under while working on these stories, Flock always maintained her fascination with delving into the different layers of people’s personalities. But it all became uncomfortably personal when she started to suffer from depression.The tables had turned, and it was now Flock who had to keep up appear- ances while going on air for CBS each day. ‘I have wrestled with depression for most of my adult life, up until recent years in fact. My own experience took me into some very dark places and landed me in hospital, so I know firsthand what it is like to feel isolation and deep, pro- found, sometimes inexplicable sadness.’ Her highly successful first book, But Inside I’m Screaming (2003), a fictional account of a journalist’s fight to maintain her sanity despite enormous pressure – opens with the anchor- woman covering the death of Princess Diana. The next scene she has a nervous breakdown on air. Flock thought this was the perfect introduction to a book that she refers to as ‘exorcising demons’ for her. ‘But Inside I’m Screaming was in many ways inspired by my own personal struggles with depression,’ she says. ‘Though it is fiction and many things in Isabel’s life differ greatly from my own, I infused my own brand of darkness into the main character and did indeed give her the same career I had before becoming a full-time writer. It is a dreadful feeling to be clini- cally depressed and not see one’s way out of it. I have been there and have vowed to never – if I can help it – go back.’ While she is still dealing with challenging issues in her work, the work environment has changed dramatically for Flock since leaving journalism behind to write fiction full-time. ‘This free-form kind of amoeba of writing fiction – first of all writing and then writing full-time – was a bit frightening to me,’ she admits. ‘While it’s the best job that I’ve ever had, it’s also the hardest because I’m not very disciplined.’ She describes her days as fitting in writing between coffees but still needing the deadlines that had previously structured her working life. However, it is clear that she is very passionate about her fiction writing, and about books in general. ‘My mother taught me to love to read – she is the greatest reader I know, and she introduced me to great Southern writers … Southerners are great storytellers!’ Perhaps it is Flock’s Southern roots that have made her a nat- ural storyteller – and it is her enthusiasm to tell stories that makes Me and Emma such a riveting read. As she says: ‘I have always loved being the one to tell the story, you know, and that’s what I loved about reporting.’ Flock is no stranger to dealing with challenging stories. As a journalist ... she covered stories on Chinese gang activity and the siege at Waco.