New book for Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand with CFS

Discussion in 'Fibromyalgia Main Forum' started by ephemera, Aug 6, 2005.

  1. ephemera

    ephemera New Member

    This is from Timesonline


    August 06, 2005

    Against all the odds
    From her sick-bed the author of Seabiscuit is writing another story of triumph over adversity, writes Richard Whitehead

    WHAT EXACTLY IS THE nature of the relationship between biographer and subject? In the case of Laura Hillenbrand the question is worth asking because her own story is every bit as extraordinary as those whose lives she so brilliantly chronicles.
    In Seabiscuit, Hillenbrand grippingly re-created the career of a racehorse that captivated the United States in the 1930s. But to say that Seabiscuit is a book about horse racing is to imply that Birdsong is an account of events on the Western Front or that Lucky Jim deals with the state of postwar higher education.

    The horse may be the star, the focal point, but this is a vast canvas, including the shifting landscape of the United States during the Depression, the division between the old-money East Coast and the new entrepreneurs emerging from California and — most importantly — the complex personalities and fascinating stories of the men behind Seabiscuit: Charles Howard, the owner, Red Pollard, the jockey and Tom Smith, the trainer.

    Yet perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the book, first published in Britain in 2001 and instantly voted William Hill Sports Book of the Year, is that it was ever completed at all, let alone became a critical and commercial success.

    Hillenbrand wrote Seabiscuit in circumstances guaranteed to shame any writer who has ever complained about noisy distractions from an adjoining room or an uncomfortable chair. For 18 years she has suffered with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and has been bedridden for much of that time with a frightening combination of symptoms.

    It was 1996 and she had been ill for nine years when she became entranced by the Seabiscuit legend. Hillenbrand first wrote the story for American Heritage magazine, but was convinced that it was worthy of more detailed examination and she signed a contract with Random House.

    But the practicalities of writing a book while suffering from such an all-pervasive illness were daunting and would have defeated a less single-mindedly determined individual. Serious vertigo — just one of her symptoms — made her head spin if she looked down at research documents or a computer screen. So her partner rigged up a rudimentary device to hold paper at eye level and her laptop was balanced on a pile of books.

    When she became too tired to sit at her desk, she lay in bed to write, and when dizziness made reading impossible she wrote with her eyes shut.

    The book was finished in September 2000, but the effort involved brought her fragile health crashing down and all the small, painstaking steps to recovery she had made in the previous five years were lost. Compensation — if that is not too trite a word — came when the book raced to No 1 in the US bestseller lists within two weeks of publication. The Hollywood version of the story, released two years ago and starring Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges and William H. Macy, was nominated for seven Oscars.

    Now, Hillenbrand is writing her second book — a biography of Louis Zamperini, juvenile delinquent, American Olympian in the Berlin Games of 1936 and Japanese prisoner of war, to mention just three facets of a remarkable life.

    The author’s illness means, however, that this is far from a straightforward task. Every day requires careful husbanding of her physical resources. She politely declined a request for a face-to-face interview on the basis that the effort involved in a 45-minute chat with a visiting journalist could leave her drained for up to two days. E-mail is her preferred method of contact.

    “My illness doesn’t ever go away,” she explained. “Lately, things have been reasonably stable, and I have been just well enough to work fairly productively on my book. The biggest obstacle remains my vertigo, which makes reading and writing an enormous struggle. There are days during which I can’t work because of it, but most days I can get something done.”

    It is easy to see the appeal of Zamperini’s story, but there was something about his time as a PoW that had a deeply personal resonance for Hillenbrand. “I think because I have had several years-long experiences of being trapped in bed, unable to move or communicate with the outside world, every detail of my life lived in obedience to something exterior to myself, the concepts of captivity and hardship have long fascinated me,” she said. “Just as I did with Seabiscuit, I wanted to explore how people cope with outrageous fortune; what enables one man to prevail while another fails.”

    Given the constraints of her illness and the damage caused by the race to finish Seabiscuit, Hillenbrand set more conservative deadlines for the Zamperini book. Nevertheless, she is proceeding ahead of schedule and is optimistic that it may be published inside the next two years — another extraordinary life given the trademark Hillenbrand treatment of forensically detailed research married to a pacy narrative that wraps the reader in the unfolding drama.

    It will doubtless be another evocative re-creation of the Thirties and Forties, decades that shaped the way we live now. “In my mind, the Great Depression was one of the most interesting eras in American history,” Hillenbrand said. “The financial collapse swept across the entire society and people from all walks of life were shaken out of their places and cast into tremendous hardship. It was an era full of stories in which ordinary lives were thrown into crises that called upon them to reach deep into themselves, finding attributes that might otherwise have lain untested.”

  2. Rosiebud

    Rosiebud New Member

    Thanks for this Effemera. I didnt read Seabiscuit but saw the film, it was brilliant and I have read about the author before.

    I'll look out for this book.

  3. libra55

    libra55 New Member

    Both the book and the movie absolutely captivated me. I have the greatest respect for this woman.

    The factual accuracy, attention to detail, and just a darn good story plot makes this an absolute must for people to read.

  4. darude

    darude New Member

    This is my favourite movie and I am very interested in her work. laura has a terrible case of CFIDS and I have her story somewhere. If i can find I will post!
  5. darude

    darude New Member

    Lauras story! Must be on of the worst cases and should give people encouragment

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