“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”~ Mark Twain
When I read Pennie James’ memoir, I felt like I was swept up in a suspenseful movie. Pennie and I met online several years ago and she continues to inspire me with her resilience and courage through some harrowing life struggles. I wanted to hear more about the story behind her memoir and she graciously agreed to be my guest.
The Story Behind My Memoir, Getting Rid of Ian
My parents, a British naval commander in his forties and my mother, an American-Mexican socialite in her mid-twenties, met at a cocktail party on board the HMS Penelope, in New York City for repairs, during WWII. Despite age and cultural differences, this unlikely pair was married three weeks later.
I was born on the English south coast during a bombing raid. My seaside village was a perfect place for an imaginative, adventurous child. But after ten years in post-war England, my mother took me and my sister to Mexico City where her family lived, and to an opposite cultural environment from the one we had known. We grew up and went to school there, in a highly religious, socially conscious society.
Enter the Villian..
Our lives were overshadowed by our stepfather, Henry Murray Campbell, a colonel, a hero, a spy, much decorated by the British government, crazy, probably riddled with PTSD, a pill popper who tried suicide several times, and who enjoyed tormenting us. The years with him are documented in the memoir “Getting rid of Ian.”
My Worldwide Travels…
At 16, I convinced myself that I was in love with a handsome, fast talking American, ten years my senior, and was married in Milwaukee, when I was 17. A marriage that lasted 6 weeks, but 6 years on paper.
My 28-year advertising career began in the “Mad Men” era in New York City and continued when I went “home” to England, became part of the London swinging scene, and worked my way up to a junior executive position in a major advertising agency. It was a big accomplishment at a time, the sixties, when few women held what was deemed a man’s position. I also worked as PR for an independent British airline which meant trips all over Europe and North Africa.
I had a baby and decided it would be easier for me to bring him up in Mexico. I returned and obtained a good position in one of Mexico’s leading ad agencies, Foote, Cone and Belding. There, I met my future husband and on the spur of the moment, was married on the beach in Acapulco. We had another child, divorced after seven years, and I carried on as both a single mother and a VP of an international advertising agency in Mexico City. Hard work and hard living were my style. Then it was over, my career at an end, followed by loss of income, home, possessions, and a drastic change in lifestyle.
Making a New Start in America…
In my mid-fifties, I moved to the U.S. to make a new start. I found it in, of all places, a San Diego phone room. A job at the lower end of the pay scale proved to be a first step to a twelve- year career in Hispanic qualitative research (well-paid).
Currently, I spend my time writing, editing, and promoting my books, the first of which Getting Rid of Ian came out in 2016. Unfortunately, two weeks later, I suffered a stroke, which has slowed down my efforts to promote it. At present, I am editing two finished books, Don’t Hang Up! On the Border of a New Start (a memoir) and Coronada or The Nun in the Flowered Crown (historical fiction) and hope to publish in 2018. I also have the follow-up to the latter halfway finished and two novellas, one about my mother who had a plane crash in Puebla, Mexico with Peter Ramsey and Daniel Roosevelt (the President’s nephew) in 1939 and the other half-fiction, half-truth about the ETA-The Revolutionary Basque Movement.
As any reader will realize, writing has been a goal of mine since I was twelve years old and finished writing my first full-length book. I wrote two more full-length novels between 14 and 16 and was a member of The Mexican Writer’s Center.
Each of my three countries has influenced my writing and contributed an important legacy. England gave me its language, its drama, its eccentricity, and adventurous spirit. Mexico gave me its creative culture—one of sentiment, tradition, and strong visuals. The U.S. gave me the challenge, opportunity, writing skills, and determination to reach my goals.
GETTING RID OF IAN: Poison, Pills, and Mortal Sins Synopsis:
From postwar England to 1950s Mexico City, an exuberant memoir about adult misconduct, craziness, and how two young girls turn the tables on their crazy stepfather.
Pennie, the knowing child. Dreams up schemes to do away with Ian using homemade poison, pills, witchcraft, and voodoo.
Anne, younger sister. Hates Ian, and will do whatever it takes to get rid of him.
Mummy. Beautiful, desperate, plane crash survivor. Defies the Catholic Church, her family and society to marry Ian.
Daddy. Retired Royal Navy Commander, turned inventor of “things.”
Ian. Pill-popping stepfather, war hero, household tyrant, losing his marbles.
“Once the idea is in my head to get rid of Ian, it sticks there. The thought follows me around, reminding me we can do it and get away with it.”
“I don’t know why Grown Ups have to decide what’s best for us. They’re not always right and we’re at their mercy. It’s very hard being a child.”
In Getting Rid of Ian, a dark humor memoir, two little English girls move to Mexico City where they plot to do away with their crazy stepfather.
Mummy is American and has a loud voice. She’s half-Mexican so she loses her temper a lot. Daddy was in both World Wars and he’s a Commander, RN retd. He thinks a lot and invents “things.”
When Daddy’s inventions fall through, Mummy takes us to live in Mexico City. She marries Ian who goes crazy and takes a lot of pills.
About the Author:
The narrator, Penny/Pennie, a knowing child, lives with sister Anne, flamboyant Mexican-American Mummy/Tita and retired Royal Navy Commander Daddy in an English seaside village. Tita, a plane crash survivor, feels she has lost out in life. Daddy is an inventor, but his inventions fail to catch on and money runs out. Tita takes the girls to live in Mexico City where Ian, a married man, falls in love with her. She divorces Daddy and marries Ian in a civil ceremony, thus scandalizing and alienating her from family, society and the Catholic Church.
After marrying Tita, Ian is no longer the jovial uncle he had appeared to be. Unbalanced and irascible, this former spymaster exerts a hypnotic control over Tita. He terrorizes the girls, makes life unbearable for them, and his addiction to sedatives sends him over the edge.
Motivated by a great-aunt and a family friend, the girls plan to do away with Ian using witchcraft, homemade poison, drugs, and voodoo. With mixed results. Ian suffers a coronary thrombosis; he overdoses; a car runs over him. His drug addiction turns him into “the Zombie.” The Zombie/Ian creates havoc, and the girls and Mummy live in fear of his destructive actions. As the Zombie’s actions escalate, the girls are forced to make some drastic decisions that affect the rest of their lives.
Author Contact Information:
Thank you, Pennie for giving us a glimpse into your background and for filling us in on the backstory of your fascinating memoir, Getting Rid of Ian. It reminds me of the saying, “sometimes truth is stranger than fiction”. Your resilience in the face of so many challenges, both past and present, is truly remarkable and inspirational.
How about you? Would your life story be “stranger than fiction”? Would it make a good movie? Do you have any questions for Pennie?
We’d love to hear from you. Please join in the conversation below~
November 2017 Newsletter: Monthly Updates, Memoir Musings, Max Moments:
If you’d like to receive these monthly newsletters in your inbox, please sign up in the right side bar. I’d love to have you along!
” Why I Keep Blogging After Eight Years”