Jean Gibson, author of Maud Kells biography, An Open Door, talks to us about the process of writing someone’s biography.
10ofThose: How did you find the process of writing Maud’s biography?
Jean Gibson: It was very interesting to get to grips with one story in more depth and great to get to know Maud on a more personal level as we talked through the many experiences she faced over the years. I knew of her work in Congo, or DRC as its now known, and knew her public persona. But it was lovely to develop a friendship together as we shared the many things we had in common – our work in Africa, our heart for the people of that continent, our life in Ireland and of course our love for the Lord who had called us both to follow him.
10ofThose: Did you meet in person or did you chat in letters or emails?
Jean Gibson: We met many times in person, we chatted by email, I read diary entries, and one of Maud’s friends had kept all the prayer letters she ever sent out! It was good to be able to use the written material as a springboard for our conversations when we got together. In conversation, Maud was able to share in greater depth about her feelings in the various situations she faced and the implications of some of the things that happened.
10ofThose: Wow, all those prayer letters over so many years! Was it quite an emotional experience when you met together?
Jean Gibson: Occasionally there was an emotional moment as we thought of sad times that had come to many people over the years. But we spent a lot of the time laughing together at the crazy things that happened. Maybe it was Maud’s reaction to what would normally be regarded as a frightening situation that made me laugh. And of course we knew that God brought her through in the end.
10ofThose: I laughed out loud when I read the part about someone proclaiming her dead, when she most certainly still shouting for help!
As she joined in my attempt to call for help, Mado shouted,‘Mademoiselle is dead! Mademoiselle is dead!’
‘Mademoiselle is manifestly not dead,’I thought to myself. ‘Mademoiselle is still shouting!’
Jean Gibson: Yes that was a very typical Maud reaction!
10ofThose: There are some real hair raising moments in the book, and we start off with the most dramatic. When did you decide that the book would begin with the shooting?
Jean Gibson: For some people, the shooting incident is all they know about Maud, because it received so much media coverage at the time. When I first thought of writing her story, I decided it was best to begin with what might be regarded as the climax of the book, to draw people in and create an interest in the long exciting story that lay behind that one incident.
10ofThose: There must have been many stories from Maud that didn’t make it into the book. How did you decide what to keep and what wouldn’t?
Jean Gibson: It was difficult. The first version I wrote was about 2000 words over the agreed word count. I had to go through each chapter and cut out anything that did not serve the central theme of the book. There was a particularly poignant moment when Maud’s dearly loved Alsatian, Rambo, died in Congo during one of her times out of the country. She was very attached to Rambo and felt his loss like a member of her family. Moments like that were hard to sacrifice from the story but it does mean that those who have Maud or myself to speak at their events have the opportunity to hear some of these stories first hand rather than in the book.
10ofThose: Was there a part of the book that you especially enjoyed writing?
Jean Gibson: I enjoyed writing the stories of what happened on some of Mauds hair raising journeys because they were just so unbelievable. Like the time she set off to drive her land rover 35 kilometres along a mud track to Punia, the nearest town, with her broken arm in a plaster cast. Then she discovers she has no brakes, she gets stuck in a huge mud hole on the way back home, darkness descends… You get the picture.
10ofThose: Absolutely, she has lived an incredible life, and many of us would be amazed to live through just one of the situations we hear of in the book! She is always clear to point back to Jesus as her hope, and her driving force though.
Jean Gibson: Yes, the other type of passages I loved writing were the places where she stopped in the middle of everything and looked to God who had opened the way for her to be there in the first place. When the brick kiln went on fire, she learned a lesson that remained with her through all the ‘losses’ in her life. Only the important things remained when all the material things were taken away. Her relationship with Jesus and his love for her stood strong through the most difficult circumstances.
10ofThose: Before we finish I like to ask a serious and a silly question. Firstly, what is your favourite bible verse or passage?
Jean Gibson: There are so many! But I do love Isaiah 49:16 where God says to his people,
‘See I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.’
Whatever happens to us in life, it is wonderful to know God is intimately loving and caring for us, never forgetting us.
10ofThose: The silly question is, if you were a biscuit, what would you be, and why?
Jean Gibson: What a question! I think it would have to be a chocolate covered biscuit. I like to think I’m sweet on the outside but there’s more to discover underneath when people get to know me!
10ofThose: That’s great Jean. Thank you so much for talking to us, we’re sure this book is going to bless many people.
An Open Door is out now.
Jean and her husband Brian live in Ireland, where Jean is passionate about sharing the stories of people who have experienced God in their lives. She is the author of An Open Door, Journey of Hope, Seasons of Womanhood and Joyful in Hope.