One of the real challenges writing the book about the two Drug Grannies, Vera ‘Toddie’ Hays and Florice ‘Beezie’ Bessire, was just how much of a story there was to tell, drawn from the wealth of materials entrusted to me by the women when they were finally freed from jail in 1983.
While there were copious files of my own to which to refer, covering the many years I’d reported on their case, there were also hundreds of pages of documents, court transcripts, correspondence, greeting cards, newspaper clippings, as well as photos, audio cassette tapes and of course, their diaries the women had collected inside prison.
One of the real benefits however of researching and absorbing all of this material again 45 years later has been the ability to cross-reference claims (and counter-claims), anecdotes and assumptions, as well as to test supposed facts.
I found on numerous occasions that one date in one document was quickly corrected by another date which itself was then supported by further documentation in this trove of materials.
Likewise, recent interviews with people who were a part of the five-year struggle for justice and ultimately the women’s freedom, have often provided an alternative view or perspective of an element in the story which, up until then, consisted of only one piece of the puzzle.
In sorting through the materials with my publisher, Sophie Hamley at Hachette (Australia), we had to decide within the allocated photo pages, which images would best bear witness to the women’s own accounts of what they endured, what they saw, and what they survived.
Many photos and documents never made it to the final cut, but that’s to be expected: the book could only include so many photos and images, and to be honest, I am very happy with the final selection, and I am sure readers will be too.
I was sorting through more of the treasure trove today and got slightly carried away studying the notations and scribbles on these three calendars from 1979, 1981 and 1983 which had once adorned the Drug Grannies’ cell walls. The shorthand references to fellow prisoners’ birthdays, ‘X’ marks through dates and a note about drug kingpin Phillip Shine being arrested are all a story within themselves, and add greater depth to my book’s contents.
Over the coming weeks as we approach Betrayed’s release date of 1 June, I’ll dig further into my collection and share an aspect with you as it relates to the Drug Grannies’ incredible tale of adventure and betrayal.