Inspiration behind the story of Finding Penrose

Explore the journey behind 'Finding Penrose' with exclusive author insights. Get a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of Finding Penrose's compelling narrative and the passion that drove its creation.

Story Inspiration

Gain a deeper understanding of the inspiration behind the story, delve into the research process, and uncover personal anecdotes shared by the author.

(Apologies for the poor quality resolution of this 40-year-old Polaroid of me and Penrose. Old Polaroids are rare and fade with each passing decade.)

A Storytelling Teen With Big Dreams

Even as an 18-year-old kid, I was utterly obsessed with the magic of storytelling. This madness stemmed from decades of silly narrative adventures with my siblings. Whenever Mom and Dad left big sis in charge, we'd gather 'round the antique coffee table, flip that baby over, and make it our storytelling fort. We'd take turns weaving wild tales of faraway lands until - BOOM! - we heard the parental units' car in the driveway, sending us scrambling out of imagination-land.

Those delightfully nerdy coffee table odysseys planted the seeds for my creative writing passion. In fact, I once promised Penrose that I'd chronicle his extraordinary life story. But as often happens, life's curveballs got in the way. I went and grew up, got married, had a kid, sent him off to college, rediscovered myself after a divorce, and finally met my real-life superhero soulmate, Ken Sheridan.

It was during one of those lazy, sunny afternoons with dear Mom (Merle Hawkins) visiting that the Penrose storytelling itch returned. As we lounged around swapping tales like a couple of neighbourhood gossips, I asked Mom to regale me with never-before-heard Penrose anecdotes from her childhood.

The Floodgates of Memory Opened

Mom didn't hold back! She spilled one nostalgic gem after another - hilarious hijinks from her bond with Penrose and my grandma Miss Ad, heart-warming accounts of their life-long friendship, and eye-opening glimpses into the struggles they endured. With each tale, I found myself madly scribbling notes, determined to capture every delicious detail.

Before I knew it, I had an overflowing treasure trove of real-life stories, just begging to be woven into a narrative. At first, I thought I was crafting a memoir. But then I realized - hey, this isn't about me at all! As much as I wanted to make myself the heroine (doesn't every writer?), that role already belonged to the one and only Miss Ad.

Finding Penrose's True Narrative

But then I hit a skid and my storytelling car, so to speak, spluttered and stalled. More importantly, it had no true story arc. Let's face it, readers, publishers and film producers crave a riveting story born from the depths of compelling characters.

Enter my first and foremost and most highly valued beta reader, my husband, Ken. With his keen eye and honest feedback, he helped me realize that I needed to reshape this tale into something more cohesive and powerful.

So I took a step back and spent the next few months reworking the story based on a fictional story arc, with the characters having their own journey. And voila!

I had it - not just a story, but a potentially powerful narrative showcasing the true courage Penrose embodied by living in a white area during the apartheid regime of South Africa.

I let Penrose's remarkable journey take centre stage, with my gran's adventures as the loyal supporting act. All those collected anecdotes coalesced into a focal point - the extraordinary tale of a man who dared to defy an oppressive system, even without the most basic necessity: a Dompass.

A what?! I hear you say...hold on, I will explain in a moment.

The Dompass

Before I continue with the inspiration behind Finding Penrose, let's pause to understand a harsh reality of South African apartheid: the "Dompass." This government-issued passbook controlled the movement and residence of African people, essentially denying them basic freedoms and personhood.

For Penrose, living without a Dompass meant facing immense challenges. He couldn't legally reside or work in white areas, access essential services, or freely travel his own country. Obtaining this crucial document became a matter of navigating not just his past, but his present and future in a society grappling with the legacy of segregation.

While apartheid is thankfully abolished, Penrose's experience still resonates with countless individuals worldwide who remain undocumented or deprived of legal recognition due to systemic injustices. His story serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of fighting for everyone's basic rights and freedoms.

Find out more about The Dompass.

The Extraordinary Courage of Living Undocumented

So, back to my storytelling adventures! As I dug deeper into Penrose's past, one mind-blowing fact jumped out at me like a jack-in-the-box: he had lived his entire life without a Dompass. In apartheid-era South Africa, this was like being a real-life wizard – an act of unimaginable bravery and some serious magic!

Mom, my trusty research sidekick and the Queen Hoarder of our family, put on her best detective hat and scoured her treasure trove of archives. But alas, no evidence of Penrose's Dompass could be found. It was like searching for a needle in a haystack – if the needle was invisible and the haystack was made of air!

The plot thickened when we realized that everyone remembered one crucial detail: Pennie (our affectionate nickname for Penrose, which he absolutely adored) never knew his birthdate or place of birth. It was like his origin story was a mystery wrapped in an enigma, tucked inside a riddle!

I sent out the Bat-Signal to all my family members, asking them to join the Dompass hunt. But it seemed that this elusive document had vanished into thin air. The facts before me were stacking up like a wobbly Jenga tower:

  1. Penrose didn't seem to have had a Dompass. It was like he was born without a bureaucratic shadow!
  2. He didn't know his age, date of birth, or place of birth. Talk about a triple whammy of mystery!
  3. Which meant (quite glaringly) that he could not have had a Dompass. It was like trying to bake a cake without flour, eggs, or a kitchen!
  4. Because a Dompass required the person's date of birth and place of birth.

Yikes! This ramble down memory lane had turned into a treasure hunt worthy of Indiana Jones! The more I looked, the more I couldn't find anything about Pennie having a Dompass. It was like chasing a rainbow – beautiful, elusive, and slightly maddening!

But wait, what's this? A plot twist! Penrose seemed to have a 'Hospital Pass Book', which recorded his hospital visits. But that didn't shed any light on the Dompass mystery. It was like finding a single puzzle piece when you didn't even know what the picture was supposed to be!

And so, the story I had been digging for took on a life of its own, evolving like a chameleon in a crayon box...

The Pennie Dropped

And yes, the 'pennie' had dropped! (Pun totally intended!) Armed with a treasure trove of anecdotes and mini stories, I channelled my inner storytelling superhero and rewrote my story beat sheet. But not just any beat sheet – an industry-standard one, because apparently, Hollywood doesn't accept beat sheets written in crayon on napkins!

I wove together the highlights of Penrose's life, like threading beads on a necklace of narrative awesomeness. But here's the plot twist: for the parts where we didn't know what had happened, I sprinkled in some fictional magic! It was like adding secret ingredients to a recipe – a pinch of imagination, a dash of creativity, and a generous helping of "just go with it!"

For example, Penrose's early life before meeting my gran, Adeline Boyder (a.k.a. the legendary Miss Ad), was a mystery wrapped in an enigma, tucked inside a tortilla of secrecy. He wouldn't spill the beans about his origins, and his birthdate and place of birth were as elusive as a unicorn in a haystack. But fear not, dear reader, I promised I'd circle back to this!

So, I put on my fiction-writing hat (which is like a regular hat, but with more sparkles) and conjured up a mesmerizing tale of young Penrose's journey into manhood. I imagined a series of events that led to his memory loss, like a mind-erasing rollercoaster ride of destiny!

And then, in a twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan, his memories came flooding back towards the end, like a cerebral tidal wave of revelation! (Tell me a writer who doesn't dream of being an M. Night!)

In real life, this was the moment when Miss Ad, my gran and the unsung heroine of this tale, marched Penrose to the Home Office. It was time to get his ID documents and make him an official member of society! (Cue the triumphant music and slow-motion walking montage!)

But here's the kicker: Mom couldn't quite remember why Pen suddenly recalled his date of birth. It was like his brain had been playing hide-and-seek with his memories, and they finally decided to come out of hiding!

Laying This Story to Rest (Or Not!)

It was celebration time in our family! My gran, mom, and our extended family threw Pennie the most epic FIRST BIRTHDAY party ever. It was like Coachella, but with more cake and fewer flower crowns. Pennie spent the day with a permanent grin on his face, like he'd just won the lottery and found out that his favourite cricket team had won the World Cup on the same day!

But here's where the story takes a bittersweet turn. Just a year after Penrose received his ID documents with his date of birth, he passed away. It was like the universe had given him one last amazing gift before he took his final bow. An incredibly extraordinary journey came to an end, but what a journey it was!

Writing that ending, where my gran found Penrose had passed away quietly and peacefully, and then the funeral scene, was like an emotional rollercoaster. I was sobbing harder than a reality TV contestant who'd just been voted off the island. Even now, as I write about it here, my tears are threatening to stage a mutiny and take over my face!

But fear not, dear readers, because Finding Penrose is a work of fiction that's inspired by and based on the most incredible true events and real people. The late, great Penrose Matsile's courageous life story during the apartheid era in South Africa provided the foundation for this tale. His uplifting spirit and lack of formal identity documents until just before his passing are faithfully reflected, like a mirror that only shows the best parts of you!

However, some fictional elements were necessary for full dramatization. Publishers and producers require compelling narrative arcs, and apparently, they're not satisfied with a collection of heart-warming anecdotes. Even if those snippets of Penrose's life were inspiring enough for a hundred films! (At least, they were to me, but I might be slightly biased.)

There were also parts of Penrose's life that remained a mystery, like a puzzle with missing pieces. Sadly, he couldn't be consulted, but I can just imagine him chuckling over the liberties I took to spice up the storyline. He's probably up there in heaven, laughing his angel wings off!

So while imagined narrative and characters add some extra flavour to the storytelling, Finding Penrose stays true to the essence of this remarkable man and the formidable Miss Ad. Their perseverance through oppressive conditions and uplifting outlook in the face of adversity are 100% authentic, like a pair of designer shoes with a certificate of authenticity!

This story aims to pay respectful homage to their real-life resilience that went beyond any fiction. It's a celebration of their incredible lives and the friendship they shared, and I hope it makes you laugh, cry, and everything in between. Just like Penrose and Miss Ad, this story is one-of-a-kind!