Zoe Daniel, Storyteller: A Foreign Correspondent's Memoir

Only a few weeks ago I was a stay-at-home mum. What am I doing? But there’s no time for reconsideration now. My brain snaps into action and so does my mouth. Flak jackets, helmets, gas masks - everyone, now!
— Zoe Daniel, Storyteller

Like many of you, I've been watching Zoe Daniel for years on the ABC. I can remember her reporting in the middle of a surging crowd during Aung San Suu Kyi's election campaign (it looked hot and crazy) and again covering the devastating floods of the Philippines. I am indeed a news addict.

So it should come as no surprise that I'm a sucker for autobiographical accounts of journalists on the road. Far from being the semi-alcoholic, cavalier, free-wheeling India Jones-type reporters and photographers portrayed in films, I generally find they are very determined, considered reporters who believe still vehemently believe in justice and work damn hard to see we get the truth.

The women do it tougher than anyone on the road and I find they have worked twice as hard to get the coveted position. NBC foreign correspondent Sara James once told me she got her big break when she paid her own way to a war zone in Nicaragua. It was only then the big networks took an interest in her work. 

As women we are always asking each other how the hell we juggle multiple commitments of motherhood and a really juicy career. No-one has a template for that yet, except maybe Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In, but Zoe Daniel gives it a really good crack in two roles where you have to make the most of your skills and improvise the rest. I'd say in both motherhood and journalism, flexibility and adaptability are two of the key requirements.

Especially if you planning on mixing the two!

I found myself fuming on Zoe's behalf when she is at the interview for the coveted Bangkok/ SE Asia ABC posting: 

We're on holiday with the kids in Malaysia when I do the interview by phone from the verandah of an old house overlooking rice paddies and swaying palm trees. Rowan takes the kids for a walk and a swim while I tell a panel in Sydney why they should give me the job. In the past I've found these interviews gruelling. This time is different. I live in the region and I know the issues. I'm confident I can do it, but it's a question of whether I want to. The assignments editor, Bronwen Kiely, poses the hardest question: 'How will you deal with all of the travel when you're a mum with small children?'
The truth is, I don't know. Rowan and I are acutely aware this job will bring changes. 'I've done one posting already,' I respond. 'I'm not walking into this blind. I know what this job will take from my personal life.' 
Zoe Daniel, Storyteller, pp 42-43. 

I tagged that section because really: have you ever heard a man asked this question, or being forced to contemplate his kids in an interview? Hell, kids are not even mentioned! If kids are mentioned, it's all: 'What an amazing Dad', 'What a special guy'. Blah, Blah, Blah ...

Zoe Daniel is indeed a remarkable storyteller and she deftly weaves the narrative of her own life through major events in Africa, Myanmar, Thailand, and Philippines. 

You can read more an extract of Storyteller here, but better still go buy the book!


News.com: Zoe Daniel extract on being a mother in a war zone 

Meanjin: On being a foreign correspondent

Upstart: Politics and Society, Working Journalist Profile and Q&A

Working with Words, Zoe Daniel Q&A at The Wheeler Centre

Other Memoirs by Foreign Correspondents I enjoyed:  

War Junkie, Jon Steele

The Best of Friends and An American in Oz,  Sara James

I Wouldn't Start From Here, Andrew Mueller

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, Philip Gourevitch