Books: Indescrible by Candice Derman

Candice Derman

Candice Derman - Credit: Archant

The former soap actress lays bare the abuse she endured at the hands of her step-father

Candice Derman

Candice Derman - Credit: Archant

Candice Derman’s step-father Joe began to abuse her when she was eight years old.

For the next six years she lived a double life, outwardly the happy, extrovert living in a wealthy Johannesburg suburb, but inwardly a scared, numb girl who had developed an eating disorder.

When she eventually broke her silence, her shocked mother had no clue what had been happening under her roof.

Candice grew up to become a successful TV presenter and soap actress in South Africa - but quit to write her unsparing account of those years of abuse.

Living for the past five years in Kentish Town with her husband and three-year-old daughter, she publishes Indescribable in the UK this month.

“I always knew I wanted to write this book but for a long time I couldn’t while being in tremendous internal pain,” she says.

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“I just needed to be ready and one day I decided it was time. I had a wonderful career but I needed to be free emotionally and mentally, so decided to leave the soap and go on this journey.”

Derman says she felt “compelled” to describe the abuse, in the voice of her younger self, revealing how her parents’ disintegrating marriage broke the family apart, and left her vulnerable to a manipulative father figure, who told her she was clever and beautiful.

“It’s very complex, he became my father. He was loving, interested. The grooming is shocking, as you start loving this person, these things start happening. This person can take you to the movies but they are also dark and scary.

“It’s very confusing. You keep the secret because you are petrified, you are so young. It feels wrong, but you are told that God will understand, and you live with this fear and belief that hopefully it will stop,” she explains.

“I didn’t want to hurt anybody, there are so many mixed emotions, the longer it goes on the longer you can live with the secret, and compartmentalise yourself.”

Derman praises her “amazing husband” for helping her through the difficult writing process.

“It was painful for my body physically - our bodies can carry so much, and mine had got used to holding on to pain. But I would read a few pages or a chapter aloud to my husband and have an amazing release and ability to move forward.”

She deliberately describes the abuse in unflinching detail: “I talk about the horror without protecting the reader. We use words like paedophile but noone really understands the horrific nature of what takes place. I wasn’t afraid of what people would think. I thought it needed to be written.”

Derman recalls that it was only when she turned 14 and had a boyfriend who showed her kindness that she started seeing the difference with her step-father’s ‘love’.

“It had been going on for a very long time but I couldn’t keep it inside any more. I was becoming stronger and my anger was coming out. I’d had enough.”

But disclosing her abuse to her mother while Joe was on a trip, brought its own problems.

“Joe chose my mum when she was vulnerable, he came in like a knight in shining armour. She gave him everything and without knowing, her daughter.

“It is hard to tell something really shocking to someone you love. My mother had no idea tragically. People always say ‘how can it happen under a mother’s roof’ there is a lot of judgement, but these men are manipulative and get away with it because no one imagines it can happen. She didn’t cope with it very well, no one is taught how to cope with something like that, she was angry and I was angry with her.”

She was also swept up in the justice system and in the following years there was despair and suicidal thoughts.

“Being examined by a government gynaecologist, giving a statement to a policeman, talking to a prosecutor, it was a cold and shocking environment for a child. A teen can easily switch into a silence as a coping mechanism. During the court case I felt so lonely, confused and angry, silence became my friend. Sometimes even now I can have that numbness and ambivalence.”

Although she was spared from testifing, Joe was sentenced to two years with the chance of being out in six. But Derman, who soon immersed herself in art school then acting, refuses to think about what happened to him.

“The justice system let me and other children down, my mum had so much anger but I couldn’t carry that idea of what he might be doing. I wanted to be free, I didn’t want him in my head any more.”

Acting, she says, was a “release” the chance to be different characters and disappear into other worlds.

“I was a big performer as a child, I loved the attention. And later it was a gift to help heal, a freedom to be someone else and yet to explore my pain and emotions.”

Recently, looking at schools for her daughter, she was shown around by a 10-year-old, and it triggered a feeling of “what was going on at that age with me”.

But she refuses to be a victim and long ago resolved to move on and live a good life, without handing over “a baton of pain” to her daughter.

“Me as a child, I feel so sorry for her, but I also feel so much love. I had the ability to see joy in a day when horrible things were happening I feel lucky to be born with a character that could have that thirst.

“I am not my story. Of course I am, but at the same time I am not. I know how to carry myself not being broken.

“I live with her all the time now. She is also me and I love her.”

She hopes that telling her story might help others.

“It’s so upsetting that people are going through what I did and that a child doesn’t have a space to talk. This is about children being heard finding a a voice and start telling their stories.”