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Manufacturing Indaba 2018

Through the fire: James Siddall moves to motivational speaking

In his addiction-memoir Dystopia, author, journalist and now motivational speaker James Siddall writes of hitting the bottom, fighting back, and adding another career to writing and journalism.
"The rewards of moving from apathy and inaction to life alive are exponentially greater too. Instead of wallowing in the wreckage - be it the wreckage of a life, a marriage, a house or even a whole civilization - proactively beginning to clear away the debris and rebuild and restructure is fundamentally cathartic.

"And it's glorious to step out of the darkness and into the light, albeit blinking disbelievingly.

"Remember that when Winston Churchill was told that the Battle of Britain had been won, he at first refused to believe the news."

Siddall should know. In the course of a 25-year career in South African media that's taken him from the provincial weekly at which he started as a cadet reporter aged 19 to deputy editor of Playboy at just 26, and then on to an award-studded sojourn as a freelance journalist, he's battled chronic addiction to alcohol and prescription medication.

'The most painful disease of all'

In fact, the full title of his book - released a year ago - is Dystopia: From Glittering Media Career to Sordid Shebeen Gutter. Along the way, Siddall has dealt with demons and degradation of a magnitude that most people will never encounter as he's wrestled with addiction, which as he points out in Dystopia, has been dubbed "the most painful disease of all."

A disease that culminated in him serving two years by court order in a rehab in his home town.

"I was," says Siddall, "running completely out of control, and my addiction was very much in the pre-fatal stage. That's the stage where the next progressive step is death."

He adds drily: "I redefined the term `rock bottom'."

Today's he been sober for more than four years, and his career - once a "complete, utter wreck" - has been revitalised, with him contributing to publications both in South Africa and abroad, and once more winning national awards. Meanwhile, in a testimonial accompanying his recent application for a Harvard fellowship, an editor at one mass-circulation newspaper called him nothing short of, "One of the finest writers of his generation."

A new path

Now in his latest career step, Siddall has become a motivational speaker by corporates and other organisations with his talk "Through The Fire: Overcoming Adversity."

In it, he draws on his own career as a journalist and author as well as "an utterly hopeless addict," with survival tips and skills for dealing with dark moments.

As he writes in Dystopia:

"It's astonishing how quickly life can dissolve around you.

"Survivors of natural disasters, from Hurricane Katrina to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius must have experienced this. So too must have inhabitants of occupied countries as the enemy tanks clank in, their houses are commandeered by troops, the conqueror's flag is run up in the town square and trains take them off to death camps.

"As author Chinua Achebe knew so well, things can fall apart, and with terrifying rapidity.

"When they do, one can lurch around, stunned and whey-faced, as I did for months on end when my life imploded and I found myself in a long-term rehab in my old hometown - giving me the dubious distinction or having gone to primary school, high school and rehab in the same town.

"Or they can marshal Churchillian fortitude and struggle on, taking solace in the old recovery maxim of, `It doesn't matter how you fall down, it matters how you get up.'

"The latter is a lot harder than the former, but it's far more fulfilling. Action - any action - beats the apathy of inaction."

Siddall can be contacted at or on +27 (0) 73 422 3752. Alternatively, visit