Relying on the Kindness of Strangers

an army brat's story

NYC Book Launch

It all started with the decision to celebrate my 26th birthday in isolation after realizing that in the last ten years, I had been so obsessed with having as many people as possible at my birthday party each year (to compensate for my parents' absence) that I was celebrating with ex-boyfriends, people I hardly knew, and some people who didn't even deserve an invite. But no matter how full my party table was, I still felt alone. 

So on that faithful night of my 26th, I stuffed my mouth with pizza & cupcake while watching Eat Pray Love, danced around in my underwear in front of the TV alone, until the ah-ha moment I had been waiting for, finally arrived. "I NEED TO WRITE A BOOK" I exclaimed loudly to the four walls surrounding me. And I did. I spent the first 7 months of 2019 locked in my skyscraper room and couldn't rest until I had that very first copy in my hands.

CEO & author, Jen Glantz invited me to co-host a book launch party at the You're Not Getting Any Younger event, and I had the special opportunity to read from my memoir in front of a New York City audience.

Before I headed to the venue, I took a moment to sign personalized messages in each copy, with the New York City sun dancing its way down the horizon for one of the most gorgeous sunsets of the summer. I snapped some pics of Relying on the Kindness of Strangers alongside some of my favorite books, authored by Jen Su & Jeremy Mansfield whom I worked with, in South Africa.  

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In the back of a yellow cab en route Solace NYC for the private event, I scrolled through my social media only to find that South African music legend Johnny Clegg had passed away. It was hard not to cry my make-up off watching the streams of tribute videos and sharing a video of a cover of a song of his I performed on a Wall Street rooftop for Heritage Day in 2018. 

Finally at the venue, Jen hugged me hello with a bunch of flowers and in true New York fashion, brought along all-you-can-eat 2 Bros Pizza for the crowd. 

Signed & Sealed

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What others say

Beast, Springbok Prop 

Lyla stole the hearts of Springbok fans across the globe when she seized the opportunity to serenade me with an impromptu performance, aptly singing the theme song from “Beauty and the Beast” when we met by chance in a New York restaurant. I am excited to see which other doors Lyla’s sincerity and wit will open for her in her music ventures. 

David Kau, Comedian

Lyla (or “Sibongile” as her peers lovingly nicknamed her) caught my attention when I was in New York to do a show at Carolines on Broadway. When I learned of her music ventures, I invited her to be a guest on my vlog “South Africans living in… New York.” We ended up talking less about her music and more about what it means to be a member of The Rainbow Nation. I was taken back with her dedication to break down racial and cultural barriers in her day-to-day life, even if that meant having to cut family ties in the pursuit of standing up for freedom and equality. Lyla’s story entices the reader to reconsider racial stereotypes and serves as a reminder that you can’t judge a book by its cover. 

Jen Su, TV & Radio Presenter

I met Lyla in the hallways of the 5FM studio when I was doing my Hollywood Report on Gareth Cliff Mornings. Lyla was an intern for us back in 2013.  We had a lot of interns then, but there was something very special about her from the first time we met. She was always very specific about where she was heading with her career, and had the drive and enthusiasm to match. I selected Lyla out of a long list of people who applied to assist me at events, and invited her to some A-List and red carpet events to get her foot in the door back then. It was certainly no surprise to me when in 2018, I bumped into her as I exited a NYC taxi – she had taken the leap to further her career in the Big Apple. We caught up in the back of a yellow cab on our way to an event I was covering for New York Fashion Week, and it became apparent that Lyla had come into her own and already achieved some of the goals she set out for herself. I knew my job was done!. 

Mark Haze, Musician

Back in 2013, Lyla took me by surprise when she was the first person to upload a cover of one of my songs onto YouTube. This was long before cover videos became a trend – at least in South Africa. Lyla was always looking for loopholes and clever ways to catch the attention of the people she was aspiring to be like or wanted to learn from. I wasn’t surprised when she ventured into radio and made use of her new connections to advance in music. 

Benjy Mudie, Music Guru

I met Lyla when she was working the Breakfast Show at a leading Johannesburg radio station, Hot 91.9FM. She mentioned that she was a singer-songwriter and could she swing by and play me her demo, I said sure. The songs were pretty angsty but lacked a clear focus stylistically. However they filled with an honesty that I haven’t come across too many times in my long career as a label head. I said to her that she needed to find the balance between telling the story and at the same time crafting a definable musical hook. I played her Alanis Morrisette`s debut album as an example (she had not heard it before). Listening to her more recent songs that she has penned in the US, I am amazed at the extent of her growth, both as a writer and performer. You’ll be hearing a lot from Lyla Illing in the years ahead, I suspect that her best is yet to come.– 

Jen Glantz, Bridesmaid for Hire

Wide eyed and wet behind the ears, I met Lyla – broken dreams in hand - at her lowest low when the Concrete Jungle knocked the wind out of her for the very first time – New York’s rite of passage not many newcomers have the grit to stand tall and stay through. Instead of buying a one-way ticket home, she rolled with the punches and continued the fist-fight with the things that stood between her and her wildest dreams. Rooting for Lyla has been a nail-biting, “yes! – cheering” experience, watching her grow into the real New Yorker that she is today. 

Synopsis

When cancer robs her of her only involved parent, ten-year-old Lyla, is faced with having to choose between living the rest of her teenage years out on the elephant-riddled, dead-end dirt roads of Hluhluwe, or move across the country to live with her ex-special forces, estranged father - in a posh part of Pretoria. Recounting events that were a direct result of being abandoned by her father at fifteen, Lyla reflects on the harsh, dangerous situations that vulnerable, neglected children have to fight through, and which often haunt them as adults.

 

With the bruises her step-mom left on her 15-year-old body fading, she chooses to embrace being parentless. Fueled by her newfound freedom and curiosity of the unknown, she moves around South Africa with a suitcase and her guitar, relying on strangers, bringing music into their homes in exchange for room and board - the only currency she can offer.

 

Changing schools 7 times, she has a surplus of people coming in and out of her life willing to be temporary moms and dads to her – the Spirit of Ubuntu personified.

 

In an attempt to honor the selfless acts of the tribe that raised her, as well as silence her father’s ever-present, discouraging voice in her head, she finds her way from working as a Wimpy waitress to working as a radio producer for some of the country’s most celebrated radio and television personalities – Jeremy Mansfield amongst others. She finds her way from being forbidden to take music as a subject in school, to performing the anthem of her country on a world stage for The Springboks and in celebration of Nelson Mandela's 100th birthday. She finds herself waving Africa goodbye to call Manhattan, New York City her home.

 

At 26, Lyla comes across as seemingly content – almost in love - with the cards life dealt her, but with chapter titles such as “Whatever helps you sleep at night” and “Don’t rock stars die at 27?”, Lyla hints at her fears of possibly meeting a similar fate as so many of her Hollywood-peers and heroes, should she continue down this glitz-and-glamour road she’s been granted access to as an artist.  

 

She faces the world orphaned but is treated as “part of the family” wherever she lays her head. A saving grace. But will the kindness of strangers be enough to fill the void left by her unfortunate childhood?

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