Prisoner's life of pain becomes swift bestseller

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Jaycee Dugard, the California woman who spent 18 years as a prisoner in the back garden of a sex offender until she was found in 2009, has described her astonishing ordeal in a memoir which has moved to the top of the Amazon bestseller list even before its release in bookshops today.

Television viewers in the US also got a glimpse of the horror that Ms Dugard lived through, in an exclusive interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News on Sunday night. Now 31, she calmly described each gruesome milestone, including the moment she was seized by her tormentors, Phillip and Nancy Garrido, and the day she went into labour with the first of two girls conceived in captivity.

"I would live in my own world," Ms Dugard said, recalling that for a while her only friend was a spider she called Bianca. "Physical abuse was all I knew." That included being sexually violated repeatedly by Garrido, who would take methamphetamines before forcing himself on her for extended sessions of assault. When they were over he would beg her forgiveness.

The first time she became pregnant, Dugard was 14 and had no concept of what it meant. When contractions began she was alone and did not know she was in labour and about to give birth. The Garridos eventually came with painkillers for her. Philip Garrido inserted a hand into her to untangle the umbilical chord when the baby would not come out, a procedure he had seen on a TV show.

Describing the moment of birth brought Ms Dugard closest to tears in the ABC interview. "She was beautiful. I felt like I wasn't alone any more," she said haltingly. "[I] had somebody else who was mine ... and I know I could never let anything happen to her. I didn't know how I was going to do that, but I did."

Ms Dugard was walking to get her school bus on a country road in 1991 when a car pulled up. The Garridos disabled her with a stun gun and grabbed her. "It was like the most horrible moment of your life times 10," she recalled.

Phillip Garrido had been convicted as a sexual predator in the 1970s and was supposed to be on probation and under state supervision. After Ms Dugard was freed almost two decades after being taken, her family sued the state for failing properly to monitor him. It won $20m in compensation. Garrido was sent to prison in June for 431 years. His wife received a life term.

A literary agent insisted that there was no ghost-writer to help with the memoir, A Stolen Life. Ms Dugard said writing had helped her confront what happened to her and get past it. "Why not look at it?" she said. "You know, stare it down until it can't scare you any more."