It’s been a while since my last post. I don’t know about you, but after a year in lockdown and worrying about vaccine availability, the last thing on my mind was updating my website.
I do have a little bit of news to share. My fourth novel, Sharp Edges, is now available in Afrikaans from Lapa as Skerwe. I am thrilled with the translation by Zelda Bezuidenhout and even more so with the amazing neon cover by Megan Bird.
What do you guys think?
The English version won the M.E.R. Prize for Best Youth Novel in 2014.
On the subject of Afrikaans books, I have another Afrikaans story (a short story) included in Die Meisie Met Uitroeptekens In Haar Oë & Ander Stories hitting shelves in June this year. The anthology features well-known local authors like Jaco Jacobs, Zelda Bezuidenhout, Refiloe Moahloli, Cliffordene Norton, and Mercy Kannemeyer.
Last but not least, keep an eye open for news about The Girl Who Chased Otters, my new English novel coming out from Modjaji later this year. I’m literally refreshing my Inbox every half an hour for news of the cover.
We can all agree that 2020 was an annus horribilis of note – for many reasons, not least of which was a global pandemic that’s forced most of us to stay home.
The Wild Child and I have been in lockdown since February last year – almost a year. We went out to eat once (never again) and took a safe-as-we-could-manage roadtrip to Jeffrey’s Bay to end the year off, just before the beaches were closed, so even there we had to stay indoors.
I’m sure you’ve discovered by now that lockdown isn’t all pyjama parties and funny Zoom backgrounds. It can be lonely, and boring, and repetitive.
I thought I’d share what I’ve learned over the past year to make the best out of my time at home.
When we entered hard lockdown in March, there was a lot of panic around going to grocery shops. As a result, I stocked up on baking ingredients and started making my own bread, rolls and flatbreads. This quickly led to forays into cinnamon buns, meringues, cakes, brownies and other delicious things. We now know more about the virus and how to stay safe when shopping, but I’ve kept up the practice. I might not be making as much bread, but I love the quiet focus involved in baking. You have to get every measurement exactly right or else the results will flop. Constant vigilance!
And nothing beats starting the day with a slice of chocolate cake and a cup of coffee.
Start a garden
I have a little flower bed in the back yard that was pretty bare when I moved in (I won’t mention the grass). Being a novice gardener, my idea of randomly planting my favourite flowers and plants (hydrangeas, roses, pansies, blueberries, strawberries) was an unmitigated disaster. Everything died. This is because certain plants are best for certain soils and levels of sun exposure and other factors I remain clueless about. After one too many failed attempts, I created dedicated flower boxes for plants that actually live together, and edible plants and herbs that I regularly harvest for meals. As for the flowerbed – I bought several packets of wildflower seeds and tossed them in to see what would happen. The result is a wild mess of beautiful flowers that constantly change and I couldn’t be happier.
My favourite place is my little reading nook in the garden, which is the best spot to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon.
Make an event out of silly things
When you’re at home, there is not much to look forward to and weekends can be quite boring. After countless weekends spent reading, binging reality TV and staring at my phone, I came up with the idea of Theme Days, like Batman Day, Anime Day, The Backyard Putt Putt Date Day, Competitive Gaming Day, the Birds of Prey movie Day, and Agatha Christie Day.
On my birthday we watched all the Batman films, from 1966 onwards. It was the best.
Bonus tip: The Velvet Cake Company delivers, so make sure your special day is complete with a slice of rainbow or carrot cake.
Find an online community
When my latest novel was published early last year, I was pretty disappointed that I couldn’t go on tour to publicise it. Luckily, I remembered the huge book community on Instagram and re-activated my account. I may not have been able to go on an actual book tour, but the #SeaStarSummer Intsa tour was just as fun, and I made a lot of new friends in the process. Plus I have an excuse to take more cat pics.
Get to know your cats
This goes without saying.
Get everything delivered
Even though its safe, the idea of walking into a mall fills me with dread. So for the last year, I’ve been getting everything delivered. I order my groceries through the Checkers Sixty app, my special once-in-a-blue-moon treats from The Velvet Cake Company and Woolworths, my medication from Dischem, must-read books from Google Books and Takealot, and my collectable figurines from Raru.
I have a special designated area at the front door for deliveries and shoes, so the rest of the house remains a “safe” zone. Really, its just an added precaution to make myself feel like I’m doing everything I can. I still wipe down my groceries… it’s all about feeling safe.
Last year I wrote a blog to end off a very difficult year. My father passed away in August and I left a good job to deal with it. It took me a long time to get back to a place where I felt happy and fulfilled, plus I had a new book coming out to look forward to. But as you know, 2020 happened and with it came an avalanche of disasters: a global pandemic, lockdown, cancelled book launches and tours, all culminating in the death of my mother, a year after my father.
It was a nightmare year. And yet somehow, I survived. You’re probably thinking that the year isn’t over yet, and it’s true that Cape Town is seeing a resurgence of COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions. We’ve learned to live cautiously – avoiding crowded places, ordering in our groceries, wearing a mask when we do venture outside, and always, always washing our hands. And of course, staying home as much as possible.
I’m not going to lie, being home has helped me tremendously. Life doesn’t feel like it’s racing ahead at lightning speed. It’s quiet and peaceful, and long days in front of the computer are interspersed with comforting coffee breaks in the garden. I have more time to read and write, without compromising a second of my work day. And without the daily joyless commute, I can get enough sleep and think and reflect. And clean the house.
This bubble of solitude did come at a price. I couldn’t go out and market my new book as I normally would have, and almost all launches and festivals were cancelled out of safety. Yet despite this, there were some sales, which I’m very grateful for. I’m also grateful for the time to grieve for my mother, which like the dreaded second wave, hasn’t hit properly yet.
I saw the cover of a secret project I’m sworn not to talk about
I have another book coming out next year and a few short stories for kids
The old family cat Hannibal came to live with us
We started growing our own food
I learned how to bake bread! See below.
It seemed like only a few weeks ago that I was laying out my resolutions and hopes for the coming year. I think it’s better to not do that yet, and let whatever is meant to happen do it’s thing. As I said, the year isn’t over it.
The future may look a little foggy right now, but there are some rays of light visible. I’m writing again, and loving it. And the garden is looking beautiful. But most importantly, I’ve learned to find joy where I can, and enjoy the moment. Pretty much like Hannibal does.
What’s keeping the smile on your face in these uncertain times?
It’s been an insane year, most of it spent under strict lockdown conditions. Local businesses took a huge knock with many small enterprises only managing to hold on.
The local book industry was one of the many sectors hit. If you look past the bigger publishing houses and chain bookstores you’ll see a wide network of independent bookshops, small publishers, authors, freelance designers, editors and proofreaders, and bright young people just starting out their career.
It’s a sector characterised by passionate, creative, and visionary people who devote their lives to promoting local literature and artists.
So now that restrictions have been lifted and everyone is readying for a safe and sunny festive season, please consider spending your spare Rands and cents (if you can) on helping the small businesses who keep the industry alive.
Here are a couple of ways you can help.
Support a Small Publisher
South Africa is pulsing with small presses doing exciting things. What makes these businesses even more special is that they are run by some truly amazing people who really care about growing South African talent.
Here are a few, off the top of my head. Let me know if I missed anyone.
The local book industry has its fair share of heroes doing amazing work.
Book Dash pulls together some of the country’s brightest creative talent to produce stunning illustrated children’s books. You can download every single book for free, but you can also purchase them at selected outlets. Donate to this incredible project here.
Short Story Day Africa is an organisation dedicated to promoting African fiction. Every year the project runs a short story competition that results in an award-winning anthology of stories by writers from across the continent. Many have gone on to achieve great acclaim. You can help SSDA continue their great work by donating here.
Buy a Book by a Local Author
For South African writers, it was a terrible year to release a book. For safety reasons all events, launches and tours were cancelled, and all promotion had to take place online. Getting the word out is crucial for sales, and providing a much-needed income to everyone involved.
Here is a small selection of some local titles published this year that I’m looking forward to reading (including a sneaky plug of my own book. Shhh.)
Again, this is not an exhaustive list. You can also visit your local bookstore for their favourite recommendations.
Fiction A Family Affair – Sue Nyathi An engrossing look at a family with their fair share of secrets.
Paradise in Gaza – Niq Mhlongo A city man returns to his village for what he hopes is a short visit… until his son disappears.
Critical but Stable – Angela Makholwa An elite club full of rich, glitzy couples – all with their own secrets and motives.
The Fall – Jen Thorpe A diverse cast of characters, high stakes, an alternative Cape Town and the very future at stake.
The Gospel According to Wanda B. Lazarus – Lynn Joffe What if … the Wandering Jew … was a woman? This book comes recommended by Stephen Fry!
Mermaid Fillet – Mia Arderne Magical realism meets crime noir in this colorfully re-imagined Cape Town. I can’t wait to read this one.
Charlotte – Helen Moffett (I LOVED this one. Read my review here.) A look at what happened to Charlotte Lucas after she married Mr. Collins.
Non-fiction Death and the After Parties – Joanne Hichens A memoir about grief and friendship, by one of South Africa’s most loved crime writers.
Young adult Brandejaer – Joha van Dyke A young surfer with secrets, a girl who wants to unravel them.
Wêreld van wolwe 1 – Fanie Viljoen Book one in a new fantasy series set in a small town where werewolves are real.
Sea Star Summer – Sally Partridge A holiday love story set in one of South Africa’s most beautiful beach destinations.
If you’re still reading, thanks for your time. I hope you’ll consider a local gift this year. You’re sure to end up on Santa’s Nice List if you do, and even if you’ve outgrown the jolly old man, you’re definitely putting a smile on someone’s face.
One thing that’s become apparent to me on social media is that lockdown has affected us all differently, especially our sleeping and reading habits. I’ve been home for more than half a year now and I’ve only just started enjoying reading books again. In the first few months, all I wanted to do was watch Netflix and read graphic novels. I must have read hundreds of them (my poor credit card will vouch for that.) I think it was the nagging anxiety caused by the spreading virus – I didn’t want my attention drawn away for too long.
I have finally found my reading groove again, which I’m sure my new friends on Instagram were partly responsible for.
So here is a roundup of some of my lockdown reads so far.
Sea Star Summer has been out in the world for five months. It had a bit of a delayed start due to the pandemic. Books weren’t able to leave the warehouse before lockdown, and review copies were locked away in an office while everyone worked from home. But we got them out in the end, and books soon made their way to readers.
Here is a roundup of all the reviews and press coverage I could find so far.
So this morning I found out that The Outcast Hours, edited by Mahvesh Murad & Jared Shurin, is up for a World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology.
The brilliant collection was published by Solaris last year and features stories by authors from across the globe, including myself and fellow South Africans S.L. Grey, Lauren Beukes, Dale Halvorsen, and Sam Beckbessinger.