How exciting for an otherwise dull Monday. As soon as I saw the email I shouted a little ‘woohoo’ for myself.
This is the cover for my upcoming novel The Girl Who Chased Otters, which is being published by Modjaji and will hopefully hit shelves in September. It was illustrated by artist Carla Kreuser. The cover scene features characters Nathan and Olivia hanging out at Kirstenbosch Gardens – one of my most favourite places on earth. I love how it fits in with the Modjaji style – soulful and dreamlike, and distinctly local in flavour.
Here’s a closer look at the front and back. I adore the flamingoes on the back. Anyone who drives past the Liesbeek River will be familiar with them.
Here’s the rundown on the book itself:
A keen observer of human behaviour, Nathan has never cared about fitting in, but when Olivia asks for his help becoming popular, he can’t refuse. But as she is swept into a world of gossip and bullying, they must both question what they really want. A story about friendship and falling in love.
The Girl Who Chased Otters was previously published in Germany under Zwei Herzen Im Goldfishglas.
It’s been a wild recent few weeks…. months. I’ve been mad busy with work, upcoming projects, other projects, life… But it hasn’t just been all work, work, work. In between the craziness I’ve attended a few digital events.
Recently, I had the best time discussing my novel Skerwe with the ladies from Boekemakranka and author Zelda Bezuidenhout. It was my first time meeting Zelda, who translated the novel into Afrikaans. We got on so well we might be cooking up something special soon. (Watch this space!)
If you missed the chat, you can catch up by watching the live recording on YouTube. My personal highlight is when Zelda does a short reading from the book.
This weekend I will be taking part in the inaugural SA Festival of Children’s Literature. The whole festival is taking place digitally and is 100% free! Please join me for my 12:30 session on Sunday if you can.
Stay tuned for more news and upcoming events. I promise to blog more often.
I’m not quite sure how many days it’s been. Many. More than a year for sure. The country isn’t under strict lockdown anymore, but with so many falling ill and vaccines still a way away, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
My partner and I both work from home. We’re very lucky – many can’t. My team are amazing, and we get along great (a rarity in offices let me tell you). We chat and laugh and send each other GIFs to keep the morale up. When you’re busy it’s easy to forget that you’re stuck at home. After work there’s cooking and chores, followed by Netflix or Minecraft. Now that winter is settling in, I think reading in bed is in order. I want to order all the Grisha books after binging Shadow and Bone on Netflix. I loved, loved, loved it. The alternating storylines weaved together expertly, and the characterisation and dialogue were just superb!
But back to lockdown. We don’t go out much. Well, he sometimes goes to the shops or runs errands. I’ve had a few doctor’s appointments and a very spontaneous tattoo booking (a sudden madness). We’ve eaten at outdoor restaurants twice and scoffed hot fish and chips in the car a few times, just to see the ocean. Mostly, we’ve stayed at home. We celebrated three birthdays indoors and will probably celebrate a fourth too. We even had a cat party to celebrate one year with our foster cat.
A highlight: the camphor forest picnic at Vergelegen. We had a little isolated table in the middle of the historic camphor forest, with no one else around. It was absolute bliss to be in nature, and have the opportunity to tear our masks off and just enjoy a glorious meal in safety. The farm is beautiful and surprising – one minute you’re admiring ancient oak trees and the next you’re walking through a huge forest of sunflowers.
Lowlights: Nightmare-inducing trips to Karl Bremer and Tygerberg Hospitals. (If you ever need a reason to stay home, its the huge pressure these hospitals are under.)
I’ve been writing, albeit slowly and sporadically. Lockdown has been hard on me creatively. I have the blessing of all this extra time, but my brain can’t quite shift from OMG-what-is-happening-we’re-all-going-to-die mode. Still, I am using the time to think about writing, specifically how I can push my stories further to achieve that delicious, all-encompassing quality great books have (like The Wren Hunt by Mary Watson). My lounge is strewn with notebooks full of ideas. I am determined to finish the two books I’m juggling this year, and I have high hopes for them both.
Emotionally, it’s been up and down. I spoke to one of my dad’s cousins, who is a psychoanalyst, about my complicated grief dreams, and how I’ve been feeling. After our first session I was able to spend eight straight hours writing. My dad’s cousins have been wonderful. When my parents were alive, we didn’t really see or reach out to the rest of the family often, and it’s been nice to speak to them again. I also discovered some more about my family’s heritage, this time about my great-great grandmother, who was mixed race. I had no idea. It’s been wonderful to gain something about my family after all the tragedy and I’m hungry to learn more. There is a rich history there of migrants sailing the seas in search of a better life (my great grandfather’s ancestors fled Ireland), and we suspect in the case of my great-great grandmother, ancestors forcibly taken from their own countries to work in the Cape.
When I was young my father used to tell my bedtime stories about “Super Leonard”, and all the adventures he had, both on land and at sea. How wonderful would it be to be able to tell the story of my own ancestors one day? Or write the love story of how my great grandparents met in the Cape. I want to discover as much as I can. Dust off their stories. This excitement I feel makes me hopeful for a future beyond the pandemic. I have plans and dreams, and projects and books I want to complete.
Right now, the world seems incomprehensible. Vaccine hoarding, a rise in the alt-right, violence, violence and more violence. I refuse to let these forces crush my hopes. I want to unearth the stories of the people no one thought mattered, and remember and celebrate them, even if it’s only for me. Because people matter. You matter. I matter. My parents mattered. Their parents mattered. All the 54,735 South Africans who passed away from Covid mattered. We should never forget that.
If you are reading this, please, please don’t take chances with other people’s lives. When we were at Vergelegen, a man in a group shouted “Why are you all wearing your masks outside, take them off, go on.” I can’t forget his voice, and how forceful it was. One boozy day in the Winelands is not worth closing the book on someone’s story before it’s even finished.
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.
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.