Acclaimed author, academic – he holds a doctorate in English literature from Wits – and specialist in the post-religious apocalyptic fiction of Douglas Copeland, Louis Greenberg, has a new novel in the making.
Greenberg recently blogged that he’s putting the finishing touches on his post-cyber noir novel, Green Valley. Exploring themes of truth and falseness, questioning who we can and can’t trust, and asking what we’re willing to risk for those we love, Green Valley is being marketed as “True Detective meets Black Mirror”.
As intrigued as we are? Read the first two paragraphs of the synopsis here:
The world has turned against digital technology in a neo-Luddite revolution. At its height, over eighty per cent of people in Stanton wore The I – to bank, to work, to shop, to ride. But for eight years, what’s left of Zeroth Corporation, The I’s developer, has been holed up in Green Valley, an enclave sealed in a concrete bunker from the rest of the world.
When Lucie Sterling gets a call from her ex-husband David in Green Valley, her complacent lifestyle in Stanton is shattered. She hasn’t told her partner Fabian Tadic, a high-power anti-technology campaigner, that she has a nine-year-old daughter – she let David take Kira into Green Valley and close themselves behind the wall and they faded into her past – but now David’s telling her that Kira is missing. Over the years there’s been a trickle of invisible kids through the Stanton morgue, Green Valley children who occasionally turn up dead outside the enclave, and who officially don’t exist to Stanton law enforcement. For Lucie, the invisible kids have suddenly become personal.
Africa Day, formerly known as African Freedom Day and African Liberation Day, is celebrated on the 25th of May in commemoration of the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity on May 25, 1963. In celebration of this significant day we perused Twitter to see what books our fellow local bibliophiles are reading, recommending, and retweeting.
Nigerian author Jowhor Ile has been announced as the winner of the 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature for his novel And After Many Days.
The Etisalat Prize is the first ever pan-African prize celebrating first time writers of published fiction books.
Award-winning novelist and poet, Helon Habila, served as the chair of the judging panel for the 2016 Etisalat Prize for Fiction and declared And After Many Days as a novel which met the required standards of originality, creative excellence and African sensibility, in keeping with the objective of the Etisalat Prize – to promote literary excellence in Africa.
Watch this space for news on the best thriller and crime fiction authors Africa has to offer.
BooksLIVE will be publishing pieces on local sunshine noir authors on a monthly basis, as featured in International Thrillers Writers’ “Africa Scene”. “Africa Scene” is the brainchild of South African thriller writer par excellence, Mike Nicol, and is available on the e-magazine, Big Thrill.
Nicol initiated Africa Scene with a monthly “Newsletter from South Africa” covering local crime fiction and thrillers; author Michael Sears – who makes part of the duo Michael Stanley (with Stanley Trollip) renown for their Detective Kubu-series – took over from Nicol and broadened it to “Africa Scene”. Sears included pieces about African authors writing in other countries.
“The idea is really to showcase the excellent writers in the genre that we have here and generate more interest in Africa’s “sunshine noir” overseas,” says Sears of this new collaboration.
Intrigued? Read an excerpt from Sears’s recent interview with Nicol on his Barry Ronge Fiction Prize-longlisted Agents of the State which appeared in the Africa Scene-section of The Big Thrill:
Deon Meyer has said of Mike Nicol that his style is “by far the best in South Africa” and that he creates “deliciously complex characters.” The Pretoria News said of his previous book, Power Play, that it “proved once again that Nicol is a master of the genre.”
So when Nicol comes out with a new thriller, it’s always an event on the South African book scene. And his books are also enthusiastically received internationally, with Power Play making the Krimizeit top 10 in Germany, and being short listed for major thriller awards in Holland and France. If you like sunshine noir and haven’t read Nicol, you’re missing out.
In his latest book, Agents of the State, we meet again the lead characters in Of Cops & Robbers. There we wondered if the police and the crooks were actually on different sides. In the new book, we wonder if the agents of the state are the good guys or the bad guys. The answer is probably maybe. Nicol never has simplistic dividing lines.
Agents of the State is set in a dystopian South Africa with a “president for life” and all the trappings of the classic corrupt African dictatorship. Did you feel this extrapolation was needed to justify aspects of the story, or do you see South Africa as de facto there already?
I have to admit I’d never really thought of the background to Agents of the State as dystopian, especially if by that you mean repressive and unpleasant. Certainly, the book is set in a politically troubled time when the president is out of touch and paranoid, but for the rest, society is still a going concern: the hospitals function, the restaurants and shops are open, there are people in the streets, planes are landing at and taking off from the airports, kids are at school, there are sunbathers on the beaches, people meeting in the grand hotels for cocktails, the cellphone networks and the internet are up and running. However, there are some severely compromised government institutions, state security being one of those. But that this chaotic shadow world exists in parallel with the ordinary world seems to me a condition that has been present in most societies for centuries.
Indeed, the president fits the mold of the corrupt African dictator, which was a necessary condition of the story. As to whether South Africa is there already: no, I don’t think so. But that is not to say that we aren’t lurching about on the edge of totalitarianism what with the Secrecy Bill and the Hate Speech Bill, the rampant racism, let alone the audacious attempts by the president et al to “capture” various organs of state.
For some years now I’ve felt that the state – certainly what is referred to as the deep state, that combination of the intelligence services, the police, politicians, and organized crime – is where I should locate my crime fiction. It is where the most serious crime is being committed in this country. If the social aspect of crime fiction is about presenting society in extremis, then it seems to me that the espionage novel offers an opportunity to explore the underlying tensions in South Africa now. And there is a strong tradition in South African literature of opposition to and critique of the exigencies of our governments and leaders, again a territory ideally suited to the espionage novel.
Continue reading their interview here.
With names like Paige Nick, Leye Adenle, and Paul Mendelson to look forward to we expect each and every local thriller fan to shiver with antici…pation.
‘Til the 23rd of June!
Published in the Sunday Times
Spy: Uncovering Craig Williamson (Jacana Media)
I turned onto Jan Smuts Avenue. I was a few minutes away from Hyde Park Corner, where I had arranged to meet Craig Williamson – the apartheid spy turned parcel-bomb assassin who is now a doting grandfather living a consequence-free life in the northern suburbs of the city. Oh, and he’s also the central character in my book.
A week earlier I had mustered every ounce of courage to contact him to set up this meeting. I had devoted three years to studying his life; I had a cupboard full of documents, classified reports, court transcripts, newspaper clippings, and interviews with people he had betrayed. I had even dreamt about him. For three years Williamson had occupied my consciousness and haunted my unconsciousness. Up until that call, though, he had no idea I existed. I had put off contacting him, but the deadline for the book was approaching and meeting him was the final surge in this three-year marathon.
And now I was going to meet him face to face. Williamson had infiltrated the National Union of South African Students (Nusas) and betrayed his ‘friends’ and then lived a double life in Switzerland, trying to penetrate the ANC. He was eventually unmasked after almost a decade undercover, and returned to South Africa where he was instrumental in the murders of Ruth First, Jeanette Schoon and Jeanette’s six-year-old daughter, Katryn.
A few months before my meeting with Williamson I had interviewed Paula Ensor, Jeanette’s best friend. Paula told me how the two friends thought they would grow old together and she showed me photographs of Katryn – an angelic little girl with golden curls. Fritz Schoon was also at home when the bomb detonated. Fritz, who was two-and-a-half, witnessed the murders of his mother and sister.
I wanted to try to understand what had motivated Williamson. I wanted to look him in the eye and see if he had any remorse. As I waited for him I recalled the first interview I had conducted for the book. The person, a former Nusas leader, wasn’t convinced that the book was a good idea. His concern was that Williamson enjoyed publicity, and it would be better to ignore him. I had wrestled with Williamson — metaphorically — ever since.
I didn’t want this book to glorify him and romanticise the cloak-and-dagger world of spying. I wanted it to shed light on a slice of history that seems to have been forgotten. One of the aims of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was to allow perpetrators amnesty in exchange for acknowledging what they had done and divulging details of their crimes. However, many of the perpetrators gave just enough information to get amnesty.
We often talk about “the legacy of apartheid”, but the legacy of apartheid is ultimately a legacy of people; people who perpetrated evil. People like Williamson.
If we ignore Williamson, we are absolving him of responsibility.
I wanted to fill in those TRC gaps and remind the world about Williamson’s activities – so that he doesn’t continue to live a consequence-free life. That, I hoped, would provide a small measure of justice for Ruth First and Jeanette and Katryn Schoon.
I looked up, my heart still pounding in my chest, and saw Williamson walking towards me… I took a deep breath. It was time to look him in his eye.
Follow Jonathan Ancer @jonathanancer
Published in the Sunday Times
Yewande Omotoso discusses her book The Woman Next Door shortlisted for the 2017 Sunday Times Literary Awards. Plus an extract.
The Woman Next Door
Yewande Omotoso (Chatto & Windus/PRH)
I started thinking about The Woman Next Door in 2012. My grandfather passed away and I travelled with my family to Barbados for the funeral. My grandmother and I shared a bed. I remember spending time with her and thinking of her and my granddad, thinking of what it might be like to have lived with someone for over 60 years and then suddenly they aren’t there. This was the catalyst, although the final story has almost nothing to do with my grandparents. Instead it became a meditation on what it is to be old – from the start I knew my characters would be octogenarians – and to have more life behind you than you have ahead. I kept pulling at this thread and my characters began to emerge. Not only had they lived long but I realised they were people who were unfulfilled. This lack of satisfaction was further confounded by their considerable wealth and career successes.
With characters, there are a few things that arrive whole and clear in the imagination and endure through the process of writing, there are other things that are present but get pruned and still there is much that one must mine for. I first envisaged Hortensia and initially I paid attention to the failed love story. I knew there would be infidelity but I imagined her as someone who, instead of leaving, had stayed and grown harder. I saw her trailing her husband and his lover, watching them have sex, I saw her 80-something-year-old self as callous but for a valid reason – she is broken-hearted. Hortensia begged for a combatant and so Marion arrived. Through her I was interested in looking at what it is like to have lived through apartheid as a white South African and have done nothing – not even in the privacy of your own thoughts – to resist it. This is Marion.
Cape Town was always the site. A precious corner of Constantia that I would invent. This provided the opportunity to, however subtly, consider the violence in Cape Town’s history which, I feel, is mostly sanitised. So I wanted to have a very quiet sense of horror about this perfect place.
My intent was to conduct an experiment into our own humanity borne through an understanding that we couldn’t come to grips with ourselves without spending considerable time in the mire, without upsetting one another, without looking at the things we’d rather ignore. I’ve had a chance to engage with a few readers who have commented that they found the protagonists “unlikeable”. Apart from my aversion to that way of categorising people (in books and in life) I instead have a different relationship to Hortensia and Marion. I feel cautioned by their hard lessons and heartened by the minuscule steps they take to move even just an inch from the rigid positions they’ve held onto – like rafts – all their lives. In them I see myself as well as the possibility, even with no sensible map, of hope.
Follow Yewande Omotoso @yomotoso
Once a month a Katterijn Committee meeting was held. As far as Hortensia understood it, the committee had been started by a woman named Marion Agostino who also happened to be her neighbour, a nasty woman who Hortensia did not like. But then again Hortensia did not like most people. She had stumbled upon the meetings by accident, soon after she arrived in Katterijn. No one had thought to mention that by rights as an owner she was entitled to while away time with the other committee members. The information was let slip. At the time Hortensia had felt that the initial omission was not forgetfulness but deliberate, and it was easy enough to assume that the slight was based on skin colour. Armed with the knowledge, Hortensia had taken the short trip to Marion’s and pressed the buzzer on her intercom.
‘It’s Hortensia James from next door.’
She had not been offended by the absence of any show of welcome from her neighbour or the other residents. They had not come to Katterijn to make friends, something both she and Peter had managed without for the bulk of their lives.
‘Wait, I’ll call my madam,’ a disembodied voice said.
Hortensia leaned her shoulder against the wall.
‘Hello?’ That must be Marion.
‘It’s Hortensia. From next door.’
This was the moment when Hortensia understood she would not be invited in. The slight annoyed her briefly, but she waved it away as unimportant.
‘I’ll be attending the meetings.’ It mustn’t sound like she was asking permission. ‘The committee meetings.’
‘Hmmm, I hadn’t realised you were owners.’
Hortensia still listening at the buzzer like a beggar. ‘Yes, well we are.’
‘Oh, well I was confused. And…’ Hortensia could almost hear Marion
searching for another gear. ‘…is that gentleman your husband?’ She wasn’t asking so much as scolding.
‘Who, Peter? Yes.’ Again this hadn’t surprised Hortensia. She’d fallen in love with a white man in 1950’s London. They had been asked on many occasions to verify their courtship, to affirm that they were attached, to validate their love. Within a year of being together they were practiced at it. ‘Yes, Peter is my husband.’
In the silence Hortensia supposed Marion was thinking, inching towards her next move, preparing another strike, but instead she heard a sigh and almost missed the details of the upcoming meeting. Marion even threw in a dress code as a parting gift.
‘We dress for our meetings, Mrs. James. We follow rigorous decorum.’ As if she thought dignity was something Hortensia required schooling in.
The meetings seemed to have been created for the purpose of policing the neighbourhood; keeping an eye out “for elements”, the community librarian had explained to Hortensia. Foolishness she’d thought, and soon been vindicated after attending a few sessions. The meetings were a show of a significance that did not exist. Old women, with their wigs, their painted nails, their lipsticks seeping down whistle lines; scared and old rich white women pretending, in the larger scheme of life, that they were important. Hortensia attended because the women were amusing, nattering on in earnest about matters that didn’t matter. She enjoyed to think she was laughing at them. But really it passed the time, took her mind off whatever else there was.
There were times, however, when the meetings moved from amusing to offensive. Once, a black couple moved into Katterijn, renting a duplex not on the Avenue but off one of the minor roads. They had two children. A neighbour, an old man, green at the gills and one-toothed, complained that the children ought not to bother his postbox. The matter was raised in committee. He claimed that the children were assaulting his postbox, messing with it. How did he know this, had he seen it. No, he had smelt it when he climbed down his stoep to collect the mail. He knew the smell of brown children. Could this botheration come to an end, he pleaded. Hortensia had cursed him, walked out of that meeting. And as if the Heavens had heard the man’s plea, the botheration came to an end – he died.
Published in the Sunday Times
Christa Kuljian discusses her Alan Paton Award shortlisted book Darwin’s Hunch: Science, Race and the Search for Human Origins, the impact colonialism had on studying human evolution, the latest developments in science and the controversy surrounding the Out of Africa theory.
Why this book, and why now?
In the early 1980s, I studied the history of science at Harvard with palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould. It was then that I learned how science is shaped by its social and political context and how racism affected the work of certain scientists in the past. Building on these interests and given South Africa’s role in human origins research over the past century, I put together a book proposal in 2013 that asked questions such as: What impact did colonialism have on the views of scientists studying human evolution? What influence did apartheid have on the search? How have the changing scientific views about race, and racism, affected the efforts to understand human evolution? As I began my research, I saw that the stories I was unearthing were of relevance to all of us today.
Can you describe your process of research?
In addition to reading books, journal articles, newspaper clippings and online sources, and watching films and videos, I conducted interviews and had personal correspondence with many people in the fields of palaeoanthropology and genetics, here in South Africa and around the world. I made numerous site visits to the Cradle of Humankind and delved into the archives at Wits University, UCT, in Pretoria and in the U.S. My research and writing continued for three years.
Why did scientists reject Darwin’s theory that humans evolved in Africa?
When Darwin wrote about this theory in 1871, European scientists had just begun the search for ancient fossils in an effort to understand human evolution. They had found Neanderthal fossils in Germany in 1856 and later in Belgium, France and Croatia. Many European scientists saw Europeans as “civilised” and perceived societies outside of Europe as less evolved. The concepts of a hierarchy of race, and white superiority were at play. These assumptions affected where they focused the search. While some explorers started in England, and others headed to Asia, none of them were looking in Africa.
The book shows that science is often shaped by the social and political context of the time. How has it shaped the search for human origins in South Africa?
This is really, at its core, what the book is about. Part One explores the ways in which colonial thinking affected scientists in the late 1800s through to the 1930s. What influenced Robert Broom? What decisions and choices did Raymond Dart make at the time? Part Two reveals some of the ways in which the impact of World War II and the imposition of apartheid shaped thinking in the 1940s through to the 1980s and introduces Dart’s successor, Phillip Tobias. Part Three follows scientists who have been influenced by some of the social and political changes underway in South Africa in the 1990s up to the present.
Raymond Dart believed that humans are naturally violent, but the thinking around this has changed, hasn’t it?
This is one example of how new research and a changing social context can result in completely different scientific conclusions and a very different public response. Dart believed, based on his research, that the bones he saw represented weapons and that human ancestors were naturally violent. The concept of humans as a “killer ape” became hugely popular. However, years later, another South African scientist, Bob Brain conducted similar research and concluded that the bones he saw were not weapons but that they remained because they were dense and hard to chew.
What was the most disturbing thing you uncovered in your research?
The most disturbing result of my research was finding out about the life and death of a woman named /Keri-/Keri who lived with her family in the Kalahari in the 1920s and 30s. Raymond Dart led a Wits expedition to the Kalahari in 1936 and met /Keri-/Keri as part of his research to understand the “Bushman” anatomy which he believed would provide him with a clue toward understanding human evolution. He referred to them as “living fossils.” Even before /Keri-/Keri passed away in 1939, Dart arranged for her skeleton to be brought to Wits to become part of the Raymond Dart Human Skeleton Collection. I tried to find out more about /Keri-/Keri and her family, her life and death. The entire painful story conveyed that Dart, and other scientists at the time, treated human beings as specimens. For 50 years, while /Keri-/Keri’s family and community were decimated and dispersed, /Keri-/Keri’s skeleton remained on a shelf in the human skeleton collection. In the late 1980s or early 90s, her skeleton went missing. It is not clear if it was stolen, or misplaced. For over six decades, at the Department of Anatomy at Wits Medical School, /Keri-/Keri’s body cast stood on display.
What were your biggest challenges in writing the book?
One major challenge was the absence of information in the archives. There are a number of people that I read about – Saul Sithole, Daniel Mosehle and George Moenda for example – who were technicians working in the field of palaeoanthropology in South Africa who were largely unacknowledged for their contributions, and never had the opportunity to study formally in the sciences. I wanted to share with the reader about their lives and their perspectives on the science of human origins. However, in most cases, I found dead ends and very little documentation. This is part of the process of how stories are told often from the perspective of people with power, and I found this frustrating.
What are the latest developments in this field of science?
Scientific knowledge is changing and growing so quickly, and advances are being made in so many inter-related scientific fields, it is difficult to keep pace with new information. The ability to extract DNA from ancient bones, for example, is one new area of science that is having an impact on the field of human origins, which brings together the work of archaeologists, palaeoanthropologists and geneticists. Many fossil finds in the last decade from around the world and right here in South Africa, with the Homo naledi find in September 2015 and last week’s announcement regarding further finds in the Cradle of Humankind, raise new questions about our past.
Zwelinzima Vavi and ANC MP Mathole Motshekga accused Professor Lee Berger of suggesting that black people were descended from baboons. What was your response to the controversy?
Many South Africans question the concept of human evolution. I believe that Vavi’s comment came from the impact of South Africa’s colonial and racist past. Vavi said that over many generations, the racist insult comparing black people to baboons has resulted in people questioning the validity of science. “It’s in insults like this that make some of us to question the whole thing,” said Vavi.
One possible factor that could have contributed to the controversy was the artistic reconstruction of what Homo naledi might have looked like. Created by palaeo-artist John Gurche, the image was presented as part of the announcement in September 2015 and flooded the media. In some cases, the image was used in social media alongside insults to black people so many people found it offensive.
All living humans are members of the same species Homo sapiens. The Out of Africa theory, and the genetic evidence that underpins it, shows that all seven billion people on earth have common origins in Africa, from as recently as 100,000 years ago. There are always dangers in terms of how information can be used and abused. But in conducting research about human evolution, there is the potential to draw lessons from our past, and develop a new vision for the future that recognises the dignity of all human beings.
The second day of the annual Franschhoek Literary Festival’s programme featured topics as diverse as implications of media censorship, the responsibilities of opinion pieces, cultural appropriation, the Karoo as literary muse and questions regarding feminism and who ‘owns’ it.
After the mandatory drink or two – besides the perennially favourite mahala glass of Porcupine Ridge Wine – at the Elephant and Barrel, festival-goers and authors alike bid FLF 2017 goodbye.
Check out #flf2017 for more!
From great discussions about identity politics to the psyche of apartheid spies; speculative fiction and Holocaust denialism; women who write crime fiction and debates about whether writers are made or born -the first day of the annual Franschhoek Literary Festival provided enough stimulating conversation to exercise festival goers’ brain muscles, and festival-sponsor Porcupine Ridge supplied enough wine to keep them hydrated.
Hotter than expected, veteran FLF’ers were often heard remarking that “it ALWAYS rains during Franschhoek,” yet the pleasant weather made for an excellent excuse to enjoy a glass of in vino veritas.
To whet your appetite for whatever Saturday might bring, here are a few tweets of the vet pret first day of Franschhoek Literary Festival:
Author Barbara Erasmus is currently attempting to publish her fifth novel Four Letter Words through Kindle Scout.
Erasmus was the founding editor on Mike Nicol’s Crime Beat blog for three years and is the author of Kaleidoscope, Even with Insects, Chameleon and Below Luck Level.
Four Letter Words is a story about the unfairness of infertility – a girl with Turner syndrome struggles to fall pregnant because of her genetic background. It also highlights the Khanya Project which is an initiative in the Western Cape to improve literacy in the foundation phase through the use of technology.
Read an excerpt from Four Letter Words here and visit www.barbaraerasmus.com to help realise the publication thereof.
FOUR LETTER WORDS
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
The class was divided when our teacher read out Larkin’s famous poem for the first time. Half the kids sprang immediately to their parents’ defence. The other half nodded reflectively.
The three of us were among the nodders, even then.
Dead is a four letter word. So is kill.
I didn’t use either in my garbled, panic-stricken description of how my mother died. I’ve always liked four-letter words so I had a handy string of alternatives which spilled out like a waterfall when I told my story.
Dusk. Trip. Drop. Spin. Thud.
I’m haunted by the details. Not that I remember them. It’s more that I can’t forget. It happened so quickly that I’ve probably embellished the train of events. There are too many details in the slow-motion video that plays endlessly in my mind. I pray I’ll find a switch to turn it off but somehow I know that’s not an option. The worst detail is her eyes. They’re huge. Terrified. And her hands – clutching the air, fingers stretching to find a branch that isn’t there. Her legs are flailing. Is that a word? I have an indelible picture of what I think it means.
Splat has more than four letters so I don’t use that in my description. It has too many dimensions. Sound. Sight. The water seems tinged with red but I couldn’t possibly have seen that. It was nearly dark. I wish I couldn’t see the redness. I wish I didn’t somehow know about the pain. I shy away from splat. I didn’t say it when I told them.
I didn’t say push either so no-one arrested me.
The South African police have an unenviable reputation but I can’t fault their treatment. I remember a warm blanket. Endless cups of hot sweet tea. Gentle hands around my shoulders.
No-one passed me any tissues because I wasn’t crying.
Hate is also a four-letter word.