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The winner of the 2014 @City_Press Tafelburg Nonfiction Award is Vashthi Nepaul! #openbook2014 @OpenBookFest

Archive for the ‘Book Excerpts’ Category

Sunday Read: An Excerpt from Raymond E Feist’s Magician’s End in Anticipation of Open Book


Magician's EndAmerican fantasy author Raymond E Feist will be at this year’s Open Book Festival in Cape Town where he will speak to Sarah Lotz on Wednesday, 17 September 2014 about Magician’s End and all that came before.

Magician’s End is the final book in the Riftwar Cycle. Feist’s epic saga has now come full circle, with the black magician Pug/Milamber facing a final and brutal test.

We first met Pug in 1977 as the orphan keep-boy in Magician who became an apprentice to the magician Kulgan. When his home was invaded by the Tsurani warriors of a different dimension, Pug was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Thus began an adventure that would span over 30 years and be captured in 30 books.

Feist is a New York Times and Times of London bestselling author.

The following excerpt is from the first chapter of Magician’s End, where Pug and his son, Magnus, witness the destruction of an ancient race:

* * * * * * * * * * *



Chaos erupted.

A light so brilliant it was painful bathed Pug as he instinctively threw all his magic into the protective shell Magnus had erected around them just a moment before. Only Magnus’s anticipation of the trap had prevented them all from being instantly vaporized. Energy so intense it could hardly be comprehended now destroyed everything at hand, reducing even the most iron-hard granite to its fundamental particles, dispersing them into the fiery vortex forming around them.

The light pierced Pug’s tightly shut eyelids, rendering his vision an angry red-orange, with afterimages of green-blue. His instinct was to shield his face, but he knew the gesture would be useless. He willed himself to keep his hands moving in the pattern necessary to support Magnus’s efforts. Only magic protected them from conditions no mortal could withstand for even the barest tick of time. The very stuff of the universe was being distorted on all sides.

They were in what appeared to be the heart of a sun. In his studies, Pug knew this to be the fifth state of matter, beyond earth, air, water, and fire, called different names by various magicians: among them, flux, plasma, and excited fire. Energy so powerful that it tore the very essentials of all matter down to their very atoms and recombined them, repeating the process until at some point the plasma fell below a threshold of destruction and creation and was able finally to cease its fury.

Years of perfecting his art had gifted him with myriad skills, some talents deployed reflexively without conscious effort. The magic tools he used to assess and evaluate were overloaded with sensations he had never experienced in his very long lifetime. Obviously, whoever had constructed this trap had hoped it would be beyond his ability to withstand. He suspected it was the work of several artisans of magic.

In his mind, Pug heard Miranda asking, Is everyone safe?

Nakor’s voice spoke aloud. “There’s air. We can talk. Magnus, Pug, don’t look. It will blind you. Miranda, we can look.”

“Describe what you see,” Magnus said to the two demons in human form.

Miranda said, “It’s an inferno hotter than anything witnessed in the demon realm. It has destroyed a hundred feet of rock and soil below us and we are afloat in a bubble of energy. Farther out from where we stand, it’s turning sand to glass. A wall of superheated air is expanding outward at incredible speed, and whatever it touches is incinerated in moments. As far as my eye can discern, all is flame, smoke, and ash.”

Less than a minute before, the four of them had been examining a matrix of magic, which was obviously a lock, but had turned out to be a trap.

Ancient beings of energy, the Sven-ga’ri, had been protected in a quiet glade atop a massive building built by a peaceful tribe of the Pantathians, a race of serpent men created by the ancient Dragon Lord, Alma-Lodaka. Unlike their more violent brethren, these beings had been gentle, scholarly, and very much like humans.

Now that peaceful race had been obliterated. It didn’t matter to Pug that they had been created by the mad vanity of a long-dead Dragon Lord as pets and servants: they had evolved into something much finer and he knew he would mourn their loss.

Book details

Image courtesy of Jamie’s Pages

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Fiction Friday: ‘”He Would Tweet His Death” – On the Road to Fame’, a Short Story by Williams Magunga

Ainehi Edoro has shared ‘”He Would Tweet His Death” – On the Road to Fame’, a short story by Williams Magunga, on Brittle Paper.

Edoro says Magunga “writes about Nairobi like no one I know”.

In the story, a young hip-hop artist makes his way to his first radio interview – although his girlfriend is not convinced it’s a worthwhile trip. While traveling to the studio, however, disaster strikes.

Read on:

“He Would Tweet His Death” — On the Road to Fame by Williams Magunga | A Nairobi Story

Sunday is the day God takes the roll call.

On this day of the week, when all creations show off themselves to the Almighty, the sun becomes a sadist. It smiles its blistering heat upon the world as if looking to pick a fight with earthlings.

Man brings out his best garments, bulls dust their hides with their tails, hyenas polish their table manners- they say please and thank you when asking slugs to pass the table salt. Pigs brush their teeth, and flowers open up their petals like a drunk virgin opens her legs on her eighteenth birthday.

This Sunday, Philip walks across Nairobi CBD in a black velvet jacket. This is the jacket he wears once in a while when he wants to make a statement. It has a double slit at the back, two silver buttons, and patches at the elbow. It exudes class and accomplishment.

His girlfriend, Wangeci had told him to take it off. That it is foolish to put on a jacket when the sun baked the universe like that. If she squinted her eyes just right, she could see heat waves floating around the air. She said he was trying too hard to impress.

“But that is the point, Tanya,” he had said. He always called her by her first name every time they were in an argument. In most cases, when they disagreed about anything, they would compromise. This always translated to following Wangeci’s lead. But this time it was different. He wanted to look pristine.

Image courtesy of Matatu Travels

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Fiction Friday: Excerpt from Phaswane Mpe’s Twenty in 20 Short Story “Brooding Clouds”

Twenty in 20nullnull

This week’s Fiction Friday comes from Phaswane Mpe’s short story “Brooding Clouds”, which has been included in Twenty in 20: The Best Short Stories of South Africa’s 20 Years of Democracy, launched at the start of National Book Week.

Mpe’s debut novel, Welcome to Our Hillbrow, was published in 2001, to great critical and commercial success. His life was cut short when he passed away suddenly in 2004, at the age of 34. “Brooding Clouds” is the titular story from his posthumous collection of short stories and poems.

Both books were recently published in the Picador Africa Classics collection.

Brooding Clouds by Phaswane Mpe

It is the beginning of autumn, the season in which the people of Tiragalong, a tiny village not far from Pietersburg, tend to look younger because of the nourishment they get from their abundant harvest. It is autumn, but this year the fields show no signs of life. Mealie plants are grey – grey like ash. Trees have lost their leaves, which turned sickly yellow before their time. Grass is dry already, and there have been several veld fires. The nearest river is so dry, livestock go there only to look at the cracked clay where water used to be. Even the word ‘livestock’ is misleading, for here are merely collections of bones in the shapes of cattle, sheep and goats.

Everything is dry. One does not need the help of a sangoma to predict that, towards the end of the season, when harvest time knocks on the doors of the villagers, there shall be nothing to reap. The rains take some pleasure in not relieving this tiny village. The old men, sitting under the trees whose shades are no match for the scorching sun, complain that the Gods have turned their backs on them.

Makgolo is one of the oldest women in the village. Tonight she is alone in her hut. She sits with her legs stretched out before her. Her eyes stare vacantly at the fireplace. The fire has been out for quite a long time but Makgolo does not notice. She rubs her hands together like a person who is just warming them up a bit.

Tonight she has no children to tell stories to. A dreadful thing happened yesterday. Although children love her stories – she tells the most beautiful stories in the village and its neighbourhood – they shall not come to listen to her any more.

Her stories begin, almost always, like this: ‘Long, long ago, when stones were still soft and edible and trees could walk . . . ’ Who does not want to know what happened in those good old days? Children are fascinated by her stories, stories of witchcraft and ordinary lives, of poverty and abundance, of wars and peace. The children give very little heed to the moral side of her tales.

But Makgolo has no audience tonight. She whiles the time away by drawing patterns in the air with her failing eyes. The thickening darkness in the hut sharpens the bright edges of her mental pictures. She is the solitary watcher of her own art. She has to be alone. Has not the boy Thušo come running in the heat of the afternoon sun to warn her to fly away on her broom? He overheard a group of youngsters who called themselves Comrades talk about Makgolo.

‘She is a witch,’ they said, ‘and can fly on a broom. What is more, she has sent lightning to strike Tshepo.’

Tshepo was a young man of promise, coming from a poor family. His father was killed in Alexandra for reasons unknown to his family and the village. His mother did not even own a fowl. The mother and son lived on lice, as the villagers would say. But her brother who, although not really wealthy, was far better off than herself, assisted in the education of her only son.

Book details

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Sunday Read: Excerpt from Another Great Day at Sea by Geoff Dyer in Anticipation of 2014 Open Book Festival

Another Great Day at SeaGeoff Dyer is one of the exciting international authors coming to the 2014 Open Book Festival happening in Cape Town next month.

His latest book, Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush, is “the definitive work of an author whose books defy definition”. It chronicles Dyer’s experiences on the USS George H.W. Bush as he navigates the routines and protocols of “carrier-world,” from the elaborate choreography of the flight deck through miles of walkways and hatches to kitchens serving meals for a crew of five thousand to the deafening complexity of catapult and arresting gear. Meeting the Captain, the F-18 pilots and the dentists, experiencing everything from a man-overboard alert to the Steel Beach Party, Dyer guides us through the most AIE (acronym intensive environment) imaginable.

Read an excerpt from Another Great Day at Sea:

We were going to be flying to the U.S.S. George H. W. Bush from the Navy base in Bahrain on a Grumman C-2A Greyhound, an ungainly propeller plane. There was nothing sleek or speedy about it. The sky was doing what it always did at this time: waiting for the sun to show up. The temperature was pleasant; a few hours from now it would be infernal. Sixteen passengers, all but two Navy, gathered around the back of the plane to listen to the safety briefing. Our luggage had been weighed and taken away for loading. I had had to hand over my computer bag, because when we landed on the carrier—when the plane touched down and hooked the arresting wire, the “trap”—we would go from a hundred and forty miles per hour to zero in a couple of seconds. The “trap”—the first of many words that I would hear for the first time.

Get to know Dyer with this interview by Matthew Specktor for the Paris Review:


The first thing I’d like—


Excuse me for interrupting, but—at the risk of sounding like some war criminal in the Hague who refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the court in which he’s being tried—I have to object to the parameters of this interview.


On what grounds?


It’s titled “The Art of Nonfiction.” Now I could whine, “What about the fiction?” but that would be to accept a distinction that’s not sustainable. Fiction, nonfiction—the two are bleeding into each other all the time.


You don’t distinguish between them at all?


I don’t think a reasonable assessment of what I’ve been up to in the last however many years is possible if one accepts segregation.

Book details

Image courtesy of Dyer’s website

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Non-Fiction Friday: The Boer Whore by Nico Moolman

The Boer WhoreRead an excerpt from The Boer Whore, by Nico Moolman.

The Boer Whore tells the story of Susan Nell, a teenage rape victim in a British concentration camp during the Anglo-Boer War at the turn of the twentieth century.

Nell became one of the world’s first woman psychiatrists, and then champion of women victims of the so-called Japanese “comfort stations” during World War II.

The Boer Whore has been adapted into an Afrikaans novel by Francois Smith, Kamphoer (Tafelberg), and according to Moolman the film rights have been sold to a very exciting producer.

From the back of the book:

Throughout history men got medals, while women got allocated buckets of tears and bales of wreaths after each war. (Sometimes … only a poppy.)

The old adage, “All is fair in love and war,” could only have been coined by a man that won a battle by waging it outside the rules of the day.

The The Boer Whore, Nico Moolman takes you beyond the obvious and the sublime.

From the terrifying concentration camps on Winburg during the Anglo Boer War – called by the Sotho nation “Balla Bosiu”, where they cry at night – to the killing fields of the Somme and the Verdun during WWI and Death Railway in Thailand during WWII, we follow the trails of a woman scorned. Hence another adage, “Hell hath no fury like that of a woman scorned”.

Likewise a man that forfeited fair play must have written it.

Susan Nell, an inmate of Winburg’s concentration camp, has a bone to pick with those that violated and disgraced her on Hogmanay, that is New Year’s Eve, 1901/1902.

“None so brave as the dead,” has for millenia echoed from within the wild pheasant’s cry, according to Khoisan legend.

Susan Nell proved it to be true …

Read the excerpt:

The Boer Whore Book Excerpt (1/2) by Books LIVE

The Boer Whore Book Excerpt (2/2) by Books LIVE

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Link Love: Jalada, a Pan-African Writers’ Collective (Plus: Excerpt from “The Bobbitt Wars” by Nkatha Obungu)

Jalada Africa, which describes itself as a “pan-African writers’ collective”, has published its second anthology of short fiction, entitled Sext Me: poems and stories.

Jalada Sext Me

The aim of the Jalada collective is to publish literature by African authors on a regular basis, and make it as easy as possible for member to publish their work.

The first Jalada anthology, “Sketch of a Bald Woman in the Semi-Nude and Other Stories” was loosely based around the theme of insanity, and published online in January this year.

Stories in Sext Me include “Coming down” by Akati Khasiani, “Sex Ed for village boys” by Alexander , “The sportsman” by M Neelika Jayawardane, “Prey” by Zak Waweru, “Bound” by Anne Moraa, “Mourning lover” by Dele Meiji, “Rose water” by Kate Hampton, “The first time” by Aisha Ali, “Diaphoresis” by Victoria and “Miss fucking you” by Orem Ochiel.

Read an excerpt from Nkatha Obungu’s contribution to the latest anthology: “The Bobbitt Wars”:

I am wearing a red skirt which he calls “the destroyer.” When I walk into the office, he is sitting on his recliner, staring at the wall with a blank bovine expression on his face. I don’t look at him as I stride past.

He writes me emails which he thinks are anonymous, calls me a whore. My boss has failed to grasp the concept of named e-mail accounts. I think he was one of those boys in primary school whose idea of graffiti was spelling their names with smeared shit on latrine walls. He has a yellow-toothed leer.

My desk is to his left. When my skirt rides up my thighs as I sit, he wolfs down the view in fascinated disgust. I don’t say a thing, and this morning he does not berate me for disrespectfully failing to acknowledge him. I imagine he has extracted his mental prayer beads and is calculating how best to fuck me without losing the dignified carriage of his high-horse. I cross my legs and hear a belatedly suppressed gasp. He swallows and pretends not to look at me.

The first time my boss fondled my breasts, he circled my desk like a crazed vulture, his red-rimmed eyes like laser points aimed at my cleavage. I had been softer then, giggled at his non-jokes, eager to please, eager not to be trouble. Then he had dipped his great big paws into my chest and time had stood still. His fingers—rough cigarette stubs—scraped my nipples, made that sound that waves make when they slap across jagged reefs, and I had the overwhelming sensation that time existed only to drag me across this barren desert of middle-aged men bending over my desk, panting, and groping at me.

The hours drag along. Hope is a winged bird in my breast. He has not said a word to me. He grunts when I hand him typed correspondence. His fingers are poised over his keyboard and with his other hand he is rubbing his temple as though in a trance. I suspect he is in the middle of composing one of his sanctimonious, curse-filled emails to me.

“Get me a cup of tea,” he orders. I stand up slowly. I walk to the tea trolley at the corner of the room. There is a loud echo as my flats hit the linoleum floor. The room is a prison. Breathe in, breathe out. I pour milk over tea bags, scoop sugar into cup. All I can hear are the little noises his throat makes when words are choking him. I hand him the obnoxious tiny teacup which his wife brought to the office to mark her territory. He grins.

It begins. He places a claw on my thigh and I cannot walk away, trapped in an impossible zugzwang. The sun dips into angry clouds.

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Sunday Read: An Extract from David Mitchell’s New Novel The Bone Clocks

The Bone ClocksToday’s Sunday Read is a must-read: Waterstones have shared an excerpt from David Mitchell’s new novel The Bone Clocks, which will be published on 2 September and has been longlisted for this years’s Man Booker Prize.

The Guardian calls The Bone Clocks a “globe-trotting, mind-bending, hair-raising triumph”, and it has already been named as one of Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 Works of Literary Fiction this season.

In a recent interview with the BBC, Mitchell said of Twitter: “I don’t want to add to this ocean of trivia and irrelevance, it’s already vast and deep enough.” Despite this, in mid-July he tweeted a short story called “The Right Sort”, about a boy tripping on his mother’s Valium pills, as a sort of warm-up-exercise-cum-publicity-stunt ahead of the publication of his new novel. Read the Twitter story here, and the extract from The Bone Clocks after the jump:

Excerpt from The Bone Clocks:

I fling open my bedroom curtains, and there’s the thirsty sky and the wide river full of ships and boats and stuff, but I’m already thinking of Vinny’s chocolatey eyes, shampoo down Vinny’s back, beads of sweat on Vinny’s shoulders, and Vinny’s sly laugh, and by now my heart’s going mental and, God, I wish I was waking up at Vinny’s place in Peacock Street and not in my own stupid bedroom. Last night, the words just said themselves, ‘Christ, I really love you, Vin,’ and Vinny puffed out a cloud of smoke and did this Prince Charles voice, ‘One must say, one’s frightfully partial to spending time with you too, Holly Sykes,’ and I nearly weed myself laughing, though I was a bit narked he didn’t say, ‘I love you too,’ back. If I’m honest. Still, boyfriends act goofy to hide stuff, any magazine’ll tell you. Wish I could phone him right now. Wish they’d invent phones you can speak to anyone anywhere anytime on. He’ll be riding his Norton to work in Rochester right now, in his leather jacket with LED ZEP spelt out in silver studs. Come September, when I turn sixteen, he’ll take me out on his Norton.

Someone slams a cupboard door, below.

Mam. No one else’d dare slam a door like that.

Suppose she’s found out? says a twisted voice.

No. We’ve been too careful, me and Vinny.

She’s menopausal, is Mam. That’ll be it.

Down in the kitchen, the atmosphere’s like Antarctica. ‘Morning,’ I say, but only Jacko looks up from the window-seat where he’s drawing.
Talking Heads’ Fear of Music is on my record player, so I lower the stylus. Vinny bought me this LP, the second Saturday we met at Magic Bus Records. It’s an amazing record. I like ‘Heaven’ and ‘Memories Can’t Wait’ but there’s not a weak track on it. Vinny’s been to New York and actually saw Talking Heads, live. His mate Dan was on security and got Vinny backstage after the gig, and he hung out with David Byrne and the band. If he goes back next year, he’s taking me. I get dressed, finding each love bite and wishing I could go to Vinny’s tonight, but he’s meeting a bunch of mates in Dover. Men hate it when women act jealous, so I pretend not to be. My best friend Stella’s gone to London to hunt for second-hand clothes at Camden Market. Mam says I’m still too young to go to London without an adult so Stella took Ali Jessop instead. My biggest thrill today’ll be hoovering the bar to earn my three pounds pocket money. Whoopy-doo. Then I’ve got next week’s exams to revise for. But for two pins I’d hand in blank papers and tell school where to shove Pythagoras triangles and Lord of the Flies and their life cycles of worms. I might, too.

Yeah. I might just do that.

Down in the kitchen, the atmosphere’s like Antarctica. ‘Morning,’ I say, but only Jacko looks up from the window-seat where he’s drawing. Sharon’s through in the lounge part, watching a cartoon. Dad’s downstairs in the hallway, talking with the delivery guy – the truck from the brewery’s grumbling away in front of the pub. Mam’s chopping cooking apples into cubes, giving me the silent treatment. I’m supposed to say, ‘What’s wrong, Mam, what have I done?’ but sod that for a game of soldiers. Obviously she noticed I was back late last night, but I’ll let her raise the topic. I pour some milk over my Weetabix and take it to the table. Mam clangs the lid onto the pan and comes over. ‘Right. What have you got to say for yourself?’

Book details

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Link Love: The Deadly Seducer, Cindy Pivacic’s Devastating Story of How She Was Infected with HIV

Cindy Pivacic’s book The Deadly Seducer, describes her journey of being infected with HIV, contracting it from her live-in boyfriend, and living with HIV/Aids.

Charlotte Kemp says of the book:

A bold and honest account, Cindy Pivacic shares her story about how she came to contract HIV & Aids and how she responded to it. Not only is she living healthy years later, but her vibrant and energetic character has been poured into helping others who are experiencing the same situation.

Cindy presents talks and workshops on living positively with HIV & Aids and those, with this book and her online presence, gives her the opportunity to create awareness, give testimony concerning the HIV & Aids issue, and to assist in de-stigmatising this secret killer.

Times LIVE recently shared three short excerpts from Pivacic’s book. Read about the encounter that changed it all – when a condom broke – and her diagnosis. She writes, “Many people do not show any symptoms of HIV infection for years, but will more than likely have the initial rash that indicates the body has been infected with the virus. In my case the onset of the acquired diseases was practically immediate.”

Excerpt: Life’s a beach

Brad (not his real name) and I were in a relationship for a total of three years and I had insisted on using protection during intercourse. During an evening of (how can I put this delicately without offending the faint-hearted?) exuberant sex – the condom broke!

Had I known better, I would have continued using a condom further into the relationship, but I thought, “Oh well the damage is done”, not realising that there was a chance that that one encounter may not have infected me. During the initial part of our relationship, I used protection thinking I would be safe. But when the unfortunate incident occurred, lack of knowledge prevailed and I discontinued using protection.

To order The Deadly Seducer contact the author by sending her an email at

About the book

It is all about you if you can live with yourself, stuff everyone else! I understand fully that it is a serious, terminal disease but it is manageable, so try to keep your sense of humour and “Deal With It”, sounds simple, but for some it will not be, that is why I would like to share the more positive side of my experience. It is not some, feel-sorry-for-me memoir or a sad biography – I usually pick up a biography, read the back, say “oh hell no” and put it right back on the shelf.

This is just telling it how it is and how I had to deal with “IT”. I have had the most excitinglife possible, no regrets. No one is untouchable, although some people I have met have the strangest ideas about “IT”. This can affect anyone, directly or indirectly, and eventually someone else’s situation will affect you.

Forty six year old, Caucasian woman, so much for Gay and Black stereotype, HIV and Aids is my disease!

A brief look at a ‘normal’ youth spent in Namibia then going to a boarding school as there were no high schools in Oranjemund to my fathers transfer to Kimberley and the teen years of growing up and testing the waters of what teenagers get up to along with their peers. I come from a very healthy well balanced background which goes to show everyone is vulnerable no matter your standard of living.

My first and second marriages were disasters for very different reasons; the first fortunately brought me two wonderful hard earned children but due to the lack of affection from my husband they had to be meticulously planned. The second husband was a violent individual and totally opposite of my first husband the physical side was passionate entwined with both violent abuse and sexual ardour.

Deciding to move from the Free State to KwaZulu Natal seemed like the best thing at the time in order to remove myself from my second husbands family and then in time from him, unknowingly setting myself up for an even worse situation. Being the trusting person I am totally misled into a relationship with someone fourteen years my junior resulting in a lifelong deadly disease.

Living with the HI virus and acquired diseases related to HIV & Aids since 2004, the lengthy detailed treatments are shared in the hope that it will create awareness to the public at large and show that acquiring the virus does not have to mean a death sentence. We are all going to die, eventually; it is just up to each one of us how you are going to live in-between, disease or no disease!

With support, yes, from family and friends believe it or not it has helped somewhat in removing the stigma and discrimination attached to the disease and with proper assistance and support the stigma can be overcome. By pointing people in the right direction and advising what to do, where to go, when and how to do it will hopefully prolong their life by managing their disease.

The treatment takes the reader through the various stages of acquired diseases that affected me and by doing this give people hope that acquiring diseases such as Strokes, Pneumonia, Shingles, TB Meningitis and Cancer (Angioimmunoblasticlymphadenopathy) will show them that living a healthy lifestyle can and does work. Going onto ARVs need not be a nightmare if taken correctly; they will enhance your life.

The lack of support within the suburbs is frightening and is addressed with contact details to counselling, testing and support group facilities. Add to this some tried and tested, easy, healthy recipes, the first thing that always gets asked is ‘So, what do you eat?’ necessitated this inclusion.

The thirty-six FAQ are easy to understand and an integral part of creating awareness and giving information to the still unacquainted people of South Africa in a manner that encourages them to want to read and find out more about this disease.

It boils down to ADAPT or DIE, I chose to adapt!

About the author

Cindy Pivacic is a speaker, living positively with HIV and Aids since November 2004, having lived through numerous challenges, would like to share her journey. She is living proof that a healthy lifestyle can prolong your life.

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Fiction Friday: Excerpts from New Stories by Richard de Nooy and Henrietta Rose-Innes

IrregularityJurassic London has shared an excerpt with Books LIVE from its new short story collection Irregularity, edited by Jared Shurin, which features stories by Richard de Nooy and Henrietta Rose-Innes.

Irregularity is published to coincide with current exhibitions at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London; one focused on a quest for longitude at sea, and a steampunk show at the Royal Observatory.

Irregularity is about the tension between order and chaos in the 17th and 18th centuries. Men and women from all walks of life dedicated themselves to questioning, investigating, classifying and ordering the natural world. They promoted scientific thought, skepticism and intellectual rigour in the face of superstition, intolerance and abuses of power. These brave thinkers dedicated themselves and their lives to the idea that the world followed rules that human endeavour could uncover … but what if they were wrong?

Read the two excerpts, the first from “Animalia Paradoxa”, by Rose-Innes, and the second from De Nooy’s “The Heart of Aris Kindt”:
“Animalia Paradoxa” by Henrietta Rose-Innes

Île-de-France, 1792

“In Cap d’Afrique,” I tell Michel, “the cattle are more beautiful than the French varieties. Great spreading horns. Red or grey, or speckled.”

Michel grunts. He watches me with suspicion as I rearrange the bones on the long table in the Countess’s orangery.

Through the glass doors and the dome above me, I can see bats flitting in the evening sky. A few lamps burn in the upper rooms of the chateau across the terrace. The Countess is no longer here. After the recent troubles in Paris, she left with her retinue for the countryside, perhaps even for another country. I did not speak with her before she departed. Perhaps I am simply shunned. Perhaps she is seeing other suitors, charlatans selling her the usual curiosities: misshapen bears, dull tableaux of common birds, amusing scenes of mice and foxes.

It is a cool autumn evening, but inside the orangery the weather is warm, even tropical. For a moment the expanse of glass makes me feel observed, as if I am placed here for display.

Michel is very slow, and has no sympathy for the material. He is an old village soul, accustomed to the creatures of the old world. He knows how they are put together: four feet, two horns, milk below.

“This cannot be just one animal,” he says. He is laying out the long-bones, and indeed there seem to be too many of them, and oddly sized. Everything is in a sorry state. Some of the more delicate items have crumbled to dust in the sea-chests.

“Linnaeus himself does not account for all the creatures of the world,” I tell him. “Not of Africa.”

Michel shrugs, and lets a femur clatter to the table. “Monsieur,” he says. “I am leaving now. You should go too: it is not safe.”

But I cannot go, of course I cannot, not when I am so close. Late at night in the lamplit orangery I work on, fitting femur to radius, long bones to small. Boldness, I think, boldness and vision are needed here. But the bones will not do my bidding. They do not match up. They do not create a possible animal.

The streaks of light fade from the sky; it is that slow cooling of the day, so different to nightfall in southern climes.

I miss the boy’s quick hands, quick eyes.

I remember the shape of his head. Jacques, Jakkals. He was a thin child, dressed in nothing but ragged sailor’s trousers, held up by twine and rolled to the knee. Hard-soled feet, skin tight over ribs and shoulder-blades. All of him shades of earth and ochre, but flashed with white, like the belly of a springbok as it leaps away. Ostrich-eggshell beads at his neck, teeth like Sèvres porcelain. And that round head, close-shorn. One could imagine the bone beneath. When I first saw him, tagging behind as our party struck north from the Cape, I thought: there are men in France who would like that cranium in their collection. A pretty piece to cup in the palm.

Shadows gutter on the ceiling as the last of the lamp-oil runs out. Outside I see points of light and at first I think they are stars, burning low to the ground: the sky turned upside down. But no. They are flames, moving up the hill from the village, torches lighting faces in the crowd. The voices build.

The last time I saw Jacques his skull was crushed on one side, the front teeth gone, face caked with blood and dust.

I imagine he was buried with the usual native rites. Sitting upright, as I have heard it is done, in the old hide blanket, with nothing to mark the place but a small pile of stones. The vitreous black stones you find there in the north, in that dry country.

Cape of Good Hope

Venter was a chancer from the start. I met him on the church square; he was selling skins and ivory. With what was left of the Countess’s money, I was procuring oxen, muskets, what men I could afford.

“I hear you’re coming north,” he said, his face shadowed by a leather brim. “I hear you’re looking for animals.”

“Special animals,” I nodded. “Rare ones.” I had been in the Cape a month by then, and my own rough Dutch was improving.

“Visit with us,” he said. “We have a hell of an animal for you.”

“Ah. And what kind might that be?”

I was not overly excited. Already I had received several offers of specimens. There had been enough European adventurers in these parts for the locals to imagine they knew what we sought. On the docks, a hunter had thrust a brace of speckled fowl at me, their bodies stinking in the heat. In a tavern, a wrinkled prospector had produced a pink crystal, its facets glinting in the candlelight. But the Countess wished for something she had not seen before. The foot of a rhinoceros, a pretty shell — these would not be enough. One of the slave-dealers had promised more exotic sights, native girls with curious anatomies, but this, too, I had refused. I was looking for something spectacular, something to cause a sensation; but not of that kind.

“It’s big,” said Venter.

“Like an elephant? An ostrich?” I said. “Perhaps a whale?”

“All of those things,” he said, and tilted his head so that his pale eyes caught the sun, colour piercing the hues of hide and roughspun cloth. He was a handsome man, tall and with a strong jaw under his yellow beard, grown very full as is the habit of the farmers here. “It’s all of those things, God help us.”

I tried not to smile at his ignorance. “Come now, it must be one thing or the other. Fish or fowl.”

He shrugged. “It flies, it runs. Here,” he said, leaning forward and pulling off his hat. A waft of sweat, a herbal tang, the coppery hair compressed in a ring. “That is its skin.”

I did not wish to touch the greasy hat, but he pushed it into my hands, pointing at the hide band. Spotted, greyish yellow. It might have been hyena fur, or harbour rat for all I knew.

“Keep it.” He spat his tobacco into the dust. “You are welcome on my land. Ask for Venter. Up north the people know me.

“The Heart of Aris Kindt” by Richard de Nooy

“Who stitched him up, sir?”
“The preparator. He was at work when I came in.”
“But we …”
“They took the heart, Ferdinand, and the rest of his innards.”
“There will be no incision in our painting.”
“But that’s preposterous, sir!”
“Tulp’s letter is on the table.”

The young apprentice removes his cloak and rubs his hands until they squeak and tingle. January’s stinging chill draws deeper into his bones as he circles the naked cadaver of Aris Kindt. The callous morning light falling from the high windows of the Theatrum Anatomicum lends the dead man’s skin a translucent sheen that leaves no blemish undisguised. Hurried sutures have raised an angry, Y-shaped seam upon the dead man’s abdomen.

The young apprentice bows his head and mumbles a brief prayer before unfolding the surgeon’s letter with his winter-clumsy fingers.

Amsterdam, 18th Day of January 1632

Dear Sir,

It is with some regret that, after due consultation with my esteemed peers, we have decided that we would prefer to see the torso depicted unopened, as it detracts from the overall composition and may cause consternation among our guests, particularly emissaries of the Church, who might question such a bold display of our enquiry into God’s intentions and creative genius. We assure you that our decision has nothing whatsoever to do with the manner in which the organs have been rendered, as this was of the high standard that prompted us to commission you in first instance. Should you feel that our decision has necessitated additional effort on your part, we would like to assure you that we are already considering future commissions that we would almost certainly leave in your good hands.


Nicolaes Tulp, Praelector Chirurgic et Anatomie

“He makes no mention of the heart, sir!”
“Indeed, Ferdinand, indeed.”
“Are these men of science, sir?”
“Among the foremost, Ferdinand, but our friend here evidently confounded their principles.”
“This is absurd. First the hand and now this!”
“The client is king, Ferdinand. Let me hear you say it.”
“The client is a meddlesome tyrant, sir. Why would they do such a thing?”
“Ours not to reason why, Ferdinand.”
“Whatever crimes he may have committed, sir, this man, too, is a creature of God and it is our duty as artists to celebrate the glory of His creation by rendering all of that creation as precisely as we can — alive or dead.”
“Of course, Ferdinand, but God does not pay our fee, and the surgeons have every reason to conciliate the emissaries of the Church. To work. We have a great deal to do. And our silent friend will not stay fresh for ever.”
“My father shall hear of this. The Guild of Surgeons in Dordrecht would never…”
“That would be imprudent, Ferdinand. Bear in mind that it will be our word, as humble artists, against that of two dozen surgeons, well versed in matters anatomical and very well connected with the city council, before a committee of their peers. And what might we hope to achieve, Ferdinand? Do we wish to cast a shadow of ill repute upon the city’s finest surgeon? Will it bring Aris Kindt back to life? A man hanged by the neck is dead, Ferdinand, even if he dies a second time.”
“Consider your career, Ferdinand, and at what expense it has been purchased. Your father’s investment must be recouped and I have mouths to feed. To work, young man, those details will not draw themselves.”

16th Day of January 1632

Master R and I today had the honour of attending the public dissection of Adriaan Adriaanszoon in the Theatrum Anatomicum at De Waag, presided over by Doctor Nicolaes Tulp, praelector of the Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons. It was truly a privilege to sit among the city’s most influential councillors and learned men to witness this rare event, which — as you know — takes place only once a year and is subject to the strictest protocol.

We were permitted to sit in the front row in order to make our preliminary sketches, which I did with immense discomfort, knowing that some of the city’s mightiest men were looking over my shoulder. This was further compounded by the unnerving butcher-shop scent of the dead man’s viscera, deftly laid bare by the Guild’s preparator, who stood constantly at Dr Tulp’s side, scalpel in hand like a Sword of Damocles. I am not ashamed to admit that I had to make a concerted effort to retain my dejeuner, which rumbled like an angry behemoth in my guts. Fortunately, I did not defile and embarrass myself. Instead, the experience redoubled my respect for surgeons such as yourself and Dr Tulp, who conducted his duties with immense grace and precision under such gruesome circumstances, all the while enlightening the audience with the most fascinating revelations regarding the workings of the human body.

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Sunday Read: An Excerpt from Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

RubberneckerBelinda Bauer’s Rubbernecker has won the 2014 Theakstons Old Peculier crime novel of the year award, with one of the judges describing it as “original and compelling” and “utterly absorbing”. Val McDermid, notable Scottish crime author, says in her review of the book: “Breathtaking. I read this and wished I’d written it.”

Read the first chapter of Rubbernecker in this excerpt shared on Amazon to be introduced to the peculiar thoughts of Patrick Fort – a medical student with Asperger’s Syndrome who finds himself in the midst of an ongoing murder trial:


Dying is not as easy as it looks in the movies.
In the movies, a car skids on ice. It slews across the road, teeters on the edge of the cliff.
It drops; it crumples and arcs – and finally stops against a tree, wheels up, like a smoking turtle. Other drivers squeal to a stop and leave their doors open as they rush to the precipice and stare in horror, while the car –
The car pauses for dramatic effect. And then bursts into flames.
The people step back, they shield their faces, they turn away.
In the movies, they don’t even have to say it.
In the movies, the driver is dead.

I don’t remember much, but I do remember that the Pina Colada song was on the radio. Pina Colada and getting caught in the rain.
I hate that song; I always have.
I wonder whether I’ll tell the police the truth about what happened. When I can.

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Image courtesy Harrowgate

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