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Alert! The programme for this year’s @OpenBookFest has been revealed! Click here to see it:

Archive for the ‘Book Excerpts’ Category

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.

Book details

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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.

Book details

Image courtesy Harrowgate

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Sunday Read: An Excerpt from The Miniaturist and An Interview With Its Author, Jessie Burton

The MiniaturistJessie Burton’s debut novel, The Miniaturist, caused a buzz at last year’s London Book Fair and secured the debut novelist a hefty advance (reports vary on whether it is six or seven figures). The book, published this week, is set in Amsterdam in the 17th century and follows 18-year-old Nella as she enters into an arranged marriage with Johannes, a wealthy merchant.

Nella is given a cabinet-sized replica of their home by her husband, who she finds to be kind but distant. She spends her time with Johannes’ sharp-tongued sister, leaving her feeling unwelcome and shut out of the house, until the miniaturist commissioned to furnish the house helps her to start unlocking its secrets.

Waterstones have shared an excerpt from the book and Richard Lee from the Historical Novel Society interviewed Burton:

The Old Church, Amsterdam: Tuesday, 14th January 1687

The funeral is supposed to be a quiet affair, for the deceased had no friends. But words are water in Amsterdam, they flood your ears and set the rot, and the church’s east corner is crowded. She watches the scene unfold from the safety of the choir stall, as guildsmen and their wives approach the gaping grave like ants toward the honey. Soon, they are joined by VOC clerks and ship’s captains, regentesses, pastry-makers – and him, still wearing that broad-brimmed hat. She tries to pity him. Pity, unlike hate, can be boxed and put away.

The church’s painted roof – the one thing the reformers didn’t pull down – rises above them like the tipped-up hull of a magnificent ship. It is a mirror to the city’s soul; inked on its ancient beams, Christ in judgement holds his sword and lily, a golden cargo breaks the waves, the Virgin rests on a crescent moon. Flipping up the old misericord beside her, her fingers flutter on the proverb of exposed wood. It is a relief of a man shitting a bag of coins, a leer of pain chipped across his face. What’s changed? she thinks.

RL: At what stage did you know this novel was working for you? (Have you started and not finished other novels?)

JB: In 2008, I did start 80,000 words of a novel set in London in 1796, and I might go back to it one day. But this one, The Miniaturist – well, it just had so much fuel in it, that even when it was difficult (which it was), I just didn’t mind carrying on, staring into the void, because I knew one of these characters, or one of my thematic explorations, would come good again. This might sound contradictory, but though I wrote the book chronologically, the writing process never felt that it was going in a neat and linear way. I had early, impressionistic scenes in my head, and sometimes getting the novel out of me was like blood from a stone – finding the plot a sprawl, a character not enough, or I was over-writing and making things too complicated – and other times I really flew, I could see that character standing in front of me, they began speaking before I put the words in their mouth.

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Image courtesy The Observer

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Sunday Read: The Literary World Cup

Football, football, football. It’s all pervasive at the moment. But it’s not all kicking and diving, and Books LIVE has gathered together the best of the writing on the World Cup’s literary connections.

In what has turned out to be a social media tour de force, Penguin UK put together a literary XI for 16 of the World Cup nations, with line-ups made up of leading authors. The only African team included is Nigeria, but Teju Cole was pleased as punch to be included:

The Penguin Cup led to much hilarity on Twitter, with the publisher reporting that JD Salinger had failed to turn up for training, and Paulo Coelho announcing himself as a supporter of Brazil’s team, which features him in right midfield. Nick Hornby took to Facebook to voice his concern at Zadie Smith’s lack of a “left foot”:


Despite Bafana Bafana not making it to Brazil (What, you hadn’t heard?) this Books LIVE editor would like to offer a South African edition: Brink – Vladislavić, Meyer, Ndebele, Bosman – Plaatje, Mda, Benedict Vilakazi (the writer, not the former Orlando Pirates player), Coetzee – Gordimer, Rive. Vladislavić at right back, Bosman making forays up the left, a solid central defensive partnership of Meyer and Ndebele. Plaatje’s speed and flair on the right wing, Coetzee offering a more analytical option on the left. The unpredictable creative force of Mda and Vilakazi in midfield, and clinical finishers Rive and Gordimer up front.

The Paris Reviews‘s coverage of the tournament, consisting of more literary articles by “serious” writers, continues with a piece by poet Rowan Ricardo Phillips, who ruminates on the demise of the once-dominant Spanish national team, in the context of newly discovered work by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda:

The same day that, in Chile, more than twenty previously unknown works by Pablo Neruda were discovered in the most unlikely of places — a drawer — Spain thought it was a good idea to continue their monarchy by changing the constitution so the prince could replace the abdicating king. I rejoiced at one and shrugged at the other. Fittingly, Chile beat Spain 2-0 yesterday.

In a lengthy profile for The New York Times, Jeff Himmelman regards the linguistic identity of the most famous, and popular, player at the World Cup. Lionel Messi was born in Argentina, but moved to Spain to play for Barcelona before his teens. He was often been accused of not playing as well for his country as he does for the Catalans.

In much of Argentina, where Lionel Messi lived until he was 13, native speakers replace the “y” sound with a “sh” sound. Yo, the personal pronoun for “I,” becomes “sho,” and calle, which other Spanish speakers would pronounce “ka-yay,” becomes “ka-shey.” The sound gives Argentine Spanish a slurry softness that resembles aspects of the Portuguese spoken in Brazil. More important to this story, that “sh,” and the fact that Messi has retained it all his life, has at times been the sole lifeline between the greatest soccer player in the world and the country he plays for.

Tom Dispatch has shared a series of excerpts from award-winning Uruguayan journalist and novelist Eduardo Galeano’s iconic, poetic meditation on the sport, Soccer in Sun and Shadow:

For lovers of the game, in his celebrated masterpiece Soccer in Sun and Shadow, the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano long ago caught the way the spectacle of soccer and the spectacle of reality intertwined. Of the Brazilian protests, he recently observed: “Brazilians, who are the most soccer-mad of all, have decided not to allow their sport to be used any more as an excuse for humiliating the many and enriching the few. The fiesta of soccer, a feast for the legs that play and the eyes that watch, is much more than a big business run by overlords from Switzerland. The most popular sport in the world wants to serve the people who embrace it. That is a fire police violence will never put out.”

Galeano, who has been outspoken about the World Cup protests in Brazil, has had his books translated into 25 languages. From Soccer in Sun and Shadow:

The ball turns, the world turns. People suspect the sun is a burning ball that works all day and spends the night bouncing around the heavens while the moon does its shift, though science is somewhat doubtful. There is absolutely no question, however, that the world turns around a spinning ball: the final of the ’94 World Cup was watched by more than two billion people, the largest crowd ever of the many that have assembled in this planet’s history. It is the passion most widely shared: many admirers of the ball play with her on fields and pastures, and many more have box seats in front of the TV and bite their nails as 22 men in shorts chase a ball and kick her to prove their love.

At the end of the ’94 Cup every child born in Brazil was named Romário, and the turf of the stadium in Los Angeles was sold off like pizza, at twenty dollars a slice. A bit of insanity worthy of a better cause? A primitive and vulgar business? A bag of tricks manipulated by the owners? I’m one of those who believe that soccer might be all that, but it is also much more: a feast for the eyes that watch it and a joy for the body that plays it. A reporter once asked German theologian Dorothee Sölle, “How would you explain happiness to a child?”

“I wouldn’t explain it,” she answered. “I’d toss him a ball and let him play.”

Finally, those of us who have been watching will be aware that African teams have been unbearably disappointing at this year’s World Cup – so far – and everybody is wondering why. In a long piece for Grantland, Jordan Conn examines the complex history of the Ivory Coast national football team, who are known as the team that helped end a civil war.

By this point, I’m confused. I’ve been in Ivory Coast only a couple of days, but I’ve asked about a dozen kids to name their favorite players. I’ve heard Messi and Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic, and even Karim Benzema and Sergio Busquets. A kid in a Drogba jersey told me, with a big smile on his face, just how much he loves Samuel Eto’o. But no one has mentioned Drogba himself. Nor have they mentioned Touré or Gervinho or, for that matter, any other Ivorians. I’ve seen plenty of evidence that Ivorians love Drogba and his teammates, but I’ve found none of the idol worship I’d been led to expect. According to what I’d read, this was the country where soccer has saved lives, the one place on Earth where the athletes could still be called heroes. And here we were, in the very neighborhood where Drogba spent part of his childhood, and this kid wants to talk about Xavi?

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Caine Prize Fiction Friday: “The Gorilla’s Apprentice” by Billy Kahora

Billy Kahora

This week’s Fiction Friday features Billy Kahora’s “The Gorilla’s Apprentice”, which was recently shortlisted for the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing.

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Kahora is the managing editor of Kwani Trust, a publisher and promoter of new writing focused mainly on Kenya, and was on the judging panel for this year’s debut Etisalat Prize for Literature. He was also shortlisted for the 2012 Caine Prize for his short story “Urban Zoning”, which was published in McSweeney’s.

Joining Kahora on the shortlist are Diane Awerbuck, Zimbabwean Tendai Huchu and fellow Kenyan Okwiri Oduor.

Read our previous Caine Prize Fiction Fridays:

Read “The Gorilla’s Apprentice”, which was first published in Granta:

That last Sunday of 2007, just a few days before Jimmy Gikonyo’s eighteenth birthday – when he would become ineligible to use his Nairobi Orphanage family pass – he went to see his old friend, Sebastian the gorilla. Jimmy sat silently on the bench next to the primate’s pit waiting for Sebastian to recognize him. After a few minutes, Sebastian turned his gaze on Jimmy and walked towards the fence. The gorilla’s eyes were rheumy, his movements slow and careful. Their interaction was now defined by that strange sense of inevitable nostalgia that death brings, even when the present has not yet slipped into the past.

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Image courtesy of Etisalat Prize

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A Revolt Against Loss: Sunday Times Fiction Prize Shortlistee Dominique Botha on Writing False River

Dominique Botha

False RiverThe Genesis: Dominique Botha on the creative origins of False River, which was recently shortlisted for the 2014 Sunday Times Fiction Prize:

Some years back I was walking along a pan, redolent in the summer stink of rot and regrowth, when longing struck me. Like an arrow perforating a membrane of silence to make a small wound. My brother Paul and I used to set foot onto that same path into a rich world of animals and stars, that now eludes me. Childhood is the original Atlantis flooded in the deluge of time, then sanded over by the present.

Like water recedes, so does memory. I took up a pen when even Paul’s absence was ebbing away. Writing is a way to fasten and rehabilitate the past. At some point the story outruns the history.

The hero in False River is a charismatic, self-destructive older brother whose life and death bookend the telling. The writer is both the narrator and a character whose ‘innocent’ eye acts as prism and mirror. Pa and Ma are the mythological archetypes of mother and father. Pa, in particular, is a complex oddball, both a contradiction and an affirmation of his time. Into this are woven madmen, policemen, good women, and brave priests peopling the flat landscape of a paper Free State.

Nature pervades, in all her conjugations of beauty. The languages around you, the birds you hear, the sounds of thunder and flies, the bended light, the food, the history, the music, all imprint on the writing. No environment is neutral.

I allowed myself to write freely in the manner of a novel. To uncage memory is to allow a first wing beat in the flight of the imagination. And the better the writing, the more readers may recognise themselves in the pain and joy that ‘everyman’s story’ embodies.

I wrote the book as one builds a cairn. In revolt against loss and in commemoration of love. It fails and succeeds in its objectives, as most small shrines do. What remains true, the residue, is feeling.

* * * * *

Excerpt from False River:

“You are too close to the water,” Paul whispered. “There are barbels in the mud. They will wake up if you step on them.”

He pushed past towards the sweet thorn shade.

I saw a dead carp with its eye rotted away. Finches were chattering in the reeds. The water in the pan stank.

“I don’t believe you.”

“It’s true. Barbels aren’t like normal fish. They grow as big as men and they eat mud. When it’s dark, they crawl up to the house on their shoulders to graze on the lawn.”

I ran to catch up with him. “Ma says if you feed silkworms beetroot, they weave threads of crimson. Is that true? I mean, what does crimson mean?”

“It means red. Hurry up you spastic.”

I kept silkworms in a shoebox on top of my piano. Ma told me mulberries and silkworms came from China long before our country became the only one in the world. She said silkworms could be tricked into spinning hearts and clovers. If you left them in peace, they spun cocoons the colour of farm butter. At night pale-winged moths fluttered up against the shoebox lid and laid eggs stuck together like crochet beads. Then they died and moth dust silvered the cardboard floor. It was a long walk to the only mulberry tree that grew on our farm. Its roots were lifting the graveyard walls near the ruins of the old house and Pa was threatening to cut the bloody thing down. Ma said he should fix the wall instead.

Paul walked ahead along the footpath that ribboned through the long grass.

Leguaans lived around the pan. That was definitely true. They can whip you off your feet with their tails and they eat snakes, even rinkhalse or pofadders. Abram once killed a leguaan with his pickaxe and brought it to the house. Ma was upset. “He’s just going to use it for muti or some nonsense,” Pa said. Abram told me leguaans destroyed his fish traps. Even in death the giant lizard held fast to its electric colouring. The long nails at the end of the claws drew lines on the brick paving as Abram dragged it away by the tail.

“Look,” Paul said, pointing at some veld lilies sprouting in a groove of cracked mud. “A cluster of midday stars.” There were more blooming in the shade of the cemetery wall. I bent down to touch them. Paul went inside and lay down on the grave of our great-grandfather Paul Michiel Botha, which was the family name for firstborn boys. The gate whistled on its hinges like a wire toy made by the piccanins at the stat.

“You shouldn’t do that,” I said, lingering at the gatepost.

Along the wall grew blue teardrop trees that tolled with singing pigeons. Ma called them graveyard cypresses. “Listen to the birds,” Paul said, closing his eyes and putting his feet up. He called them Sunday afternoon doves.

Our family tree had dropped many branches into the graveyard. Lots of Paul Michiel Bothas and their wives and children cut down by the Great Trek, the Great Flu and great age. I walked through the gate, sat down next to the smallest tombstone and trailed my fingers across remnants of chiselled High Dutch effaced by a century of rain.

“What does it say?” I asked.

Petronella Botha. 1880 tot 1887. Hier rust ons geliefde dogtertji, dees aard was niet uw lot.

“I could have been her twin, if I were born a hundred years ago. Dutch sounds like Afrikaans spoken by a person who is mentally retarded.” Paul was ten years old and could speak Afrikaans and English. Pa said that made you a true South African.

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