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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Creative writing workshop with Bronwyn Law-Viljoen (25-30 January 2019)

The Talking Table is hosting a creative writing workshop presented by Bronwyn Law-Viljoen! The workshop will take place from 25-30 January in the eastern Free State village of Rosendal.

Facilitator: Bronwyn Law-Viljoen (novelist and head of creative writing at Wits)

Dates: 25-30 January 2019

Venue: DeTuinen country lodge in Rosendal, Eastern Free State

Progamme: A practical, playful, hands-on approach. Full programme at www.thetalkingtable.com

Fees: R13 600 per single person and R12 200 pp sharing. Included accommodation, breakfast and a long-table meal daily and programme fee.

To book: Write to info@thetalkingtable.com before 31 December 2018.

Bronwyn Law-Viljoen is Associate Professor and Head of Creative Writing at the University of the Witwatersrand, editor and co-founder of Fourthwall Books, and former editor of Art South Africa magazine.

She has a PhD in Literature from New York University and a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of the Witwatersrand.

Her first novel, The Printmaker, was published in 2016 (Umuzi) and shortlisted for the Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Award.

The Talking Table is a creative hub operated by two South Africans on the Greek island of Lesbos.

It hosts workshop in writing, painting, photography, philosophy, business ethics and more. Frederik de Jager, former Publishing Director at Penguin Books and Douw Steyn, former CEO of media companies in Naspers, accommodate, cook and create a sympathetic space for participating guests.

Rosendal will be their second workshop in South Africa.

Rosendal is a beautiful eastern Free State hamlet in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains, three and a half hours’ drive from Johannesburg.

The Printmaker

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The Printmaker by Bronwyn Law-Viljoen
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EAN: 9781415209127
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Markus Zusak discusses his new book’s origins and gives insight into its themes with Michele Magwood

Published in the Sunday Times

Bridge of Clay *****
Markus Zusak, Doubleday, R365

Markus Zusak wanted ‘glories and tragedies and courage, all in a suburban setting’. Picture: Supplied

 
What was the genesis of the story?

I was 20 years old, and always felt really committed to being a writer. I used to take long walks around the neighbourhood I lived in and, once, on one of those walks, I saw in my mind a boy building a bridge. I named him Clayton. I thought I would call the book Clayton’s Bridge, and then a few months later, I thought: No, not Clayton’s Bridge – make it Bridge of Clay. And that was the instant when a whole new depth of meaning and emotion entered the idea.

I saw a boy making a bridge of stone or wood, but also of himself. He would mould his whole life into that bridge and within that idea there was the idea that Clay is both a name and a material – and clay (the material) can be moulded into anything, but it needs fire to set it … I was seeing new beginnings forming, and a definite ending. I just wasn’t ready yet to write it.

Which elements of the book were there from the start, and which came later?

I actually did write a version of this book in my early 20s, but I knew already then that what I’d produced wasn’t what I was looking for. You’re always looking for what you feel in your mind is what you then feel in the pages.

It was in 2006, after The Book Thief, that I started collating new ideas for the book, including a family of five brothers, a mother who had travelled to Australia from Eastern Europe, and a father who had once been obsessed with Michelangelo and, in particular, the Statue of David and his unfinished works, the Slaves (or Prisoners).

The elements of The Iliad and The Odyssey greatly enrich the story. Are these works that have influenced your own life?

It started because of nicknames. I seemed to immediately gravitate towards giving all the Dunbar brothers nicknames (for example, Clay is the Smiler, Rory is the Human Ball and Chain, Matthew – who narrates the story – is the Responsible One, and so on), and it reminded me of how in The Iliad and The Odyssey, Achilles is never just Achilles; he’s the fast-running Achilles, and Hector is the tamer of horses, or Hector of the glittering helmet.

I started to feel a sense of suburban bigness to things. We often think our lives are small and mundane, or that we live in places or houses where very little happens. But then you start to realise the amount of travels that have been made to arrive in these places, and that we all fall in love, we all have people die on us. We laugh and live and love, and all of these things loom hugely, at times, inside us. And I wanted to write about those things.

I wanted to write a big and big-hearted story in what Matthew sometimes calls the suburbs-world. I wanted glories and tragedies and courage, all in that suburban setting.

Can you expand on the use of the bridge as a metaphor?

I think I’ve always thought of bridges being part of books and stories. As the narrator of Bridge of Clay, there are times when Matthew talks to the reader a lot, about the distance between him as the writer of the story and the reader as the recipient. I’ve always imagined that as well – that I’m writing in one place, and the words are stretching to wherever the reader is reading the book. In that way, the reader is part of the book, even in the act of writing it.

In a more direct and story-oriented way, the bridges in Bridge of Clay are everywhere. Clay, especially, is building a bridge for his family, to bring it back together, but he’s simultaneously finding his own way of leaving. It’s both a bridge towards home and beyond it. And Matthew is building his own bridge, not only to an understanding of his brother, but to a new understanding of just how much he loves him. It’s why he’s writing the story: the words are a proof of love.

I read Bridge of Clay directly after finishing Tim Winton’s The Shepherd’s Hut and I feel it raises similar themes of masculinity, the question of how to channel young men’s energies and sensibilities. In short, how do we raise good men? Could you comment on that?

Probably the first way is to tell the truth, which isn’t to say that boys will be boys, and be done with it. My first priority is always to write from the inside out, which is to serve the characters of the book, and the story. What I’ve arrived at later is an understanding that if I was subconsciously trying to do anything, it was to write about boys in a way that shows them both how they are, and how we’d like them to be.

The Dunbar boys are rough and boisterous and raw, but I hope they’re beautiful too, and full of love and loyalty, and even tenderness. Maybe the first way to address this idea of positive masculinity is that it’s actually pretty complex.

One of the bigger lines in Bridge of Clay is when Matthew says, “It’s a mystery, even to me, how boys and brothers love.” Like everything else worth fighting for in our lives, the idea of raising good men feels to me like something that never ends. It will to and fro between triumphs and failures, but the centre feels a lot like Clay and his brothers themselves; they fight and scrap and argue their way through the world and each other, but they never give up on each other either, or on themselves. @michelemagwood

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Ons Klyntji launch (5 December)

Established as a title in 1896, Ons Klyntji has risen, died, been reborn, died off again and finally been reinvented somewhere in the murky 1990s to become what it is today: a 144 page, pocket-sized annual of the doen en late of South Africans at home and abroad.

Afrikaans and English sit side by side (plus bits and bobs of other languages) to create a kind of restless vernacular in poem-form, short story-shape, photographs, cartoons, funny things, rude things, sad things and just plain truths too.

The 2018/19 edition of Ons Klyntji Internasionaal will be launched at The Book Lounge on Wednesday 5 December at 5:30 PM for 6 PM.

Zines will be on sale. RSVP to booklounge@gmail.com

Oh yes, there will be free wine!

Ons Klyntji is sponsored by Oppikoppi music festival and Woordfees.


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Book Lounge 11th Birthday Bash (30 November)


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A pleasing vignette of our favourite cop: William Saunderson-Meyer reviews Deon Meyer’s novella, The Woman in the Blue Cloak

Published in the Sunday Times

The Woman in the Blue Cloak ***
Deon Meyer, Hodder & Stoughton, R195

One of the great things about Deon Meyer’s work, aside from his infallible ear for the nuances of South African life and his masterful plots, is that they are satisfyingly fat books.

Buy a Meyer and you’ve got the whole weekend sorted.

The Woman in the Blue Cloak, however, is a novella, weighing in at a mere 26,000 words and was written on invitation for the 2017 Week of the Thriller in the Netherlands.

It’s a challenging format, since there just isn’t the same space to build plot and character. Meyer writing a novella is a bit like a world-class marathon runner entering the 100m.

It is interestingly eccentric but one would be naive to expect a gold medal performance.

And so it is with this offering: a pleasing vignette of our favourite cop, dry alcoholic Benny Griessel, but just not enough meat to be anything more than an appetiser. @TheJaundicedEye

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A whodunnit with a thousand suspects – Sue de Groot reviews Camilla Lackberg’s latest contribution to the Nordic noir sphere

Published in the Sunday Times

The Girl in the Woods *****
Camilla Lackberg, HarperCollins, R285

Camilla Lackberg has amassed millions of devoted followers with her series of crime novels set in the Swedish fishing village of Fjällbacka – which actually exists in the real world.

It has fewer than 1,000 permanent residents and is deathly quiet in winter, but in summer turns into a playground for Scandinavian tourists.

The Girl in the Woods, Lackberg’s 10th novel featuring author Erica Falck and her police detective husband, Patrik Hedstrom, is set in summer, when the influx of holiday-makers creates a wider pool of suspects.

A four-year-old girl has been murdered, her body found in the same place as that of a similar victim 30 years previously.

The two teenage girls who were accused of the earlier crime are now adults and conveniently present.

One is a Hollywood film star who has returned to her home town for the first time since the incident. The other is married to a sociopathic UN soldier who is on home leave.

Then there are the Syrian refugees, whose safe asylum in Sweden does not come with a warm welcome from all its citizens.

And there are the local high-school kids with too much time on their hands and the usual adolescent problems.

And then – because Lackberg loves to weave ancient history into modern mystery – there is a woman who lived in these parts in the 17th century, when literal witch hunts were all the rage.

Lackberg cleverly connects multiple tales of violence and ostracism in a narrative that climbs to a terrifying crescendo, but there is much light relief in the lives of her extended family of regular characters.

Even police chief Bertil Mellberg displays flashes of charm between being his usual bumbling and graceless self.

He is also the recipient of the best put-down in the book: when he enquires whether refugee children eat cinnamon buns, detective Paula Morales replies tartly: “Of course they do. They’re from Syria, not outer space.” @deGrootS1

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Read a Q&A with bestselling author, Lucinda Riley

Published in the Sunday Times

Lucinda Riley, author of The Moon Sister. Author pic supplied.

 
One book our world leaders should read?

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. It’s a slim volume which is perfect for someone who doesn’t have time to read anything cover to cover. It’s interfaith, exquisitely written and full of wisdom. It might help remind our world leaders of their humanity.

Do you keep a diary?

I kept a daily diary between the ages of 13 and 18; parts of it are hilarious, others tragic. No-one has read it but me, and I’d be horrified if it fell into the wrong hands.

Who is your favourite fictional hero?

Jay Gatsby. I’ve been in love with him since I was 17 and first read The Great Gatsby. It was the most romantic book I’d ever read – at that age, every young woman wants to be loved so completely the way Gatsby loves Daisy. As I’ve grown older, I’ve seen it as the dark side of obsessive love.

You’re hosting a literary dinner with three writers. Who’s invited?

F Scott Fitzgerald – he’s both an obsession and an inspiration. As a writer, I’m fascinated by the way an author’s life feeds into their writing, and Fitzgerald’s relationship with his wife, Zelda, formed the basis for The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night. Charles Dickens, because he was a wonderful storyteller and a jobbing writer with a large family to feed, like me. He wrote A Christmas Carol in six weeks because he needed the money. And JK Rowling because, despite her success and wealth, she continues to write.

What novel would you give to children to introduce them to literature?

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis.

What is the last thing you read that made you cry?

Rather sadly, it was the last book I wrote – The Butterfly Room. Given that I never plan books before I write them, I’m as shocked and horrified as the reader when something tragic happens.

Is there a type of book you never read?

Anything about serial killers and grim murders. I read before I go to sleep and the last thing I want is to have my head filled with those kind of pictures. For me, reading is all about escapism.

What is your most treasured book?

When I received my first big advance, I bought myself a first edition copy of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.

How do you select characters’ names?

I have a clutch of favourite names, so much so that when I got to the end of The Butterfly Room, I had to change the name of a major character because I’d used it so many times before.

A character you could be best friends with?

Ruth from Elly Griffiths’s Dr Ruth Galloway series. She’s a forensic archaeologist and a single mother who spends her life getting into scrapes, both personal and professional. She’s so real and warm and lives in an idyllic cottage just down the road from me. I’d love to pop round for a glass of wine at the end of a stressful day and talk old bones and kids.

The Moon Sister by Lucinda Riley is published by Macmillan, R290.

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“My work wasn’t ever going to be to make the reader feel comfortable” – Máire Fisher discusses her latest novel with Tiah Beautement

Published in the Sunday Times

The Enumerations ****
Máire Fisher, Umuzi, R280

Máire Fisher has followed her successful debut novel, Birdseye, with the polished The Enumerations.

The story explores 17-year-old Noah Groome, who has obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and how he impacts his family, friends and the people he encounters in rehab after a school bully pushes him too far.

The most impressive aspect of this novel is its structure; a fast-paced collage of the various storylines.

These short, punchy sections show a kaleidoscope of the anxious minds of Noah and his family, echoing how it can feel to have OCD and live around it.

“My work wasn’t ever going to be to make the reader feel comfortable,” Fisher admits. But what an interesting ride she has created.

Readers will cheer for Noah as they develop sympathy for the unsympathetic, and take delight in minor characters, including the fabulous and bold Willa, who Noah meets in rehab.

However, the true heroine is Noah’s little sister Maddie, who is both a warrior and friend to her brother.

Fisher explains: “She knows what her job is: to be – and remain – a happy, sunshine child. That places a large burden on young shoulders.”

A book of this complex nature, both in subject matter and structure, required heavy research along with many drafts: “First person, third person, past tense, present tense … poor old Noah has been through so many incarnations,” says Fisher.

Yet the finished product reads smoothly, creating an experience and an empathy that lingers. @ms_tiahmarie

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Barbara Kingsolver evokes the anxiety of living through social turmoil, writes Michele Magwood

Unsheltered ****
Barbara Kingsolver, Faber & Faber, R295


Barbara Kingsolver rages against tyranny while writing about ordinary life.
Picture: David Wood

There is a marvellous tableau early on in Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel Unsheltered.

It is 1871 in small-town New Jersey and a young science teacher, Thatcher Greenwood, is visiting his next door neighbour. He thinks she is sitting demurely at her desk, prim and unmoving, until he realises she is patiently feeding her finger to a Venus flytrap.

The neighbour is a fictionalised Mary Treat, the American botanist and entomologist who studied carnivorous plants and who corresponded with Charles Darwin. She is the ideal Kingsolver heroine: a barricade-breaching, society-scorning, way ahead-of-her-time woman, and a scientist to boot.

The town, Vineland, exists to this day. It was built in the 1800s as a utopian experiment, a teetotal haven for free thinkers and spiritualists, but the idealism quickly eroded. Greenwood is close to being run out of town for teaching Darwinism to his pupils, and the community’s prissy and elaborate manners disguise a vicious bigotry.

Kingsolver divides the novel into two narratives 150 years apart and centres them in Thatcher’s house.

The book opens in 2016, when 50-something journalist Willa Knox inherits the collapsing homestead.

It’s evident from the get-go that Willa’s life is threatening to collapse too. She has been made redundant from her magazine editorship and must now try and scrape a living in the online world of listicles and gobbets, her deep dive investigations no longer in demand.

Her academic husband, Ianno, has lost tenure at the university where he was professor and has been forced to take a temporary teaching position at a second-rate college.

Upstairs in the house, Ianno’s emphysemic and uninsured father sucks on his oxygen tank, fuelling himself for racist and right-wing diatribes. Their bristly daughter Tig has returned home from a heartbreak in Cuba and is railing at the world, a shrill Cassandra warning of catastrophe ahead for humankind.

Personal catastrophe strikes faster: the wife of their Harvard-educated but unemployed son Zeke commits suicide and they have no choice but to take in his infant son.

Willa and Ianno have worked hard and made sacrifices all their lives but now as retirement looms they realise that it has counted for nothing.

“How could two hardworking people do everything right in life and arrive in their fifties essentially destitute?” Willa thinks.

When she learns that their crumbling house might be of historical value, and therefore eligible for a grant, she heads for the town’s archives.

It is here that she unearths the characters of Mary Treat and Thatcher Greenwood. They were never lovers, only scholarly friends, but by alternating their story with Willa’s, Kingsolver is able to unfurl her themes.

Although he is never named, Donald Trump looms over the story and Kingsolver’s fury at him and all he stands for saturates her writing.

She has always been a campaigning writer but here she sails worryingly – and at times wearyingly – close to polemical lecturing, using her characters as vessels to rage at the state of the world.

Capitalism, globalism, wastefulness, failing healthcare, iniquitous student loans, white nationalism, stagnant wages and so on, all are aired.

“Today’s problems can’t be solved by today’s people,” Tig warns her mother, “we’re overdrawn at the bank, at the level of our species.”

But Kingsolver is too good a storyteller to lose us completely.

She powerfully evokes the anxiety of living through times of social turmoil, in the here and now, and in the 1880s. The alternating stories echo each other over the decades.

Mary Treat comments on the furore around Darwin’s theory: “When men fear the loss of what they know, they will follow any tyrant who promises to restore the old order.”

There are many ways in which we are unsheltered, physically and emotionally, but she reminds us to take comfort in one another. She reminds us, too, that we have adapted before and we will adapt again. @michelemagwood

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Rooney captures exactly what it’s like to be young and clever and just a little bit intoxicated with yourself, writes Rosa Lyster of Normal People

Published in the Sunday Times

Sally Rooney’s Normal People is a book for anyone who has ever looked at their family or their life or their relationship and gone “Is this how normal people behave?” Author pic supplied.

 
Normal People ****
Sally Rooney, Faber & Faber, R300

Sally Rooney is unbeatable at arguments. Not big, theatrical, screaming ones, although she would probably be very good at those as well.

She is good at describing those arguments where no-one raises their voice or says anything dramatically spiteful, but serious hurt is inflicted all the same and it’s worse, in a way, because you only realise what’s happened when it’s way too late to do anything about it.

Normal people arguments, the kind that everyone has and hates.

She is so good at it that at first it’s hard to see what she’s doing – it seems more an act of transcription than of creative invention.

It’s only when you realise that almost no-one is as good at arguments as she is that you see what she has actually pulled off.

Here is the aftermath of an argument between Connell and Marianne, the couple around whom the book’s action turns: “His eyes were hurting and he closed them. He couldn’t understand how this had happened, how he had let the discussion slip away like this … It seemed to have happened almost immediately. He contemplated putting his face down on the table and just crying like a child. Instead, he opened his eyes again.”

This sounds normal, like something a normal person would think, but when I read it, I also had to close my eyes for a little bit. It’s just exactly how fights like that go.

Rooney is so good at anatomising the ways normal people misunderstand each other, even people who think they know each other incredibly well.

Her characters do more than just fight, obviously.

At bottom, Normal People is a love story, one which starts when the protagonists are at school together.

Marianne is rich and clever and weird in a way that most people do not find cool or interesting. She is not “quirky”, she is strange.

Connell is working class and clever and if he is weird, he knows enough to keep it to himself.

Most of the novel is set in Dublin, where both characters are attending university, and Rooney captures exactly what it’s like to be young and clever and just a little bit intoxicated with yourself.

She is fascinated by conversation (her first book was called Conversations with Friends), and has her characters talk and talk and talk to each other, not about anything in particular, necessarily.

Rather, the kinds of conversations that make up a relationship and a life.

I can’t think of another writer who can do this with such apparent effortlessness. Her sentences are so clear and light it almost seems as if she’s not doing anything at all.

She can be very funny (Marianne, on wanting to win a university scholarship: “She would like her superior intellect to be affirmed in public by the transfer of large amounts of money. That way she could affect modesty without having anyone actually believe her”), but it’s quiet funny, absent of showiness.

She has an evident aversion to drama and over-adornment and beauty for beauty’s sake.

She is not what one would describe as a “lyrical” writer, so maybe if you like that sort of thing you will come away from Normal People feeling a bit put out, but her sentences sing, in their own way.

The other thing about Rooney that will perhaps make you want to close your eyes for a short while, is that she is so young. She was 26 when Conversations with Friends came out, and she is 28 now. She is not quite the youngest person to be nominated for the Booker, but just about.

She writes about what it’s like to be young, specifically what it’s like to be young in Ireland after the financial crisis, but this isn’t necessarily a young person’s book, or not exclusively.

It’s a book for anyone who has ever looked at their family or their life or their relationship and gone “Is this how normal people behave?”

Most of the time, as Rooney is so good at showing, the answer is yes. @rosalyster


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