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Crime Beat: Krimi workshop on the Greek island of Lesbos

lesbosWanna write a thriller? And talk to other krimi writers? And laze in the sea? And drink wine? Then here’s the deal: A krimi workshop, June 7 to 14, on Lesbos, yes, the Greek island.

It’s part of The Talking Table series of workshops. Interested?

Here’s how things should run:

What I want to do with this seven-day workshop is to help you generate enough material to get your crime novel on the go. Not only should the workshop be a lot of fun as we will all be crime fiction addicts, but you’ll leave with your storyline, a plot, characters, in fact, everything you need to keep on writing your crime novel.

On the first day, the discussion will be about the crime novel: where it is today, what it does, what it can do. There are a range of ways into a crime story: there’s the cop procedural, the PI investigation, the gangster underworld; there’s state corruption, financial corruption, and murder most foul. If that doesn’t grab you, you might choose to focus on psychological conflict within relationships, stalkers, addicts, serial killers. Knowing the kind of story you want to write is the best start you can make.

The second day will focus on characters and setting. Both are important. Characters drive the story and because there is conflict between them you will never be at a loss for words. And then there is the setting: a sense of place is vital. Readers like living in imaginary worlds, those places found in the never-never land between reality and fiction.

Day three is about story and plot. We all need some sort of story no matter how vague it might be. Even something as simple as Sam kills Evelyn is the beginnings of a story. Consider all the questions: who is Sam? Who is Evelyn? Are they male or female? How do they meet? What happens between them? How does the crime occur? What happens next? And then comes the business of the plot, the way the story is told. Here there are those who want to plan the smallest detail or there are those – like me – who fly blind. Which is scary, and exciting.

Day four. The crime novel is the most democratic of novels. Characters talk to one another all the time. So day four is about that all important subject: dialogue. Nothing is more exciting than zipping through a dialogue exchange between two characters about to do one another serious grief.

By day five you’ll have a fair amount of material in your laptop. You’ll have characters with names; a setting where the action takes place, you’ll have an idea of your story, and even how that story will develop. So here’s were we get into that tricky part: how do you kickstart this story?

Day six, time to handle a bit of aggro. Writing violence is a challenge, even more of a challenge than writing sex. And, of course, you are going to have to write some sex too. This day gets down to the dirty stuff: choose your weapons – guns, knives, axes, bombs, bare hands, rope, poison.

On the final day we’ll give Frederik (our co-host who used to be a book publisher) some time to talk about the publishing scene and with a bit of luck we’ll also listen to the beginnings that have been so carefully crafted over the last two days.

There will be a number of short exercises during the course, some of which will happen in the workshop and some of which will be homework. Fear not, there’ll still be time for swimming, sitting about drinking wine, and dreaming up different ways to kill.

Just so you know a bit about me: I’ve run workshops on writing crime fiction at the University of Cape Town’s Summer School, a number of times at Bloody Book Week in Johannesburg along with Jeffery Deaver, John Connolly and Michael Robotham, at the Franschhoek Literary Festival, the Hermanus Fynarts Festival and the Knysna Literary Festival. I tutor online short courses in creative writing and non-fiction narratives for PenguinRandomHouse/GetSmarter, and together with editor Claire Strombeck run the Writers’ Masterclass – now in its sixth year. To date our writers have had five books published by leading publishers in South Africa and Germany with more due out this year.

For all the information about the krimi workshop check it out here.

Win a copy of François Bloemhof's Feeding Time!

It was recently announced that the Capetonian author, François Bloemhof, a prolific writer of adult, teenage and youth fiction, who has written close to 80 titles, is going to Hollywood!

This versatile writer’s adult work explores thriller, supernatural and more conventional dramatic themes, but for his Hollywood debut, he will be writing the screenplay of a movie with a thriller/sci-fi slant.

A friend encouraged him to pitch for the screenplay for Hollywood. Cleverly, he took the outline of an Afrikaans thriller which was published in 1997, Die Nagbesoeker, and gave it a sci-fi twist. And so, The Night Visitor was born.

The plot centres around the story of a successful city model whose sister is murdered in a coastal town, but hers is not the only murder that takes place! The model, who is already in a relationship, visits the town and becomes attracted to a man who recently moved there. Strange things happen. Friends react unexpectedly. She comes to the conclusion that no one is to be trusted.

Three copies of Bloemhof’s most recent novel, Feeding Time, are up for grabs. To stand a chance to win a copy, simply tell us the title of the Afrikaans thriller which Bloemhof adapted into The Night Visitor. E-mail your answer to


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Sam Wilson on the importance of reading to your children, the power of words, and the value of storytelling

Nal’bali column No 1, Term 1: Published in the Daily Dispatch, 15 January 2018; Herald, 18 January 2018

By Carla Lever

Scriptwriter, director and Zodiac novelist, Sam Wilson. ©Matthew Brown

Your output is amazingly varied – you’ve penned everything from a conceptual thriller to a comic book series commissioned by the Welsh Rugby Union. Your knack for storytelling has spanned different ages, genres and media. What’s the secret ingredient?

Honestly, it’s poor self control. I can’t say ‘no’ to a project if it sounds interesting, no matter what it is or how much I’m already doing. Occasionally it’s a disaster and I won’t sleep, but at least I tried something new.

You have a lot of fun with words, whether it’s for work or play. For instance, there’s your @genrestories Twitter account, where you pepper us with 140-character short stories in wildly varying styles. What is it about stories and language that gets you excited?

Words are incredibly powerful. You can create thoughts and emotions and ideas out of nothing. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

You’ve written four children’s stories for the charity Book Dash, volunteering with other writers, editors, illustrators and designers for a day of intense work to create open access stories for children that are also printed and distributed locally. What makes you so passionate about this cause?

Literacy is a huge issue in South Africa. Book Dash creates books that are free online, and can be printed and sold by anyone. It’s an amazing way to give every child in South Africa their own books. And I get to do something I love for a great cause.

What was your most recent 2017 Book Dash experience like?

Every Book Dash is great. A large group of people makes new books in a 12-hour sprint. It’s a highly creative environment, and as you can imagine, the kind of people who would do it are the kind of people worth spending time with. It’s a blast, and this year the quality of the final books was extremely high.

A recent PIRLS global report put literacy in SA at crisis levels – 8 out of 10 grade fours currently cannot read for meaning in any language. Where on earth do we start as regular citizens?

The simple answer is, read to your children. It takes time, but nothing will have a bigger impact on their enthusiasm for reading.

You’ve created several children’s books that are entirely wordless. What inherent value do you feel storytelling has for children and adults everywhere?

Wordless story books teach something more fundamental than reading: That if you look at them in the right way, a bunch of flat pieces of paper can become a world full of emotions and surprises and things worth knowing. If kids don’t understand this then they won’t want to learn the squiggly symbols we call words. But once children love books, they’re hooked.

What value is there to always playing with words and ideas?

Play looks messy, but it’s a great way to understand things on a deep level. And if you get really good at play, it becomes indistinguishable from work. People pay you to do it. It happens in an office. It can be really, really hard, and it can take years. The difference is that it’s fun.

You have a young daughter. Can you tell us a little about how you are introducing her to imaginative worlds through books and storytelling?

Matilda has just turned one, and we read to her every day. As soon as she can talk I’ll make up stories for her. I’m looking forward to it, but not as much as I’m looking forward to the stories she’ll be telling me.

Help Nal’ibali read aloud to one million children this World Read Aloud Day, Thursday 01 February! Visit the Nal’ibali webpage at to sign up and download the brand-new story by acclaimed South African author, Zukiswa Wanner, in any official South African language. You’ll be joining a wave of adults across the country reading to children and raising awareness of the importance of this simple yet effective activity.


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And our sunshine noir author for January is ... Chanette Paul!

A new months calls for a new sunshine noir author sending shivers down the spines of local thriller fans…

This month, the co-author of the popular Detective Kubu series, Michael Sears, had the opportunity to interview Chanette Paul for The Big Thrill – the magazine for international thriller writers.

Chanette is a household name among Afrikaans thriller enthusiasts, and recently published her first English novel, Sacrificed.

Here’s what the two sunshine noir superstars chatted about:

Chanette Paul is one of South Africa’s most prolific Afrikaans authors, having written more than 40 books that span several subgenres. She was born in Johannesburg but has traveled widely, and lived in different parts of South Africa. She now lives in the Overberg on the bank of the Kleine River in the Cape, a spot not too different from the home of the protagonist, Caz Colijn, of Sacrificed, which was released last year in South Africa and the U.S. to critical acclaim. The New York Journal of Books said: “Sacrificed places Chanette Paul among the classiest thriller writers of our day.” High praise indeed for her first novel in English!

Sacrificed has a broad scope – starting in the Belgian Congo in the 1960s, it has ripples of murder and of rape of the rich resources of that country, spreading to South Africa and to Belgium itself. Caz lives a quiet, solitary life, having been rejected by her moralistic husband and family. Unexpectedly, she receives a call from Belgium to say that the woman she thought was her mother is dying, and wants to tell her the true story of her birth. Reluctantly, she goes to Belgium, where her family now lives, and learns that the people she thought were her parents were paid to bring her up by her real mother, who abandoned her at birth. But while Caz searches for the truth about her past, others are interested in her mother because of what she took with her from the Congo. The fact that Caz responds to the call starts a chain of intrigue which threatens all in her strange extended family.

What attracted you to writing novels, and when did you start writing seriously?

Stories have fascinated me ever since I can remember. I started writing stories when I was about eight. My first success was when I was 16, a fairy tale which was read on a children’s program on the radio. The second, in my final school year, was a short story about teenage love, published in a family magazine. My next story was rejected, and so were a few after that. I came to the conclusion that I had it wrong. I was, after all, not meant to be a writer.

It took me 20 years of doubting my abilities before I decided it was now make or break. In 1995, I took the proverbial bull by the horns. I wanted to write the sort of books I enjoy reading, stories that play out from A – Z, full of things happening to interesting people. So, novels were a natural choice. To test the waters I started off with a romance novel – probably to counter the rough seas of matrimony I had experienced at that time. It was published the next year and after that I couldn’t stop. I’ve experimented with many genres since then, but suspense novels and thrillers have been my drug of choice from 2007 onwards.

You have a big following in South Africa – over 40 published books – and have won a number of prizes, yet this is the first one of your books available in English. Was this book designed to appeal to a broader audience?

I was approached by a Belgian agent whose wife can read Afrikaans and loved my books. He asked me if I would consider writing a novel set in Belgium for possible publication in Dutch.

I agreed on the condition that my main characters would be South African as I thought it would be presumptuous to try to write from a Belgian point of view. Also, I had to take my South African readers into consideration as I write for them in the first place.

So, the novel and the sequel were intended to appeal to an audience in the Low Countries as well as South African readers. It was well received and my publishers thought it might appeal to an audience in English speaking countries too. I dearly hope they were right!

Much of the book takes place in Belgium and it’s clear that you know the country. Did you live there in preparation for writing Sacrificed, or was living there what gave you the idea for the theme?

This whole project was a huge challenge as previously I’d only been in Belgium for two days and that more than 20 years before. I realized I had to go there if I wanted the book to be authentic. So I took the prize money from an award I had just won, dug into my mortgage account, begged and borrowed elsewhere, and set off to Belgium for a month. By that time, I was petrified. I had no story, I’d never travelled alone overseas and I’m a nervous traveler even when accompanied.

I didn’t go there to find my story, but to absorb the country and its people so I can portray both to the best of my ability. All I knew more or less for sure was that it would be logical for the Belgian Congo to be the nodal point between South Africa and Belgium in my story.

I walked miles, sat at street cafes, drank local beers (and to my delight discovered kriekbier), ate Belgian food, and eavesdropped on as many conversations as possible. It helped a lot that my mom was Dutch. I can’t speak Dutch or Flemish, but I understand it well and read it quite fluently.

I had many lucky breaks. I had the privilege, for instance, to go to lunch with a history professor who had headed the commission of enquiry into Patrice Lumumba’s death, and he imparted not only a fountain of knowledge about the murder, but also about life in the Belgian Congo, how the country gained independence as well as the aftermath.

I also had the opportunity to visit the largest diamond bourse in Antwerp, where the then president of the bourse showed me a whole bag full of raw diamonds, let me touch and – I must admit – fondle them. Amongst other valuable information gained from him, he also explained the pipeline diamonds follow after they’ve been mined.

While there, I discovered so many things in Belgium that peaked my interest, that I couldn’t decide what to take and what to leave. It was only when I got back to South Africa that the story slowly started to crystalize. After Caz materialized, it became an organic process. I found my story as I wrote.

Continue reading their conversation here.


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Capetonian author, François Bloemhof, breaks into Hollywood

Capetonian author, François Bloemhof, a prolific writer of adult, teenage and youth fiction, who has written close to 80 titles, is going to Hollywood.

This versatile writer’s adult work explores thriller, supernatural and more conventional dramatic themes, but for his Hollywood debut, he will be writing the screenplay of a movie with a thriller/sci-fi slant.

Apart from being a full-time writer, Bloemhof is obsessed with film. He watches movies and series daily, he says, as part of his research and owns a massive DVD and Blue Ray collection. On the local front, he is not an unknown when it comes to movies. He has been involved in a number of successful screenplays or novels based on screenplays in South Africa, notably Pad na jou hart, Vir altyd and Vir die voëls. His first fiction title that was filmed is based on Doodskoot / Double Echo, published in 2016.

A friend encouraged him to pitch for the screenplay for Hollywood. Cleverly, he took the outline of an Afrikaans thriller which was published in 1997, Die Nagbesoeker, and gave it a sci-fi twist. And so, The Night Visitor was born.

The plot centres around the story of a successful city model whose sister is murdered in a coastal town, but hers is not the only murder that takes place! The model, who is already in a relationship, visits the town and becomes attracted to a man who recently moved there. Strange things happen. Friends react unexpectedly. She comes to the conclusion that no one is to be trusted.

According to his Facebook page, Bloemhof will be writing the screenplay himself.

In November 2017 Francois Bloemhof’s two latest titles were published by new independent publishing outfit, Imbali General & Trade. Set in Durbanville, Feeding Time and Dieretuin explore the shenanigans of a well-to-do family known as ‘The Zoo’. Their unconventional lifestyle and appetite make of this thriller a surprising page turner, which blindsides the reader overwhelmingly.

Francois’ books, including Feeding Time, are available at the following stores: Exclusives, Wordsworth, Protea, Book Lounge, Graffiti Books, CNA, and PNA.

To find out for information about these titles or about Imbali, visit their website, or their Facebook page.

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Feeding Time


Our sunshine noir author for November is ... Martin Steyn

A new month calls for a new local thriller author sending shivers down reader’s across the continent’s spine…

Michael Sears, co-author of the perennially popular Detective Kubu-series recently conducted an interview with author Martin Steyn for The Big Thrill.

Here’s what the two sunshine noir aficionados chatted about…

Martin Steyn got into writing because of Stephen King’s The Dark Half, and then into writing crime fiction because he was fascinated by what motivated serial killers to hunt strangers for pleasure and how they did it. He began by reading books on the subject, while scanning the local paper for reports on a serial killer dumping the bodies of young boys in the dunes not far from where he lived.

Martin studied psychology and criminology at the University of South Africa. After that he studied serial killers and profiling in earnest, following it up with research into the investigation of violent crime in South Africa.

In 2014 Martin’s first crime novel set in Cape Town, Donker Spoor, was published in Afrikaans and the following year it was awarded an important prize for South African suspense fiction. Earlier this year the English version, Dark Traces, came out in South Africa, and it has just been released in the US.

Martin places a premium on realism, and it shows in the book. But his character study of his protagonist, Jan Magson, and the people caught up in the killer’s wake are riveting.

Authors are often asked where they get their ideas. You mentioned that the idea for the murderer in Dark Traces came from reading true crime. Would you tell us a bit more about that, and how you base your work on real cases?

I prefer reading true crime to crime fiction, although when it comes to writing, it’s the other way around – this might be a Gemini thing. So I read a lot of true crime, particularly about serial killers and profiling, and I came across an article about a serial killer who really piqued my interest. I don’t want to name him, since it could be a spoiler, but I got the book written about the case and the more I read about it, the more I just thought I had to use this for a story. So I took his personality and psychology as a base, built it up with research into sexual sadism, added some quirks like the hangings, and that became my killer. In terms of the story, there are a few elements from the actual case, but I used it mostly for character creation.

Probably due to my love of true crime, I’m very much into realistic crime fiction. When I started writing crime, I wanted to write about killers like the ones I read about, like Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Andrei Chikatilo, and Moses Sithole and the Station Strangler here in South Africa, rather than the fictional versions who often bear very little resemblance to reality. Hannibal Lecter is a wonderful character, but Jame Gumb (Buffalo Bill) is much closer to the real thing. I’m interested in the latter, so that is where I look for inspiration when it comes to building a character. Sometimes it’s an actual killer, as in Dark Traces, sometimes it’s created from the characteristics of a certain type of killer based on research. I’m quite fond of the work of the ex-FBI profilers like John Douglas, Robert Ressler, and Roy Hazelwood, and rely on that a lot.

I do look to real cases for inspiration. My third novel (I write in Afrikaans first) deals with a kind of crime – a woman held captive indefinitely – rather than a specific case. And the one I’m working on now was inspired by an actual case in Cape Town, although the story, characters, and motivation are very different. So it’s not so much “base on” as exploit as a starting point or a character or a kind of crime. But after that I want the story and characters to have the freedom to develop in whichever way they go. I don’t want to be bound by the events of the actual case.

The serial killer is obviously central to the books. How far do you think a writer is able to understand the mind of a psychopath? How hard should we try?

I don’t know if you can ever completely understand that utter lack of empathy. But if you want to write about psychopaths in a convincing manner, then you have to put in the effort. Research is key, both books like Without Conscience by Robert Hare, who has spent almost his entire adult life studying psychopaths, and biographies about men like Ted Bundy. Scanning the entry in Wikipedia isn’t really going to get you there. You have to immerse yourself, because there is a huge difference between knowing the characteristics of psychopaths and understanding how they act and react (or often fail to react).

Continue reading here.

PS – Read J.H. Bográn’s recent feature interview with Michael Stanley here.

Dark Traces

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