Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

2016 Mail & Guardian Literary Festival celebrates the life and work of Sol Plaatje

Lover of His PeopleSol Plaatje's Native Life in South AfricaSol PlaatjeThree PlaysThe Spirit of Marikana

The seventh annual Mail & Guardian Literary Festival will take place on 8 and 9 October in Newtown, Johannesburg at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre.

The festival will mark the 140th anniversary of the birth of Sol Plaatje, novelist, poet, translator, chronicler and founder member of what is now the African National Congress (9 October, 1876).

Find the full programme and all info about the venue and tickets below.

Event Details

Have a look at the programme:



Book details

How to fill the Harry Potter hole

By Jennifer Platt for the Sunday Times

nullHarry Potter And The Cursed ChildHaving read the eighth story – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – for the third time, I seem to have an insatiable need for more Potter. It’s my comfort reading: surrounding myself in a familiar story that gives me hope as an adult that things will be okay; that even if I’m now old and world weary, there is hope that, dammit, we will live in a better place.

I’m thankfully not alone in my love of all things Harry. The Cursed Child sold more than 22 000 copies in print in its first week in SA. Worldwide it had sold – at the beginning of August – two million copies. The world, it seems, wants more and more and JK Rowling gives and gives. She has announced that all the bits and bobs of her short stories and other features will be collected into Pottermore Presents: three bite-sized ebooks which will feature some new stories – yay! They will be released on September 6 and for sale on the Pottermore website and on Amazon.

Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists is said to give a “glimpse of the darker roots of the wizarding world”. Heroism, Hardship And Dangerous Hobbies tells a bit of the backstory of Professor Lupin, and Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide tells the history of the school.

If you want an immersive experience and are in London in May 2017, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will be playing John William’s iconic score from The Philosopher’s Stone while the movie is shown on a big screen. And at the end of November this year, the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them will be released worldwide.

If that’s too far down the line, there are other options that show promise.

SmokePoison CityNeverwhere


Smoke by Dan Vyleta is, according to Stylist on the back cover, “filling that gaping hole left by both Harry Potter and Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights”. It features three teenagers fighting the establishment. It’s very Dickensian and is more slanted towards Pullman’s series about dust. Smoke is as complicated as dust to understand.

Paul Crilley’s Poison City is a new crime series set in Durban. Gideon Tau, its main character, fights demons and has a wand. But no one should call him Harry Potter. He also has a talking dog. I’m not a fan of anthropomorphism but Crilley’s story is irreverent, paints a dark and fantastical KZN and is an easy read.

A new edition of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere has been released with illustrations by Chris Riddell. It’s a beautiful hardback copy to add to your collection, and Gaiman’s story about an underworld in London has word-play elements that have made Rowling’s books such a pleasure. There’s the dangerous Night Bridge (get it? Knightsbridge); Earl’s Court that is actually the court of an Earl, and The Old Bailey, all feathered and elderly, who sits on top of the old buildings, watching everything.

And if Gaiman can’t fill that Harry hole, there’s always chocolate. Its mood-enhancing qualities are said to help if there are Dementors around sucking out your happiness. Best to stock up.

Follow Jennifer Platt on Twitter @Jenniferdplatt

Book details

Harry the difficult dad: Jennifer Platt reviews Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Our favourite wizard has grown up, but he still knows how to cast a spell, writes Jennifer Platt for the Sunday Times

Harry Potter And The Cursed ChildHarry Potter and the Cursed Child
JK Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne (Little, Brown)

If you are afraid that the eighth book will mess with your love of Harry Potter, don’t worry. JK Rowling has done it again. It thrillingly and effortlessly transports you back to the magical world filled with those much-loved characters and surprising storylines. Best of all, it’s fun!

Even though it is the script of a two-part play, with the story by Rowling but written by theatre greats John Tiffany and Jack Thorne, it has the heart of her novels. It’s also 330 pages long.

The story starts 19 years after Harry has battled Voldemort. It takes off exactly from the epilogue of the last book, The Deathly Hallows, with grownups Harry, Hermione, Ron and their families at King’s Cross Station on Platform 9 3/4.

Harry is now 37, world weary, and married to Ginny Weasley. They have three children, and the middle one, Albus Severus (named after Dumbledore and Snape), is off to his first year at Hogwarts. Worried that he will be sorted into the house of Slytherin, he gets iffy advice from his dad: “The Sorting Hat will take your feelings into account … it did for me.”

(Here come some spoilers …)

It doesn’t. Albus is immediately sorted into Slytherin, and this is the beginning of the deterioration of his relationship with his father.

One of the main themes of the Potter books was lasting friendship. Harry met Hermione and Ron on the Hogwarts Express on their first trip to the school. This time the theme is built around Albus’s friendship with Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius. Like Harry and Ron, Albus meets him on the train and they share sweets – “Schock-o-Choc, Pepper Imps and Jelly Slugs”. They become firm friends who have much in common – they both have to deal with who their fathers are, their reputations and legacies.

Albus struggles to live up to what he thinks his father wants him to be. He has difficulty flying, is lousy at potions and spells and hates being at Hogwarts.

Scorpius has to deal with being a maleficent Malfoy – or even worse, Voldemort’s child, according to rumours. Despite his parentage or rumoured parentage, Scorpius is lovable, charming, clever and kind – and foolhardy Albus is lucky to have him as a friend.

To prove to his father that he is worthy of being a Potter, Albus decides on a harebrained scheme of saving someone in his father’s past. Together with Scorpius they use a time-turner – a device that allows them to travel quite far back in time. (This is unlike the one in The Prisoner of Azkaban, which allowed Hermione and Harry to travel only hours back in time).

We are then placed firmly in the past in the Goblet of Fire book, where the Triwizard Tournament takes place. This is a good device for settling readersin and allowing fans to go back to their favourite place and time to meet characters long gone.

By their actions, Albus and Scorpius set off a butterfly effect. Their world now has been changed by the events of the past. And – like their parents – instead of consulting with the adults they try to fix the problems themselves.

The writers show that things do change, but Harry Potter and his universe are still as enthralling and magical as ever.

Follow Jennifer Platt on Twitter @Jenniferdplatt

Book details

Hagen Engler shares the books that built him

Published in the Sunday Times

In the Maid's RoomIn The Maid’s Room
Hagen Engler (Jacana)

I’m most satisfied with my writing when I’m nervous about it. When I’m not sure how it will be received. It might be an experiment with form, topic or style, or just pushing the boat out further than usual. I take solace in the fact that these people did it before me, and better …
Trainspotting Screenplay
Trainspotting adaptation by John Hodge: I read this as a screenplay when it came free with a copy of Loaded magazine in the ’90s. I was stoked that a story so visceral, surreal and uncompromising could be nominated for an Academy award. The swearing, the drugs, the bodily fluids and the raw Scots dialect from Irvine Welsh’s original novel made me realise there are no limits to writing and that dialogue in local dialect can be amazing.
Thirteen Cents
Thirteen Cents by K Sello Duiker: The later Quiet Violence Of Dreams was more literary, and maybe better, but I read this first. This tiny book, with its magic realism, showed me Cape Town in such a fresh way … It became a place of dreams, monsters and people who fly. “I take out my money. Thirteen cents. I must have lost one cent on the mountain.” So powerful.
'Master Harold' ... and the Boys
‘Master Harold’ … And the Boys by Athol Fugard: Another great book that was not a novel. It gave me a broader understanding of what a book is. Of course it also taught me that as a white person, much of whatever I had was built on the exploitation of other people. It’s an intensely human story told in 60 pages. The play opens, “The St George’s Park tearoom on a wet and windy Port Elizabeth afternoon.” I grew up 500m from there, so it couldn’t be closer to home.
House Of Leaves
House Of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski: Hundreds of pages, parallel and intersecting nightmare stories. Footnotes that grow and take over the main text, drawings, photos, poems, indexes, appendices, scripts … The creepiest, most ominous, disturbing book ever. Taught me to be episodic and unfettered by form and typography. And that if you’re going to write evil, do it properly.
City Of Nine Gates by Zebulon Dread: I bought this from the author himself, hand-to-hand in Melville. I’ve always believed in self-published authors and am one myself. This book of three stories is just so unfiltered. He drops two F-bombs on the copyright page and goes hard from there. Dread was an independent voice who would not be edited or constrained. With dreadlocks, a gown and a pair of underpants, he was living his aesthetic. Confirmed to me that you can write what you like. You will be called to account for it, though, so you must be brave.
•Engler’s novel In The Maid’s Room (Jacana, R220) is about “the surfer, stoner culture of PE, but also the slow death of white entitlement”.

Book details

How many books get sold in SA every year?

An excerpt from The Good Book Appreciation Society August Newsletter:

Have you ever wondered what SA publishing looks like from the inside? How many books the average South African author sells? Or what constitutes a local bestseller? We took a closer look at the numbers, read ‘em and weep:

There were 10.5 million books sold in South Africa in 2015*.

But let’s not pop the champagne quite yet. The majority of this number, about 80%, is made up of non-fiction sales; text books, biographies, sports books, self-help, memoirs, cook books, the Kardashians telling all – again, adult colouring-in books, religious books, kids books, joke books, Zapiro’s Xmas special etc.

Out of those 10.5 million books, adult fiction only makes up about 2.5* million sales annually, or around 20%, if that. And only a FRACTION of those sales come from SA fiction. The rest are internationals; your JK Rowlings, Lee Childs, John Grisham, Gillian Flynn et al.

Harry Potter And The Cursed ChildTheodore Boone: The ScandalMake MeGone Girl

South African fiction sells somewhere in the region of 550 000 books a year across thousands of titles (and that’s being generous). BUT here’s the zinger, more than 450 000* of those are Afrikaans books.

And this is where we get to the sad part of the story. Your average SA novelist writing in English only sells 600 – 1000 copies of a novel in its lifetime. In a country with a population of more than 60 million people** (**2013).

The cherry on top: there were only 3 traditionally published South African english novels that sold more than 2000 copies in 2014. Any guesses which those were?

So please, give something local a shot next time you’re buying. It’s not life and death, but it kind of is.

* Nielsens Bookscan. Nielsen’s measure book sales at mainstream retail outlets – these figures do not include independent book stores.

The Good Book Appreciation Society is a ‘secret’ book club on Facebook with almost 6000 members.
To join the Good Book Appreciation Society or sign up for the monthly newsletter, email or friend Bea Reader on FB, and we’ll add you to the club.

Book details

An interview with Anne Woodborne

Anne Woodborne

Anne Woodborne’s debut novel, The Cry of the Hangkaka, tells the story of Karin, a young child who is uprooted from her home in South Africa when her mother, Irene, packs up their things to escape the shame of divorce. Irene is so desperate to start afresh that she marries the drunken, tyrannical Jack and follows him, first to Scotland, then to Nigeria, forcing Karin to live a lonely life where books and her imagination offer the only escape from solitude and the loathsome Jack.

We asked Anne to share her thoughts on writing colonial Nigeria using a child narrator.


Like Karin, you spent part of your childhood in Scotland and Nigeria; is The Cry of the Hangkaka partly autobiographical? Can you give some examples of what you chose to fictionalise and why?

The Cry of the Hangkaka is partly autobiographical; that is faction – part fact, part fiction. I chose to fictionalise all the characters because memory is often faulty and always subjective. It was also to give me the scope to extend and embellish the characters and to distance myself when writing about the sensitive issues of domestic violence and abuse. It was necessary to invent characters and situations in the narrative to fill the voids where a young child might not have understood the implications of what she was witnessing. For example, I used the fictional character of Adia to explain a real incident where Amos physically attacks Jack later in the book; an altercation Karin finds confusing. The account of Jack’s drunken arrival at the school’s nativity play was invented to show his conflicted character – his addiction to alcohol and his urge to humiliate and shame Karin and Irene. The alcoholic’s illogical and inexplicable behaviour can only be surmised by the reader. Although much of my book is fiction, I think I stuck closely to the emotional truth.

The Cry of the Hangkaka The story is set in colonial Nigeria, although seen from the perspective of the mostly Scottish expats, who stick to their private and social spaces. What were your goals when crafting the world of the novel?

My goal was to recreate the era just after World War 2 and capture the feeling of new beginnings and fresh hope after the horror of war. It’s a new beginning for Irene as well. At a time when displaced people are desperately trying to return home, she is just as desperate to leave home to escape her bad memories and bitterness. She takes herself and Karin to the northern hemisphere to marry a man she hardly knows, to live in a country depleted by war. It’s a risky venture and one wonders why she chooses to travel so far to escape her past. The theme of displaced people continues with the Scottish expats living in isolation on the Jos Plateau amongst the various indigenous tribes. The contrast between the cultures of the Scottish expats and the Hausa/Fulani tribes could not have been greater. I enjoyed the challenge of recreating the mores of the 1940s and 1950s in a tropical setting.

During her time in Nigeria, Karin reads a book about a Viking named Siward, and his lover, Frida. The Cry of the Hangkaka includes many extracts from this book, which comes to play a significant role in Karin’s life. Why did you choose a Viking tale and what is it about this story that makes it so meaningful to Karin?

It’s purely by accident that Karin is drawn to the Viking saga in the second-hand bookshop in Perth. Perhaps it’s the pocket-sized edition and the gold lettering. Once she starts reading the book on the voyage to Lagos, she is drawn in by the bold character of Siward and the magical, fantastical world of ancient adventure he represents – a world that becomes an escape from her often unpleasant reality. Later at school, she learns more about ancient civilisations in the book From Ur toRome by Kathleen Gadd and Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill. Like all solitary children, Karin needs an imaginary friend but she uses the book character of Siward to be her imaginary protector. She hopes to assimilate his bravery and fearlessness into her own oppressed, fearful self. One can perhaps go so far as to say that on a subconscious level, he becomes a quasi-father-figure. Rather than tell the reader what Karin reads in the Saga, I chose to show what it was like for her to enter that fantasy world and thus wrote the extracts to insert into the narrative. I enjoyed the opportunity to write in another voice.

What are the challenges and pleasures of writing a child narrator for an adults’ story?

After a few false starts, I realised the book had to be written from a child’s perspective. I wanted to give the child who had been silenced and neglected a voice so she could be heard. The challenge was to put myself in the body of a five-year old child, see the world through her eyes, and tell the story with her limited vocabulary. For instance, when she visits her Ouma to say goodbye and the old lady draws in her breath for an angry outburst, I used ‘nose holes’ instead of nostrils. As Karin grows, so does her vocabulary. Her speech becomes more sophisticated as she becomes more observant. I had to be careful not to drift off into an adult’s voice. I used a lot of adult conversation (overheard by Karin) to keep the narrative flowing. Viewing the world through a child’s eyes recalls a kind of freshness when life offers new sights and sounds (e.g. Karin’s first hearing of the Luton Girls’ Choir and her encounter with death, whom she turns into an image) and her childish naiveté gives rise to an innocent humour.

Karin has an aversion to lies and secrets but the adults in her life force them upon her. Paradoxically she uses a ‘badgirl’ persona to express honesty, if only to herself. Would you say this kind of contradiction exemplifies the relationship between children and adults? How does Karin cope with the difficulties of living as child among adults?

The need for lies and secrecy evolves out of Irene’s obsessive desire for respectability; she fears being the object of gossip and moral condemnation. Karin finds this especially burdensome after Pammy’s mother impresses upon her the importance of being truthful (one of the book’s facts). Karin has to be circumspect about what she tells her friends about her family; she’s aware that her family has shameful secrets. This make her feel like an outsider. Karin’s badgirl voice is her way of keeping true to herself and also the first sign of rebellion. She can never speak her truth in her home because there would be unpleasant repercussions. Irene needs her to be tidy, respectful and compliant.

Faced with such restrictions, Karin has no choice but to go underground. Most children keep secrets about themselves from their parents; it’s a way of growing up and achieving independence. A section in J.M. Coetzee’s autobiography Boyhood springs to mind, where he says he had to hide everything he ever loved from his mother, burrowed deep in a hole like a trapdoor spider. In Karin’s case it’s her imagination that enables her to escape into fantasy from Jack’s tyranny and her mother’s strictures; in J.M.Coetzee’s case it was his love of everything Russian.

By using her imagination to escape interior worlds. Karin finds a coping mechanism to deal with difficult caretakers.

Jack is a vicious, opaque character. Why does he loathe children?

Jack is aloof, arrogant and deeply uncomfortable around children as well as society in general. He finds it difficult to interact with people. This may have stemmed from his own troubled relationship with his father.

Jack may fear his own vulnerability, which he sees reflected in Karin. He is also possessive of Irene, and does not want the child to intrude on their privacy. He resents having the child of another man under his roof. His prolonged abuse of alcohol brings about personality changes and entrenches his negativity. Long-term alcohol abuse causes frontal lobe syndrome, and the frontal lobes are the seat for judgement, empathy and caring.

Jack is a composite character; I drew on a few sources to create him, the main one being the real-life Jack himself.

Are you working on any new writing projects?

I am working on the third draft of my second novel. Its progress has been patchy because life keeps getting in the way and I have just had another downsizing move.

The protagonist in my second novel, whose working title is ‘Torn’, is coasting along in a fairly stable relationship and has a number of children when her life suddenly does a 180-degree turn; nothing is as it was and it is frightening and terrible. How she survives and how her children are affected is the theme of the book. It could also be seen as the portrait of a toxic narcissistic character.

I am still trying to get the right voice, an authentic one.

Thank you for your time Anne!

Interview by Lauren Smith

The Cry of the Hangkaka

Book details