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

"Through a self-conscious engagement we can learn to live our lives in relation to nature without domination." Jacklyn Cock at the launch of Writing the Ancestral River

By Mila de Villiers

The audience and author at the recent launch Love Books launch of Writing the Ancestral River: A biography of the Kowie.

“Jackie was concerned about the turn-out, but it looks as if the whole of Black Sash is here,” a close friend of author Jacklyn Cock quipped at the launch of Cock’s Writing the Ancestral River.

He did have a point…

Love Books, a gem of an independent book store in Johannesburg, was teeming with acquaintances of the author and bibliophiles alike, eager to hear Cock – a feminist, Marxist, environmental activist and Professor Emeritus at Wits University – discuss her book with fellow activist, socialist and the director of Khanya College, Oupa Lehulere.

Cock emphasised the impact the past continues to have on the present throughout their conversation, drawing on the historical significance of the Kowie River (the subject of her book), in terms of both the colonial history behind the river and its peoples, as well as the current danger the river is facing at the hand of developers. (Whom Cock describes as “irresponsible destroyers of the natural world.” Hear hear!)

Cock informed the audience that she structured her book around three moments which shaped the environmental and social significance of the Kowie: the Battle of Grahamstown (22 April 1819); the development of the Port Alfred harbour; and the destructive impact caused by the construction of the Port Alfred Marina, stressing the ecological damage the river has endured during and after the development thereof.

In her chapter on the Battle of Grahamstown, Cock draws on the parasitic relationship between genocide and ecocide, citing the scorched earth policy employed by the colonial settlers to claim ownership over the riverbanks as detrimental to both the surrounding habitat of the river, and the livelihood of the Xhosa people.

Cock’s relationship with the Kowie stems from more than that of a concerned environmentalist, she told the riveted audience.

Her great-great grandfather, William Cock, was one of the British settlers who helped to consolidate colonial power over the river. Regarded as a visionary amongst her family, Cock vehemently declared that he was a “war monger”. (Followed by a quick “[m]y parents would turn in their graves if they heard me say this out loud!”)

She further described her ancestor as an “instigator of ecocide”.

“The initial title of the book was going to be From genocide to ecocide,” she confined, adding that “I’m not very good at titles…”

The history and legacy of the Kowie River acts as a continuation of deep sociological and environmental injustice, Cock stated. The river is currently under threat; a victim of privileged greed. (The decision to construct the Port Alfred Marina was made by eight white men, of which six were property developers, Cock disclosed.)

“We have to acknowledge our past,” Cock continued.

“Through a self-conscious engagement we can learn to live our lives in relation to nature without domination.”

Unfortunately humanity has, throughout the ages, regarded nature as a separate entity; a mere ‘thing’ which main purpose is to serve us, without giving any heed to the exploitation thereof, or its mortality.

“We have to rethink the ways we produce, in a just and caring way. The notion of a just transition encompasses the links between social and environmental issues,” Cock said, furthering this argument by referring to post-apartheid legislation which didn’t prioritise environmental reform.

The difficulty in shifting our mindsets about producing in an environmentally-conscious way lies with the labour movement, she continued, employing the example of coal factories shutting down in favour of renewable energy sources as a threat to jobs.

Cock criticised the exclusionary nature of discussing environmental (in)justices, attributing this tendency to the remote spaces in which such discussion predominately take place, namely that of universities.

“Academics talk to each other, yet everybody should get involved in the struggle.”

(This proclamation was met with a “Viva!” from an audience member, followed by unanimous applause.)

We have to understand that all sectors of society are under threat, Cock continued, adding that we should have respect for the natural world apart from monetary value, concluding with the following powerful statements:

“We have to move away from the materialistic notion that values are attached to power; this is a fundamentally flawed way of thinking.

All of us are part of one ecological unity.”


Book details

"Does the pirate already know who his pursuer is?" Read an exhilarating excerpt from Catching the Thunder

A story of courage and perseverance.

Wanted by Interpol, infamous poaching ship Thunder evaded justice for over 10 years. Illegally making millions a year, its crew hunted endangered species and destroyed ocean habitats. In Dec. 2014, Captain Hammarstedt of the Bob Barker and his crew began a relentless pursuit of the Thunder – a hazardous race across three oceans, the longest chase in maritime history.

The authors follow this incredible expedition, encountering criminal kingpins, rampant corruption, slavery and an international community content to turn a blind eye. Catching the Thunder becomes a symbolic race to save the planet.

Eskil Engdal and Kjetil Sæter were the first to tell the story of the hunt for Thunder in a series of newspaper articles. Both are award-winning investigative journalists in their own rights, between them winning the SKUP journalism award, the International Reporter’s Journalism Award and the Golden Pen, among others.

Read an extract!

The Southern Ocean,
December 2014

Everything is in motion.

The albatrosses, suspended effortlessly on the air current with their three-metre-long wings, now cross upward against the wind. Then they set out in a broad-reaching, leeward arc, plummet towards the surface of the ocean and turn back into the wind to ascend once more.

In the south, out of the Prydz Bay, an eternal, invisibly flowing stream transports ice from inner Antarctica to the coast. The winds rush out from the hinterland. Shaped by dense, cold air from the Antarctic continent, they sweep down the uncompromising polar plateau and inward across the coast.

The wind is blowing from the southwest at four knots; the ocean is flowing silently and calmly around the two ships and the waves swelling to heights of barely more than a metre. The Thunder is headed west. Does the pirate already know who his pursuer is? Is that why the mate on the Thunder is sailing in the opposite direction of the Bob Barker’s home port in Tasmania? Perhaps he wants to test how far Captain Peter Hammarstedt is willing to pursue them?

Suddenly, the Thunder changes course, heading in the direction of a belt of pack ice. The mate reduces the speed to two knots, heads northwest and around a square ice sheet. The two ships sail along the northern edge of the drift ice for a long while. When they enter a wide gulf with ice on all sides, the Thunder stops. It is as if for a moment the ship becomes aware of the danger that lies ahead.

“There’s a lot of pack ice. Let’s see what these guys do. They may turn, they might go in,” first mate Adam Meyerson says. “It is a waste of their time and ours. They may be testing us. We are faster than they are, so they cannot outrun us. Trying to wear down our jaw. I’m sure they are desperate. They have no other options,” he says.

“They are just going to see what we will do, I think. Let’s get in right on their stern,” Hammarstedt says.

During the brief lull, the Bob Barker’s photographer runs up on deck to take photographs of the draft marks, which indicate how high the Thunder is sitting in the water. This can give them an idea of the amount of supplies and fuel on board.

Then the Thunder doggedly directs its bow towards the pack ice, at first carefully and tentatively, as if the shipmaster wants to test how contact with the ice will affect the ship.

Suddenly, it speeds up and the propeller churns open an ice-free channel which allows the Bob Barker to follow without having to do any icebreaking of its own. Hammarstedt cannot follow more than 700–800 metres behind the Thunder, or the channel that has been cleared ahead of them will close up.

“Who knows what the game is?” asks Simon Ager, the Sea Shepherd’s Canadian photographer.

“They may be testing if we will go into the ice. They may try to see if they can go through the ice faster than us,” Meyerson says, holding one hand beneath his chin and observing the manoeuvre taking place in front of him with an incredulous gaze.

For a moment, Captain Hammarstedt considers calling up the captain of the Thunder and asking if he thinks the manoeuvre into the ice is advisable, but he decides against it. He does not want to reveal his own nervousness.

Hammarstedt’s foremost concern is that the ice will oblige him to stop. Then it will close up behind the Bob Barker and can force its way in between the hull and the rudder, putting the most exposed part of the ship out of commission. That is a nightmare when you are located two weeks from the closest port and the only ship in the vicinity is fighting to get rid of you. The most dangerous of all is navigating between the ice and the Antarctic continent if the wind should suddenly change direction, sending the ice masses towards the ship while the wind laboriously packs the ice around the hull, shutting it in. Then the steel will begin to give way, the pressure from the ice threatening to tear it open. In such a case, getting into the life boats serves no purpose.

“Right now the Thunder is acting erratically. Trying to find something that sticks. We have never been up against these guys before. We are going to wear them down. I don’t think they will last that long,” Meyerson says on the bridge.

The sound of the ice scraping along the hull is like stone against a grinding wheel. The noise grates its way into the cabins, from time to time an explosion can be heard from the treacherous floes of drift ice. These are “bergy bits”: on the surface they are no more than 2–3 metres across, but nothing on the ocean surface reveals the actual depths to which they extend. When they break free from a drifting ice berg and reach the ocean, they roll over, washing off the surface snow and remain floating there with a clear surface of glassy ice that makes them difficult to read on the radar. Weighing up to 500 tons, they can easily sink a ship.

Around the Thunder and the Bob Barker the ice grows thicker and thicker. First it closes in around the Thunder, subsequently the Bob Barker. The ships are surrounded by ice and they plough slowly forward. Soon Adam Meyerson can make out a clear blue strip of open sea. The Thunder moves out of the ice first, increases its speed and sets its course north, away from the ice.
From the bridge they watch as the Thunder grows smaller and smaller against the horizon, but they know they will manage to catch up with her as soon as they have broken through the last of the ice floes.

A half hour after midnight, both of the ships are out on open water.

“Come on, guys, let’s go to Fremantle and I’ll buy you a beer. And then I take you to jail,” Adam Meyerson laughs.

Book details

"Daardie aand was die leeus nie ’n gerieflike kilometer ver nie, maar op ons stoep." Lees ’n uittreksel van Annelize Slabbert se ’n Luiperd in my bed

'n Luiperd in my bed“Met die middagson kom die lugspieëlings wat aan die vallei sy naam gegee het: Deception Valley. Dan skuil alles wat asemhaal in die koelte van ’n matjarra, rug na die wind gedraai. In die lang geelwit gras lê die leeus uitgestrek en slaap. Net die vlakvarke draf stertorent nader vir ’n modderbad.”

Annelize Slabbert was ’n joernalis in Johannesburg en haar man, Gerard, ’n apteker. Doodgewone stedelinge. Toe word hulle moeg vir die lewe in die stad, die spitsverkeer en die gejaag, en verhuis sak en pak na Botswana. Hier, in die son en sand van die Sentraal-Kalahari, gaan hulle ’n luukse vierster-lodge bestuur.

Min het hulle geweet wat wag.

Tussen die luiperdwyfie in die slaapkamer, die dansende Russe en “wilde diere” in die swembad, sal ’n Luiperd in my bed jou laat lê van die lag . . . en jou twee keer laat dink voor jy jou eie landelike idille aandurf.

Leeus op die stoep en luiperds in my bed

DIS al ná vyf in die middag en nog lank nie somer nie, maar die sand stuur steeds warm lug op. Die blare aan die matjarras voor ons huis is steeds dig, maar vaal van die wit Kalaharisand, deur die bronstige wind verwaai. By die watergat minder as tien tree van waar ek sit en lees, staan vyf kameelperde.

Met sy sierlike nek styf vorentoe gebuig, sak die karamelkleurige mannetjie se kop na die water. Hy plant sy voorbene beurtelings wyer uit mekaar tot sy kop laag genoeg is om te kan drink. Ritmies suig hy met diep teue, om dan met ’n slinger van sy lang nek sy kop omhoog te ruk terwyl waterdruppels die lug in spat.

Die rustige toneel by die watergat volg op ’n grillerige ondervinding in die middel van die middag.

Augustus het gekom met al sy nare wind en ook met temperature diep in die dertig. Saam met die hitte kom die somerslange, pas ontwaak ná ’n kortstondige winterslaap. Hul spore word oral in die droë veld gesien. Gisteroggend het Kapokkie, terwyl sy ons huis skoonmaak, sleepmerke op die werf opgemerk. Die spore het in die rigting van die agterdeur beweeg.

Gerard en die Boemans was gou by om die slang in die huis te soek. Met ’n klein katjie en twee honde, om nie eens van die skrikkerige bewoners van die huis te praat nie, is die aanwesigheid van ’n giftige reptiel allermins wenslik. Die soektog het niks opgelewer nie.

“Die slang is seker weer by die deur uit buitentoe,” verseker Gerard my.

Verdiep in my boek sit ek op die warm middaguur in die slaapkamer en lees toe ek ’n geritsel hoor. Ek kyk verskrik op en daar! Agter ’n prent teen my muur hang ’n lang loodgrys stert, ongeveer twee sentimeter dik.

“Dis ’n mamba! Gaan kry die manne,” beveel Gerard en ek laat nie op my wag nie.

’n Mamba-byt is dodelik. Maar dis steeds ontstellend om te dink die stomme dier word oral met soveel weersin en geweld hanteer. Gewapen met knopkieries en ’n spesiale haak word die arme slang grond toe gebring en genadeloos met die kieries aangerand, tot hy na die mening van die hele vergadering geen fut meer oorhet nie, al trek sy spiere steeds krampagtig saam.

Ná soveel jare in die bos bly dit steeds nodig om jouself voortdurend daaraan te herinner dat die wildernis aan die wild behoort en nie aan die mens wat glo hy is die heerser nie.

Aanvanklik was ek baie versigtig om al die deure en vensters toe te hou. Vroegoggend en ná skemer word die diere ingebring en die deure toegemaak. Maar soos die winterdae langer rek en tyd maak vir soel someraande is die behoefte aan ’n briesie te groot. Die groot houtraam-skuifvensters van ons huis is so wyd moontlik oopgetrek tot die somerson rondom die middaguur die sand en die stoep tot kookpunt gebak het en die huis so dig moontlik gesluit word.

Op een so ’n laat-lenteoggend kom Gerard en ek tuis vir ’n toebroodjie en tee. Met die eerste oopmaak van die sogenaamde Jolie-deure wat op die stoep uitgaan, voel ek iemand se teenwoordigheid in die huis aan. Gouelokkies se drie beertjies het waarskynlik dieselfde gewaarwording gehad toe hulle ná hul stappie in die bos tuisgekom het.

“En wie het op my bed gelê? Wie het my drafskoene rondgegooi? En wie het hulle STUKKEND GEBYT?”

Ons storm deur die slaapkamer na die aangrensende badkamer van waar ons die stort hoor ruis. Ons badhanddoeke tref ons in flarde aan die haak langs die stort aan. Die badkamervenster is nog wyer oopgedruk as toe ons daardie oggend in die stort was.

Buite los Gerard die raaisel op.

’n Fraai jong luiperdwyfie, wat ek Leila gedoop het, is die week tevore gereeld by die hooflodge en in die omgewing opgemerk. ’n Mens kan jou net verbeel dat Leila, soos die prinsessie wat sy was, daardie oggend behoefte aan ’n ruskansie in die hemelbed, gevolg deur ’n weelderige stort gehad het.

Die prosaïese verduideliking was dat sy bloot wou speel, die skoene en kussings na hartelus rondgegooi het, en toe ondersoek in die badkamer gaan instel het. Die nuwerwetse krane in die oop stort word nie gedraai nie, maar met een veeg opgeklap. Hoe die kleine Leila haar onder die strale water geniet het, kon ek net raai. Dalk was sy ergerlik oor die onverwagse bui reën en was dit waarom sy met haar skerp naels die handdoeke bygekom het. Ons het haar moontlik verras waar sy nog met haar toilet besig was – vandaar die oopgedrukte venster, haar ontsnaproete.

Op die stoep, wat oor die lengte van ons huis skadu op warm somermiddae gee, is gestoffeerde leunstoele waarin ’n mens met ’n boek kan opkrul. Dié lekkerte is eintlik vir die bewoners van die huis bedoel, maar in die ongetemde wêreld waar ons ons stadsgeriewe in stand wil hou, is daar te veel weerstand uit wildgeledere. Twee families leeus bewoon die plaas, een groep aan die westekant, ’n paar kilometer van die lodge, en die ander aan die oostekant, sommer digby ons.

Kort ná ons intrek in die Kalahari Manor, die koloniale plaashuis wat Gerard eintlik vir gaste gebou het, word ons een aand deur die angswekkende gebrul van ’n groep leeus wakker gemaak.

Die MGM-leeu se brul is ’n power namaaksel van die dawerende keel van ’n Kalahari-leeu. En daardie aand was die leeus nie ’n gerieflike kilometer ver nie, maar op ons stoep.

Bewend van skrik het ek met my flits op die Jolie-deur se glas gelig, reg teen die neus van ’n tiener-vuilbaard met net die ruit tussen ons. Langs en agter hom was nog vier jong lede van die bende moeilikheidmakers. In een se bek was ’n stoepkussing. In sy oë, verbeel ek my, ’n uitdaging.

Ek doen alles wat Gerard my vertel het hoe om koelkop in ’n leeukrisis te bly. Ek klap my hande. Dan hou ek my arms bo my kop in ’n poging om so groot en intimiderend as moontlik te lyk.

Maar die maaifoedies kyk my verveeld aan en nog een gryp ’n ander stoepkussing terwyl die ander een sy kussing met groot genot rondskud. Binne oomblikke bars die nate oop en warrel handevol kapok die naglug in.

Nou is die groepie in hul element.

Nóg kussings warrel deur die lug. Dit lyk soos sneeu in die Kalahari.

My kwaai vermanings val op dowe ore. Vanselfsprekend, want watter jong leeu sal hom laat rondsê deur ’n indringer mens in pajamas? Tot in daardie stadium was ek vies maar veilig. Maar die volgende oomblik stamp die voorbok, oftewel die voorleeu, met sy skouer teen die glasdeur, wat natuurlik nie gesluit was nie. Wie sluit jou deur in die bos? Daar is in elk geval geen sleutels vir die deure nie. Maar daardie deure het die nare geneigdheid om vanself oop te gaan wanneer iemand teen hulle stamp. Die gespierde katte aan die ander kant van die deur het heel anders gelyk as die singende leeugesin ’n Walt Disney se Lion King. Dié leeus was nie daar vir ’n pajamapartytjie nie.

Gelukkig het die kussingdiewe soos kwajongens met verbode vrugte besluit om die loop te neem met die kapok al warrelend om hul koppe. Die volgende oggend het ons kapok en stroke geblomde Sanderson ver en wyd opgetel en vir baie lank daarna het die Boesmans nog stukkies lap met roosmotiewe in die veld opgespoor.

My eerste belewenis van ’n familie leeus van naderby was in die modder-en-mis-huisie waar ons in die eerste jare van ons verblyf op die plaas gewoon het. Die woonplek het uit ’n kombuis-cum-leefvertrek bestaan, met twee houtvertrekke in ’n U-vorm langsaan – twee slaapkamers met aangrensende badkamers. Met net die dun houtmuur tussen die koppenent van die bed en ’n watergat waarin ons stortwater uitgeloop het, kon ek snags besoekers wat hul dors kom les dadelik hoor: Die bruin hiëna wat drink soos ’n hond, die koedoes wat suig.

En toe daardie eerste keer, agt leeus, op hul voorpote gekniel, hul koppe styf teen mekaar om die watergat. In die maanlig kon ek hulle goed sien en duidelik hoor hoe hulle met sagte “oemffs” met mekaar praat. Dors geles, het hulle vyf meter van my venster (oop, natuurlik) in die sand gaan lê en saggies gesels.

Daar is min wat ’n stadsjapie kan voorberei op hoe bevoorreg ’n mens voel wanneer sulke besoekers by jou hul dors kom les. Eintlik is dit heel verkeerd om hulle “besoekers” te noem, want dis ons, die mense, wat besoekers aan hul wêreld is, ’n plek van verwondering gereël deur natuurwette.


Born to be Free tells the heart-warming true story of lion expert Gareth Patterson introducing George Adamson's orphaned lion cubs back into the wild

When the grand old ‘lion man of Africa’, George Adamson, passed away, the last of his lion cub orphans faced an uncertain future.

Would the cubs have to spend their entire lives behind bars in a zoo, or would they have a free life in the wild, as George had intended for them?

Lion expert Gareth Patterson rescues George’s cubs and, by living as a human member of the little pride, Gareth prepares to introduce the young lions back into the wild.

This heart-warming book tells the true story of lioness Rafiki, her sister, Furaha, and her brother, Batian.

• Many years ago, it was estimated that some 250 000 lions existed across the continent of Africa. Today it is thought that only 20 000 lions remain. Due to the actions of poachers, trophy hunters and conflict with people because of their livestock, the mighty king of the animals is in real trouble.

• The title of this book is Born to be Free and that is what all lions and other wild animals should be – free. Free to live their lives in the wild as nature had intended. Rafiki’s story shows how important it is for lions to be free – and that we should protected from harm. The African bush would no longer be the same if all the lions were gone. What would we say to our children’s children if the last lion was gone – forever gone?

• That is why all of us must hold the lion in our hearts, and do our best to protect Rafiki’s kind.


Raised in west, east and southern Africa, Gareth’s entire adult life has been dedicated to the greater protection of the African lion and Africa’s elephants. He has written about his life in the wilds in 11 internationally published books, and his story has been broadcasted across the world in documentaries such as In Tribute to George Adamson, Shadows of Gold and Gray and the Animal Planet documentary, The Search for the Knysna Elephants. Patterson was presented with the Nick Steele Memorial Award for the Environmentalist of the Year at the SAB Environmental Media Awards 2016.

Visit Gareth’s personal website:
Visit Sekai’s website (Gareth’s African Environmentalism Group):


Last of the Free

‘An extraordinary tale of endurance, triumph and tragedy’ – The Times, London.

‘… Through it all emerges a character deeply in love with his charges, someone whose passion may well ensure that they are not the last of the free great predators.’ – Kirkus Review

‘An extraordinary story.’ – Daily Mail

‘A story about hardship, dedication and demanding work … a message that deserves wide readership.’ – Literary Journal ‘It is both heart-warming and heart-rending and I defy you to read it without a tear in your eye.’ – Manchester Evening News

With My Soul Amongst Lions

‘Patterson soldiers on, triumphing over adversities that would have broken lesser men … like Adamson before him, he cannot bear to think of a lion that is not free.’ – The Times, London

‘Movingly told … a story of one man’s amazing devotion’. – Today

‘His story, tinged with triumph and tragedy in equal measure, is a powerful plea on behalf of all lions.’ – BBC Wildlife magazine

Book details

Catching the Thunder follows the incredible expedition of the pursuit of the infamous poaching vessel Thunder

A story of courage and perseverance.

Wanted by Interpol, infamous poaching ship Thunder evaded justice for over 10 years. Illegally making millions a year, its crew hunted endangered species and destroyed ocean habitats. In Dec. 2014, Captain Hammarstedt of the Bob Barker and his crew began a relentless pursuit of the Thunder – a hazardous race across three oceans, the longest chase in maritime history.

The authors follow this incredible expedition, encountering criminal kingpins, rampant corruption, slavery and an international community content to turn a blind eye. Catching the Thunder becomes a symbolic race to save the planet.

Eskil Engdal and Kjetil Sæter were the first to tell the story of the hunt for Thunder in a series of newspaper articles. Both are award-winning investigative journalists in their own rights, between them winning the SKUP journalism award, the International Reporter’s Journalism Award and the Golden Pen, among others.

Book details

David Bristow received 174 rejection slips before Jacana published Running Wild. The Daily Maverick asked why he persevered...

Running WildFollowing in the footsteps of Jock of the Bushveld, Running Wild is an African story for all ages. It is a tale of resilience, of courage and endurance, a book that will uplift, enrich and warm every lover of the African bush.

The story of Zulu is based on the life of a real stallion that lived on the Mashatu Game Reserve. The versions of the story of Zulu are about as numerous as the people who recount them. The horse and the myth were at times indistinguishable. This account of his life has been stitched together from all those stories.

In February 2000, tropical Cyclone Leon-Eline resulted in a storm so severe that the horses of Mashatu broke out of their enclosure and roamed wild and free for days before returning. Zulu was the only one that did not return. He was thought to be lost to the scourges of the Bushveld.

Years pass before Zulu is discovered to be not only alive and well, but running as the lead stallion of a herd of wild zebras. He is recaptured and returned to the safari stables as a much bolder and wiser stallion – knowledge he passes on to the other horses as well as the humans of Limpopo Valley.

David Bristow has a degree in journalism. He is one of South Africa’s first full-time travel photojournalists and was the editor of Getaway magazine. David has written more than 20 books about Africa, taking a three-year sabbatical mid-career to earn a master’s degree in environmental sciences.

As well as travelling from Antarctica to Alaska, Hillbrow to the Himalayas, he has ridden horse safaris in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Kenya. David now lives on a lake close to the sea near Cape Town with his partner, one cat, two surfboards, three canoes and four bicycles. He has three children and a grand one.

Upon hearing that Bristow received 174 rejection slips before Jacana okay’d his manuscript, the Daily Maverick’s Tiara Walters was intrigued as to why exactly David didn’t just. give. up. Here’s why…

DM: I don’t understand. Why not just self-publish after rejection slip number 83, for argument’s sake?

DB: I really believed in the story, simple as that. I just had to convince someone else. As soon as Jacana heard the premise, they jumped at it, smart people.

With regards to self-publishing, or not in this case, it was about shelf space and numbers. If your book isn’t housewives’ porn or young adult fantasy, you don’t want to go that route unless you are serious about selling books. Making them is the easy part. This is not my first book by a long way so it was not what they call a “vanity-publishing” exercise. But it was my first paperback, so it needed to be a commercial success. I’ve thrown a lot of marketing resources at it, from serious media launches to talks at book clubs.

I think the story of Zulu has the potential of becoming a modern-day equivalent of Jock of the Bushveld. It’s the rollicking, true story of an African stallion that bolts from his stable during the cyclonic floods of 2000, joins a dazzle of zebras in Mashatu Game Reserve and, remarkably, rises to the position of lead stallion.

DM: So what was the problem, then? Were you not photogenic enough? I heard this might be a thing in the unsparing world of contemporary publishing now.

DB: Yup, ugly as original sin. My girlfriend calls me OS (although that might just be os) (os n. Afrikaans for bovine male. Sometimes used for pulling vehicles or carrying things). But also publishing is like that well-trotted-out saying about capitalism: it’s a kak system, but it’s the best we’ve got. Which I guess is my way of saying they know nothing. The accountants and marketing people make all the decisions. And they think only in boxes (very small ones usually), like, does this book fit neatly into one of our sure-selling categories?

DM: Is Zulu the only horse ever known to have “gone” zebra? Did you look for other, um, “horsebra” stories? Perhaps it’s not entirely fanciful to picture a dazzle of zebra running wild through the Namib, displaying suspiciously desert horse-like traits.

DB: In the wilds, yes, this is unique. In captivity zebras and horses, as well as zebras and donkeys, have been crossed. Crosses were common amusements in Victorian circuses, but it was always a zebra male and female horse (zorses). The other way around is not known to ever have occurred. Not even the equine scientists could tell me why.

Continue reading their conversation HERE.

Book details