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Andy Martin describes the unusual process of writing Reacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me

Published in the Sunday Times

Reacher Said NothingReacher Said Nothing: Lee Child and the Making of Make Me
Andy Martin (Penguin Random House)

“I’ve just written this great four-word sentence,” said Lee Child. “Come and have a look.” He ushered me into his apartment in Manhattan overlooking Central Park. He works in an office in the back, adorned with framed pages of the New York Times bestseller lists featuring his own novels sitting squarely at no. 1. I perched on the couch and he hit me with his four words. They were good words. High quality, high value. Each word emerging from his keyboard was worth $100. Each of his books is at least 100 000 words long. Make Me, the book he was working on, was his 20th Jack Reacher novel. You do the math.

Child, numero uno thriller writer, a giant in airport bookstores around the world, is half-poet, half-pirate, both ruthless materialist and dreamy head-in-the-clouds fantasist. The real mystery was: what the hell was I doing there? Which is a question a lot of his friends were asking. “Lee, hold on a second. You’ve got a Cambridge academic sitting behind you watching you write? You cannot be serious, man! He’s going to put you off your stroke. He is a literary voyeur!”

It was a crazy idea, I admit. Bear witness to the moment of creation, be there while a writer is writing and write about him writing in real time. Follow the composition of an entire novel from the first word (“Moving”) all the way through to the last word (“needle”). Capture the process at close quarters, try to climb inside the writer’s head, spectate while the words are spun into a book, like watching an alchemist transform lead into gold. Complete madness, obviously.

But Child said, “Yes, cool idea. You’d better get over here. I’m starting next Monday.” He always starts a new book on September 1, it’s a religion with him. It could have been any writer, in theory. But Donna Tartt takes 10 years, so I crossed her off. And Albert Camus was dead. I saw Child as not just a bestselling phenomenon, but as a serious writer whose first book, Killing Floor, reads like a sequel to Camus’s The Outsider.

Child has this theory that anyone in the world might want to kill quite a few people, given the opportunity. Jack Reacher kills people on our behalf. He enacts the revenge we so rarely get the chance to carry out ourselves. He is a Messiah and avenging angel all rolled into one. And he is like a kid, just a very big one (1.95m and 113kg).

Those four words? Reacher is surveying the street before breaking into a house. It’s empty. “No eyes, no interest,” Child writes. A characteristic structure: “No x, no y.” No hell, no heaven. A double negation. Notice that, in those four words, Reacher is an inaction hero. And this for me is what makes Reacher work, as a protagonist. Of course he beats people to death with his elbows. But he is also a philosopher who thinks his way through his fights.

Child is the same when it comes to writing. I didn’t really have to ask him questions. He was like Lionel Messi running rings around the opposition and at the same time commentating on what he is doing and exactly how he is going to score.

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The New Yorker features a new story by Petina Gappah, 'A Short History of Zaka the Zulu'

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Rotten RowThe Book of MemoryAn Elegy for Easterly

 

Alert! The New Yorker has published a new story by Petina Gappah, from her forthcoming collection Rotten Row.

She is the first Zimbabwean writer to be featured in the publication for fiction.

Gappah won the £10,000 Guardian First Book Award for her acclaimed debut book of short stories, An Elegy for Easterly in 2009. More recently, she was shortlisted for the United Kingdom’s Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award – the world’s richest prize for a single short story – and also became the first Zimbabwean author to be longlisted for the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, for her novel The Book of Memory.

Her new story, “A Short History of Zaka the Zulu”, is set at the College of Loyola, a Jesuit school in Zimbabwe based on a school Gappah attended. In an interview with The New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman, Gappah says the idea came to her about four years ago, when she was invited to give a speech at an old school’s prizegiving.

I had not been back during term time since I left. It struck me then how incredibly young the boys were, even the oldest of them. That realisation inspired me to write a story about the closed and insular world of boarding school, and about the choices that teenagers can make in the arrogant belief that they know everything. I don’t believe in the “write what you know” school of writing; I believe in writing what I can realistically imagine. I love to write across class, across race, across sex and gender, and I wanted badly to put myself in the shoes of those boys. It would have been too easy to write it from the girls’ perspective; I wanted to push myself by imagining another.

Gappah’s new collection of short stories, Rotten Row, will be published by Faber and Faber in the UK in November. The book is named after the street in Harare where the Criminal Division of the Magistrate’s Court is based, and is made up of 20 stories about crime, from different perspectives.

“I also experiment with different approaches to storytelling,” Gappah tells The New Yorker, “I use a court judgment, an autopsy report, and an internet discussion forum, as well as other voices. I love the short story and want to master the form. I love the sentence-by-sentence, word-level attention that the short story demands, and that is its greatest pleasure.”

Read “A Short History of Zaka the Zulu”:

He was always a bit of an odd fish, Zaka the Zulu, but he was the last boy any of us expected to be accused of murder. Not a wit, a sportsman, or a clown, he was not a popular boy at our school, where he wore his school uniform every day of the week, even on Sundays. Of course, we could have admired him for his brains. In the high-achieving hothouse that was the College of Loyola, which won the Secretary’s Bell Award fifteen years in a row, we admired any boy we labelled a razor. Zaka, though, made such a song and dance about his sharpness that you’d have thought he was the only razor in the school.

He became even less popular when he was made head prefect. In a school like Loyola, where the task of keeping everyday order is entrusted to the prefects, being head can bring out the tyrant in even the nicest chap, and Zaka brought to the position an obnoxious self-importance that made him absolutely insufferable. As head prefect, he issued demerits for the slightest offenses, marking down boys who did not wear ties with their khaki shirts at Benediction, making spot checks for perishable goods in our tuck boxes and trunks, sniffing for beer on the breath of every boy who had snuck out to Donhodzo, the rural bottle store in the valley below our school, and, from the strategically placed Prefects’ Room, making forays at unexpected times to see if he could catch anyone smoking outside the library.

 
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Author image courtesy of The New Yorker/Composite by Books LIVE

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RIP Allister Sparks (1933-2016)

Anyone who tries to understand what is happening in South Africa today without first digesting Allister Sparks’s lucid, sensitive and comprehensive exploration of the country’s multifaceted mind, does so at his own peril.

- André Brink, on The Mind of South Africa

Allister Sparks, Mpho and Desmond Tutu and Bono
Allister Sparks, Mpho and Desmond Tutu and Bono
at the launch of Tutu: The Authorised Portrait

 

The Sword and the PenBeyond the MiracleTomorrow is Another CountryThe Mind Of South AfricaTutuFirst Drafts

 

Allister Sparks, veteran journalist, newspaper editor, author and political analyst, has died at the age of 83.

According to a media release, Sparks passed away at the Morningside Clinic yesterday after a heart attack, after spending 12 days in hospital.

Sparks has been the recipient of numerous awards and is the author of several bestselling books about South Africa, including Beyond the Miracle and Tomorrow is another Country. His writing covers South Africa from the birth of apartheid, the rise of political opposition, the dawn of democracy, right through to today.

Nelson Mandela called him: “One of South Africa’s eminent journalists, whose outspoken views have served the cause of democracy in this country magnificently.”

Sparks was born in Cathcart in the Eastern Cape in 1933, and began his career as a journalist in 1951, at the age of 18, with an interview with then-Minister of Native Affairs Hendrik Verwoerd.

As Ray Hartley writes, Sparks quickly rose through the ranks, and won a Nieman Fellowship to study at Harvard in the United States in 1962:

When he returned to the country, it was under the iron-fisted rule of BJ Vorster and his security henchman, ‘Lang’ Hendrik van den Bergh.

When two senior ANC officials, Arthur Goldreich and Harold Wolpe, escaped from security police cells and fled to neighbouring Botswana, Sparks tracked them down to their redoubt.

“My name is Allister Sparks. I’m from the Rand Daily Mail, and I want to talk to Arthur and Harold,” he said, after knocking on the door.
After interviewing them for hours, he wrote a series of scoops, leading to the publication of special editions of the Rand Daily Mail.
The story was dramatic. A plane scheduled to ferry the ANC leaders away was burned down on the runway and an escape plan had to be hatched.

Allister SparksSparks really made his name, however, as the editor of the Rand Daily Mail. Under his leadership, the newspaper revealed the real cause of Steve Biko’s death – a story reported by Helen Zille – as well as the details of the Information Scandal in the mid-1970s.

With Sparks at the helm the Rand Daily Mail’s black readership grew substantially, and he was eventually let go because advertisers wanted to target a white audience. After that he worked for The Observer, The Washington Post and other major international publications as a South African correspondent.

His most recent book, The Sword and the Pen: Six Decades on the Political Frontier, was published just a few months ago.

A memorial service is being planned for Friday, 14 October at 11 AM at the Braamfontein Crematorium.

Books LIVE offers condolences to Sparks’s family and friends.

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Longlist for the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Award announced

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The longlist for the 2016 Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Award has been revealed.

The longlisted poems are in a range of South Africa’s official languages, and will all appear in volume six of the Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology.

They were anonymously selected by judges Goodenough Mashego, Thabiso Mohare and Pieter Odendaal.

Congratulations to all of the poets whose work was nominated!

The Jacana Literary Foundations says:

Each year we are awed by the enthusiasm of South Africa’s poets and your overwhelming support of this project, and would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone who entered their poetry.

The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology 2011The Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology Vol IIThe Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology Vol IIIThe Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology Vol IVThe Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology

 

A shortlist of three poems from this list will be selected by Professor Mongane Wally Serote and announced on 24 September, National Heritage Day. The winner and placing will be revealed at the Mail & Guardian Literary Festival in Johannesburg on 9 October.

Prizes are awarded to the shortlist:

  • 1st place: R6,000
  • 2nd place: R4,000
  • 3rd place: R2,000

 
In alphabetical order by surname, the longlisted poems and poets are:

(*Highly commended)

HOTNOTS-KÁNON, Caroline F. Archer *
BATTLEGROUND, Mutinta Bbenkele *
EDEN’S KNELL, Tanisha Bhana
IN THE MOOD TO MONKEY, Zéwande Bk Bhengu *
KLEEDREPETISIE, Rene Bohnen *
PIPE DREAM, Kathryn Clare Botes
THE THIRST, Dianne Case
TERRA NULLIUS – THE MARIKANA SYMPHONY, Christine Coates
WINTER COLD, Bella (B-Lyrical) Cox *
CHOKING, Bella (B-Lyrical) Cox
ALL CHANGE, Lise Day
THE ARCHBISHOP’S LAMENT, Graham Dukas
METAMORPHOSIS, Graham Dukas
THE PLACE OF THE JACKAL, Elaine Edwards
IN RESPONSE TO SEEING AN AFRICAN WOMAN ABBA A DOG ON FACEBOOK, Connie Fick *
RE KWALA TSE DI SWA, Tshepo Gaerupe
HLAL’ APH’ EMZINI NGOB’ IINKOMO ZIYATHETHA, Nobuntu Gantana *
WEEKLY SERVICE, Siphokazi Jonas *
I AM BEAUTIFUL, Fiona Khan
CLASS, Musawenkosi Khanyile
CHURCH, Musawenkosi Khanyile *
OMRING, Lara Kirsten *
RIBBONS ON THE FENCE, Lynne Kloot
NTSO YAMATHILE, Nomnikelo Komanisi
THERE’S A ME THAT’S STILL NOT FREE, Portia Mabaso
MOTHERS, WARN YOUR DAUGHTERS OF GAY LOVE, Portia Mabaso
HIP HOP, Songeziwe Mahlangu
APARTHEID IN THE SKY, Patrick Maitland
THEY CAME, Patrick Maitland
SALUTE TO KLIPSPRUIT RIVER, Maishe Maponya
THE TRC – ON THE BOX, Maishe Maponya
THE POWER-POINT POET, Maishe Maponya
CAPE TOWN, Charles Marriott *
JOHANNES SI BHEKE, Kela Maswabi *
UPHAHLA, Zongezile Theophilus Matshoba
GO DIKGAITŠEDI TŠA LEFSIFSI, Katise Mawela
IKASI LAMI, Ongezwa Mbele
PUINHOOP, Marthé Mcloud
HO THABA BA ILENG, Thabiso Mofokeng
DIFAQANE, Maneo Refiloe Mohale
GAUTA O JA BATHO, Tsietsi Mokhele *
YET MORE STONES, George Momogos
VERGANGENHEITSBEWAELTIGUNG, Jackie Mondi
A HUNGRY STOMACH HAS NO EARS, Jackie Mondi
VARIATIONS IN COLOUR, Nedine Moonsamy
LANIWANI, Moses Mtileni *
THE HOUSE WE BUILT, Sifiso Mtshali
TO MOS DEF IN THE WOOLWORTHS QUEUE, Nick Mulgrew *
FOUR MINUTES, Luthando Ncayiyana
THE BARKSOLE MAN, Pamela Newham
TO THOSE FLUTTERING BEINGS, Mandla Robert Ngakane
NOT ANOTHER NURSE’S TALE, Mandla Robert Ngakane
A THANKLESS LABOUR, Vuyokazi Ngemntu
THEY NEVER DIED, Bomikazi Njoloza
ILIZWE LAM, Amanda Nodada
CASSETTE, Sihle Ntuli
REFLECTION, Lazola Pambo
LIKE A LOG, Jim Pascual Agustin
BLACK JOY, Koleka Putuma *
RESURRECTION, Koleka Putuma *
BEDTIME STORIES FOR OUR LITTLE GIRLS, Sibongile Ralana
A PENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS, Sibongile Ralana
POWER, Arja Salafranca
COLLATERAL DAMAGE, Ferdie Schaller
THE BURNING MAN, Ferdie Schaller *
BOOTS FOR LITTLE BOYS, Ferdie Schaller
OOGAF, Karin Schimke
UNCLE TOM, Kori Sefeane
AUSCHWITZ, Kori Sefeane
FIX ME, Sinazo Somhlahlo
A REVOLUTION, Caitlin Spring
MINE WILL BE OF AFRICA, David C. Steyn
EVEN BIRDS, Caitlin Stobie
REFUGEE 70, Louella Sullivan
THEATRE OF HEARTS, Elizabeth Trew
STHANDWA SAM’, Lesego Tsoho
NGIYABONGA MAMA, Lesego Tsoho
IN MY CUPBOARD, Troydon Wainwright
A WEDDING POEM, Troydon Wainwright
INVESTMENT RETURNS, Athol Williams
VISIT AT TEA TIME, Athol Williams *
MISSING, Sue Woodward

For more information, contact the Jacana Literary Foundation on awards@jacana.co.za.

Related news:

 

Book details

'The security of our democracy at stake' - Ronnie Kasrils reacts to Rogue: The Inside Story of SARS's Elite Crime-busting Unit

New book takes the lid off state capture – Rogue: The Inside Story of SARS’s Elite Crime-busting Unit

 
RogueJonathan Ball Publishers has published Rogue: The Inside Story of SARS’s Elite Crime-busting Unit – an explosive inside account of SARS and the “rogue unit” allegedly operating within it.

It is an exposé of national importance that identifies the dark forces at play in politics and the business world. The book is written by former group executive at SARS Johann van Loggerenberg, with former SARS media liaison and spokesman Adrian Lackay. It will be available nationwide by Wednesday, 21 September, 2016.

Owing to the serious nature of the content of this book, it was prudent that the text be put through a vigorous final legal check by a team which included top media experts at a reputable law firm.

Former Minister for Intelligence Services Ronnie Kasrils had this to say about Rogue:

Until a couple of years ago the professional functioning of SARS had been a success story par excellence. The architects of that achievement were lauded for SARS’s glowing achievements. All that has been seemingly recklessly thrown into question and systematically trashed by what are now being seen as ludicrous allegations.

Our country’s ability to combat organised crime has suffered incalculably. Anonymous leaks to the media about an alleged ‘rogue unit’ and a disgusting smear campaign against those formerly at the head of SARS have become the order of the day. The pertinent questions are: Whose orders and whose agenda?

The very fabric of our institutions and the security of our young democracy are at stake. What has happened at SARS is parallel to a similar pattern of intrigue and destabilisation of so many of our country’s institutions. A stand must be made by all concerned with the truth and the effective running of our country. The alternative is state-sanctioned corruption, puppet leadership, gangsterism and anarchy.

I believe the book provides an invaluable account of what appears to be an orchestrated campaign to discredit SARS’s former leadership and by so doing, its very reputation and effectiveness. While a book of this nature comes with certain legal limitations, it provides all that is required to set the record straight. It consequently is an invaluable resource for the people of our country.

Johann Kriegler, retired Constitutional Court judge said:

What lies behind these events, I don’t know. What I do know is that the full story should be told. Our Constitution demands and guarantees a ‘system of democratic government to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness’. It is for the people of South Africa to decide for themselves where the truth lies: they’re entitled to no less.

Zak Yacoob, retired Constitutional Court judge, said on Friday that he had also analysed the “legal threats” against the SARS “rogue unit”:

I want to say I analysed it very carefully and discussed it with many people. The minister [Gordhan] and I consulted with each other on these units and I advised strongly that they were necessary and not unlawful.

Eugene Ashton, Jonathan Ball Publishers CEO, said:

This book is essential reading for every South African. It gets to the core of what matters and lays bare the forces at play. It is an important book, the most important political book published in this country for very many years.

About the book (from Jonathan Ball)

The story of a “rogue unit” operating within the South African Revenue Service (SARS) became entrenched in the public mind following a succession of sensational reports published by the Sunday Times in 2014. The unit, the reports claimed, had carried out a series of illegal spook operations: they had spied on President Jacob Zuma, run a brothel, illegally bought spyware and entered into unlawful tax settlements.

In a plot of Machiavellian proportions, head of the elite crime-busting unit Johann van Loggerenberg and many of SARS’s top management were forced to resign. Van Loggerenberg’s select team of investigators, with their impeccable track record of busting high-level financial fraudsters and nailing tax criminals, lost not only their careers but also their reputations.

Now, in this extraordinary account, they finally get to put the record straight and the rumours to rest: there was no ‘rogue unit’. The public had been deceived, seemingly by powers conspiring to capture SARS for their own ends.

Shooting down the allegations he has faced one by one, Van Loggerenberg tells the story of what really happened inside SARS, revealing details of some of the unit’s actual investigations.

About the authors

Johann van Loggerenberg was a group executive at SARS before he resigned from the tax authority in early 2015 after 16 years’ service. His name featured publicly for his involvement in SARS investigations into individuals such as Billy Rautenbach, Irvin Khoza, Julius Malema, Lolly Jackson, Glenn Agliotti and Radovan Krejcir. He currently consults for law firms and private forensic investigation companies.

Adrian Lackay is a former spokesperson for SARS. Before he started at the tax authority in 2003, he worked as a journalist and political correspondent.

Book details

Read 'Cupboards in the Dark' - a new story by Yewande Omotoso for How Free is Free? Reflections on Freedom of Creative Expression in Africa

Read ‘Cupboards in the Dark’ – a new story by Yewande Omotoso for How Free is Free? Reflections on Freedom of Creative Expression in Africa
nullThe Woman Next Door

 
This Fiction Friday, read an excerpt from Yewande Omotoso’s short story “Cupboards in the Dark”, as featured in the new, free to read anthology How Free is Free? Reflections on Freedom of Creative Expression in Africa.

The anthology has been published by Arterial Network and includes articles, poems and works of fiction by writers such as Albie Sachs, Chenjerai Hove, Koleka Putuma, Lauren Beukes, Sylvia Vollenhoven, many more.

The book is described as “a meditation on the artistic health of the continent”.

Yewande Omotoso is a Barbadian-Nigerian who has spent many years in Johannesburg. An architect by day, she is the author of the acclaimed Bom Boy, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Sunday Times Fiction Prize, the MNet Film Award and the 2013 Etisalat Prize for Literature and won the South African Literary Award for First Time Published Author.

Her most recent novel, The Woman Next Door, was recently released internationally.

Cupboards in the Dark
Yewande Omotoso

 

Suppress – to inhibit the growth and development of
(Merriam-Webster)

 
THEMBI COULD HEAR it. A knock-knock. She thought to get out of bed and put her ear to the wall between her room and her parents. She peeped over the top of her duvet.

The big shape was the cupboard, but in the dark it looked like a ghost, a giant tokoloshe, a monster waiting … one of those things from the horror movie she was not supposed to watch but did anyway.

The dark shape looked as if it could talk, as if it had moving parts and if she stared long enough it would start walking. It was on nights like these that Thembi wished she had a sister, older or younger didn’t matter. There was that sound again. Knock-knock.

She would even be happy with a brother on such nights.

Her parents had told her she was going to have a brother and her mother’s belly grew a bit and then after some time it became small again. And still she had no brother.

Thembi ducked back underneath the duvet, and to really feel invisible she closed her eyes. The noise continued. The reason she wanted someone else in the room with her, someone like her not an adult, was because on nights like these she wanted to be able to talk, get through the darkness and the unnerving knock-knock.

She wanted to be able to say, “That noise again, can you hear?” and “Can you see the tokoloshe?”

There was no one to talk to right away. And talking about what happened at night the next day was not the same. But it was better than nothing so Thembi spoke to her only friend, Esther.

The following day at school, during playtime, Thembi looked for Esther. She wanted to ask her to come to the far-off swings that scared the other children. There was a story that if you sat in those swings – the ones with rust and not nice paint – an evil spirit will enter through your toes, move up your legs and never leave your heart. Thembi didn’t believe in things like that – not during the daytime anyway. Swings could not send spirits up your toes, it was stupid.

with rust and not nice paint – an evil spirit will enter through your toes, move up your legs and never leave your heart. Thembi didn’t believe in things like that – not during the daytime anyway. Swings could not send spirits up your toes, it was stupid.

Cupboards in the dark, though.

Book details

  • How Free is Free? Reflections on Freedom of Creative Expression in Africa
    EAN: 9780992225216
    Read online for free!