Monday, November 23, 2009

Suffering a bout of impromptu crime-fighting

Living in Cape Town, South Africa, I should know better than to put my valuables in my jacket pocket. This year I've been robbed three times. Or, should I say, rather today was the third occasion. This time the thief came off second best, although I can't say I'm entirely pleased, since I'd rather have avoided this in the first place.

I consider myself fairly aware of the nonsense that goes on around me so to have had strangers help themselves to the contents of my pockets is really... just not cool... especially if I'm not even aware of it happening.

Third time "lucky"? Can I even call it that? This morning at 8.30am, while walking to work, and already quite twitchy, I felt a tugging at my jacket and turned to surprise a man who had his hand in my pocket, busy withdrawning my cellphone.

Gods, I got angry. Some people get all scared and whimpery. I get angry. You see, I've been in a situation where someone stabbed me before. I refuse to be a victim. Of course this reaction may not be very prudent if the guy had a knife... but hey, I didn't give the creep permission to take my cellphone.

Before the guy had a chance to run or do anything, I started shaking him, screaming at him, and the strange thing was, he went completely limp in my hands. I snatched my phone out of his hand and he started apologising. I called him terrible things, of which I can remember "vulture" and the infamous Cape "P" word, which flew from my lips as if I were no more than a common fishwife.

As if saying sorry would make a difference. He still tried to steal my things. Central City Improvement Districut (CCID) secruity officers were there in less than a minute and they took the man in custody. A few bystanders smacked the guy a few times... It was very surreal.

Shaking but unhurt, I was given a lift up to the police station where I made my statement. Sure, my cellphone is only worth about R3 000, which is not a lot of money, but I've just renewed my contract and I'm not in the mood to start over by getting new phone numbers so soon after my last phone was stolen.

It turns out my would-be robber was a young Tanzanian man. He's not even local. Which makes me wonder how many other opportunists are going to arrive here in South Africa in time for the festive season and the Fifa Soccer World Cup. Oh, they are going to have a field day with tourists.

It's days like these that I wish I could move to some small rural town and not have to commute daily. Oh wait... I already live in a semi-rural area...

Perhaps I should rather say: Buy my books so I can stay home and rather chase the baboons that try to raid my garden.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Goths in Paradise, day one

The Avis chauffer was supposed to pick me up at 5am, or so the itinerary led me to believe. My driver, bless his little cotton socks, cruised over to collect me at 4.10am. Luckily for him, I'd packed the night before and had already stumbled out of bed at 4am. I must admit there was something singularly incongruous about seeing a large silver Mercedes pull up in front of our treehaus. Ah hell, it couldn't hurt to get through to Cape Town International Airport a little earlier.

Cape Town International Airport has been described as "the only construction site with its own airport". It's still a mess but is considerably better than when they first started with the improvements. Our dinky little airport is supposed to cater for all the soccer hooligans descending upon us for the World Cup. Joy. If Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) can get its rear into gear, that is.

I bought a killer cuppaccino after checking in my bag then meandered to the marquee doubling as the domestic departures. I'd hate to know how this flimsy structure has been holding up in the wind. There I joined hundreds of bleary-eyed commuters heading for other parts of the country. I met up with Audrey, our airlines writer, who was also being packed off to Mauritius. We couldn't figure out who Sarah was, tho' we had an inkling as to her identity. Ah, the joy of knowing people from phone and email only. Our little jaunt was to be a small team-building exercise as well.

We flew up to Jozi courtesy of 1Time. I managed to sleep through most of those two hours, having spent most of the previous night editing and trying to tie up loose ends. Arriving at OR Tambo Airport I was very glad to discover none of my check-in luggage had been stolen. This is a regular occurence at this airport but I also didn't feel like plastic-wrapping my suitcase at R50 a pop.

Finally we met up with Sarah then moseyed along to meet the rest of our group of journos at the Air Mauritius check-in, where we were ushered along to the Air Mauritius business lounge, where we were indulged with Bloody Marys and as many snacks we could eat. Om nom nom nom nom...

I somehow managed to sleep through most of the Air Mauritius flight as well, lulled into sleep by the soporific effect dealt by the advertorial on my TV screen detailing the island's wonderful attributes, that would only really appeal to people who earn what I do each day, as opposed to once a month.

But the Air Mauritius staff were very nice and also made sure I had plenty of food and wine, so I really can't complain about the Asian gentleman in the row in front of me who snored.

We arrived at Mauritius's Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Airport (SSR for short). Try to say that fast, while sober... after 7pm, going forward in time by two hours. Night falls early this far up. Nothing like Cape Town's lingering sunsets lasting until well after 8pm. The first thing that struck me was the humidity. Just like Durban. Breathing here's like breathing in syrup.

The next thing is that everyone speaks French. Very soon I was "bonjouring" and "merci-ing". Of course I understood very little unless I could read the words with a handy English translation nearby but I kept thinking of Amy... Damn, girl, you would have loved this little trip.

We travelled by road to Le Touessrok, in a minibus. The roads are very narrow and curvy, and when you enter villages, the houses open their doors right onto the road. No pavements in sight. Hindus are the dominant sector, so many of the homes have little shrines out front to honour their chief deities, all lit up with red lights. Very festive.

Many of the houses aren't complete because the Mauritian government makes people pay less tax if a) the roof isn't complete, or b) the house isn't painted. Consequently, driving through the poorer sections of Mauritius is like driving through a half-finished construction site.

Oh, and a word on the driving on this island. I gain the impression that there isn't much of a traffic department. When a car stops in the road... or parks, there is no place to stop but that lane, so you kind of have to keep your eyes open for random obstructions while you drive. Also, many of the locals ride bicycles or scooters, so that's an added menace.

A giant banyan tree stands sentinel at Le Touessrok's front entrance. Giant bird cages hanging from the branches contain lights, so it's all very pretty and fairytale. I looked up as I climbed out, and saw my first-ever fruitbat. Kinda freaky. It's cat-sized and flaps about in a rather ungainly fashion.

We had supper at Barlen's, a beachside restaurant... And I got to try curried jack fruit (tastes somewhat like a combination of mango and aubergine) as well as palm hearts (also known as the millionaire's salad).

Then, to bed. My room overlooked the sea and when I stood on the balcony, I could smell the salt-sweet air. It was very warm and I went to sleep with the slop and wash of small waves on the resort's volcanic rock foundations.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I'm not going to say much except that I'm fighting off a respiratory infection mere days before I leave for Mauritius. Have been taking loads of remedies and it seems to be working.

I'll share the Bloody Parchment link:

So the event went well and there was good attendance. The Horrorfest organisers were very happy with how things went and we'll be doing this again next year. I'll also be running a horror flash fiction competition.

Other than that, I'm just really tired. I've got loads of stuff to do and am way behind on some of the edits I need to get done. I understand why there's such a high burn-out for editors within the publishing industry.

Monday, October 26, 2009

October Songs...

Yikes, I can't believe how quickly this month has flown past. I've been swamped in work and have been trying to keep head above water. I'm happy to say that I'm almost done with a first round of edits on a LPI novel that's been haunting me. Khepera Rising is in galleys now and oh, my... I'm still tweaking. Thing is, I'm making progress but I need to be done with that by November 1.

On the news front, Keith Pyeatt interviewed me the other day, and the blog is up at:

So, do drop by and say "hoesit, my broer". Oh, and you'll get to read about my penguin-wrangling days.

More news is that I've just accepted a big editing job from a fellow South African fantasy author, whose first novel can be considered a bestseller for our country. This job will take a long, long time to complete, since the MS is a whopper. But hats off to the man. He's a good writer and I hope to share further news once things are more concrete.

And without further ado... I must go catch my tail.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Murphy will have the last word...

On travel writing...
Sometimes I have to laugh and shake my head. On Saturday, HJ and I collaborated on our first travel story in ages, a trip out to DelVera in the Stellenbosch winelands. Situated on the R44 on the corner of the Muldersvlei Road, this agricultural village is definitely a place to consider visiting if you're tired of places like Spier etc.

The place used to be a pig farm and the owners (of Delheim fame) are slowly (and organically) turning this into a thriving destination for people who love epicurean delights such as all manner of olive produce, organic farm food... and just stuff. Of particular note was ceramicist Johan's raku pottery. We timed our visit well to coincide with a firing and it was spectacular to see carbon-blackened pots wash clean to reveal the characteristic cracked cream or white raku glazes.

But I'm not going to wax lyrical ad nauseam here. If your interest is piqued, go check out:

I'm so going back there, especially since the famous Kokerboom Nursery (of Vanrhynsdorp fame) has opened a branch and I saw some aloe specimens with my name written on them. And I didn't even get a look at the euphorbias.

Staying with travel writing, unless Murphy has the last word, I'll be zooting off to the lovely island of Mauritius for four days. I've okayed it with the bosses and they're happy that I'll be writing for one of the national papers. This is a big (and unexpected) step forward for my travel writing, which has, sadly, been on the backburner for a while now that I've been concentrating on my fiction writing and editing.

Then... A '49 Hudson Six update...
Today Thomas went to go see the new mechanic who'll be working on our Hudson. The guy jokingly refers to the car as "the Shrek car" because, well, it's f***ing big and green. We're hoping this new chap will have the time and the passion to help us get our li'l hellraiser on the road. Plans are already afoot to convert the back seat into a fold-down double bed... Woo-hoo!

On writing...
Really. I wasn't going to do it but then a few writers from one of the crit groups I belong to started buzzing about it. Then I happened to read an old Andrew Lang fairytale which hints at Beauty and the Beast but has scope for a far more, erm, erotic treatment. Added to that, I've just finished the first draft for Ironclad Dreams, so I've a gap in the train-writing schedule.

So... **drumroll please** I'll officially be taking part in NaNoWriMo this year. The story is called The White Bear's Wife. I'll be putting together a conscious nod in Jacqueline Carey's and Neil Gaiman's directions. There. I've said it. No backing out now. Guess I'll have plenty of time during that flight to and from Mauritius...

I've also blogged about writing novels at my Tuesday Frightening Journeys slot, if you're interested. See:

Bloody Parchment at The Lounge of Horror

On Friday, October 23, from 6.30pm at The Book Lounge, some of South Africa's finest authors of horror fiction will gather to share their own personal brand of darkness. These include established and up-and-coming authors, such as Lauren Beukes, Sarah Lotz, Sam Wilson, Werner Pretorius, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Diane Awerbuck, HJ Lombard, Carine Engelbrecht, Danielle Eriksen and myself.

I shall be reading an extract of my upcoming Lyrical Press, Inc. release, Khepera Rising.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Erm... janowellfine

Janowellfine. That's a lovely South African colloquiallism. We love combining positives with negatives to create composite words that have no real meaning.

"Hey, Nerine, how're you feeling today?"

"Janowellfine." **followed by a deep sigh** "I think I'll just carry on sitting here under a rock."

Plainly put, I'm feeling very blegh today.

I've reached another point of weirdness in my life. For a long time I've felt that I have not been pushing myself as intellectually as I should. This has been followed by the rather nebulous realisation that I neither have the time or the material resources to follow up on full-time tertiary education. And if it does happen, I may well be in my forties.

Another realisation has struck me that I can do something about this by reading the collected works of the one man who's been ghosting along at the edges of my vision for the past 10 years saying, "Hey there, you know you want to but yet you choose to rot your brain with crappy genre fiction."

Okay, Mr Jung. I get it. That little nudge by a certain teacher of mine pointing out the work of the Philemon Foundation and the recent release of CG Jung's The Red Book, has been a little red flag, a call to action, if you will.

This has come at a time when I know I need to stretch myself, push my THINKING processes a little further. As an author, I'm in the business of deliving into dreamworlds and bringing back something to the waking world. By all rights I should take this process one step further and find things beyond standard tropes of characters meeting and falling in love then finding the wherewithal to kill the monster and sleep with their mothers. Okay, scratch the Oedipus rex complex but ja... I'm bored.

I read and review stacks of genre fiction novels and they all seem to be telling just the same bleeding story. The best works, IMO, are the ones leaving you slightly scratchy behind the eyes, the uncomfortable stories that seem to have a ring of truth to them resonating with you on a deeper level. Now I want to write stories like that.

As a genre fiction author I've been accused (by a literary agent of all people) of being "too literary" for genre fiction. Should I take that as a compliment?

Right now I'm dissatisfied because I see so many great authors who are mentally lazy. Sure, it's great to switch off your brain from time to time but if you are an author, you are published (or will be) you are in the position to create magic, to bring some small seeds of change into the world.

I blame Tolkien for this, and my mother reading me The Hobbit when I was six.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Pharaoh's life: Walking in the footsteps of Hatshepsut

Title: The Double Crown
Author: Marie Heese
Publisher: Human & Rousseau, 2009

The first time I encountered Marie Heese’s writing was when we studied her Afrikaans novel, Die Uurwerk Kantel during high school. Even back then, although I did not fully understand everything Marie Heese was trying to bring across with her writing, I remember feeling incredibly troubled after finishing the work.

Now, many years later, I feel the same way after finishing reading The Double Crown, a fictionalised account of the Pharaoh Hatshepsut’s life. But, this is a good kind of “troubled” because it makes me sit back and consider the outcome of the choices I may make if I were to strive for sovereignty in my life, let alone rule one of the most complex of ancient kingdoms, like Hatshepsut did.

A common thread joining these two works follows the lives of women, of the sacrifices they make for what they believe in. Simply put, even if this is a fictionalised account of Pharaoh Hatshepsut’s life, the woman achieved more than most of us could ever dream to.

I am the chosen of the gods. I have always known that. This knowledge has been the source of my strength and my power, and it is the reason why I know that those who now seek my death and desire to usurp my throne shall not succeed.

These are the words Heese chooses to begin The Double Crown, which perfectly sum up Hatshepsut’s attitude. In order to succeed, she identified her innate divinity to rule as the chosen of Amen, which was unheard of for any woman.

Heese weaves a tale that is part journal and part speculation of the events gleaned from perusing what records remain of Hatshepsut’s life, succeeding in portraying a balanced account of the pharaoh’s life. Hatshepsut often faced difficult decisions. At times she followed her heart and at others she put her happiness aside for what she considered the greater good for Egypt. The ending, however, is inevitable, when Hatshepsut – alone – looks back over her life, considering whether her life was a success.

She was a mother, a ruler and a woman, with the complex needs of the different roles she filled, and striking a balance in these areas was not easy. The tale, at times dark, also has moments of pure joy and humour, encapsulating the entirety of Hatshepsut’s life.

Heese’s many years of research definitely pay off and I was privileged to hear her speak about her new release at this year’s Cape Town Book Fair. She says, “After a while it was almost as though I could hear her speaking to me and I thought, you know what, I have to do this, I have to tell her story.”

What a story it is, making me feel as if I actually walked through the streets of Thebes or smelled the incense in the temples. There are very few books out there that move me to tears at the end and this was one of them. Although the pharaohs who followed Hatshepsut did their best to erase her name, the words of the scribes ensure that her name will live forever, and Heese is one of these great scribes.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Emma-O movie trailer

Well, this is a nice bit of news: the Emma-O movie trailer. This is why I was almost a widow during September:

Friday, October 2, 2009

Wading through Dune

Third time, lucky, perhaps? The first time I encountered Frank Herbert's Dune was at the tender age of about 14 or so. Back then I managed a page or two before I gave up in disgust. About a decade later I gave it another shot. It is, I'm told, one of those legendary novels You Just Absolutely Have to Read Before You Die, right? Wrong. At age 24 I gave up after the first two chapters. Why? I was bored. The writing was dense, the characters unbelievable. Bear in mind I'd just read John Fowles's The Magus, so it wasn't because I was stoopid or incapable of reading anything of substance.

Okay, almost another decade later, I've tried again. I picked up a copy of Dune at the Donkey Sanctuary's annual booksale in McGregor for the bargain price of R10. It's the copy that must have come out shortly after the very successful David Lynch movie version of the book. Yes, the one with Sting in the skimpy blue plastic undies fame.

So the book sat on my TBR pile for a while then I finally gave a deep sigh and picked it up about a month ago. And I'm glad to say I finished it yesterday. Did I like it? Yes. But there was a lot I didn't like.

For one, Frank Herbert writes like a journalist, and although peeps like Terry Pratchett can get away with the omniscient third-person POV, Frank Herbert's shifting from one POV to the other just got my hackles up. Granted, about a third of the way into the book I was too tired to argue. I just went along with the flow but I still shudder when considering all those young, impressionable authors who'll try to follow suit and think this editor will put up with it when she encounters their paltry efforts.

I laugh when I recall my friend HJ's opinion on Herbert's writing: "It's dishwater." This is from a man who writes propaganda for a living.

I finished the book without caring for any of the characters. Granted, I found the environment interesting and the political posturing mildly entertaining... and I get that Herbert's putting forward a lot of "deep philosophical and environmental stuff" (insert trademark) but as a work of fiction, I feel Dune takes itself far to seriously.

Or maybe I'm innately corrupted by the fact that I like editing novels where I know my readers will be a) entertained, b) enjoy a bit of escapism and c) care about what happens to the characters.

Did I learn stuff? Yes. I appreciate the magnitude of Herbert's scope but if he were to have written this now, he would have found it all but impossible to find a publisher. This may have been a ground-breaking novel for its time but the style of the writing has dated, and not well.

Will I read the others? Perhaps, once the scars have healed.

Okay, okay, I can already feel the rotten vegetables aimed in my direction. I'll back down. I kind of enjoyed Dune, just not as much as I'd prefer to have the next Jacqueline Carey 900-page doorstopper land on my lap.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Old dog learns new tricks

It's always so refreshing when a fresh eye points out gremlins in a manuscript. Without the wonders of internet and email, how the HELL did authors do this in the "old" days?

What did I learn?
I still have a bit of passive voice creeping through at times.
I sometimes muddle the order of events in a sentence which, although not wrong, can be reworded.
And, yes, I have a penchant for comma splices and too-long sentences.

Please bear in mind that Khepera Rising was completed late 2007. Since then I've written another two complete novels and I've had some absolutely brilliant feedback from writers' groups I belong to. Much has changed, especially in how I approach writing.

When I wrote KR, I'd had a list of events tacked onto the end of the MS which I referred to. This list was very organic and shifted much while I wrote.

With Camdeboo Nights I went into a little more detail because I was playing a balancing act with four viewpoint characters. But then I sort of discarded the list near the end and admit that the writing became very organic. Because this particular story will, ostensibly, wrap up in three novels, some of the characters who are primary didn't have very large roles in the actual ending. My MC was in some weird parallel magical realm meeting with some obscenely strange serpent-mentor, a very important plot development for later in the saga.

The Dead of Night happened VERY quickly. I was at loose ends after CN and had just recently sold KR, so I thought, what the hell, let's see what sort of misadventures Jamie can fall into. Things went very structured. I chatted to my buddy, HJ, and we threw around some concepts. Then I sat down and wrote a detailed synopsis with a breakdown of everything that took place. I kept lists of characters' names and traits and found that the writing went very quickly. The MS was complete within three months. I let my betas read, revised, then let it lie fallow for about four months or so. Then I revised again and sent it to my editor. A contract was offered within days.

As for Ironclad Dreams, which is a complete departure from urban fantasy into the realms of a pseudo colonial-era steampunkish milieu, I've written an exhaustive five-page epic of a synopsis that I had the folks at Extraordinary Visions and Adamastor go through. Some excellent points were brought up and worked in. Writing has become a lot easier because I know exactly where I'm going yet make allowances for any peculiar twists that make themselves known. I'm now in the last few chapters and my guesstimate is that ID will be around 80 000 to 90 000 words.

How has my approach changed?
I plan. I plot. I throw ideas around. I still hanker after writing a fantasy epic a la Jacqueline Carey but realise I've still got a while to go before I drop a 900-page epic on a publisher's doorstep without being laughed at. In order to avoid the "I don't buy that" response from readers, I make sure I've got my plot straight before I put pen to paper.

Giving away free stuff...

I'm finally ready to give away some nifty art. A few weeks back I art directed a photoshoot with the very talented photographer Neill le Roux, makeup artist extraordinaire, Gabbi Katz and the rather delightful Tim. I'm pleased to announce that I've printed a limited run (signed and numbered) of the shoot as 4x6-inch prints which I shall be giving away to the first five lucky folk who do me the favour to blog about my upcoming Lyrical Press, Inc. release, Khepera Rising.

Instructions: Paste this link: on your blog and say something nice about the upcoming release, then email the link to me at:

The first five peeps who do this will each receive a print, of which there are only 50 in the world, so it's a collectors' item that will potentially not be reprinted in this format ever again. And I don't mind mailing overseas. Postage from South Africa really isn't that expensive.