Due to interesting times, this newsletter is mostly talking about books, books, and more books, all written by people who are not me. However, there is a little writing news about me. But only a little.
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~Even back home in Jamaica, he’d never felt confident in himself, not like his older brother Bennie, but this city forced him further inside himself. It was a chronic condition, like asthma or arthritis; he could go a day or so feeling perfectly normal and then just a word or a glance was enough to remind him that he didn’t belong.~
~They called this summer because they knew no better.~
~The all looked the same: harassed and hunched over, their grey overcoats and hats giving the appearance of a national uniform. The shoes were the only clue; the most reliable way to tell boss from employee, the tenant from the landlord.~
~There is something quite strange about seeing a body when the life has gone from it…When my wife died, I could see right away she had left me. Moved on as they say, nothing but flesh left behind. The child was a different matter. He barely lived a minute or two but I wanted to see him. Stupid, but I thought that if I held him I’d discover something about the man he should have become.~
~They weren’t and never would be welcome here. It didn’t matter what his passport said: A man with black skin could never be considered British.~
~The portraits started missing ears, then hair, chin, mouth, nose, eyes until the last drawing was just an outline of his head. He had drawn his own disappearance into drugs.~
~It feels like she is rubbing these stories out of her grandmother’s hair.~
~I thought of how our friend’s mom had displayed the resilience of a rock. She squared up to hardships like rocks do to wicked weather.~
~Like everyone, I dream of being rich too. But being a housewife is definitely not my dream. Being a good detective and progressing in my profession is my dream…I can’t discard everything I’ve worked so hard for just like that.~
~We all know violence against women is most often perpetrated by someone they know.~
~And I will always be there. Even before I know you. Even after I’ve known you. Even then.~
~It was too painful to think of her childhood, because she could remember when none of this could be thought of as real.~
~What was a person but someone who turned monstrous, anyway? What was a person, in Moss’s experience, but a kind of demon.~
~Dead astronauts were no different than living astronauts. Neither could shed their skin. Neither could ever become part of what they journeyed through. Suits were premade coffins. Space was the grave. Better to think of yourself as dead already. There was freedom in that; liberated the mind to roam quadrants farther than the body.~
~If she talked about the demons, people thought she was crazy, because they already thought she was crazy because she was homeless.~
~Nothing thrives without being broken. Nothing exists without being dead first. I could not escape the voice of God, the voice of the Company. It would boom like God. Like the Company. And who could say which was better or best?~
~You say why save an empty Earth? I can smell it on you, hear it in your voice. The way you can’t remember because how could you live. But it’s only empty to your eyes. It’s only empty because you helped make it so, and thought nothing of it.~
~But, in the end, joy cannot fend off evil. Joy can only remind you why you fight.~
I’m often asked about the genesis of the concepts behind my books. There’s a perception that we authors will have an idea and immediately write it into tens of thousands of words. If that were true, I would have enough material to spit out a book a year for the next century. Ideas are the easy bit. And in reality, most ideas that seem great at first slip away like half-remembered dreams as soon as they meet paper – when I’m five or ten pages in, and it feels like I’m eating pizza leftover from last Tuesday, I know it’s over. All I have is a few thousand stillborn words, and I know any attempt at resuscitation will not only be frustrating, but futile too – and there are enough of these dead-ends to fill three, perhaps four, hundred pages lurking forgotten in drawers and on various hard-drives.
I’ve only had five ideas that have been worth turning into novels, and not one of them came about by my brainstorming with a blank page – or by people saying, “Hey, I’ve got an idea that you should turn into a book!” (Because no. Just no.) They’ve come about unexpectedly, serendipitously, by the most banal event – and always when the last thing on my mind has been the writing of a book: squirrels gnawing through a facia board of our house; picking up a copy of PostSecret at a recording studio; flying over the drought-stricken Free State on the way to Joburg; and with Due South of Copenhagen, a blurred image sent to me out of the blue by a fellow conscript thirty-four years after it was taken.
There I was in that pic, hanging off the prow of a gunboat on the Zambezi or Chobe river and pretending to fellate a massive machine gun, as one might do at nineteen years old. I had forgotten about that old Instamatic photograph, but it had the same effect on my memory as a childhood aroma, dragging me instantly back to a moment in the most miserable two years of my life.
Except that, now, I could look back at that time differently, and no longer through the eyes of a solipsistic, politically naïve teenager who would rather have been growing his hair and partying with his varsity friends than being sent off to war.
Because it was a war, for that generation. The Forgotten War, it’s been called, with thousands of boys – now men in their fifties and sixties – never having quite been able to come to terms with their personal or political roles in the-then South African Defence Force. As Eusebius Mckaiser writes in his recent Facebook review of the film Moffie, “It’s little wonder white South African men have violent and toxic masculinities that make them a danger to themselves, their families… and fellow South Africans.”
Where my personal experiences alone of that time would have made for a rather tedious and self-pitying little book, looking back through the thick lens of three decades threw the broader social constructs of the that time into focus, and allowed me to explore through narrative the collaboration of family, community, church, school, privilege and nepotism in propping up apartheid as both legislation and ethos. In Due South of Copenhagen, on his last day as a small-town newspaper proprietor, Maximilian Fritz is prompted by the chance discovery of a similar photograph to explore these themes through his imperfect memories of his time as an SADF conscript, and by a letter reminding him of a childhood tragedy that has never been resolved.
Due South of Copenhagen is published by Umuzi, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and can be purchased at leading bookstores, or more pragmatically these days, online by clicking here. Read an extract of Due South of Copenhagen by clicking here.
Mark Winkler is the author of the critically acclaimed novels An Exceptionally Simple Theory (of Absolutely Everything), Wasted (longlisted for the Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize), The Safest Place You Know and Theo & Flora, both of which were shortlisted for the Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize. His work has been published worldwide in English and in French translation. His latest novel, Due South of Copenhagen, was published in March 2020.
Sjo, the heavens opened and the flood waters came. Mud slid everywhere; roads washed away. Our house is slightly higher, but at the end of the road. We are cut off from everyone! It’s like we are a castle with a moat, except this house is no castle. For starters, it has Sphetfo in it. That is nine years of annoying, right there.
But I’m telling you, Diary, this is bad, bad, timing. You know Quinton and I were going to start that dog walking biz? We had clients lined up and everything, and we were going to put the monies towards next year’s matric farewell.
Well, farewell to our plans.
I can’t even send him a message to see if he has any new ideas, because the phone lines are out, the internet is out. We’re in the dark ages, and I am a modern girl living in a modern world, and I don’t do this camping-at-home nonsense.
And the mosquitoes – sjo! – they’re a plague. Not being able to get to school is the only positive to this disaster, cos if I pitched up now, everybody would be calling me ‘Spot’ and barking.
Ooooh, got to go, Mama wants me to help with the laundry. Hand washing! Disgusting. I am not touching anyone’s underwear but my own. I’ve got standards here.
Trying not to lose my mind, ~ Khuthele
The Great Flood – Day 2 Dear Diary,
I am not an introvert. This ‘being on my own’ thing is doing my head in. I might go crazy. Seriously. This is not on. But there is only so much I can take of my family. I mean, Mama and Tata are fine, so long as they’re not asking me to do chores (pssst – Sphetfo needs to learn to wipe his butt better, because the THINGS I’ve seen cannot be unseen). But they don’t really get me, not like my friends, who I have not spoken to in almost 48 hours. This is BAD.
And you don’t even need me to tell you what I think of Sphetfo. Why God chose him out of all the human possibilities out there, I do not know.
Mama laughs every time I complain and tells me everyone has their cross to bear, and he is mine.
If I ever meet God face to face, I will have to have a word.
~I covered my eyes and recited the Hebrew prayer I’d learned at school. As always, my mother remained silent, clearly invoking her right to secrecy, which was probably not such a bad thing, given that she was praying for her sister’s death.~
~I prided myself on not making mistakes and I had learned over the years that the best way to avoid them was through self-discipline. I’d trained myself to embrace self-imposed boundaries – without such parameters, who knows?~
~Looking back, I realised that it might well have been the need to believe that I could stop my nightmares by avoiding certain foods, that led to a prevailing sense that I could control the consequences.~
~It amazed me how I spotted pregnant women wherever I went. Was there suddenly a fertility explosion, or were they hitherto simply inconsequential and hence previously invisible to me?~
~’How’s your back?’ ‘Agony,’…’and I have a varicose vein in my vulva that is throbbing like a bastard.’ Clearly I had crossed into a realm in which no detail was deemed unsuitable for normal conversation…~
2020 is throwing all the punches, and people are feeling it, especially creatives. Writers are watching their much anticipated publication release date arrive as their launches are cancelled, along with festival appearances and guest speaking events.
African writers, especially, were already notoriously underpaid, and while I won’t be the one to find the cure for a certain little virus, I can try to do my part in lifting up other writers.
Coming soon: This blog will begin to feature excerpts, essays, and other posts by African writers (ie living IN Africa regardless of citizenship, and African citizens living in the diaspora). This content is not paid for and will be provided by the actual author of the feature, allowing them to promote their work. (Ie, I’m not writing or editing their pieces.)
~Age dries you up like the soil long after the rains have stopped. Time will eventually cement them together or force them together or force them apart with whatever it is that makes people love each other, and then turn to resentment.~
~With a heart that speaks with a longing for the past, he steps out into the night to find words in the moon.~
~No one born into this country is apolitical…Politics whispers in our ear, defines us every time we interact with anybody born a different colour from our own. The personal is deeply political.~
~The end of life isn’t visible to the living. We exist as counterpoints to ourselves, unaware of our own power to give life, or to take it away. The poets speak of it in dirges and dissertations to the souls of the ancestors. Lovers give it away, planting their seed without protective thought germinating a continuum of life and death in exquisite union, a moment of creative destruction…Still no one dreams of death.~
~Happiness is a dream. An arrogance.~
~You won’t find that people are kinder, nicer, more spiritual or filled with soul. There is darkness and light in every way of life. Every person struggles with their demons.~