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Helen Walne’s The Diving Launched at The Book Lounge with Karin Schimke

Helen Walne

The launch of The Diving by Helen Walne at The Book Lounge was a moving event, with many in the audience resonating powerfully with what was discussed.

The author was joined by Karin Schimke, poet and Cape Times books editor, in a candid and funny discussion. Welcoming the author was The Book Lounge owner Mervyn Sloman, who described The Diving as “compelling, insightful, brave, revealing and honest … at its core, the book is a beautiful and sad love story. And as we know, not all love stories end well”.

Karin Schimke and Helen WalneThe DivingSchimke praised Walne as one of the best columnists in South Africa, possessing a clarity of vision and the talent to translate it into words that powerfully connected her to readers. “She sees quirky things inside the mundane, and beauty inside ugliness. Because of that clarity what she writes is often outrageously funny, causing some tannies to sputter with anger. There are no boundaries to what she’ll talk about.”

Schimke said, “Although a very funny writer, Helen has taken on an unfunny topic, the suicide of her brother in February 2007.” Walne said she’d started jotting things down as “meanderings through the pieces of the puzzle” in the various notebooks that she carries everywhere she goes. She never expected it to become a book. About two years after she started writing, she realised that what had commenced as a cathartic process had become a work of writing. She could piece it together with a reader in mind as a cohesive narrative.

“For the first eight months of writing a book, you don’t say a word to anybody lest people come bounding up to you enquiring what it’s about. You don’t want to jinx it,” said Walne. She took time out periodically, renting numerous small cottages around the Karoo to be alone with the work. “I couldn’t write in my own house, amidst the washing and dogs, the mince on the stove.”

The author paid tribute to her editor, Sean Fraser, in particular, and editors in general, who she believes are terribly undervalued. “He was the one who insisted I send it out, when I couldn’t let it go, for trying to erase the last remaining adjectives.”

Schimke observed on the curious nature of The Diving: “It’s a vulnerable book, a sore book, hard on the reader, yet weirdly, it’s not heavy.” Schimke enquired whether Walne had felt exposed. “Was there a point where you felt embarrassed?” The author recalled that people who knew she was a humour writer assumed it was a funny book, which was difficult. She’d felt unsure when first discussing it, but found so many with first-hand experience of this all too familiar tragedy. “I knew then it was something I wanted to do, to shed some life on it, to bring some comfort and understanding and compassion,” she said.

Walne reflected on the historical stigmatisation of suicide, speculating that the moralistic judgment of some religions reinforces this. Suicide runs against the essence of what we as humans are about, with the expectation that we will hold on and be grateful for what we have. She remembered in the wake of Richard’s death turning to Night Falls Fast by Kay Redfield Jamison.

Although there was much literature that addressed the topic of grieving, nothing spoke directly to her. “That’s why I decided to write it myself,” she said.

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted from the launch using #TheDiving:

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