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Archive for the ‘Book Excerpts’ Category

Fiction Friday: read an excerpt from John Hunt’s The Boy Who Could Keep a Swan in his Head

John Hunt, author of The Boy Who Could Keep a Swan in his Head. © Joanne Olivier.

 
While other boys daydream about racing cars and football, eleven-year-old stutterer Phen sits reading to his father. In number four Duchess Court, Phen’s dad looks like a Spitfire pilot behind his oxygen mask.

But real life is different from the daring adventures in the books Phen reads and he is forced to grow up faster than other boys his age.

This is until Heb Thirteen Two shows up: in his pinstriped suit pants and tie-dyed psychedelic top, the stranger could be any old bum, or a boy’s special angel come to live among men.

Poignant, witty and wise, John Hunt’s The Boy Who Could Keep a Swan in His Head is a meditation on being alive and shows us the power of books when we need them the most.
 
 
John Hunt is the author of the novel The Space Between the Space Between. His book The Art of the Idea, which celebrates the power of ideas to move the world forward, has been translated into several languages. He is currently Worldwide Creative Chair of advertising agency network TBWA, having previously co-founded TBWA\Hunt Lascaris. He grew up in Hillbrow and still lives and works in Johannesburg.

Read an excerpt from Hunt’s remarkable novel here:

Hillbrow, 1967. The New York of Africa. Apartheid kept the roads clean and the rubbish collected. There were buildings going up everywhere – “lickety-split”, according to Mr Trentbridge. Large chunks of tin-roof houses were found in skips almost every day as the boy walked home from school. These homes were recently surrounded by honest gardens and the occasional peach tree. Someone wrote in The Star newspaper that soon Hillbrow would have more people per square kilometre than Tokyo. Everyone quoted that article to everyone. Some even cut it out and kept it folded in their wallets.

The boy, who went by the name of Phen, lived in Duchess Court. You’ll find it at 20 O’Reilly Road, Berea. Technically it’s in Berea, but for all intents and purposes it’s Hillbrow. The heartland of Hillbrow, the parallel streets of Kotze and Pretorius, is barely a three-minute amble away. Duchess Court was built in the twenties, solid and grey with flirty bits of art deco. When first constructed it must have dominated the skyline. By the time Phen moved in, though, it had the look of an old, stout woman in a sombre overcoat that had been mended too often.

Not that the building was without its charm. At its core was the wood-panelled lift with its bevelled mirror, known to all simply as Mr Otis. He waited at the end of the foyer with three cast-iron ladies above his lintel. Joined together, they danced in a chorus line with their right legs held scandalously high. If you opened the heavy wooden door, then slid back the metal gate, the lift would take you a clanking six storeys high. The grill, when concertinaed closed, left big gaps you could peer through. As you faced forward the lift shaft was presented in vertical grey strips that drifted upwards in a slow-motion blur. This was punctuated by six square bursts of yellow if you went all the way to the top. The lift door at each floor had a small glass window allowing you to wave to people as you went past them.

Stopping was always a violent and inexact affair. Tenants would suggest to newcomers that they lean against the walls or, at the very least, hold on to the polished brass handle of the metal gate as the lift slammed to a halt anywhere between a foot and an inch away from the floor of your choice. The uninitiated would battle to see this as an arrival and presume something had gone wrong. It was only after the metal door had been brazenly slid open that they would sheepishly step up or down and then out.

Phen lived on the ground floor in number four. His trips with Mr Otis were therefore infrequent or for fun. And a fertile imagination grew more fecund when transport was on hand. There was a time when, based at military headquarters behind the washing line on the roof, he needed to find the V2 rocket base the Germans were using. London was taking a terrible pounding and it was all up to his commando unit. After days of relentless reconnaissance they found the cunning concrete shaft dug six storeys deep into the mountainside. Although they were vastly outnumbered, thanks to the element of surprise the mission was a total success.

If you sat on the bonnet of Mr Trentbridge’s Ford Cortina and looked at Duchess Court, number four was situated on the extreme right-hand corner. A palm tree, planted years ago, blocked out ninety per cent of the view from the balcony and stretched up to the fourth floor. Doves cooed high up in the fronds as if the tiny strip of green between the building and the pavement was an oasis. Phen often Lawrence-of-Arabiaed around that tree, offering dates and nuts in the form of Wilson’s toffees to the gathered Bedouin tribes. He would need their help if the Turks were to be driven out of the Middle East once and for all.

With a dishcloth on his head he blew up countless enemy trains as they moved through the desert and up O’Reilly Road. His plunger was a pencil he’d wedged into a hole he’d made in the top of an empty condensed-milk tin. As he rammed it down hard, the dynamite hurled the huge locomotives into the air. Volkswagens, Morris Minors, Fiats and the occasional Peugeot would launch helplessly off the ground and land on their sides and roofs.

“Tell your men not to waste ammunition, Sharif Nassir. There are still many battles to come for the Harith tribe.”

It was an easy yet pitiless business finishing them off. Hidden behind the garden wall, his sawn-off broomstick picked them off one by one. It wasn’t pretty but then war never was. He had to remind himself, “Mankind has had ten thousand years of experience at fighting and if we must fight, we have no excuse for not fighting well.”

The flat itself was bigger on the inside than it looked from the outside. He lived in a flat while all the new buildings around him contained apartments. That was typical of words; they changed without rhyme or reason. And when you asked why, no one could give you an answer. His flat wasn’t flatter. In fact, the older buildings had much higher ceilings. And those new apartments were built so tightly together they should be called closements. His father said flats came from Britain and apartments from America. He said those damn Yanks were getting in everywhere.

If you opened the front door to number four you could turn sharp left into the kitchen or proceed straight into the dining room. The kitchen floor was covered in one flat sheet of green linoleum that bubbled depending on where you stood. You could get the bubble to move but you could never get it to disappear. Much like trying to get the dent out of a ping-pong ball. Trapped air is happy to be transported, but, it will take its ballooned vacuum with it. Concerned visitors even suggested there may be a mouse problem in the kitchen. This, in turn, created such embarrassment for Phen’s mother that his routine job became to force the bubble behind the fridge before anyone came to visit.

Not that walking in the dining room was without its challenges. Like the rest of the flat, it was all parquet flooring in what used to be a very close-fit herringbone design. Over the years, the perpetual pounding of feet in the high-traffic zones had begun to take their toll. Like a piano with a number of loose keys, the initial appearance of a smooth surface was deceptive. If you stood on the tail of the wrong wooden slat, its head would pop up like a snake ready to strike.

The most dangerous square lay, innocuously, directly on the path to the lounge. All three hardwood planks were loose and sat next to each other at slightly different heights. If you were carrying a tray you never stood a chance. And if you were a brisk or heavy walker one of the three would often flip out completely and smack you on the shin.

When Phen had caught his mother crying, even though she’d said everything was alright, he decided to fix the floor in an attempt to cheer her up. He was a bit of a hoarder and went straight to the top shelf of his cupboard. Under his two neatly folded school shirts he fished out the OK Bazaars plastic bag. Beside the egg from two Easters ago and the strips of liquorice, now a deep emerald green, he found his stash of chewing gum. He wasn’t sure exactly how long to chew for. After the taste had left, was the stickiness gone too? He decided merely to make the gum moist then pull it out. Each piece was given a minute in his mouth. No more, no less.

He’d seen pictures of master craftsmen at work and tried to adopt their demeanour. He held the edge of the slats up to the light and frowned at their unseemly roughness. He traced his finger across the ancient lumps of bitumen, then took his mother’s metal nail file and made them smooth. He’d put a newspaper on the dining-room table to catch their falling flakes, but most fell gently into the fruit bowl. Once finished, each six-inch plank was lined up vertically on the sideboard like a row of dominoes. He was uncertain about how to apply the chewing gum. One long stretch? Or a series of blobs?

After experimenting with both, he decided on the blobs. The measured distance between each mound of gum seemed aesthetically more pleasing and carried a greater sense of purpose. It reminded him of his Meccano set where a series of aligned holes solved everything. This choice demanded more material and depleted his entire reserve. By the time he was finished, a three-year collection of gum lay beneath the dining-room floor. Most were Chappies so he kept the wrappers to read the jokes and Did You Knows printed inside. However, there was also the faint whiff of peppermint and spearmint from other gums. Phen felt proud and exhilarated when he was finished. There is a kind of satisfaction that seeps in when a job requiring physical labour is well done. It’s the sort of feeling that sustains you for quite a while even when no one else notices your handiwork.

On the south side of the dining-room wall was a door which opened into a cupboard that was so deep it was referred to as the storeroom. The three shelves at the back were packed with the finality of knowing no one was ever going to reach them. On the middle of the top shelf, bristling like a series of broken vertebrae, lay the deformed wire hoops of the record rack. Somehow on its journey in the delivery van from Shotley Residential Hotel, not even half a mile away, the leg of the sofa had been placed on its delicate spine. The wire channels were now splayed embarrassingly wide in the middle and impossibly tight on the opposite edges. South Pacific, Brigadoon, My Fair Lady, Gigi and all their contemporaries were therefore forced to lie on top of one other, flat and square. They, in turn, rested upon a hatbox from another age. Now empty, its circular velvet-covered lid captured the memory, if not the contents, of its beauty.

One shelf below, and slightly to the left, lay the likewise empty hamster cage that had once housed Philby. Phen had been allowed to buy the white hamster provided his father could name him. “That rodent should’ve been behind bars years ago.” Only much later he learned that Philby was a British double agent who’d defected to the USSR. Teeth marks could still be seen where the hamster had gnawed through the pale blue powder coating of his steel feeding tray. Phen had placed the cage there himself, in a solemn ceremony shortly after Philby’s demise. He hadn’t been sure where you put the homes of the dead, let alone the dead themselves. He had wanted to ask, but couldn’t find the courage. He sensed a plastic bag and the dustbin might have been the answer. When he’d returned from school, his mother had given him a hug, said she was sorry and now the subject was closed.

Which is why, two weeks later, when the hamster wheel began to run wildly deep in the darkness of the cupboard, Phen was at first confused and then elated. He’d read the stories and seen the pictures of the resurrection. He’d pored over those yellow rays that burst from behind dark clouds as white doves, caught in a whirlwind, spun up to heaven. He ran to the door and smote the darkness asunder. The huge black rat was clearly startled by the light suddenly flicking on. However, with size comes a certain confidence. He allowed himself a few extra whirls before darting out the cage door and through a pile of London Illustrated News.

The Boy Who Could Keep a Swan in his Head

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“Be loyal to your car, but don’t give a sh*t about it.” Haji Mohamed Dawjee celebrates her anti-establishment hero, her grandfather, in this extract from Sorry, Not Sorry

Published in the Sunday Times

Haji Mohamed Dawjee celebrates her anti-establishment hero, her grandfather, in this extract from her new book Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a Brown Woman in a White South Africa.

He was an honest guy, my grandfather. A bit left-field with his thoughts, but always honest. His support of my creativity started when I was really young. I spent a lot of time with him at our old house in Laudium. Before I realised I liked writing, I sketched. All the time. He supplied pencils and paper, and I replicated Secret Seven book covers. SABC News was always on in the background and compliments for the Indian news presenters spilt out of him. They were all Hindu and he never failed to voice his disappointment and, well, disgust for the Muslim community, who he said never did anything with their lives. “Baby-making machines,” he called them. “Will never amount to anything,” he said. He admired women journalists and was frustrated that none of those he saw were Muslim. Subconsciously, I think this played a massive role in my becoming a journalist.

He was a writer too. He wrote poems. Lots and lots of poems. When he wasn’t reading them, he was writing them. They were really short, but he took ages to type them because he wasn’t used to a computer. He punched each letter in with two fingers and sometimes got the upper- and lower-case letters wrong, resulting in an ee cummings aesthetic. I assisted with formatting when asked.

The poems’ themes varied from religion to memories of his mother and his childhood. He was never published. Such opportunities did not exist for his generation, class and race. He bought a DIY manual on self-publishing and read it studiously, but nothing came of it. To satisfy his byline needs he got a printer and compiled the poems in files so that they looked like real books. The poetry anthologies of Cassim Mohamed Dawjee are still lying around somewhere in Pretoria.

Reading, writing and watching the news are just about the only conventional things about my grandfather when considered in the light of cultural and religious norms. With every decision, thought and opinion, he proudly lifted his middle finger to the world he found himself in and carved his own path. He didn’t care what anyone thought. In that way, he is my hero. He made me laugh without knowing he did. But he also made me think.

Once, when Muslim evangelists pitched up at the gate, he asked that the dogs be released from the back yard to scare them off. He went outside with a whip to do the same. I love that story.

What follows are a few things my grandfather did in his life, and the lessons I learnt from them.

Be loyal to your car, but don’t give a shit about it.

My granddad drove an ancient, massive, olive-green Mercedes-Benz. I don’t even know what model it was. It was always falling apart. It was an automatic and it’s the car he used to teach me to drive. He was always doing things to the engine that I am pretty sure didn’t need doing and only contributed to its demise.

At one stage, the window on the driver’s side gave in. It would stay wide open because it just slid right down into the door panel. Instead of having it fixed, Pappie, as we called him, used a butcher’s knife to hold it in place. This. Was. A. Terrible. Idea.

He drove me and my sister to school in that car every day. It was a long drive because we lived in Laudium and our school was out of town in Valhalla. He didn’t drive well because he always handled the steering wheel with one hand and had his other hand out the window, fingers tapping the roof of the car. In the summer when the whole window thing happened, he’d try to roll the window up and down while driving, constantly dissatisfied with the temperature.

Removing and replacing the knife required him to use both hands. The car went everywhere and so did the massive knife. It was quite a spectacle and quite a chore. The knife needed to be properly rammed into the side of the little window slit, which took some force. He endeavoured to keep his eyes on the road while trying his best not to miss his target and stab himself in the leg. He never missed, and I’m glad about that, but I often find myself laughing to stop from crying with fear of just thinking about it.

Lesson one: Sometimes in life, all you need is a huge knife to cut through the bullshit. If you believe in yourself, you can always make it work, no matter the risk. And screw the rest.

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Tension, temptation and secrets in François Bloemhof’s English debut, Double Echo (Plus: Read an extract)

Double EchoDoodskootPenguin Books presents seasoned Afrikaans thriller writer François Bloemhof’s English debut, Double Echo, also available in Afrikaans as Doodskoot:

Something’s gone sour in the Winelands …

Ex-cop Paul Mullan has a lot more baggage than the rucksack he’s carrying across the country. He’s trying to get away from that night, that hour when life as he knew it came to an end.

When Paul helps wealthy businessman Bernard Russell to change his car’s burst tyre near Riebeek-Kasteel in the pouring rain, Russell offers him shelter.

But the opulent wine estate Journey’s End is no safe haven, and Paul soon senses that his life is about to resemble one of those old black-and-white movies: he is the fallible hero, a young woman in Russell’s household the scheming femme fatale, and the outcome may be deadly.

Filled with tension, temptation, secrets and sleight of hand, Double Echo is seasoned Afrikaans thriller writer François Bloemhof’s exhilarating English debut.

About the author

François Bloemhof has had a prolific career, having written for adults, teenagers and children for more than 25 years. He has received numerous awards, including De Kat, FNB, ATKV, Kagiso and Sanlam prizes.

His is also a career of firsts: he wrote the first novel to be published with an original CD soundtrack composed by the author, the first book with its own computer game and the first ever e-book in Afrikaans. He has also produced work for film, TV, the stage and radio. He is a full-time writer when not attending to four demanding cats. Double Echo is his 24th novel for adults.
 

* * * * *

Read an extract from this thrilling novel (find the Afrikaans excerpt here):

Double Echo by François Bloemhof by Books LIVE on Scribd

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Revealed! The Joey Hi-Fi cover for A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg: A City Novel by Harry Kalmer (Plus: Excerpt)

Revealed! The Joey Hi-Fi cover for A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg by Harry Kalmer

 
Penguin Books South Africa has revealed the cover for A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg – Harry Kalmer’s new novel – designed by the legendary Joey Hi-Fi.

A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg is the English translation of the critically acclaimed ‘n Duisend stories oor Johannesburg, which was shortlisted for seven Afrikaans literary awards.

A Thousand Tales of JohannesburgThe book tells the story of a city, its architecture, its history and its diverse communities, from the pre-Johannesburg Highveld of the 1880s to the xenophobia of 2008.

Scroll down for an excerpt!

Kalmer has written 23 plays and six works of fiction, but A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg is his first book in English.
 
 
The author says:

A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg: A City Novel is my first book in English. I wanted it to look special so I asked publisher Fourie Botha to approach Joey Hi-Fi.

The book is set against the backdrop of the xenophobic violence of 2008. However architecture and specifically modernist architecture is central to the book. The postcard-like photo of Commissioner Street in the 1970s features two modernist buildings on the left and on the right, the deco New Library hotel against a Kodachrome blue Highveld sky.

There are so many things I love about this cover. The letters of the title mixing the old and the new. The torn photograph that allows old street maps, pictures and post cards to peak through as if to tell, like the book, the layered, tattered story of a constantly morphing city. Its history from mining camp to European Modernist skyline to the African megapolis it is today.

I chose Joey hoping he would do something as stark, modern and bold as some of his other work. Instead he created a cover that tells its own story before the reading even starts. An additional tale added to the many stories already inside the book.

Joey Hi-Fi describes the design process:

A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg is a moving and intricately interwoven tale about the inhabitants of Johannesburg. It spans more than a hundred years. From the late 1800s all the way through to 2008. The challenge here was to visually capture those stories and the passing of time in an authentic fashion. Something that was true to the characters therein as well as the tone and mood of the novel.

My concept for the cover was sparked by the many references to photographs in the novel. And since photographs are a record of the passing of time, I wondered: What if all the decades spanned in A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg collided in one photograph? And what if that photograph had been torn and worn away to reveal past events? Much like an archaeological excavation, where the deeper you dig the further into the past you go. In a way it is a metaphor for the city itself. The new built upon the old. Scratch beneath the surface and you will unearth some clue to the past.

So I decided to combine typography, illustration and photography in an intricately assembled collage. One photo that incorporated all the decades covered in the novel. I wanted the cover to have a measure of authenticity. To look as much as possible like a photograph of a Johannesburg street scene that has been crumpled, torn and weathered by the passing of time. To do this I redrew old maps of Johannesburg, illustrated and collaged together Johannesburg street scenes (from various decades) and recreated Boer prisoner of war letters. The cover typography is inspired by the lettering found on old maps from the early 1900s. Each element on the cover reflects some event or character in the novel.

Designing this cover was a fascinating deep dive into the rich history of Johannesburg and its people. A history which Harry Kalmer has beautifully captured in A Thousand Tales Of Johannesburg.

About the book

A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg is Harry Kalmer’s spellbinding ode to Johannesburg and its people.

This is the story of Sara, who poses stiffly for a photo with her four children at Turffontein concentration camp in 1901, and of Abraham, who paints the street names on Johannesburg’s kerbs. It is the tale of their grandson Zweig, a young architect who has to leave Johannesburg when he falls in love with the wrong person, and of Marceline, a Congolese mother who flees to the city only to be caught up in a wave of xenophobic violence.

Spanning more than a hundred years, A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg is a novel that documents and probes the lives of the inhabitants of this incomparable African city – the exiled, those returning from exile, and those who never left.

About the author

Harry Kalmer is an award-winning playwright and novelist who has authored six works of fiction and 32 plays. His novel En die lekkerste deel van dood wees was the runner-up in the 2007 Sanlam/Insig Groot Roman competition. Briewe aan ‘n rooi dak, based on the letters of Magdalena Otto, received the Anglo-Gold Aardklop award for best new drama in 2001, and was adapted for television and broadcast. In 2014, his drama The Bram Fischer Waltz won the Adelaide Tambo Award for Human Rights in the Arts. He lives in Johannesburg.

Excerpt from A Thousand Tales of Johannesburg

‘What is it like to be back in Johannesburg?’ Meredith’s voice sounded thin over the phone from Seattle.

‘Odd. It’s very different from when I left.’

‘It’s more than forty years, Dad. Places change, time moves on.’

‘I know but it is totally different. It is like an African city.’

‘It is an African city.’

Zweig did not respond. To speak about the emotions he had felt since his arrival in Johannesburg three
hours earlier would have been too difficult. Instead he asked her about work.

He remained seated on the bed with the phone in his hand after the conversation ended and realised how little he and Serenita had told their daughters about Johannesburg. To them it was merely the place where their parents lived before they moved to London.

Zweig felt like some Bach, but his iPod wasn’t charged. He craved a cigarette for the first time in fifteen years. The white telephone on the white bedside table rang. Cherie asked if he wanted white or red wine with his dinner.

Zweig put on clean clothes. A few minutes later Cherie was at the door with a plate of food, a glass and a carafe of white wine. She placed it on a coffee table. Arabic music was playing somewhere in the hotel. Zweig sat down in one of the chairs and poured a glass of wine. The chicken was tasty. It was the first meat he had eaten in a long time.

When he had finished his meal, he once again picked up the copy of Moby Dick but still found it difficult to read.

He undressed and took a photo of Serenita in a standing frame from his shoulder bag.

‘You won’t believe it, Serenita.’ He smiled at the photo. ‘I’m back in Johannesburg. An old man in his vest and his underpants sitting at the edge of a bed.’

He unfolded the back support strut of the frame and placed it on the table.
Then he climbed in under the duvet and turned off the bedside light.

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Read an exclusive excerpt from Sally Andrew’s new mystery: Tannie Maria and the Satanic Mechanic

Read an exclusive excerpt from Sally Andrew’s new Tannie Maria mystery: Tannie Maria and the Satanic Mechanic

 
Tannie Maria and the Satanic MechanicUmuzi has shared an exclusive excerpt from their much anticipated new release Tannie Maria and the Satanic Mechanic by Sally Andrew.

Andrew’s bestselling debut, Recipes for Love and Murder, won the coveted Booksellers’ Choice Award and Kirkus Best Book of 2015, and was given the thumbs up by the Wall Street Journal and the Oprah Book Club.

The book was published in 17 countries (and counting) and is being translated into 11 languages.

The follow-up, Tannie Maria and the Satanic Mechanic, is being released locally this month. Scroll down for an excerpt!

About the book

Everybody’s favourite agony aunt and crime fighter Tannie Maria needs some counselling advice of her own. Lingering troubles from a previous marriage still sit heavy on her, while fresh worries about Slimkat, a local man whose fighting for his people’s land threatens his life, keep her up at night.

Tannie Maria seeks out counsellor, jokily known to all as “the satanic mechanic”. Straight out of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and from hot-as-hell Hotazel, Ricus fixes both cars and people.

But Maria’s counselling tune-up switches gears when a murder flings her straight into Detective Henk Kannemeyer’s investigation. Not only is she dating the dashing Henk, she now has to work beside him: a potential recipe for disaster.

Blending an intriguing mystery with characters as lovable as the setting of the rural Klein Karoo, this book is Sally Andrew’s delightful, warmhearted sequel to Recipes for Love and Murder.

About the author

Sally Andrew lives in a mud-brick house on a nature reserve in the Klein Karoo with her artist partner, a giant eland, and a secretive leopard. She also spends time in the wilderness of southern Africa and the seaside suburb of Muizenberg. She has a master’s in Adult Education from the University of Cape Town. Before settling down to write full time, she was a social and environmental activist.
 

Read an excerpt:
 

We heard a car backfiring as it parked in Eland Street.

‘That’s probably them now.’ She got up and stood at the door, and I put on the kettle.

I heard Slimkat before I saw him, his voice quiet but strong as he spoke to Jessie. She led him into the office, and he intro¬duced his cousin, Ystervark. Then he shook my hand.

‘This is my colleague, Tannie Maria,’ said Jessie. ‘She does the “Love Advice and Recipe Column”.’

His hand was warm and dry, but I hardly felt it, because it was his eyes that filled me with feeling. They were big and black, like a kudu’s, and they looked right into me. It was very strange … I felt like he could see me. Really see me. Not only my body but all of me. It was as if my eyes were windows without curtains, and he could just look inside. He saw everything. Including the things I kept hidden, even from myself.

I looked away.

‘Coffee?’ I offered, fiddling with the cups.

‘Rooibos tea?’ he asked.

I nodded.

‘Black,’ he said, ‘but with lots of sugar for Yster.’

Ystervark was looking at all the pouches on Jessie’s belt and frowning. Like Slimkat, he was a small man, but while Slimkat was relaxed, Yster’s whole body was tense. His hands were tight fists, and I recognised him from the newspaper photograph. Ready to fight. Ready to kill, maybe. He looked at Slimkat, then at Jessie’s belt and at Slimkat again.

‘Sorry,’ said Slimkat. ‘We don’t mean to be rude. But could you show us what you are carrying on your belt? We’ve had some … incidents, and Ystervark likes to be careful.’

‘Sure,’ said Jessie, and emptied all the things from her pouches onto her desk. They made quite a pile and included her camera, notebook, pen, phone, torch, string, knife and pepper spray.

Ystervark grabbed the spray and the knife and looked at Slimkat as if to say, ‘I told you so.’

‘Sorry,’ Slimkat said again. ‘He’ll give them back when we go. We can’t stay long.’

Jessie set up two chairs for the visitors, but Ystervark stood at the office door. Then he walked towards the street and back again, with the knife and the pepper spray in his hands. He put them in his pockets when I handed him his tea and rusk. I gave the others their hot drinks and beskuit too.

‘Would you like me to go?’ I asked Jessie.

‘No,’ said Slimkat. ‘Stay,’ and he fixed me with those eyes again.

I spilt my coffee on my desk. I rescued the letters, but the coffee got all over last week’s Gazette.
Jessie picked up her notebook. ‘I know you don’t like to sing your own praises,’ she said, ‘but you must be feeling good about the victory over big business. Diamond miners and agribusiness are used to getting their way. Yet you won the fight.’

‘I am sad,’ said Slimkat. ‘It was not right to fight.’

‘What do you mean?’ said Jessie. ‘It belongs to you, that land. Your ancestors have lived there for tens of thousands of years. You could not just let the companies steal it from you.’

‘No,’ said Slimkat. ‘You are wrong. The land does not belong to us. We belong to the land.’

Jessie blinked, and her mouth opened and closed. It was not often that I saw Jessie without words.
She found them again. ‘But surely,’ she said, ‘if you do not fight, then injustice will be done. Again and again.’

‘That is true,’ he said. ‘Some people like to fight.’ He took a sip of his tea and glanced at his cousin, who stood at the door with his back to us. ‘I do not. Fighting can make you bitter. But sometimes it must be done. If you have to fight, then you must do so with soft hands and a heart full of forgiveness.’

He dipped his rusk into his tea and took a bite. Then he smiled and looked at me.

I mopped at the Gazette with a napkin. There was a brown stain over the pink advert offering relationship help.

‘I hear there have been death threats?’ Jessie said.

 
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Lees ’n uittreksel uit Karin Brynard se nuwe roman, Tuisland

TuislandTuisland deur Karin Brynard is binnekort beskikbaar en word uitgegee deur Penguin:

Kaptein Albertus Beeslaar het genoeg gehad van die platteland. Hy het pas sy bedanking ingedien, maar word vir een laaste sending die Kalahari in gestuur. Die dood van ’n San-leier en klagtes van polisiegeweld word sy missie.

Op die rand van die Kgalagadi-oorgrenspark, waar die laaste afstammelinge van die Kalahari-San in ’n wildernis van sand en Kalahari-leeus woon, loop hy hom in ’n bynes vas. Die brutale aanval op ’n Duitse toeris ontketen ’n rits gebeure wat ’n multimiljoenrandse projek vir die San kan verongeluk.

En dan val die volgende dooie. Beeslaar kry ’n nuwe kollega, kolonel Koekoes Mentoor, ’n hardekwas rissiepit wat saam met hom deur ’n doolhof van politiek, mites en moord moet stap.

Gelyktydig moet Kytie Rooi, skoonmaakster by ’n luukse gastehuis op Upington, die Kalahari in vlug met ’n vreemde straatkindjie aan die hand.

Met die romans Plaasmoord en Onse vaders het Karin Brynard haar reputasie as een van Suid-Afrika se gewildste misdaadskrywers gevestig. In haar derde roman kom haar karakters te staan voor groter uitdagings as ooit te vore.

Oor die outeur

Karin Brynard is in Koffiefontein in die Vrystaat gebore en het aan die Universiteit van Pretoria gestudeer. As politieke verslaggewer van Rapport het sy die vryheidstryd en die vrylating van Nelson Mandela gedek. Sy was ook adjunkredakteur van Insig. Haar debuutroman, Plaasmoord, is bekroon met die Universiteit van Johannesburg-debuutprys asook die M-Net-boekprys in die filmkategorie.

* * * * *

Lees ‘n uittreksel uit hierdie nuwe roman:

Beeslaar gaan buite toe vir vars lug en stilte. Die kroeg raas te veel, doefdoef-musiek en dronkpraatjies.

Daar’s wolke aan’t kom, sien hy, die stormweer van Upington wat hom toe tóg agterhaal het. Dis drukkend en stil buite, glimmerings van weerlig wat kort-kort die horison verlig. Etlike sekondes later kom die dowwe gerammel agterna.

Gramstorig en beneuk, dink hy. Join the club, manne, veral na ‘n dag soos vandag.

Sy voete is bliksems seer. En hy’t ‘n slegte voorgevoel aan hom: impending doom. Die vinnige “joppie” vir die Moegel is besig om bagasie op te tel. Hy moes vanaand in Johannesburg gewees het. In die gastehuis in Melville met ‘n lang drankie in die hand, besig om na môre se semiverjaardagpartytjie uit te sien.

Hy’t nog nie die teddiebeer toegedraai nie, onthou hy skielik. Was nog van plan om iewers geskenkpapier te koop.

Hy sug en drink ‘n sluk bier. Vir die eerste keer in ‘n lang tyd mis hy ‘n sigaret. Enigiets om die kak smaak van die dag se gesukkel uit sy mond te kry.

Dit moes verdomp die begin van sy nuwe lewe gewees het. Die kans om ‘n gesin te bou.

‘n Gesin. Herre, hy durf nie eens die woord uiter nie. En ‘n kind, sy eie. Dit maak soveel onbekende emosies by hom los. Vreemde gevoelens: Een oomblik ‘n gloed van geluk, jou hart swel soos ‘n rugbybal. Die volgende is dit yskoue angs. Oor jy skielik iets het wat saak maak. Iets wat jou aan die lewe anker, ‘n vastigheid in ‘n waansinnige wêreld.

Hy skud sy kop in die donker. Genoeg van die morbiede gebroei. Hy vat die laaste sluk van sy Windhoek Lager. Vanaand wil hy hom kruppel drink. Na ‘n dag soos vandag verdien hy dit, verdomp. En dit bly die beste purgasie vir ‘n kop vol kak. Dié bier was net foreplay. Hierna is die speletjies verby: dubbels van elke soort brandewyn in die hotel se kroeg.

Dit sal help opmaak vir die tos situasie waarin hy hom vanaand bevind: halfpad uit die polisie, halfpad in ‘n nuwe job in. Hy wás halfpad in by Gerda, die liefde van sy lewe. Maar na vandag is hy vir seker weer uit. Was halfpad op pad Johannesburg toe, maar sit pens en pootjies in die fokken Kalahari. Waar dit sweersekerlik nie makliker gaan raak nie. Die gesprek in die kroeg is klaar ‘n rigtingwyser – klomp ouens met waarheidwater agter die blad wat onwetend ou Kappies de Vos se gat toestop.

Miskien nie genoeg bewyse vir ‘n regter nie, maar beslis ‘n aanduiding van hoe die wind hier waai: Texas Ranger gekruis met Buffalo Bill. Miskien moet hy eers vir Gerda bel voor hy aan die drink raak. Aan die ander kant – dalk moet hy eers ‘n moedskepdop drink. Dalk moet hy glad nie bel nie. Sy slaap tien teen een al.

Hy is op die punt om weer in te gaan toe hy ‘n voertuig met gedompte ligte gewaar wat stadig uit Upington se rigting aangery kom. Dis ‘n groot masjien, 8 silinder 4.5-liter diesel met ‘n luukse, sysagte spin. Die pad is naby genoeg, omtrent so 200 meter van die lodge se stoep waar hy staan. Hy probeer om te sien watse voertuig dit is, maar hy kan nie, dis net te donker. Hy kyk hoe dit stadig voor die lodge verby drentel.

Die opmerking in die kroeg, vroeër, oor De Vos en die “veldkabouters” en “hasejag” kom skielik by hom op. Hy skud dit uit sy kop. “Jy’t nog drank nodig, Beeslaar, die son het jou brein gebraai,” mompel hy vir homself en tel sy leë glas op om in te gaan.

Dan hoor hy die skoot.

Hy sit die glas neer. Die voertuig trek met skreeuende bande weg, hoofligte aan, soekligte op die dak wat die wêreld verhelder.

Vir ‘n kort oomblik pen dit ‘n mansfiguur vas, ‘n warreling klere en pompende arms oor die teerpad wat vinnig weer in die lang gras aan die oorkant van die pad verdwyn. Beeslaar sit instinktief sy hand op sy pistoolheup. Hou dit daar, gereed, terwyl hy stip na die pad staar. Die groot kar jaag tot waar die figuur verdwyn het, rem hard en swenk van die pad af agter die hardloper aan. Voor ‘n hoë ogiesdraadheining stop dit in ‘n wolk stof. Daar’s ‘n dubbele hek, maar dis toe. Een van die deure gaan oop en ‘n man vlieg uit, hardloop na die hek toe en maak dit oop.

Die kragtige enjin dreun en die voertuig skiet deur, sy ligte val op ‘n klein houthuisie. Beide huisie en kar verdwyn in die groot bolle stof. Dan klap daar nog ‘n skoot en van iewers uit die stof en die donker is daar dowwe uitroepe.

En dan nóg ‘n skoot.

Beeslaar hardloop, blindelings. Al met die gruispad van die lodge af tot by die teerpad. Hy’s bewus van sy stukkende voete, maar dis nou minder belangrik.

Oorkant die pad is die sand dik en ongelyk, maak dit moeilik om in die donker regop te bly. Dan is hy om die huisie, maar loop hom byna disnis teen ‘n stewige kêrel met ‘n flits in die hand. Die flits tref hom hard teen die kop.

Hy voel hoe die nag om hom kantel, ‘n skerp pyn wat deur sy skedel bars. Hy steier, probeer sy balans hou, maar sy bene swik en hy sak op sy knieë neer.

“Polisie,” probeer hy sê, maar hy’s nie seker of die woorde by sy mond uitkom nie. Dit voel of daar nie lug in sy longe is nie.

“Wat de hel …” sê die vent met die flits, skyn dit vol op Beeslaar se gesig.

Hy lig sy een hand om sy oë af te skerm.

“Hô,” roep die flitsman. “Stadig, stadig. En laat los jou wapen. Lós!”

Beeslaar maak sy hand oop, voel hoe die wapen hardhandig gegryp word. “Wag,” probeer hy prewel. Sy mond is kurkdroog en sy tong dom. “Pol-polisie …” Hy kyk op, maar die flits verblind hom. Agtertoe sien hy die voertuig rooi briek.

“Dáár’s hy!” roep iemand uit. “Oor die duin! Oor die duin! Daai kant toe! Rý, ry, ry! Tebogo! Ons gaan hom fokken verloor!”

Die enjin brul woedend. Maar ruk dan dood. “Wat fokken máák jy, man! Ry!”

Die flits swaai weg uit Beeslaar se gesig en terug in die rigting van die voertuig. Dis ‘n moerse groot Land Cruiser, sien hy, met sy neus in ‘n sandduin en fonteine sand wat agter sy wiele opstaan.

Beeslaar besluit hy moet nóú iets doen, terwyl sy aanvaller se aandag elders is. Hy beur orent, so flink as wat sy bene hom toelaat, en stamp sy aanvaller hard in die sy. Die man roep uit en strompel eenkant toe, verloor sy balans en sak op sy hurke. Beeslaar laat nie op hom wag nie en hy mik ‘n skop na die man se ribbes.

“Ug,” sê die man en syg op die sand neer. Beeslaar gryp hom voor die bors en slaan hom met die hakskeen van sy hand vol op die neus. Dis nie ‘n harde hou nie, maar hard genoeg dat die kêrel skree en na sy gesig gryp.

“Bliksem,” sê Beeslaar uitasem en laat val hom. Hy tel die man se flits op en lig op die sand rond tot hy sy pistool half onder die man se lyf sien uitsteek. Hy raap dit vinnig op en skyn dan die flits op die Cruiser teen die duin. Die bestuurder, sien hy, probeer steeds om die spulletjie aan die gang te kry, maar die loodswaar voertuig versit geen tree nie.

Beeslaar bring die lig terug na die vent op die grond. “Polisie,” sê hy. “Wat’s jou naam? Op wie skiet julle?”

Die kêrel kreun en Beeslaar buk by hom. Hy ruik drank.

Die neus lyk nie gebreek nie, maar hy’s goed stukkend, bloed stroom oor die lip. Hy deursoek die man vlugtig, voel nie ‘n wapen nie. Hy maak sy beursie oop en ontdek sy polisiekaart.

Fok.

Hy swaai die flits weer na die Cruiser toe. Hy sien ‘n dowwe figuur voor die voertuig wat aanwysings vir die bestuurder binne-in uitroep. Bo teen die duin is iemand met ‘n geweer in die hand besig om deur die los sand na bo te sukkel. Beeslaar hoor hom uitroep, maar kan nie hoor wat hy sê nie. Dan raak hy weg in die donker.

En die Cruiser se enjin vrek wéér.

“Lê,” sê Beeslaar vir die ou hier by hom op die grond.

“Jy’t my flippen neus gebreek,” kerm hy. “Ek gaan jou aankla!”

“Jy en jou antie,” sê Beeslaar. “Wat’s jou naam? En op wie skiet julle?”

“Kaptein De Vos gaan jou dik donner, bliks -”

“Op wié skiet julle?”

” ‘n Fokken verdagte, wat anders!”

Dan klink daar nog ‘n skoot op, weergalm in die stilte.

Beeslaar begin hardloop. “Kry back up,” skree hy oor sy skouer. “Nog mense!” Die kêrel skel iets agterna, maar hy hoor skaars.

Die Cruiser is leeg, sien hy toe hy nader kom. Hy lig met die flits op die kruin van die duin langs, sien waar die ou met die geweer oor is. Die sand is te los daar, hy weet hy gaan sukkel. Regs van die voertuig lyk dit meer kompak. Hy bêre die pistool en begin haastig teen die duin optrap. Die sand is diep. Plek-plek sak hy tot oor sy enkels weg.

Bo gekom, lig hy op en af in die duinstraat aan die ander kant. Hy sien spore – te veel. Maar oor die volgende duin sien hy ‘n lig.

Hy is bereid om geld te wed dat die een met die geweer De Vos self is. Agter wie is hy aan? Die inbreker van Askham?

Hel.

Bad luck en trouble kwadraat. Hoe de fok het jy hier beland, Beeslaar?

Maar daar’s nie tyd vir dink nie, want hy gewaar ‘n beweging op die oorkantste duin – ‘n man met sy rug na Beeslaar wat sy geweer op iets of iemand onder hom rig. Dan skiet hy. Die skoot weergalm in die duine in.

Beeslaar kom in beweging, hardloop met lang treë teen die styl duin af, oor die vaste sand onder in die duinvallei en weer op teen die oorkant. Hy is nét bo en gereed om oor die duin te gaan toe daar ‘n harde uitroep opklink. Hy val onmiddellik plat en skakel die flits af. Hy wil nie per ongeluk in daardie geweer se visier beland nie.

Vir ‘n rukkie bly hy lê, ore gespits. Dan loer hy versigtig oor die duin. Eers sien hy niks nie, maar dan is daar dowwe bewegings ondertoe. Hy skakel die flits aan, gooi die straal in daardie rigting.

Dis dan dat hy die stil liggaam van die polisieman gewaar. En die donker figuur wat vinnig van die toneel weghardloop. Met die geweer in sy hand.

 
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Lees ’n uittreksel uit Piet van Rooyen se nuwe roman, Voëlvry (Plus: Potgooi)

VoëlvryVoëlvry deur Piet van Rooyen is nou beskikbaar by Penguin:

Wanneer dinge te warm raak vir die skatryk Duitse swendelaar Hans-Joachim Kramer, vestig hy hom en sy jong gesin op ‘n plaas in Namibië. Hy stel vir Daantjie Weerlig as voorman aan om hom met sy boerdery te help. Kramer pas gou aan by die nuwe land en sy mense, maar vir sy blondekopvrou en hul tweeling raak die ongenaakbaarheid van die nuwe tuiste gou te veel en hulle keer terug Duitsland toe.

Wanneer Kramer vir Vaalperd Ses in diens neem, neem sake ‘n dramatiese wending. Dié nuweling kruis swaarde met Daantjie Weerlig en hy sweer wraak wanneer hy uiteindelik gevra word om die plaas te verlaat.

Intussen is ‘n lasbrief vir die inhegtenisname van Kramer in Duitsland uitgereik. Die agent wie se taak dit is om Hans-Joachim uitgelewer te kry, betrek die meedoënlose Vaalperd Ses om die Duitser die skrik op die lyf te jaag – met bloedige gevolge.

Gou word alles wat vir Kramer kosbaar was hom ontneem, maar dan ontmoet hy n jong vrou, Rachel da Silva, wie se wortels stewig geanker is in Afrika-grond.

Oor die outeur

Piet van Rooyen is die skrywer van sewe romans en vier poësiebundels. Sy eerste roman, Die spoorsnyer, wen die Tafelberg/Sanlam/De Kat-romankompetisiein 1993. Hy ontvang hiervoor ook die CNA-prys vir ’n debuutroman. Die olifantjagters verskyn in 1997 en dié roman ontvang in 1998 die M-Net-prys. Ander romans sluit in Gif (2001), Die brandende man (2002), Akwarius (2005), Etosha (2010) en Rodriguez (2012). Hy is tans professor in politieke wetenskap aan die Universiteit van Namibië.
 

* * * * * * *

 
Lees ‘n uittreksel uit hierdie nuwe roman:

“’n Lasbrief is uitgereik vir die inhegtenisneming van erekonsul Hans-Joachim Kramer, tot onlangs van die Ganghoferweg nommer 2, Bad Heilbrunn in die Beiere, wat vermoedelik na Afrika uitgewyk het.
“Ons onderneem om hom sonder verslapping te agtervolg, waar hy hom ook al in die wêreld mag bevind. Al sou dit ook in die onderwêreld wees, ons sal hom uiteindelik vind en tot rekenskap dwing.

“Die Bundesregering versoek die onmiddellike uitlewering van een van die mees berugte swendelaars in die geskiedenis van die Duitse Republiek, die pierewaaier en kamma-grootwildjagter Hans Kramer. Hy het hier, reg onder ons oë, reeds honderde gemeenskappe in vals ondernemings betrek, waardeur hulle gesamentlik meer as dertig miljoen euro se swaarverworwe spaargeld verloor het.”

Van Rooyen het vroeër vanjaar met Suzette Kotze-Myburgh gesels op RSG se Skrywers en Boeke-program. Luister na die potgooi om uit te vind wat sê hy oor Voëlvry:

 

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‘You do belong with me after all’ – Read excerpts from the love letters of Andre Brink and Ingrid Jonker

Flame in the Snow

Flame in the SnowVlam in die sneeu

 

I say your name, Ingrid. Your tender, lovely, virginal name. I say it with
love and painful tenderness. And I hail you with need and yearning.
Your short hair with sun, sea, smoke, and with hair’s own fragrance,
and the little curl on your forehead;
your lovable ears that don’t always listen,
that are so very sore, especially after car accidents;
and your brown eyes, happy or sore,
laughing and crying, quiet or cursing;
and your soft mouth, kissing and talking;
and your chin that teases and provokes;
and your fragrant, smooth, speckled shoulders;
your back, brown from the sun;
your white, round breasts, full and with milk,
with those lovable nipples – breasts that calmly move as you breathe
and read;
and your soft, labile little tummy;
your little arms with their beautiful hands,
the messy nails and the notch in your back;
and your legs, enticing twist of calf-muscles when you wear black
shoes;
and your loveliest feet with the leucodendron, walking across mountains,
refusing to take rides with strange men;
your white backside that turns sitting into an enchantment;
and your small, high hill, nestling confidentially under my hand
and deep and warm and soft the cocoon
my cocoon, eager and hungry, tender and passionate.

In a telegram dated 29 April 1963, 29-year-old Afrikaans poet Ingrid Jonker thanks André Brink, a young novelist of 27, for flowers and a letter he sent her.

In the more than 200 letters that followed this telegram, one of South African literature’s most famous love affairs unfolds.

Jonker’s final letter to Brink is dated 18 April 1965. She drowned herself in the ocean at Three Anchor Bay three months later.

More than 50 years on, this poignant, often stormy relationship still grips readers’ imaginations.

The quote above is an excerpt from a letter written by Brink to Jonker in 1963, a few months after their famous love affair started. This letter, and many others, have been collected in Flame in the Snow: The Love Letters of André Brink and Ingrid Jonker, with Brink’s words translated by Leon de Kock and Jonker’s by Karin Schimke. The original writings are available in the Afrikaans collection Vlam in die sneeu: Die liefdesbriewe van André P Brink en Ingrid Jonker.

A special website dedicated to these two books has been set up where you can view photographs, read extracts in English and Afrikaans, see quotes from the contributors, and peruse articles about Flame in the Snow:

Flame in the Snow

 

Read three excerpts from Flame in the Snow:

Flame in the Snow Extract 1 MayApril1963

 

Flame Extract 2 August 1963

 

Flame Extract 3 November 1963

 

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The Bunny Whisperer: Read an excerpt from Anna Peters’ Year of Cooking Dangerously by Kathryn White

The Bunny Whisperer: Read an excerpt from Anna Peters’ Year of Cooking Dangerously by Kathryn White

 
Anna Peters' Year of Cooking DangerouslyUmuzi has shared an excerpt from Anna Peters’ Year of Cooking Dangerously, the new novel by Kathryn White.

In the excerpt, Anna is given a special assignment: covering the centenary of the annual South African Rabbit Jump Championships for the illustrious publication Petz in da Hood!

She manages to score an exclusive interview with the champion bunny’s owner, but the day takes a horrifying turn when she gets to their farm …

Read the excerpt:

* * * * *

But God is busy. As is Saxi, my boss. She has informed me that I will be taking her place at a function this Saturday. I will be the Petz in da Hood! representative at the annual South African Rabbit Jump Championships. I ask Simone if she will come with me and she says yes, provided I go with her to choose lingerie for her honeymoon. There is nothing – nothing – more depressing than shopping for lingerie for your best friend’s honeymoon when your boyfriend is probably shacking up with an air hostess in Czech or Slovakia or somewhere.

The show takes place in the Far East of Johannesburg, about one minute from the airport and three from a racetrack. A marquee has been set up on a hill and we have to park in a ditch under a thorn tree. As VIPs Simone and I have dressed accordingly: high heels, red lipstick and wide-brimmed hats that would have made Professor Henry Higgins proud.

‘Anna, this better bloody make you the most famous pet writer in the country,’ Simone tells me as we hike through clumps of thorn trees towards the tent. (Note, two problems already: hike and tent.) When we reach the tent we notice a sign that says VIP parking. Ah, next time.

There is also a red carpet, complete with the flags of participating countries. We receive giant rosettes with VIP scrawled inside. We are ushered into the arena and walked to our special VIP seats.

As Sim and I walk past the Judges’ Table an old man of, oh, I’m guesstimating, ninety-five, lets out a wolf whistle.

Simone waves back at him. But it seems the whistle is for a large lady with orange hair clutching an orange rabbit that I briefly mistake for a corgi. ‘Good luck, Mrs Bigelow,’ the old man calls to her. By way of acknowledgement, Mrs Bigelow fist-pumps with her free hand.

Our VIP seats are in a special VIP box, suspended above the heaving arena of bunnies and handlers. Jared, our photographer, arrives. He also receives a rosette, but photographers are cool (even pet photographers) so he doesn’t wear his. At exactly noon a bugle is blown. A man enters the arena, carefully picking his way through the jumping course that has been laid out for the bunny rabbits.

‘Welcome to the one hundredth anniversary of the Annual South African Rabbit Jump Championships!’

Wow. I mean, that’s almost the same age as Joburg itself (yes, it’s true, there was no city or even a road here before 1886).

‘And a pleasure and privilege to have the prestigious Petz in da hooooood! who are here with us today.’

Wow-diddy-wow! Simone and I get up and wave.

‘Now, without further ado, please put your hands together for the ten finalists.’ Bunnies begin to bounce out from behind a curtain, followed, at the end of a string, by owners who’ve fixed their expressions into what I like to call Game Face. ‘One of whom will win R100 000!’

Wow-diggedy-wow-wow! This is serious stuff. With a double blow of the bugle, the commentator bows and walks backwards, then takes his seat at the Judges’ Table.

Some of the bunnies are very big. Some of them are very small. All of them twitch their noses as they jump, ears flapping to the sound of their owners’ encouraging grunts. They are all endearingly cute, but what will I write about? Newspaper ad sales are down and Saxi has instructed me to come up with something ‘compelling’.

There is only one bunny left to jump.

The curtain is still closed but the crowd – largely Swedish it seems – has begun to chant.

‘Yump Buster yump! Yump Buster yump!’

The commentator holds up his hand for silence.

‘Last up in the finals are world champions, Mrs Rudolfina Bigelow and Buster.’

With another blow of the bugle, Mrs Bigelow emerges, holding the corgi-rabbit. She stands at the start of the jumping line and leans down to lift up Buster’s orange ear. I assume she gives him a pep talk because from our Very Important vantage point I actually see Buster turn to make eye contact with her and nod.

Simone almost starts to laugh so I pinch her. She shouts in pain.

‘Shhh!’ I tell her. ‘I think this is it. This is my story. The Bunny Whisperer.’

From the first leap into the air, it is apparent that Buster is leagues above the other rabbits. A step above the rest. In a class of his own. A jump ahead.

The commentator can hardly keep up: ‘Skipping a loogy over the first jump. A little bit of lag on the back leg – ably made up for by a scamper towards number two.’ (Insert bugle sound effects.) ‘Buster, what a rabbit! Adds in half a stride to scurry forward, that point-two-five seconds could make all the difference between obscurity and fame. Now, leaping over the combination three and four in a double pop. Nice. And the crowd joins Bigelow in egging him on toward the end.’

We join the crowd, jumping to our feet as Buster and Mrs Bigelow hare around the course.

‘Cutting the corner over there … And Buster, heading towards the home run: increasing his hop from two centimetres to four, really pushing it from his back quarters. Here comes the final bounce: intent eyes as he aims for the middle. Oh! And counting down the hops: three, two, one!’

Simone and I throw up our hands with the rest of the crowd and start shouting ‘Yump Buster yump! Yump Buster yump!’

‘And, it’s a new record for the fastest time in the fifty-centimetre championships! And it seems, yes, yes, yes! That makes it a win for Buster and Bigelow as the Champion of Champions at the centenary of the annual South African Rabbit Jump Championships!’

Bigelow’s face is dripping with perspiration and she throws her head back to air punch and make a very unladylike roar of happiness. Buster, I kid you not, turns to look up at her. Then slowly stands on his back legs and places his bunny feet into the air. Simone and I join the crowd in mad applause, throwing up our hands in the air like Bunny Buster.

Jared the photographer joins me as we move through the ecstatic crowds. Our team is exhausted but – no wussiness for this Pulitzer-prize-pet-journalist-in-the-making (that’s me) – I shove my iPhone into the space around Mrs Bigelow and Buster. This time I even remember to press record, unlike the time the monkey said hello and my Dictaphone wasn’t on.

‘Mrs Bigelow,’ I yell.

She takes my phone from my hand and puts it to her ear.

‘Yes?’

‘How do you feel about the win?’ I shout through the din.

She takes the phone and looks at it, trying to locate the voice. ‘Very good!’ she yells as she walks off, holding my phone to her ear.

I motion for Jared, leaping over bunnies and owners as we pursue her through the arena. When we eventually catch up to explain, Mrs Bigelow finds this so hilarious that she starts to choke. On her laughter. Jared bashes her on the back.

He has saved her life! She decides she will give us an exclusive interview. At the Bigelows’ rabbit farm. Still keyed up from the excitement of the event, Jared, Simone and I agree to travel with the Bunny Team and get the real inside scoop.

‘Inside the Bunny Team’ is inside an eighteen-wheeler with neat rows of rabbits in hutches, chewing on celebratory carrots.

‘Buster?’ I ask one of the handlers. He nods. ‘Buster.’ Then points down the row: ‘Buster One, Two, Three, Four, Five …’

They are all orange furred. We’re not quite sure which one is Buster so I pat the closest and we take our seats alongside the rabbit handlers. With a toot-toot, the truck lugs into gear and we rumble over ground before hitting the smooth asphalt of tar.

After half an hour Simone and I exchange nervous glances. Another fifteen minutes and the road changes again, to gravel. The truck stops and there is a hissing sound as it comes to standstill. The handlers stand and start to organise the cages and boxes.

The back doors of the truck are flung open; Mr and Mrs Bigelow appear and start shouting at everyone. Sim and I totter down the steps. My heels sink into thick loamy soil. Toto, we’re not in the East anymore. I don’t even think we are in Johannesburg: hills stretch towards a sunset, a lake to the left and a long, flat house to the right.

Mr Bigelow claps me on the back and motions for us to follow. We walk through a low fence – this is worth a mention, because in South Africa, well, there aren’t any – into a garden with hundreds of gnomes, many of whom seem to be freshly painted. In the centre is the farmhouse. On the porch a cuckoo clock announces that it is 6 p.m. Weimaraners stretch and bark.

We are taken through a long passage, to the kitchen. Mr Bigelow turns to smile at us. In his arms he cuddles an orange bunny.

‘Buster?’ I ask.

‘Buster!’ he points to the rabbit in his arms. ‘Come, come, sit.’ The Bigelows’ daughter appears from the pantry, clutching three jugs of ale, which she hands us. ‘We make our own,’ she smiles. She too has the familial orange hair.

Jared is now lying prostrate on the floor, clicking his camera up the daughter’s skirt. I give Jared a little kick to remind him to get photos that we can use in a community paper and on a family website.

‘Right!’ Mrs Bigelow claps her hands. ‘First, we drink, then we cook. Second, we talk.’

Oh fuck.

‘Cheers!’

The beer is sweet and malty, like a bitter, frothy honey. It stings the back of my throat.

‘Ah,’ we all sigh. Except I actually burp, by mistake.

Everyone is kind enough to pretend that didn’t happen.

‘Come now.’ Mr Bigelow escorts Simone and me outside.

The red porch gleams in the dying sun, the broekie lace tinged pink. Twirling quietly in the twilight air, hanging from the broekie lace, are skinned rabbit carcasses. Mr Bigelow takes his hand off the rabbit that he is stroking and points to a carcass.

‘Buster,’ he says. The rabbit twirls back and faces me. It has all the hair on its head – orange – and its eyes are wide open. I stare in horror.

* * * * *

 
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A macabre discovery in a freezer in Welkom – Read an excerpt from Grave Murder

Grave MurderIn April 2011, the sleepy goldmining town of Welkom was deeply shocked when the dismembered, decapitated body of Michael van Eck was discovered buried in a shallow grave on the outskirts of the local cemetery. Was this a muti murder, the work of a deranged madman or part of a satanic ritual?

For the investigators and psychologists involved, the mystery only deepened when a seemingly unlikely arrest was made: a soft-spoken girl next door and her intelligent, well-mannered fiancé.

This gruesome true story is told in Grave Murder: The Story Behind the Brutal Welkom Killing by Jana van der Merwe, a gripping work of non-fiction published by Zebra Press last year.

In a third excerpt shared by the publishers, read about the eerie moment in which Van Eck’s body parts are discovered in the “soft-spoken girl-next-door”‘s fridge and the couple’s reaction to their arrest:
 

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At the flat’s entrance, Chané unlocked another steel gate, which led into their semi-detached garden flat, situated to the right of a larger house. On the windows were white burglar bars.

Once inside the flat, Nel carefully observed her surroundings. It looked like the messy living space of a rebellious teenager. At first glance, there did not seem anything disconcerting about the living room’s contents. There were a beige couch and a single bed, whose baby-blue mattress was covered only with a tucked-in winter blanket. Ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts and two red cigarette lighters were on the armrest of the couch, while several items of clothing, including a pair of stonewashed blue jeans, and a yellow laundry basket filled to the brim were on the bed.

Against the wall was a small table with a desktop computer and a cabinet housing an old box TV set. On the floor was a small, unplugged heater, a pair of black-and-white lace-up long-top sneakers, a book by Stephen King, a black backpack decorated with white skulls with items of clothing pouring out of it, as well as a hardcover notebook, cherry LipIce and a pen.

Nel took a moment to examine the paintings that took up much of the wall space. The images resembled Chané quite strikingly: a series of large, alien-like self-portraits, the faces all in shades of bright, screaming yellow, tinted with luminous green and black shadows, the teeth rotten and X-raylike, the eyes dark wells of sadness.

In the small kitchen, Nel stood by as Chané voluntarily walked to the white, medium-sized fridge. On the table top next to it were some half-full bottles of liquor: Red Square and some peach schnapps. Stuck to a magnet on the fridge was a sheet of paper that read:

Angels with needles poke through our eyes and let the ugly light of the
world in and we were no longer blind.

Below it was another piece of paper, also handwritten in ink, of quantum physics calculations and formulas.

Chané casually opened the door to the smaller freezer compartment at the top of the fridge. A pack of Country Crop mixed vegetables was on the top shelf. On the middle shelf were three polystyrene containers with minced meat covered in cling wrap.

Nel and Steyn watched as Chané carefully reached inside and removed a flattened white plastic grocery bag, squeezed in between a small packet of frozen garden peas and a packet of sweetcorn, from the bottom shelf.

With great care, she put the plastic bag on the kitchen counter and removed the contents, revealing what looked like a flat pizza base. Nel did not even wince as she looked at what was, in fact, a macabre mask of Michael van Eck’s face.

Where the eyes once were, there were now only holes, absurdly framed by the young man’s dense, dark-brown eyebrows. His nose was still perfectly intact, and his cheeks still bore a slight, rough stubble. The mouth was sewn shut. A cut ran from the right corner of his mouth and another from the left, not more than three to four centimetres respectively. These cuts had also been stitched closed. ‘His face,’ Chané said, as if she were talking about a bag of tomatoes or an arbitrary grocery item. This was her trophy, Nel thought. She was showing off her work of art.

‘His eyes and ears,’ she continued, while removing small plastic medicine canisters from the fridge. Two white floating jellies in salt water were all that remained of his eyes. In another canister were Michael’s ears, cut off with surgical precision and preserved for who knows what.

‘You are sick,’ was all Nel could get out.

Steyn felt as if she was being pushed out of the room. She sensed a dark force she did not understand. Void of emotion, Nel took out the metal handcuffs. ‘You are under arrest for the murder of Michael van Eck.’

She read Chané her rights. They arrested Maartens, too. The couple stood waiting as Steyn called Chané’s father.

Van Zyl and Krügel then entered the flat. Van Zyl felt as if he was being smothered, as if the devil itself had wrapped its tail around his neck. He saw the mask. Chané’s eyes followed him from every corner of the flat.

Nel felt oddly calm as she asked Chané where Michael’s possessions were. Chané pointed to a jar on top of the fridge, next to a nasal spray. In it were some hundred-rand notes and some silver and copper coins. It was the money Michael had had in his wallet; the money he had drawn from his first pay cheque to pay his parents back for the car they had helped him buy; the money Henriëtte had said he must keep and use for petrol and pocket money; the money he was supposedly going to use to take a girl to the movies on the night of his death.

‘We used some of it already,’ the girl shrugged.

Stuck to the jar, handwritten in black Koki pen, engulfed in handdrawn red flames, was a label that read: ‘The spawn of our prostitution.’

Maartens mentioned that they planned to use some of this money to buy some spades for ‘the next time’. ‘It’s not easy to dig a hole with a soup spoon, you know,’ he said matter-of-factly.

For a while no one said a word.

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