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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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The wine connection in Mark Winkler’s The Safest Place You Know

The man behind the character: True-life inspiration in Mark Winkler’s The Safest Place You Know

The Safest Place You KnowMark Winkler’s third novel, The Safest Place You Know, is set in the 1980s in South Africa. Much of the action takes place on a wine farm in the Cape – a vast estate owned by a wealthy heiress.

Today South Africa’s wine industry enjoys international recognition and is a significant player on the world stage; back then, things were very different. The author discusses the state of the wine industry in South Africa in the 1980s, and considers how things have changed over the past thirty years:

In the 1980s, the South African wine industry focused on selling its product on price rather than quality. International sanctions had begun to have a severe effect on the South African economy, and the result was a surplus of mediocre and unsalable product, referred to as a “wine lake”. Millions of litres were dumped into rivers and dams in the attempt to reduce supply and to push up demand. Only the most visionary of grape farmers, like the fictitious Oliver Maidenstone Basset, had begun to concern themselves with quality. They introduced new technology and innovative, if controversial, techniques, such as the green harvest practised on the Basset estate. Though not immediately profitable at the time, such initiatives would become the norm, raising the international reputation of South African wines.

The Safest Place You Know follows a young man who, after his father’s violent death, leaves the family farm in the drought-stricken Free State with no plan, and with no way of knowing that his life will soon be changed for ever by two strangers he encounters on his journey south: a mute 12-year-old girl who bears a striking resemblance to his late niece, and a troubled lawyer who detests the Cape wine estate she’s inherited from her cruel and arrogant father. As they become entwined in each other’s lives and secrets, it becomes clear that the enigmatic little girl will play more of a role in their redemption than anyone suspects.

About the author

An Exceptionally Simple Theory (of Absolutely Everything)WastedMark Winkler is the author of the critically acclaimed novels An Exceptionally Simple Theory (of Absolutely Everything) and Wasted, which was longlisted for the 2016 Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize. His short story “When I Came Home” was shortlisted for the 2016 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and “Ink” was awarded third place in the 2016 Short Story Africa competition.

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The man behind the character: True-life inspiration in Mark Winkler’s The Safest Place You Know

The man behind the character: True-life inspiration in Mark Winkler’s The Safest Place You Know


The Safest Place You KnowMark Winkler’s new novel, The Safest Place You Know, features a character named Victor Pereira, whose life is altered irrevocably after an encounter with the police in apartheid South Africa.

Victor’s astounding story is based on that of an actual person.

Here the author shares the real-life inspiration behind the character:

Twelve or thirteen years ago, I began a conversation with Victor Jansen, a security guard at the advertising agency where I worked at the time. He told me how a vindictive neighbour had years before set the police on him, and how he had been racially reclassified on the spot, going from white to coloured in a matter of minutes, an event that forced him out of his home and his neighbourhood, while his wife and daughter remained “white”. The character of Victor Pereira in this book is an acknowledgement of the cheerfully eccentric Victor Jansen.

Probably the most humiliating, and frankly insane, tool of the apartheid eugenics machine was the “pencil test”. It enabled even the most minor official to reclassify someone by shoving a pencil into the person’s hair. The person would then be required to shake his or her head: if the pencil fell out, they were deemed to be white, and if it remained in the hair, they could, depending on the mood of the examiner, be classified as coloured or black. An added humiliation could take the form of the examination of the victim’s pubic hair.

Rendered in meticulously crafted, lyrical prose, The Safest Place You Know is a powerful story about redemption and recovery, and what it means to carry the past with you. Set in South Africa against the backdrop of a country in flux, this evocative novel showcases Winkler’s stylistic flair.

About the book

After his father’s violent death on a hot November day in the droughtstricken Free State, a young man leaves the derelict family farm with no plan, and with no way of knowing that his life will soon be changed for ever by two strangers he encounters on his journey south: a mute little girl who bears a striking resemblance to his late niece, and a troubled lawyer who detests the Cape wine estate she’s inherited from a father she despised.

The Safest Place You Know is a powerful story, rendered in meticulously crafted, lyrical prose.

About the author

An Exceptionally Simple Theory (of Absolutely Everything)WastedMark Winkler is the author of the critically acclaimed novels An Exceptionally Simple Theory (of Absolutely Everything) and Wasted, which was longlisted for the 2016 Sunday Times Barry Ronge Fiction Prize. His short story “When I Came Home” was shortlisted for the 2016 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and “Ink” was awarded third place in the 2016 Short Story Africa competition.

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Recommended listening: The soundtrack to Mike Nicol’s Agents Of The State, with notes by the author

Agents Of The StateMusic is central to Mike Nicol’s new crime thriller, Agents Of The State, which features references to a variety of songs and artists. The author shares the sounds that made their way into Agents of the State, with notes to explain their context and significance. Fittingly for this cosmopolitan novel, artists included in the soundtrack hail from all over the world, and include Aretha Franklin, Melissa Etheridge, Petula Clark, Wendy Oldfield, and Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, among many others.

Listen to the songs and sounds that shaped Agents of the State and read the stories behind them:

One January, a few years back, I had a flight cancelled which resulted in a six-hour wait at Schiphol airport. It seemed to be as good a time as any to start writing a novel and I decided, what the heck, why not set the scene right where I was in one of the many departure lounges. So I popped one of the main characters, Vicki Kahn (she first appeared in my novel Of Cops & Robbers), down on the sofa and began writing.

I had been thinking quite a lot about Vicki Kahn on the flight north and kept coming back to a CD by Melissa Etheridge that had been on the KLM playlist. The music seemed to fit the character’s mood. Especially this song, “Falling Up”:

and for a long while the book had a working title of “Falling Up”. That trip also included a stop in Berlin, where I managed to buy the CD.

As with my other crime novels there are a number of songs that worked their way into this story. Here are some of them:
Aretha Franklin’s “Say A Little Prayer”:

Petula Clark’s “Downtown”:

Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”:

Melissa Etheridge’s “4th Street Feeling”:

Melissa Etheridge’s “Shadow of a Black Crow”:

Then there are some singers referred to (Adele being one of them) and, although no songs were mentioned, these were what I had in mind:

Shawn Colvin’s “These Four Walls”:

Alison Krauss, with Robert Plant: “Through the Morning, Through the Night”:

Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter’s “The Air Is Thin”:

Just as local songwriter/singer, Jim Neversink, was on my Of Cops & Robbers playlist, so during the writing of Agents of the State two other locals pitched up at nearby venues, Laurie Levine and Wendy Oldfield. So they found their way into the playlist as well. Here’s Laurie Levine’s lovely “Oh Brother”:

And Wendy Oldfield singing (what else but) “Acid Rain” (which really needs to be watched live):

Sound effects

You can find all kinds of weird stuff on YouTube and at one point I searched for battle sound effects to aid my description of a firefight. Apparently there are people who like listening to the sound of gunfire:

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16 Days of Activism and South African Contemporary Fiction

Glowfly DanceWhat About MeeraMy Children Have FacesBirdseyeSister Moon

By Jennifer Crocker

Every year from 25 November, for 16 days, South Africa highlights activism against gender violence, and every year comments are made in the media about how this campaign does not make any real difference to those who have the very fabric of their lives torn apart by domestic violence, because we are told that we have more to fear from those we know than from strangers – a sober thought indeed.

In addition to using just 16 days to highlight this scourge, there are other ways in which people are creating awareness of the fragility of many people’s lives as a result of domestic violence. One is through literature, music, theatre and the arts. From time immemorial authors, philosophers and commentators have written about the issues around them, often weaving entertainment with harsh realities into what become cautionary tales. For many of us, the messages that resonate most are those conveyed through stories.

The South African publishing industry appears to be on the cusp of taking the publishing world by storm, with publishers pushing the boundaries and bravely bringing books to the reading market that stir the conscience.

A number of novels have been published that tackle the issue of domestic violence and abuse – bearing in mind that abuse is not always only physical, it also does not only affect women (although women are most often its victims), and almost universally it causes a sense of shame.

When novelists bring these stories out into the scrutiny of the light, and allow themselves the freedom of created characters to portray the horrors that are perpetuated on a daily basis, not just for 16 days of a year, we are drawn into stories that are as captivating as they are instructive. Discussions that follow from the reading of these books often allow those who have suffered – or continue to suffer – from abuse to share their experiences in a safe place for the first time.

Glowfly DanceGlowfly Dance by Jade Gibson (Umuzi, 2015) is one such book. Gibson begins the novel by setting up a perfect storm, and introducing the destruction of the life of a young girl, Mai, the voice through which the story is told. Mai lives with her mother and sister Amy. She is a happy little girl. She doesn’t know who her father is, but she has her mother and her quirky grandfather. The family is not rich in monetary terms, but they have flowers and games and love. When her mother meets Rashid, this all changes; Rashid, with his red car, is an abuser of children and women. Through the beauty of the writing Gibson shows us how a happy – if unusual – family is decimated by one man’s cruelty. How cunning and coercion can make you flee your happy place and put you on the bottom rung of society. It’s a brilliant and brave book, and carries across the message that violence in a family does only one thing: it destroys hope. And hope, once broken, is lost. Rashid is one of those men we will remember long after we have put down Gibson’s book; he’ll remain in our memories as the man who stole innocence in a whirlwind of cruelty and pain.

What About MeeraWhat About Meera (Umuzi, 2015) tells the story of a young woman who is happy in her life in rural KwaZulu-Natal, until she is forced to marry a man of status, a doctor. Her loveless marriage becomes a thing of entrapment and horror. Meera flees her life with him, but is judged and becomes a shame to her family. Events spiral out of control when she travels to Dublin and does a stupid and dangerous thing from a place of desperation. The book is essentially about the loss of innocence through neglect and cruelty. In a case of life imitating art, author ZP Dala was attacked after a literary festival in Durban, apparently by a group of men who took offence to her support of Salman Rushdie, and hit her in the face with a brick. One is tempted to think that the real world may intersect with the imagined world, for violence was done to a novelist by those wielding power. And abuse is about violence and exerting power over others. What About Meera also addresses the fact that the survivors of domestic abuse are often also victims of abuse within the wider family unit, either wittingly, to keep up appearances, or unwittingly, because they refuse to see what is happening.

My Children Have FacesIn Carol Campbell’s book My Children Have Faces (Umuzi , 2013), we are taken to the edges of suffering in the Karoo, where a family has fled to escape the brutality of Miskiet, a murderer and a rapist who lives in the small town they have left. When Muis’s husband takes his ragged family back to the town, Miskiet is waiting for them. He sees Muis as a “dried out whore” but he has not forgotten her. While he still has the power to strike fear into her, he does not have enough power to stop her from doing the one thing she wants to do: get identity documents for her children so that they have a chance in life. It’s a wonderfully crafted tale spun from a composite group of people the author came to know in a little Karoo town. Muis has power, but it comes at great cost. It is price she is prepared to pay, but one that no person should be asked to pay.

BirdseyeSister MoonMáire Fisher broke our hearts in her novel Birdseye (Umuzi, 2014), where violence perpetuated against little boys shows the ugly face of almost random violence, while in Kirsten Miller’s Sister Moon (Umuzi, 2104) the reader is confronted by familial complicity where the sexual abuse of a young girl is ignored because of financial dependency on the perpetrator. The shockwaves of the abuse reverberate through the family for decades.
Albert Camus said, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” It has a ring of truth to it, because heaven knows we need as many ways as possible to address the horrible truth that lies behind violence and abuse. And not just for 16 days, but every day. There is a reason that text in books is always referred to in the present tense: it exists as a reality when a book is both closed and open. By opening up the reality of abuse and exposing it through literature, another arrow is added to the quiver exposing it in all its horror. Thank goodness we have authors who do that for us.

The 16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children campaign runs from 25 November to 10 December 2106.

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Lauren Beukes Praised on Various Platforms as a Firm Favourite in 2014

Lauren Beukes

The Shining GirlsBroken Monsters2014 has been a good year for Lauren Beukes, with high praise, award nominations and wins, and rave reviews of her books The Shining Girls and Broken Monsters setting the tone.

As the year draws to a close various publications are releasing their editions of the Book of the Year listicles typically seen around this time. So far international publications Flavorwire, NPR and Slate Book Review have included her work in their editions of their favourites with the LA Times including her latest novel in their holiday gift guide.

Julia Keller, author of Bitter River, notes that Beukes “writes like a combination of Agatha Christie and Don DeLillo” and nominated Broken Monsters as her 2014 Book of the Year for NPR‘s list. “You’re drawn in by the whodunit and then cold-cocked by the succinct, electrifying prose,” Keller writes. Read her short review:

Fiercely smart, caustically creative, defiantly feminist, Lauren Beukes has pioneered a new genre: the technothriller set amid crumbling cities. Broken Monsters is a grim mystery that lives at the intersection of cold electronic gadgets and the blood-hot desires of the human beings who wield them. The novel is set in Detroit, where Detective Gabriella Versado is assigned to find out who killed a boy and then attached the top half of his body to the bottom half of a deer. Here, as in her brilliant 2013 novel, The Shining Girls, Beukes writes like a combination of Agatha Christie and Don DeLillo. You’re drawn in by the whodunit and then cold-cocked by the succinct, electrifying prose.

Literary scout and author Claire Lundberg chose Broken Monsters as her book for Slate Book Reviews list of “great books you never heard about – but should have”. “Beukes’ latest novel is literary horror set in modern-day Detroit that combines the supernatural spookiness of Stephen King with the cat-and-mouse serial killer narrative of The Silence of the Lambs,” writes Lundberg. Read her review on Slate:

Beukes’ latest novel is literary horror set in modern-day Detroit that combines the supernatural spookiness of Stephen King with the cat-and-mouse serial killer narrative of The Silence of the Lambs. The result is a hallucinatory referendum on this quintessential American city that’s constantly on the verge of extinction even as it’s being reborn. The body of a teenage boy is found, cut in half and attached to the hindquarters of a yearling deer in a strange and gruesome piece of serial killer art. Homicide detective and single mom Gabriella Versado hunts for the killer: Is he an outsider artist, a desperate man marginalized by the recession, or a new kind of demon for the modern age?

LA Times has put together a list of holiday book reccomendations, including Broken Monsters in their science fiction / fantasy category:

Set in contemporary Detroit, where a mysterious corpse — half-man, half-deer — launches a police detective into obsession in this suspenseful multivoiced narrative.

Flavorwire‘s Angela Lashbrook picked The shining Girls as on of her favourite things last week, calling on readers to “please, pick up a copy this book ASAP”. Read her review of this award-winning book:

I started South African novelist Lauren Beukes’ mystery/horror novel The Shining Girls with a little trepidation. I love mysteries, but Beukes’ serial killer is a time traveler who stalks his victims over the course of the 20th century until he’s ready to kill them. It’s a ludicrous premise. Yet The Shining Girls is a beautiful novel, and is startlingly progressive and feminist in a way many murder mysteries aren’t. Beukes provides access to the victims’ feelings, thoughts, and lives. They’re all “shining” — that is, they’re all extraordinary young women with bright futures that the embattled psychopath killer has to snuff out. I don’t want to get too deep into it here, but please, pick up a copy this book ASAP. I promise that it’s a fast — but enlightening — read.

Joe Hill, author of Nos4r2 and Horns which has just been released as a feature film, raved about Beukes’ style of writing in an interview with the New York Observer.

Hill, one of Beukes’ favourite writers and son of Stephen King, interviewed the Broken Monsters author earlier this year when she was doing a promotional tour through the US and joined her in studio for Guardian Books where they discussed horror writing as a genre.

Read what Hill had to say about Beukes’ writing:

I like writers like Lauren Beukes, you know, I don’t think of Lauren Beukes as a thriller writer or a horror writer or a dark fantasy writer even though her stories incorporate all those elements. I love her sentences, her ability to construct scenes, her dialogue and characters and that’s why I read her.

Locally, Sunday Times books editor and founder of Books LIVE Ben Williams also chose Broken Monsters as one of this favourite books of 2014, calling it her “best novel yet”.

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Imran Garda Inspired by How Chuck Palahniuk and Zakes Mda "Broke the Rules"

The Thunder That RoarsImran Garda, who’s debut novel The Thunder That Roars was recently released, chatted to Talk Radio 702‘s Nomonde Ndwalaza.

Garda spoke about the writers he considers to be his mentors, saying he mostly reads non-fiction and is currently enjoying Ryszard Kapuściński’s Shah of Shahs and The Emperor. However, he also mentions some fiction writers who have inspired him, including Chuck Palahniuk and Zakes Mda, because “they broke the rules”.

“In terms of writers who have inspired me,” Garda says, “the best, the one that made me go on an emotional journey the most, was Zakes Mda, because there was a bit of craziness in there and he broke the rules as he went along.”

Listen to the podcast:

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Zirk van den Berg Chats About His “Boer Spy Novel” Half of One Thing

 Half of One ThingHalfpad een dingZirk van den Berg, author of Half of One Thing, says his literary influences range from Philip K Dick to Vladimir Nabokov.

Van den Berg was born in Namibia, grew up in South Africa and now lives in New Zealand. His latest book deals with forbidden love against the backdrop of the Boer War.

In an interview with Times Live, Van den Berg reveals that Half of One Thing was 12 years in the making, and talks a bit about the writers who inspire him.

Who are your literary heroes?

Philip K Dick because he wrote serious books in a trashy genre. Nabokov and Chandler for style. Charles Willeford and Jim Thompson for courage. Alan Furst for atmosphere. KC Constantine for dialogue. Romain Gary for his versatility and world view. Just about anyone who followed their own muse, actually.

How long did it take to write Half of One Thing?

On my computer there’s a file named ‘Boer spy novel’ dated 2002, so it’s been a few years. But I did other things in between as well.

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Justin Fox on the Traits He Shares with His Whoever Fears the Sea Protagonist

Whoever Fears the SeaJustin Fox says his new novel, Whoever Fears the Sea, can be read as autobiographical, but only to a point.

Commenting on the similarities between his protagonist, Paul Waterson, and himself, Fox tells Bruce Dennill of The Citizen: “Paul and I are very similar. We both love the sea and travelling in general, and we’re both writers. But I went into fantasy in order to make the story exciting by adding guns and sex.”

However, Fox says he does differ from his character in some ways: “Paul is more adventurous than I am. I’m quite a nervous traveller. I’m always watching my back. He’s laid-back, where I want everything to run on time.”

Fox and Dennill speak about the way in which Paul tries to be open minded and consider both sides of an issue, which Fox says can be seen as a challenge to readers:

Paul Waterson, the protagonist in travel writer and author Justin Fox’s first novel, Whoever Fears The Sea, is, like Fox, an excellent researcher, a big fan of Africa’s East Coast, and a South African.

How autobiographical is the character, given that Waterson’s undesirable traits – he can be shallow and selfish, for a start – can be explained away as fiction?

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Julian Rademeyer on Vixay Keosavang: The "Mr Big of Wildlife Crime in Laos"

Killing for ProfitInvestigative journalist Julian Rademeyer has written a guest post for the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) on the “’Mr Big’ of wildlife crime in Laos”, Vixay Keosavang, who runs the Xaysavang syndicate. Rademeyer exposed the syndicate, first writing about it in 2011 and investigating it further in Killing for Profit: Exposing the Illegal Rhino Horn Trade.

Rademeyer writes that after spending two years researching the syndicate and gathering hundreds of pages of documents on Xaysavang, Keosavang’s name only comes up 16 times: “He remained largely in the shadows, a distant puppet-master reaping the rewards of the killing but rarely dirtying his own hands.”

One of Keosavang’s main lieutenants in South Africa, Chumlong Lemtongthai, is currently serving a 30 year sentence here in South Africa, reduced on appeal from 40 years. However, despite the $1 million reward being offered for information on the syndicate, Rademeyer writes that Keosavang remains untouchable as the Loatian government seems to have no interest in taking action against him. He also points out that there are many other syndicate heads that aren’t known and who “continue to feed a seemingly insatiable market for contraband wildlife products.”

Vixay Keosavang is one of the most ruthless and prolific wildlife criminals operating in South-East Asia today. Some call him the “Pablo Escobar of animal trafficking”. Others describe him as the “Mr Big” of wildlife crime in Laos, the tiny one-party communist state bordered by Myanmar, China, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam that continues to harbour him.

The criminal syndicate he oversees, dubbed the “Xaysavang network” after the name of an import/export company he established in 2008, has been implicated in the smuggling and slaughter of thousands of animals including pangolins, primates, reptiles, snakes, rhinos, elephants, lions and tigers.

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