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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

Bridget Pitt Talks to Sue Grant-Marshall about Brain Injury and Notes From the Lost Property Department

Notes From the Lost Property DepartmentSue Grant-Marshall recently chatted to Bridget Pitt about her new novel, Notes From the Lost Property Department.

“Pitt’s growing stature on the South African literary scene is well-deserved, for her characters are subtly and sensitively drawn,” Grant-Marshall writes in the article.

Notes From the Lost Property Department tells the story of a mother and daughter who suffer from different but debilitating brain injuries after a stroke and a near-fatal fall.

Pitt told Grant-Marshall that she’d fictionalised several of her life experiences. She also reflected on her time spent working for the community newspaper Grassroots in 1987, and how she was arrested several times for her political activities in the media.

Read the article:

Pitt has fictionalised several of her life’s experiences. Both her parents, Aubrey and Dodo Pitt, to whom she has dedicated this book, had falls in the Drakensberg. “And, both suffered from dementia, although for different reasons,” she says.

Pitt has not based the young Iris’s manifestations of her brain damage on any particular case she studied when doing research for the book. “They were all so different, even with almost identical injuries. Iris is a composite.”

How people recover, or don’t recover, is apparently highly individual, and in the 1970s, which is when young Iris falls, “they knew a lot less about the brain and were inclined to write you off. Now, they realise you can recover quite a lot of your faculties with the right stimulation and remedial assistance”.

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How Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go is Changing the Literary Landscape in Ghana

Ghana Must GoDaniel Neilson recently wrote an article for Time Out Accra on how Ghanaian fiction is taking the world by storm, “carving its way out of the ‘West African literature’ hold-all category”.

In the article, Neilson pays tribute to the wave of young authors who continue to place Ghana on the world map with their fresh new voices and ideas.

One of these authors who’ve contributed to Ghana’s literary revival moment is Taiye Selasi, whose novel Ghana Must Go has been met with critical acclaim.

Read the article:

Probably last year’s most talked about novel of this realm is Ghana Must Go, by Taiye Selasi. It leaves readers with plenty to chew on, with its unusual narrative style and complex characters. The intelligent Ms Selasi has certainly stepped into the literary world with a grand entrance (her fan base includes Toni Morrison and Salman Rushdie). The story revolves around a Boston family of six – the mother Nigerian, the father Ghanaian – whose mixed up lives repel and retract like a rubber band. Accra is referred to more as a backdrop to the storyline, however it is obvious the city and Ghana are familiar territory for Selasi with descriptions such as “lush Ghana, soft Ghana, verdant Ghana, where fragile things die” and “the smell of Ghana, a contradiction, a cracked clay pot: the smell of dryness, wetness, both, the damp of earth and dry of dust.” Selasi enjoys flitting between hot, slower paced Accra and crisp, snow covered Boston to contrast characters old and new/ past and present / child and adult.

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Image courtesy of Taiye Selasi’s Twitter page

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Film Version of Zakes Mda’s The Whale Caller Currently in Production

The Whale CallerThe film adaptation of The Whale Caller by Zakes Mda is currently in production, and will be shot in December in the famous whale-watching town of Hermanus in the Western Cape.

The Whale Caller, Mda’s fifth novel, is set in Hermanus, and features the Hermanus Whale Crier, in a tattered tuxedo, who spends his days blowing his kelp horn to the whales that visit the seaside town in the summer:

In particular, he blows for Sharisha, a southern right whale who always responds to his call. With each surfacing of her giant head and each thrashing of her tail, the Whale Caller’s connection to Sharisha deepens. Then Saluni enters his life. Saluni – the feisty village drunk, a passionate but self-destructive woman who frequents the taverns and consorts with passing sailors. She cannot understand nor tolerate his fixation with the whales, and as the relationship between her and the Whale Caller grows, she finds herself vying with Sharisha for his attention. The tension builds to a devastating climax that has terrible and lasting consequences.

Mda uses the novel an example of his adage “write what you don’t know”, as when he first started writing it he knew nothing about whale calling. In his Gustavus Adolphus College African Studies inaugural lecture in 2013, Mda said: “When you get the final period of the novel, that topic will have transformed into something ‘you know’.”

Netwerk24 reports on the upcoming film adaptation:

“Lights, camera, action!”

This film industry phrase may soon be heard from the Old Harbour and other locations in Hermanus.

A film, based on the novel by acclaimed South African writer, Zakes Mda, The Whale Caller, is currently in production and will be filmed on location in Hermanus in December.

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Join Pamela Power and Kelley Thorrington for the Launch of Ms Conception at Love Books

Invitation to the launch of Ms Conception

Ms ConceptionPenguin Random House would like to invite you to the launch of Ms Conception by Pamela Power.

The author will be in conversation with Kelley Thorrington about her hilarious novel at Love Books on Wednesday, 18 November. The event will start at 10 for 10:30 AM. RSVP by Monday, 16 November, to avoid disappointment.

Don’t miss the chance to chat to Power about her racy, honest and wickedly funny debut!

Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, 18 November 2015
  • Time: 10 for 10:30 AM
  • Venue: Love Books
    The Bamboo Lifestyle Centre
    53 Rustenburg Road
    Johannesburg | Map
  • Interviewer: Kelley Thorrington
  • RSVP:, 011 726 7408

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“Dis moeilik om beide joernalis en skrywer te wees” – Irna van Zyl gesels oor haar debuut, Moordvis

Irna van Zyl se debuutriller, Moordvis, sal in Julie 2016 op Penguin Random House se rakke in Afrikaans en Engels verskyn.

Mariana Malan het met die nuwe skrywer, wat destyds saam met Marita van der Vyver en Rachelle Greeff klas geloop het, gesels oor haar misdaadroman en haar joernalistieke loopbaan.

Sy gee ook raad aan nuwe skrywers om nooit moed op te gee nie en vertel wie haar gunsteling plaaslike skrywers is.

Lees die artikel:

“Ek het altyd die droom gehad om ’n roman te skryf,” vertel Van Zyl. “In ons honneursjaar in joernalistiek het Madeleine van Biljon ons toegespreek en gesê dis moeilik om beide joernalis en skrywer te wees. En dit is waar.”

Van Zyl het ná jare in die joernalistiek en later ook aan die bestuurskant van die bedryf bedank om voltyds te skryf.

Sy gee dadelik aan ander skrywers die raad om nie moed op te gee nie. Haar eerste roman (wat nie vir publikasie aanvaar is nie) was ’n leerskool en “lê diep weggebêre onder in ’n laai”.

Van Zyl het ook onlangs ‘n rubriek geskryf oor die Rugbywêreldbeker, waarin sy vra wie Willie le Roux se “magic” gesteel het:

Gee die bal vir Willie!”

Hy wat weet hoe om drieë te druk was ons almal se held. As hy nie self die vyfpunter aangeteken het nie, het hy dit geskep vir dié wat langs hom of agter hom of om hom was. Boonop was dit opwindende rugby. Só goed was hy dat jy al jou duime vasgehou het dat hy tog net nie beseer moet word nie.

Maar toe gebeur daar iets anders met Willie. Weg is die vinnige skoppies oor die aanvallende speler se kop, die op-sy-kop-aangeë na ’n vleuel, die cheeky steekskoppies, die spoed waarmee hy hom by die agterlyn aangesluit het.

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Memories and Confessions Lost: Read Two Excerpts from Notes From the Lost Property Department by Bridget Pitt

Bridget Pitt

Notes From the Lost Property DepartmentBridget Pitt has shared two excerpts from her latest book, Notes From the Lost Property Department, on her website The Lesser Spotted Author.

Notes From the Lost Property Department tells the story of Iris Langley and her mother Grace. Iris is forced to take care of Grace after she’s had a stroke, but she herself suffers from the lingering effects of a brain injury from her childhood. As Grace slips further into dementia, Iris comes to realise that her mother is guarding a secret about the day of the accident.

In the following two extracts, the reader gets a glimpse inside the minds of mother and daughter, their unique recollections of the past, strands of guilt and the words they cannot say to each other.

Read excerpt 1:

Extract #1: The lost memories of Iris (1972)
1. The rocket lolly and the roundabout

A roundabout.

Wooden boards, splintery, sun-warmed. A circle of mountains spinning above her. The smell of pine trees on the hill, a chill breeze with snow on its breath from the upper slopes.

The evening light reawakens the menace of the Amphitheatre: the massive arc of basalt rock that broods in the distance, towering over the smaller mountains and the Tugela valley below. She still feels inside her the memory of seeing it for the first time as a four-year-old: that emptiness and fullness in her chest; her smallness beside its inconceivable hugeness; the silence and the way it seemed always to be watching her, with its breath – sometimes warm, sometimes cool – on her neck. At night she lay in the dark waiting for the Draken to swoop down and snatch her out of her bed, and fly back to the jagged peaks and eat her. Slowly. Starting with the soft bits in her tummy.

It seemed to her that no one else could understand this mountain, because otherwise why would they just walk around on its lower slopes like it was nothing?

Read excerpt 2:

Extract #2 : Grace is the mother of Iris. This is an extract from her reminiscences

The rose looks rather sinister on the path, so dark and brooding, the petals splashed beside it like blood. Red rose, proud Rose, sad Rose of all my days … How strange that it should be lying there; I cannot see the bush that it came from. If I were of a fanciful disposition I might imagine that Edie’s ghost put it there … to remind me of my ‘unfinished business’. After all, my confession to Iris, were it ever to find voice, would surely begin with a rose: the rose just like that, that was lying by the door of our room at the Royal Natal National Park Hotel, when we came back from dinner …

It was half hidden, in the shadows by the wall. Not quite at the door. A little way off, so that you might have thought it was dropped by accident. George didn’t see it, but I did. I could just as easily not have seen it, or not have paid any attention to it. It was just a rose – how could I have predicted the long shadows it would cast on the lives of all I love most?

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“Will She Recover?” – Read an Excerpt from Notes From the Lost Property Department by Bridget Pitt

Bridget Pitt

Notes From the Lost Property DepartmentNotes From the Lost Property Department by Bridget Pitt is a novel about the ordinary complexities of a mother-daughter relationship, with the extra tumult of brain injury.

In the excerpt below Iris, for who the effects of a near-fatal childhood fall still linger, gets the news that her elderly mother, Grace, has suffered a stroke. Because of her brain injury, Iris has always been the “Little Sister” who is “not equipped to deal with fallen mothers”. But as her elder sister, Jess, is away on an important business trip, Iris has no choice but to take control.

Pitt’s expression of state of Iris’s thoughts, and the nature of relationships between Iris, Jess and Grace in beautiful and strikingly life-like.

Read the excerpt:

* * * * * * * *

Her phone is croaking again. Iris eyes it warily. She’d thought that a frog sound would be soothing, but the croak is somehow more ominous than the bicycle bell ringtone that she’d had before. She’d ignored the last call, but the caller is apparently not easily deterred. She snatches up the phone and silences its croak with her thumb. ‘Hello?’ she suggests, tentatively.

‘Hello? Hello? Is that Miss … uh Langley?’ The voice is loud, nasal and institutional, bringing to mind the rubber feet on walking aids, the chilly humiliation of a bedpan.

‘Yes …’

‘This is Sister Samson from Lavender Lodge Frail Care Facility. Is Mrs Grace Langley your mother?’

‘Yes … Yes, she is.’ Iris sounds doubtful, as if apprehensive about what complications owning this relationship might subject her to.

‘Uh, I’m sorry to tell you that your mother is not well. She has had a cerebrovascular accident.’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘A stroke, Miss Langley. Your mother has had a stroke.’

‘Did you call my sister? You should call my sister.’ Iris squeezes the words out past a ballooning bubble of panic. She is Little Sister, fifty-two years old or not. Little Sister is not equipped to deal with fallen mothers.

‘Mrs Thornton is overseas, Miss … uh … Langley. She gave us your number.’ Jess? Overseas? Oh damn, so she is, way over on the wrong side of the Atlantic Ocean.

‘Oh … Well, is my mother ok?’

‘No, she is not good. She has been admitted to the Parktown Clinic – you can call her doctor for more information. Can I give you the number?’

‘Wait … uh … How did it happen?’

‘She was found in the rose garden.’

‘The rose garden?’

‘Yes. She would wander you know … She made it difficult for us to manage her. Gideon found her. Our, um, security employer … uh … employee. We don’t know for how long she was lying there. He got her this afternoon at four o’clock. There is nothing we can do, you know, if they won’t stay in the day lounge. And your mother is very restless.’

Her voice has taken on a defensive whine. Sister Samson knows that children can turn vicious when the custodians of their aged parents are suspected of neglect. This is how they exonerate themselves of their own guilt, real or imagined. We are paying you good money, these children say, to keep her safe.

But Iris’s mind is elsewhere, hovering between picturing this Gideon stumbling over her mother in a rose garden and considering Sister Samson’s thinly veiled disgust at her mother’s insistence on being struck in the garden, rather than in the ‘Day Lounge’ or wherever cooperative geriatrics suffer cerebral accidents.

‘Is she conscious?’

‘Yes … um, but not talking—’

‘Will she recover?’

‘I cannot say. Here is Dr Steyn’s number.’

Iris finds a scrap of paper and a pen that doesn’t work and tries to write the number down by scoring the paper with the tip of the ballpoint. As Sister Samson slithers off the phone, the Draken roars in Iris’s ears and fills her brain with smoke, forcing her to drop the pen and curl up in a small coil on the carpet. The Draken came to her at the age of eleven, when she fell off a cliff in the Drakensberg Mountains – that imposing spine that curls itself around South Africa’s eastern flank. (As a small child, she’d been told that Drakensberg meant Dragon Mountains, by which she understood that they housed a specific type of dragon called the Draken.)

She landed on the top of her head, crushing her parietal and frontal lobes, with further damage caused by her brain ricocheting around her skull, the swelling and bleeding after the injury, and the meningitis that followed. There are medical terms for what happened to her. But for Iris, it is a complex and confusing narrative, in which the Drakens cracked her skull like an egg and scattered her brain onto the mountainside, leaving her mother to gather up all the lost fragments. She and her mother painstakingly cobbled these bits into some imperfect version of herself, but there is still something missing. She pictures this as a small golden key that will click the misplaced pieces into their correct sequence and restore her to her true self.

The Drakens also left some version of themselves in her brain: a raging chaos that clouded her mind for months after her accident. This caused her thoughts and sensations to fragment and slide over each other like writhing scales wreathed in smoke, and any but the gentlest sounds to coalesce and expand into a deafening roar, which could only be drowned out by a roar of her own. Iris tried to explain this to her partner, Tom, some twenty years after her fall. When she saw Tom’s expression, she quickly added, ‘It’s just a story,’ and laughed. Tom was not fooled by her laugh. ‘Then you should create another story about yourself,’ he said. ‘One that is more rewarding.’

‘I can’t do that!’

‘A story doesn’t own you – when you don’t think about it, it doesn’t exist. You keep it alive by obsessing over it. It’s not mystical, it’s biological. The more you practise a thought, the stronger the neural pathways leading to it. So practise a different thought.’ Tom is an ornithologist, but there is nothing feather-brained about him. His mind illuminates the obscure mysteries of the world, bringing them into sharp focus, without shadows or misty outlines.

So Iris worked diligently at making up different stories, about herself battling the Draken and coming out all the stronger for it. But, however much she has tried to vanquish or tame it, when there is a crisis – sometimes even quite a small one, like a burst pipe or a bird trapped in the house – the Draken returns with its sickening tilt of smoke and scales, routing all sensible solutions. Some doctors think the Draken is caused by her injury, some say it’s post-traumatic stress. They don’t really know, but they all have opinions. Her mother knows. Her mother has firm views about Iris. ‘You’re not crazy, darling,’ she says, in that infuriatingly soothing tone. ‘Just injured.’

Iris has never told the doctors, or her mother, or Tom about that other gift – or curse – left by the mountains: something planted in her brain, like an extra organ of perception, that enables her to perceive the energy of things, which may come to her as sounds, sights or smells. And with this comes the secret conviction that even inanimate objects harbour some inner intention. Iris worries that revealing this might lead others to categorise her as insane rather than eccentric. And there are times, in the presence of highly toxic people and their objects, that she feels their energy might in fact drive her insane. At these moments the Draken is a friend, blanketing her in white smoke and incinerating the toxin with its fiery breath. Now the phone in Iris’s hands is belching a sulphurous energy, generated by the news of her mother’s stroke, and her mind is a clash of claw and smoke and scale. If she were on the farm, she could walk into the aviary and imbibe the stillness of the owls. But here she is, five storeys up in her friend’s flat, lying on her back staring up at the dingy curds of the stuccoed ceiling, the phone flung into some far corner that is not nearly far enough.

Five storeys up … she sings to herself, to pull her brain back into functioning. Five layers of strangers’ lives separating her from earth. Five layers densely packed with dreams and obsessions of other selves. Their energy seeps through the walls like black mould, carried by dislocated sounds: flushing lavatories, the angry scolding of wailing children, the hollow bonhomie of television. How curious, she thinks, listening to her neighbour apparently throwing pots against a wall, that the sounds of other humans can conjure up such piercing and inconsolable loneliness.

Some small sensible voice is claiming her attention. Phone Jess. Jess is good at clearing fogs. She tries to remember why Jess is in Boston … what did she call it? A course in ‘corporate governance’ or some such. ‘But you’re so good at governing already,’ Iris had protested, when Jess told her. Jess has governed Iris to distraction her entire life. Jess doesn’t answer at first. Iris rings three times, hanging up just before she gets the voicemail, until she hears Jess’s live voice.

‘Hey, Iris, is it urgent? I ran out of a seminar to answer.’

‘Jess, it’s Mum—’ Iris finds herself suddenly unable to talk.

‘What? What’s happened? Oh God, she’s not—’

Jess catches herself, and puts on her best fog-clearing Big Sister voice.

‘Izzie, take a deep breath, and tell me. Has she died?’

‘No. She’s had a stroke. She’s not talking. They sent her to hospital.’

‘That’s sounds bad. How much brain damage is there?’

‘I don’t know. I just spoke to that Sister Samson. She couldn’t tell me much.’

‘Well, phone Dr Steyn. I’m surprised he didn’t phone you. He should have.’

‘Can’t you phone him, Jess? I get muddled. He’s much better with you. You know him.’

‘Izzie, stop being a ninny.’ (Being a ninny is a capital offence in Jess’s book.) ‘I’m in Boston and I’m in the middle of a seminar. Phone him and let me know what he says, ok? Phone him now. And Iris?’


‘Tell him, no heroics.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Mum didn’t want to be kept alive artificially. We discussed this a lot. If this stroke has seriously compromised her quality of life, we should get her out of hospital and—’

‘Let her die?’

‘Well, that’s putting it baldly, but I guess. Help her to die. Get the hospice in. Keep her comfortable …’

Jess’s voice is burbling on, but Iris can’t hear it because the smoke has rolled in again and swallowed all sound. Her tongue is thick in her mouth; her ears hum with white noise.

‘Shut up!’ she yells.

‘We have to face it, Izzie.’

‘Shut up shut up shut up,’ roars Iris. ‘Come home and tell Dr Steyn all this yourself or shut up. She’s not a list to be ticked, she’s Grace and she’s dying, and they found her lying in the rose garden and that Sister Samson is the biggest bitch and I can’t believe we left her to rot in that place.’

‘Iris, for Christ’s sake, don’t start this again. We didn’t leave her to rot – it’s a perfectly nice retirement home. Besides, what was I supposed to do?’

‘Why couldn’t she just stay in her own house?’

‘And who was going to check every five minutes that she wasn’t lying in an alcoholic stupor, or knocked out somewhere? Jesus, you drive me mad. You are so unrealistic. Surely even you can see that it was untenable.’


‘It’s easy for you. You didn’t even have to think about it, but I’ve had to do everything so I think you can stop laying trips—’

‘I’m not laying trips, you are.’ The Draken roars. Iris takes a deep breath to calm it. ‘I’m not laying trips, Jess, I’m not, really. Go do your seminar now, ok? ok? I’ll phone Dr Steyn. Go do your seminar … go do your seminar thing.’



‘You’re muttering.’

‘I’m sorry.’



‘She’ll be ok. I’m sorry, I just went off … she’ll be fine. Just call the doctor. If you need to go to Jo’burg, you can stay in my house. Noah’s away at school, but Lulu’s coming in every day. You can stay there and use the car.’

‘I can’t, Jess … I can’t do all that …’

‘You have to, Iz. I’m sorry, I need you to do this for me. I’ve held the fort all these years. I just can’t make it this time – you have no idea of the sexist bullshit I get from some of the male executives. They were totally opposed to the firm sending me on this course, and if I left now, it would just prove their insistence that women always put family before work. My job depends on this.’

Iris sits gripping her phone, as if it might retain traces of Jess’s vast competence, and thinks about Jess holding the fort. Iris knows nothing about holding forts. In her hands, it is sure to be dropped or lost or overrun, or whatever happens to forts that are not firmly held. Well, how is she supposed to know about holding forts, she demands of the unlovely ceiling. Her mother has always done it for her. Grace remade her, after her accident. Reconstructed all her memories, taught her to walk, to talk, to read, to think. Did her best to filter out life’s clamouring demands, to transform them into a soothing hum that would not overwhelm Iris’s damaged cortex. Attempted to map out Iris’s existence in neatly ordered squares, all sharp edges removed. Not that Iris hadn’t tried to break away, to hold her own fort. When she left with Tom more than twenty years ago. And now, leaving Tom to make this feeble stab at independence, in the deathby-stucco flat. But her mother has always hovered in the background, like the shadow of a mountain, sometimes blocking the sun and the view, but also shielding her from the storms: a place she could run to if the wind blew too hard. Iris holds herself still, trying to invoke the irritating but reassuring bulk of her mother’s intervention in her life, but perceives (with a sudden lurch of panic) only a void. When did that happen? Just now, with this stroke? Or has Grace’s hold been imperceptibly but steadily shrinking, like a rocky shoreline worn down by the tides? Iris conjures up her last visit … was it really five months ago? Sitting with Grace in the garden at Lavender Lodge, chuckling together at the tottering train of the senile dementias on their daily walk. Grace conquered the indignities of her situation as she conquered all her demons, by disarming them with her gentle dry humour, as if all the inmates of Lavender Lodge were mounting a comedy exclusively for her amusement. But her laughter was skating on the brittle edge of desperation. ‘But are you really ok, living here, Mum?’ Iris had asked, not really wanting to know the answer, because what could she do if her mother said no?

‘Never mind me, I’m in good order,’ said Grace. ‘But how about you, darling? Is everything fine with you? You look a bit tired—’

‘I’m fine, Mum.’ A wince from Grace at the sharpness of her tone, prompting Iris to make a placatory offer, ‘Listen, why don’t you come and stay on the farm with us for a bit?’

‘Oh, don’t worry about me, honey. I’d just get under your feet – perhaps I’ll come when these silly old legs are a bit sturdier. I’m fine here. Really. Edie’s here, and we have a good laugh. Besides, she needs me, now that she’s unwell. It’s not so bad. It’s like meeting new people every day because they never remember that I just had lunch with them.’ When Iris left, Grace stood at the gate holding onto her walker and smiled that smile of hers, that smile that she’d worn through all the unravelling years of Iris’s teens, stitched over all her sorrow and anger and despair. How hard it was to locate Grace behind that smile.

And Iris had walked away, both freed and gutted by that smile. She carried it back to Cape Town on the plane with her; she carries it still, in all its painful ambiguity. After that, Iris had stumbled into the familiar sinkholes of anxiety and despair, and the best she could do for Grace was to keep from her that she’d left Tom. But Grace knew something was wrong. She always knew.

‘Perhaps I should come to see you, darling. You sound like you need a bit of TLC. I’m sure I could manage the journey if I took a wheelchair at the airport.’

‘I’m fine, Mom.’

‘Well, you don’t sound fine. It would be nice to see you anyway … it’s been a while.’

‘It’s just not a good time right now—’

‘I knew something was wrong!’

‘Nothing’s wrong, Mom. I’m just staying with a friend in town—’

‘Are you having problems with Tom?’

‘No. Jesus, Mom. Why must you always assume my life is on the verge of falling apart? He’s … um … he’s on a long field trip. I didn’t want to stay on the farm by myself.’

‘Iris, you’re not having one of your … you know … bad patches, are you?’

‘Mom, I’m fine, please. How are you – how’s it there? Do you miss Edie terribly?’

There was a pause, and a soft sound – perhaps the intake of breath. ‘Everything’s good here, darling. Just missing you, that’s all.’

And Iris had stopped phoning her so that she didn’t have to lie any more. You see, she tells the ceiling. She’s still trying to manage me. No wonder I never grew up. But the ceiling is not sympathetic. You’ve been a bad daughter, it replies. That’s all there is to it. Maybe Grace needed you, for a change. Imagine how shitty she’s been feeling since Edie died. She wouldn’t even be in Lavender Lodge if she hadn’t been living on her own and drinking so much, and she wouldn’t have been living on her own and drinking if she hadn’t sacrificed everything, including her marriage, to save you after you stupidly fell off a mountain. Iris tries to ignore the ceiling (whose refrain is hardly new, anyway) and thinks instead about this dark thing that has swooped down on her mother. Stroke. The same calamity that deprived her of a father, striking him with such vengeance, they said, that he was dead before he hit the ground. And yet the word is so mild, suggesting a caress rather than a volcanic eruption in the brain. Her mother has shrunk to a small sparrow in the rose garden of Iris’s mind, lying on its back in the soil, its little head flopping to the side. She pictures this Gideon lifting the sparrow of her mother, cradling it in his hand. Stroking it back to life. Stroke.

With these thoughts she’s not angry any more. Just sad. If only she’d swept Grace up the last time she’d seen her and brought her home instead of the memory of her painful smile. Installed her in the spare room at the farm, sat with her looking out over the valley dipping between the Groot Drakenstein Mountains, laughing at the owls as they delicately dismembered their dinners (doesn’t he look justlike Grandpa Ted nibbling at the Christmas turkey), at the overblown hysteria of the guinea fowl over their offspring – the Mothers’ Union, Grace called them. It should have been so simple. But it wasn’t. Whenever Grace had come to stay on the farm in the years before, once or twice a year, everything would be lovely. For two, maybe three days. Then Grace would ask Iris once too often if she was tired, or feeling overwhelmed, and Iris would feel herself being sucked back into those days when life was a leaky raft on an unpredictable sea. Sometimes, it was just something in Grace’s expression. Iris would get brooding and tempestuous; Grace’s voice would take on that carefully modulated soothing tone, until Iris could not wait to put her mother on the plane. But even as she was waving goodbye, she’d start missing her, wondering why they couldn’t share the same space when they loved each other so much.

Well, too late for all that. Now she has to hold the fort. She’s not sure what this entails, but she has learnt over the years that, when any undertaking makes her brain bulge, it is helpful to carve it into a sequence of smaller actions. She borrows Jess’s bossy intonation to instruct herself: She must phone Dr Steyn. She must not let her voice squeak when she talks to him; she must keep the smoke from her brain and the Draken’s roar from her throat. She must find out where her mother lies, no longer in a rose garden but in a side ward, attached to tubes and bleeping things. She must catch an aeroplane, spirit herself to Jess’s faux-Tuscan house and hang her clothes in the spare-room wardrobe. She must drive herself in Jess’s Mercedes to wherever her mother is. She must walk into the hospital ward carrying something suitable for a mother whose brain has been eaten by some dragon of her own – a glossy magazine perhaps, and grapes and a facecloth. No, forget the magazine, a poetry book. Yeats, or that one she made Adji for her sixteenth birthday. She must demand straight talk from the medical staff and tell them no heroics … The instructions begin to multiply, each one spawning a litter of mini-instructions, which run around and refuse to march in line. An instruction without proper order is a hopeless thing, she reminds herself. Sequence is everything. She cannot bring her mother a facecloth until she has booked a plane ticket. She must focus on instruction number one, and perhaps the others will fall into place and trot along behind. And instruction one has been provided by Jess: Phone Dr Steyn.

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Extracted from Notes From the Lost Property Department by Bridget Pitt (Penguin)

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A Killer Waits for the Lights to Go Out – Read an Extract from Hour of Darkness by Michele Rowe

Hour of DarknessHour of Darkness by Michéle Rowe is a spine-chilling thriller set in Cape Town in the context of Earth Hour.

Last time, we brought you an extract from Hour of Darkness which focused on a robbery in Clicks in the Constantia Village mall. In the second excerpt, we catch a glimpse of Fred Splinters, a cold-blooded killer who enjoys coming home to a serene domestic setting and where he can slip into his Woolworths robe.

In this chapter, Fred is sitting in his car, watching as all the houses, his own included, go dark as everyone in his cosy neighbourhood prepares for Earth Hour.

Read Part 2 of the extract:

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28 March

Earth Hour

Fred sat in his car and watched the lights go off in the houses on the street. One by one. He checked his dashboard clock. Eight p.m. exactly. Then the light in his house went off. Natasha would take something like Earth Hour seriously. She’d got some weird ideas in her head. He didn’t mind. It was best to do what everyone else in this neighbourhood did, and not stand out in any way.

     The house looked unlived-in from the outside: a seventies, split-level affair with wood and slasto details. Only a rental, as impermanent as every other place Fred Splinters had occupied. He deserved something better by now. It gave him a sour taste in his mouth to think he might be a failure. It was not a good thought, not a helpful thought. Why had Natasha insisted on this area? She liked the ‘ordinariness’, she’d said, that she could walk to the shops. However, it was also close to Diep River Police Station, only four blocks away, which did not suit Fred at all. He preferred to give the law a wide berth. He clicked the gate remote. The metal gate shuddered, partially opened, and then stuck. It was just one of the many things about the dump that set his teeth on edge. It meant he had to get out of the car – a late-model Camry sedan (a deliberately unremarkable choice) – and shift the gate himself, giving it a little shove to dislodge it. Try as he might, he could never discover the exact place where it stuck. He’d tried everything: oiling it with 3-in-1, dismantling and reassembling it, checking the rails and runners. He didn’t want to call in a professional repairman – he never allowed workmen to snoop around at the house if he wasn’t there. He couldn’t trust Natasha not to draw attention to herself the minute his back was turned.

     He parked the car and switched off the lights and ignition, taking his time and gathering his thoughts. Unpleasant ones were preoccupying his mind at the moment. Natasha had been more nervous than usual lately. Jumpy almost, since they moved into the house.

     He had let himself in one day, when she was out, and gone through her things, finding nothing unusual apart from an old, chipped cup hidden at the back of the kitchen cupboard. Inside was an envelope, and inside that a key. A key for a post-office box he had no knowledge of. His first impulse had been to collect more information first, so that he was well armed beforehand. But the temptation to immediately confront Natasha with the evidence of her perfidy proved too tempting.

     ‘What’s this?’

     Natasha had stared at the key lying in the palm of his outstretched hand, then lowered her eyes. It gave him a thrill, the way she tried to hide her fear. She should be fucking scared. Fred had a nose for fear. He could smell it, like an animal scented danger.

     ‘Never seen it before,’ she lied, wiping her hair behind her ear. Another one of the nervous habits he’d tried to wean her off.

     She was a small woman, slightly built and narrow-hipped, and looked pretty good considering how rough she’d had it. Before Fred came to her rescue.

     He shoved it in her face, inches from her nose. ‘You’re telling me you’ve never seen this before?’

     Her dumb-animal headshake did nothing to reassure him. She wouldn’t be scared unless she had something to hide.

     So he had gone to the nearest post office, which was Plumstead, and tried all the boxes. Eventually, one had fitted. Box 1240. It was empty. He didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed. But the knowledge of it would serve as extra leverage against Natasha.

     He wouldn’t rock the boat for the moment. He must be patient with her, soothe her into letting her guard down, and then act.

     She would be getting nervous now, wondering what Fred was doing, waiting for him to get out of the car. She would time it so that she was opening the door for him as he came up the stairs from the garage. Fred liked to think she spent all day waiting for the moment when he came home. The least she could do when you thought about everything he had done for her. Saved her from the filth and poverty of life on the street. He shuddered at the thought of the diseases she might have been carrying. Fortunately, he had not defiled himself with her, or any other woman for that matter. He had never enjoyed intimacy. Killing was already a very intimate act, and he did more than enough of that.

     Fred’s domestic life was the only refuge he had from his demanding job. He liked to come home and let Natasha bring him a drink as he sat in his La-Z-Boy in his Woolworths robe, feet up, dstv on. She would have his meal ready and would sit next to him, ready to jump for whatever he wanted. Pondering her usual domestic acquiescence, Fred found it difficult to believe Natasha would actually hide anything from him. The thought of it was like a hot needle in his heart. Deep down, he clung to the hope that she was innocent.

     But Fred’s assessment of human beings was a cynical one. And nothing in his life had ever challenged that conclusion. Perhaps it was the nature of his work, but he found that people only truly responded to force. He did not necessarily enjoy exercising violence on others. It just happened to be what he did, was second nature to him. He never got emotional, or took it personally. That’s why he had a good reputation.

     He watched the flicker of candlelight warm the window of the living room. Then he got out of the car and went inside the house to where Natasha waited for him.

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Extracted from Hour of Darkness by Michéle Rowe (Penguin)

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We Tell Stories About Ourselves That We Can Live With – Bridget Pitt Chats to Andrea van Wyk (Podcast)

Notes From the Lost Property DepartmentBridget Pitt recently spoke to Andrea van Wyk about her new book, Notes From the Lost Property Department. She said it is a book about memory, injury and rediscovery of self. It’s also a book about forgiveness, particularly between mother and daughter.

Notes From the Lost Property Department deals with the onslaught of dementia and hidden family secrets. In her research, Pitt found that “every brain injury is very individual”. In the book, she reflects on the complicated relationship between a mother and a daughter and “how we construct ourselves for the other person”.

“You’re always in a way telling stories about yourself to each other that you can live with,” Pitt said, adding that this is particularly telling when you’re trying to protect yourself and each other from a devastating secret.

Listen to the podcast:

Read Van Wyk’s review of Notes From the Lost Property Department:

Notes from the Lost Property Department is a funny and quirky story about family, but also a tender and absorbing look at brain injury. It’s an examination of identity, of what makes a person what she is, and about her place in the world.

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Penguin Random House to Publish Irna van Zyl’s Debut Thriller in English and Afrikaans

Well-known media personality Irna van Zyl will be publishing her highly anticipated debut thriller with Penguin Random House in July 2016. The book will be published in Afrikaans and English simultaneously.

Van Zyl, who has had an illustrious 30-year career in media, recently stepped down as an executive director at New Media Publishing, which she co-founded and which publishes among others Woolworths Taste, Visi, Golf Digest, Finweek and Eat Out. In 1985 she was appointed as chief sub-editor at Die Burger, the first woman to occupy the position, and she has worked as editor for Afrikaans magazines De Kat and Insig. She made her writing debut in 1995 with a collection of short stories, Grootmensspeletjies.

Van Zyl’s thriller is set on the coast near Hermanus in the fictitious town of Grootbaai, shark-cage-diving capital of the world, and features oddball detective Storm van der Merwe. Storm drives a beetle, she’s stocky and smart, and she is thrown into the deep end when a body minus an arm washes up on the beach. It doesn’t take her long to realise that the situation at Grootbaai is even more dangerous than shark-cage diving – minus the cage.

Fourie Botha, publisher of local fiction at Penguin Random House, says, “We’re all hugely excited to publish Irna van Zyl’s wonderful thriller and to introduce readers to a new heroine in crime fiction: Storm van der Merwe!”


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Irna van Zyl se riller deur Penguin Random House uitgegee

Penguin Random House gaan die bekende mediapersoonlikheid Irna van Zyl se langverwagte debuutriller, Moordvis, in Julie 2016 publiseer.

Van Zyl, wat ’n roemryke loopbaan van 30 jaar in die media gehad het, onder meer as redakteur van De Kat en Insig, het onlangs uitgetree as ’n uitvoerende direkteur van New Media Publishing, ’n maatskappy waarvan sy medestigter was en uitgewer van onder meer Woolworths Taste, Visi, Finweek, Golf Digest en Eat Out. As skrywer het sy reeds in 1995 met ’n versameling kortverhale, Grootmensspeletjies, gedebuteer.

Moordvis speel af naby Hermanus op die fiktiewe dorpie Grootbaai, haaiduikhoofstad van die wêreld. Dit is hier waar speur-adjudant Storm van der Merwe haar opwagting maak. Storm ry ’n Volla, sy is aan die kort kant, sy is versot op diere en sy word in die diepkant ingegooi wanneer ’n lyk minus ’n arm op die strand uitspoel. Sy kom gou agter dat die stand van sake op Grootbaai selfs gevaarliker as haaiduik is – sonder die hok!

Fourie Botha, uitgewer van plaaslike fiksie by Penguin Random House, sê: “Ons is almal baie opgewonde om Irna van Zyl se heerlike Moordvis te publiseer. Daar’s ’n nuwe heldin in misdaadfiksie, haar naam is Storm van der Merwe.”

Moordvis sal in Afrikaans en Engels uitgegee word.

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