Wednesday, 9 January 2019

A romantic dilemma for the New Year!

In my last blog I talked about the slippery character of Piet Philander, desperate suitor to Louise Ahrendts in my novel, The Girl from Simon's Bay. Piet, you may remember, hatches a scheme to defraud the Royal Navy during the war. At the same time, Louise meets a Royal Navy officer, Lt. David Horrocks, who is a patient at her hospital, and embarks on a risky romance.

Piet happens to be in Cape Town one day and spots the two of them. Louise is carrying an overnight suitcase and Piet follows them to a cottage and realises that Louise plans to spend the night there with her navy lover.

Piet is hauled before the authorities who've discovered he's been selling fish that the navy has paid for, to outside buyers. During a confrontation with the Quartermaster, Piet threatens to tell the Admiral that one of his officers is sleeping with a nurse from the Royal Naval Hospital. This is a serious claim and potentially very damaging to both Louise and David.

"It has come to my knowledge, Sister Ahrendts, that you have formed an attachment with a patient."
Louise breathed deeply.
To lie, or tell the truth?
"I have only ever been professional, Matron. I have not encouraged familiar behaviour when I've been on duty."
"And off duty?" Matron's voice softened. "Surely you must know, Sister, that any understanding between yourself and a white man, while not strictly against the law, is certainly frowned upon?"
Louise kept quiet, but did not drop her gaze.
Matron looked down at her desk and appeared to come to a decision.
"I don't listen to hearsay about my staff," she closed the file with a snap. "But if I am offered proof, I will have no choice but to dismiss you."

Our secret has been discovered, Louise writes to David.
We can't be together.
But how will I stay away from you?

More next time...

Thursday, 13 December 2018

An Admiral, a Fish... and an eye for the main chance!

In my latest novel, The Girl from Simon's Bay, one of the peripheral characters - although he wouldn't see it that way - is Piet Philander. Piet has a rough upbringing. His mother died when he was young, his father likes to drink and the family fishing boat leaks. But there's a bright spot: he is childhood friends with Louise Ahrendts who comes from a stable, loving home and one day - Piet hopes - she will agree to marry him.

As a teenager, Piet is short of money and he's drawn into a scheme to rob houses. He gets caught and is sent to a reformatory. So, you will be thinking, where does an Admiral fit into this? Spool forward a few years to the outbreak of the second World War. A supposedly-reformed Piet is awarded a contract to supply fish to the Royal Navy. He is overjoyed. He'd get to earn regular wages however much fish he chose to catch - their Lordships seemed uncommonly ignorant of the size of local catches and Piet was in no hurry to enlighten them. Maybe he will be able to keep up with Louise Ahrendts who by this time has become a nurse and is drifting away from Piet's orbit.

At first, Piet sticks to the rules but after a while he sees a chance to make a little more money on the side. What if he could profit from his fish twice over? First from the navy and then from private buyers? He could divert some of his catch to the Cape Town restaurants that had to stand in line behind the navy and the military. Piet's fish travel to the city by train, packed in ice. It wouldn't be too hard to mislay the odd crate amid the confusion of Cape Town railway station.
For while, the scam works but then he's discovered and hauled before the authorities. But Piet has a card or two up his sleeve: each week he personally delivers a gift of his best fish to Admiralty House for the Admiral's private table.
The Admiral knows me, sir. He likes my fish.
No-one else takes the trouble to bring him top fish. Free and gratis.

When the Quartermaster still threatens to expose him, Piet plays his final card.
When I give the Admiral his fish I'll be sure to tell him he only gets second-best fish - his Quartermaster gets the best!
The Quartermaster begins to retreat because Piet does, indeed, slip him the odd fish.
Then Piet adds something even more explosive, which will come back to haunt him.
I'll also tell the Admiral one of his officers is sleeping with a coloured nurse at the Royal Naval Hospital!
Oh, dear, Piet. You shouldn't have, you really shouldn't have...

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Lonely Planet recommends...

If you're planning a trip to Southern Africa, don't forget your Lonely Planet guide!

The Lonely Planet phenomenon started in the 1970s as a simple guide for backpackers, especially to unusual destinations. The relaxed and personal nature of the text, the sense that the writers had actually experienced everything they were writing about, meant that Lonely Planet books soon became the go-to guide not just for backpackers but for anyone wanting to go off the beaten track. It is now a global brand, having sold over 100 million books and more than 10 million travel apps. It still covers faraway places but also offers city guides for those on business with a few hours to spare.

So what is the connection to me?
Well, I was delighted to discover that in the brand's book on South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, there is a reference to one of my novels.
On page 508 of the guide, where the authors delve into the history and culture behind the scenery and offer recommendation for further research and reading, there is a section called "Best in Print".
And there, at the top of the list, is... The Housemaid's Daughter
described as an apartheid-era drama set in the Karoo.

I like to imagine intrepid tourists dipping into my book while trekking along the sandy beaches of the Wild Coast, searching out the Big Five in Kruger National Park or sipping a glass of the Cape's finest wine on the Waterfront in Cape Town.
And please spread the word! Happy travels - and reading!

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Let's help each other...

All round the world, volunteers from many walks of life do heroic work in uplifting individuals and communities. I recently had the privilege of speaking about my book, The Girl from Simon's Bay, to a branch of Soroptimists International. Their focus is on defending human rights and helping girls, in particular, to reach their potential and have an equal voice in their communities. They have 75000 members across 122 countries. Like Rotary, the Lions, and myriad tinier outfits, they do what we should all strive for: to put others before ourselves. Whether it's encouraging human rights, fighting disease, installing water stand pipes, encouraging girls to study science, or painting classroom walls, all these enterprises and their members take practical steps to help others.

As I was speaking, I was reminded of the plight of Louise Ahrendts, my heroine in the book. She grows up in South Africa at a time when girls of her background rarely had opportunities to study further. Louise, though, wants to complete her schooling and become a nurse. She is also mixed race, and knows she's unlikely to be accepted at a prestigious training institution.

Dear Matron, she writes
I am fourteen years old and I live in Simon's Town with my parents. Since I was seven, I have dreamt of becoming a nurse. I want to dedicate my life to the sick and to those who can't take care of themselves. It would be an honour to be allowed to apply for training.
How much money will it cost to become a nurse?
I can't ask my parents to pay for my career so I will work after school for the next four years to save enough to pay for myself.
With sincere gratitude for your earnest attention
I remain
Yours faithfully.
Louise Ahrendts (Miss)

Despite being initially rejected, Louise perseveres.
And eventually...

Dear Miss Ahrendts
We have pleasure in offering you a place to train at the Hospital, subject to a probation period of three months. You will be our first coloured student nurse and we must stress the need for focus and dedication. Failure to achieve the required standards at any time during your training will result in dismissal.

"They want me!" I threw the single piece of paper in the air and burst into tears.
"They want me after all!"

Monday, 22 October 2018

Can we get that microphone working?!

Mikes can be tricky instruments!
In promoting my two books, The Housemaid's Daughter and The Girl from Simon's Bay, I've lived through a number of microphone malfunctions. On this particular occasion, at a bookstore in South Africa, the mike behaved itself perfectly. We were meeting in a coffee shop next to the bookstore - a trendy setting with some gorgeous pictures on the wall. The wine also helped to make a memorable evening, as you can see from the second photo. But whereas a glass of wine can loosen up the guests so that they don't notice any hiccups (from themselves or the mike), it's a different matter for the speaker. Wrestling with a mike that cuts out or hisses with feedback can really put you off your pitch especially if it's a big gathering.

I remember one particular talk to a fairly large group when it was clear that the mike was not going to co-operate and so I abandoned it and positioned myself in the middle of the room and did my talk in the round. I tried to speak to each quadrant of the room in turn, and sometimes repeated myself to the group who might have been the most cut off. It worked but it was certainly a challenge. Probably the most frustrating part can come at question time at the end of a talk. I love taking questions because there are always readers who have interesting opinions or particular input to the setting or context of the book. But, oh dear! Passing the mike about so that the questioner can be heard very often doesn't work. Folk don't want to wait for the mike to arrive and so they ask their question in advance. Others can't hear and shout "What? What?"
The only solution is to be the ringmaster and do the mike-passing myself!

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Authorial encounters...

When I was a child, I used to fantasise that one day my favourite author, Enid Blyton (The Famous Five! The Secret Seven! The Faraway Tree!) would choose to come to visit our Public Library in the South African coastal city of Port Elizabeth, where I spent some of my early years. After all, the Public Library was an impressive building with a larger-than-life statue of Queen Victoria outside. The stature showed Victoria in an imperial pose, sitting on her throne and clasping her orb and sceptre. Surely that would make Blyton feel at home?

But she never came even although I was sure that I must have been her most ardent reader in the world. I used to get through 6 books a week, and there always had to be an Enid Blyton among them. These days, when I do signings of my own books, I'm always taken back to those times when I longed to meet the author of my dreams - and I always recall the chastening fact that Blyton sold over 600 million books worldwide! Nowadays, the abundance of literary festivals world-wide means there is much greater chance of catching one's favourite author in the flesh.

Sadly, I will only encounter Enid Blyton in the great here-after, but of the living authors I'd love to meet there are two that stand out: Barbara Kingsolver and Margaret Atwood. I have devoured their books over the years and they have been an inspiration to me in my own writing.

And... it would have been rather delightful, don't you think, to raise a glass with Ernest Hemingway or look in on Charles Dickens while he was creating Scrooge?

Whom would you most like to meet?

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

What makes a Quotable Quote?

Do you ever highlight a phrase or copy down a sentence that captivates you?
I know that I do, and so do the readers of my two books, The Housemaid's Daughter and The Girl from Simon's Bay. Sometimes, though, the bits that get noticed are not necessarily the ones that I laboured the longest and hardest over - or was the proudest of! (excuse the tortuous grammar).

Cathleen Harrington, the Irish matriarch in The Housemaid's Daughter, keeps a diary in which she confesses her deepest thoughts. She isn't aware that her young housemaid, Ada, the heroine of the book, begins to read the diary during her daily duties. Ada struggles at first, because her reading ability is poor.
After many times of struggling, I began to separate the words.
Tomorrow I sail for Africa...
The diary became a secret conversation between Madam and me.

Cathleen's diary teaches Ada valuable lessons in life and love.
I remind myself that wherever one finds oneself,
home and love is lent to each of us only for a while.
We must care for it while it's ours, and cherish its memory once its gone.

In The Girl from Simon's Bay, Louise Ahrendts is forced to give up the man she has fallen in love with during the Second World War. He is unaware that she is holding on to a secret. Some twenty years later, faced with eviction from her home, she wonders if she dare contact him again. But what would she say?
Dear David,
You can't have me, but here is our son...