Monday, February 24, 2014

South Africa re-visited through books

While my own book goes off to find its way in the early days of its release into the world, I've been reading some other lovely books, two of which have left a very deep impression on me. Interestingly, they come from the same 'nest' in that one book was written by the lovely Lynn Moorhouse, a wonderful Twitter friend now, and the other comes from her husband Earl.

I read Lynn's book first: the haunting and poignant Aunt Coco and the Marionette Man. This is the first half of my Amazon review:

"If I could give this book a sixth star I would. I didn't just love it. I absolutely adored it. It is just stunning. I will admit up front it has evoked all my feelings and memories of South Africa and its wonderful eclectic population. As a result, it has extra meaning for me personally. I could smell the baked African earth Lynn Moorhouse describes as it soaks up the first spring rain, feel the breeze rustling through Pretoria's famous Jacaranda trees, see the vivid canopy of its mauve blossom and hear the sound of the rain on the tin roof. All rich, vital sensory memories that overwhelmed me in waves of nostalgia.

But even without that, it is a beautifully written and finely crafted novel. It is also refreshingly different in style and approach. I love the way the story of Aunt Coco and her Marionette man emerges through different strands. We have the present day Elle dealing with widowhood when a friendship from her South African childhood with strong mutual connections from the past revives her - that and the re-discovered photos she took in her past life with an old Brownie camera. Then there are the letters from Aunt Coco, reminiscing about elements from her own past in South Africa and the conflicts emerging from what was then inappropriate friendships. And finally, we have Elle as a child experiencing the changes and tensions that affect her more than liberal family at a time when to even socialise with someone of colour could result in a prison terms."

As you can tell from what I have written, I really loved it for its finely crafted story, but also because it brought back so many memories and sensations of South Africa, a country whose sights, smells and sounds remain deeply embedded in my being and whose people are still, for me, the most vivid and hospitable souls I have yet to meet.

And so I was already there in spirit when I picked up Earl Moorhouse's Last Summer in Little England, another story set in South Africa, but this time told from the perspective of a little boy, in fact a little Earl, although I imagine some of the story must be fiction. Nevertheless, he writes of Little England, being the coastal town, Port Shepstone, in what was then the very English Natal - the last outpost of the British Empire as I remember people calling it when I lived there. Here is my review of Earl's book

"Goodness, I so enjoyed this book. Even though it's written from the perspective of a small boy, it is riveting reading. It's a bit like following the script of a nineteen fifties film. The only emotion in the book is observed and experienced by the narrator - a small boy, so it is a very special way of viewing things. His friend, Elliot, the Zulu handyman around the house, the Afrikaans girls and their mother next door, the old man who is building his boat: these are all character gems. The world in which they live is contained, a 'little England',  but the threat of apartheid South Africa is moving in and you feel it throughout the book, especially in the violent outbursts of the 'stepfather', a figure who never has a name, but who is an erratic and often fearsome presence, damaged by both war and the anxiety of losing his job to Afrikaners. This is one of those special books about South Africa's darker days that remain with you. It is poignant, touching and rather sad, but at the same time, it is funny and quirky and typically South African. Thank you, Earl Moorhouse, for a very special read. I wish I could have a paperback of this as I'd cherish it along with Aunt Coco and the Marionette Man." 

These two books have held me riveted to every page. They tell stories of life and love, often in a very humorous and candid way, but they both leave the reader in no doubt about the menacing cloud that was apartheid. They are books that reflect the underlying fears of the period disguised beneath a veneer of normality. As novels they are literary gems; as historical reflections they are important in evoking an accurate picture of what it was really like to live in South Africa at the beginning of the Apartheid period. Many many South Africans felt the cloud approaching but were helpless to stop it. Lynn and Earl have both captured that feeling in two very different, but wonderful books. For anyone who is interested in or knows South Africa both past and present, I can highly recommend them.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Two days to the big day

This last week I've been doing a count down on my author page on Facebook. Every day, I've posted a photo of our harbour to show potential readers something of the setting for my book, Harbour Ways, which will be released this coming Tuesday.

Quite apart from the excitement and jitters I'm feeling about releasing another 'baby' into the world, I've really enjoyed the exercise of looking back through my photos and finding new and interesting images of the harbour. It's been lovely to come across photos I'd forgotten I had of this wonderful place. My collection begins in 2003 when Koos first had a digital camera. He started off with one bought at the Aldi, but soon moved on to a lovely Nikon. In those days 5mp's was considered a lot. I had a little Kodak, and I'm still surprised at how clear the images are. I've needed to brighten some of them up a bit - modern software can do wonders for old pictures - but the basics have all been there.

It's been quite a trip down memory lane on a visual front too, so I've been enjoying myself finding and posting these old photos.

I've included old photos in the book as well although I've apologised in my disclaimer for the quality. I had no thought of writing a book when I first took them and didn't really bother too much about quality then. Most of the images in Harbour Ways were taken before I had a digital camera, so they are black and white scans of photos I've dug out of a drawer to give a rough idea of what the Vereeniging was like in the early days. It really is amazing how it eventually evolved now I look at it.

Anyhow, in case you haven't seen the Facebook photos (wonderfully supplemented by Christina James's own pictures of the Oude Haven), here are the ones I've put on Facebook this week.

The Vereeniging leaving the harbour for its first trip out
with me as skipper,  31 May 2004

A customary view in the Oude Haven. The weekly wash gets hung
out to dry

Koos and I in my 'spuddle' boat towing a mast into the
neighbouring harbour for my daughter

The view from the slipway of 'helling' as we usually call it

Another image of the Vereeniging leaving the harbour

A lovely view of the Oude Haven from its northern end

By the time I write this blog again, the launch will be over and I'll be looking forward to writing the next book, so before I forget, Harbour Ways will be available on Kindle and this week (I'll post links in my sidebar here), and then as soon as the global distribution kicks in, it will be on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the Book Depository, and all the other online stores. I'm hoping to get a few copies into the bookshops here too, and maybe one day I'll get over to the UK to visit a few of my lovely blog, Twitter and FB friends there as well. Further would also be lovely, but being realistic, less likely. You never know, though…Australia and Canada are big on my wish list!

Have a good Sunday everyone, and for those in the UK who are struggling with floods and storms, I am with you in spirit. Somerset and Dorset were my home counties once too.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Out of harbour's way

In just over a week, I will be releasing my new book, Harbour Ways. I must confess that the closer the date comes, the more unsure I am about publishing. It's probably because it's a sequel. There's always the possibility that those who have read Watery Ways and enjoyed it will be disappointed because it's not the same. Well of course it isn't, and I know no one would want it to be the same really. I'm just getting jittery, that's all.

But while I wait for the big day, there is plenty of other work to do. This is an exceptionally busy time of year for me, and I've spent the weekend immersed, or rather submerged, in student assignments (what's new? you might well ask). Today, then, we decided to get out of harbour's way (sorry, couldn't resist that) and go to the estuary to blow away some cobwebs.

We drove to Terneuzen where you can stand on the headland and watch the ships coming into harbour. There are three huge locks, two of which are big enough to hold the massive transporters and sea-going tankers that make their way inland to Ghent. On their way, they pass the village where I have my weekend getaway, and we can see them clearly from the bedroom window.

Today, the sun was shining brightly, but the wind was unbelievable. I could barely hold myself straight and I've had to throw half the photos I took away as I couldn't keep my hands still. It was like having a monster paw in the middle of my back propelling me along. It did the trick though. If I was harbouring any cobwebs, they were swept clean away within seconds. Poor Sin nearly lost her ears too. Oddly enough the water wasn't that choppy - not on our side anyway, so there were no dramatic waves, not that we get them very often anyway, but I would have expected more white caps at least with the power of the wind.

Sindy squinting against the wind

It's amazing that Koos kept his hat on

It did me good, though, and Koos and I went home feeling much more refreshed. Here are just a few photos to show how brilliant the light in the estuary and harbour was. Apparently Zeeuwse skies and light are well known, so it's not surprising I love it so much here. The skies are just beautiful. An outing like this will keep me going for the rest of the week. Just as well as it's pouring again now!

The headland where we were walking took all
the wind that was going

A loaded barge heading into harbour and the locks that lead
into the Terneuzen to Ghent canal 
Tugboats moored up outside the locks. They are
used to guide the big ships up the canal.

Dow Chemical factory. Even this is beautiful in
Zeeuse light

The Headland

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Harbour Ways : coming very soon

I was walking through the harbour today when a hail storm started, so I ran to the shipyard and took shelter in amongst the post boxes. Yes. I do mean that. We have this wonderful cylindrical monster pillar box standing in the yard that looks as if Dr Who has decided police phone boxes are 'de trop' and HM's old English pillar boxes are 'de rigeur' - and that he has sort of landed here. Only our pillar box is not red; it is a sort of British racing green. Inside, it is lined with small post boxes and it's where we go to fetch our mail, we harbourites all having the same address (very confusing for suppliers and service providers, but that's another story). As a result, I was able to stand inside sorting my post until the hail stopped.

When I emerged I saw Angelique, another long term ligger who figures in Watery Ways, and whose name comes up again in my new book, Harbour Ways. It was lovely to see her as we don't bump into each other all that often these days. Things have changed a bit since those early years when I was busy converting the Vereeniging from an empty hull into a home. It seems incredible now that it's ten years since I finished it, and I realise my lovely barge is due for an almost total re-fit.

Anyhow, as I said, things have changed; liggers have come and gone and the core of our community is centred in the younger members now, most of whom have children, and so 'the life' revolves round them. As it should. What hasn't changed is the sense that I belong in this harbour more than almost anywhere in Europe. In fact, I have lived in Rotterdam longer than in any place in my entire life and it has become home. I felt that very strongly today as I was sheltering in our monster pillar box and it felt pretty good. It seems rather fitting too that I should have this sort of light bulb moment just as I am about to publish the sequel to Watery Ways.

My new book tells the story of the Vereeniging's transformation, and is very much focused on this harbour and its people - the main reason I have given it the title of Harbour Ways.

If you are interested in reading about my first two years on the Vereeniging, Harbour Ways will be released on **** 18 February**** (that's in two weeks!) firstly as a Kindle book with a paperback version available on But shortly afterwards, it will be available on,, and then a bit later, it will also be available through all the other online stores such as, Barnes & Noble and Ingrams.

PS My special thanks go to Christina James, who has been an amazing encouragement to me to finish this book. Her Facebook, twitter and blog posts have been a great inspiration. Thank you so much Christina!