The adventures of a book peddler

Somewhere along the way I’ve become a book peddler. It seemed an infinitely preferable course of action to watching my novel THE GOOD CEMETERY GUIDE languish in a publisher’s warehouse.

Being one of those people who suffer from excess optimism, otherwise termed ridiculous enthusiasm, I ignored the advice of all the sensible caring people in my life who told me marketing my own book was a bad idea and not to even think about doinga website around the novel, not even in my wildest dreams; that it would distract me, delay me, detour me; that I was a writer not a salesperson, a novelist not a web-designer, and in case I really didn’t get it, no writer ever made money out of a website and I should be concentrating on my second book.

Not strictly true of course, some writers have done very nicely through their websites, but for the sake of argument they (those of good intent) were absolutely right. My 2008 New Year’s resolution to earn a living as a writer has been postponed once again to the following year. They did however forget to mention what seems most pertinent; that it would require endless painstaking hours of hard work. Doing a website is worse than writing a book; it’s a consumptive black hole.

Any serious enterprise requires time.  Writers never have enough time because we’re leading double lives; we live and work in parallel so just making the space to be aware of taking a breath (listen to/read Eckhart Tolle’s A NEW EARTH!) is hard.

The good news is it’s been a gas. Rollicking fun-on-the-road growing-up-to-be-a-real-writer stuff. The truth is the adventures are as much a real life affair
as being in cyberspace.

I’ve vanquished shyness and expanded horizons by getting out to small independent bookshops in the city environs and in outlying country towns, and talked about the book and website to some of the countless readers circles, writers groups and book clubs that keep the book industry in South Africa humming. Along the way I’ve sold books.

The readers of the kind of books I read and write finally have a face. I’ve written pages of content for the website in a different style to anything I’ve published before. I’ve experienced enormous crafting satisfaction from turning an idea that wouldn’t let go of me into a cyber space called that dwells lightly on the interplay of life, love and death. Always with the hope that someday we’ll have those important conversations at the dinner table!

And here I am baring my soul on! I’ve stormed the bastions of technology with a website; now with Ben’s help I’m inside the fortress. I wish I could say I just threw a few words onto the ‘page’ and it was a breeze. Truth is I dithered over it because spontaneous unedited expression is scary.

Measured words are a writer’s weapons in the war against mortality. I look forward to further real life marketing forays and cyber adventures but the time has come to put self-marketing on a slow burner and return in spirit to the really tough stuff that terrifies the living daylights out of me as much as it drives me nearly insane with pleasure.

The gods of the universe and I had a serious chat the other day. I’d been out in the car and material for future books was being thrown at me thick and fast (as tends to happen when I drive around); I felt pummeled and exhausted by the end of the trip.

“I haven’t even finished my second book!” I said grumpily to no-one in particular. A voice in my head said quite clearly, ‘Well, get on with it!’ And so I shall.

Source: First published in its original format as ‘Adventures in Cyberspace’ on Sunday Times Books Live



What do I really think?

Oops! Deleted my spam file without thinking and lost bald-head’s comment on the graves gardener blog. Basically telling me off for being spineless: come on (!) why don’t you tell everyone what you really think? I guess that’s blog protocol. Tell it like it is, get it out there, spill your guts, take sides, be up-front, controversy and confrontation is good, get naked, decide if you’re a lover or a hater. Life is essentially humdrum and boring so use your opportunity to liven it up.

This is where I point out that I’m a fiction writer experimenting with a new medium, not an amateur journalist or social commentator. Fiction writers  are often fence-sitters; even famous ones admit to it happily in interviews. They’re born to dwell on moral conundrums, painstakingly seeing every perspective, lovingly walking in a character’s shoes until it’s almost clear to everybody concerned what drives this imitation of a human being to behave the way they do.

I’m a life-long eclectic by choice. But in the midst of all of that truth is another truth; my personal truth that I’m still trying to figure out.

So here goes, for what it’s worth I find cemeteries claustrophobic, I’d want my minimised earthly remains (ashes) to be spilled from a mountain top over some endless wild expanse. Low-impact and clean. But… what if some dearly beloved family member or good friend died tragically in the line of duty on a foreign battle-field? Neither option seems optimal to me; not the pretty english flowers or the stark german simplicity.

So the provocation pushes me to realise two things: firstly, like Anthony Loxton in my novel THE GOOD CEMETERY GUIDE I prefer some wildness in the mix, a fenceless park-like area where visitors might wander in peace and privacy, a place of natural beauty with running streams and huge harbouring trees (Ah, but trees bring leaves and work…!) and secondly, that perhaps my gut response has something to do with the fact that I’m neither english nor german but afro-european.

Do I think nations should honour and respect their war dead? Absolutely. Do I think it would be great if we were all more involved in how our country’s cemeteries are set up and run? Absolutely. Do I think governments, politicians and public servants should lighten up (and open up) on the question of public cemeteries and burial sites? Absolutely.

The financial burden of running the war graveyards should not only be part of a  national dialogue between government, the military, survivors and the rest of the population, it should be part of dinner conversations conducted with much gusto and opinionated banter.

Of course I have an opinion but it’s dull to me; using the imagination to explore other people’s motives is a far more satisfying activity.  So how to keep faith with the characters who arrive out of the dark wanting me to tell their tale impartially, warts and all? I’ll just don my wizard’s hat and wander away from real-life blogs and I’ll soon be back in their zone.

Madeleine McCann loves pink

Madeleine, still missing

Madeleine loves pink

Ironic that soon after my post “Pink is the new Blue” I started reading the book Madeleine, Kate McCann’s heart-rending account of the abduction of her 4-year old daughter in Praia da Luz, Portugal in May 2007. It turns out that the little girl loves pink. Suddenly it seems unbelieavably irrelevant whether little girls wear pink or not. I even have the feeling I should be ashamed of having wasted time on that blog.

The little girl is still missing, still missed after 4 long years.  There is now no law-enforcement agency in  the world actively looking for Madeleine. Her parents are conducting a private search with the help of hired investigators. To date no-one has come forward to identify a man seen by witnesses walking away from their apartment with an (apparently) sleeping child in pyjamas in his arms. Who was he? What of the other sightings? Who were the other strange individuals hanging around the apartment preceding the abduction? Somebody must know…

Kate McCann mentions her daughter loving pink several times and proudly describes her as ‘girly’. Her grandmother mentions it staunchly at Christmas time (See quote below). Are we wasting too much time on irrelevant stuff? Who are these evil people that are taking children all over the world? Why are we not holding vigils outside our police and justice departments? Why does the media not focus on these horrific crimes with the same assiduity and persistence as they do political fraud and corruption?

The slut walk has engendered huge amounts of commentary in the print and online media, but missing children as a major reflection of our damaged society are completely off the radar unless one of them happens to be yours, in which case you live, dream and think about nothing else. Why are our governments not working towards creating an effective integrated trans-border child abduction unit with real powers to work with other similiar bodies across the world? Could it be that nobody’s interested? That it’s easier to ignore the real under-our-nose horror than to face it?

Could it be that there’s no commercial aspect to grip the politicians’ and media’s interest? If every one of the long-missing children was treated as a stolen oil-field we might actually get somewhere. I don’t actually care anymore if girls wear pink or not: I just want them to grow up warm and safe, wearing whatever colours they like and free to choose their own futures (with a little bit of help from the loving people that surround them).

Visit to see how you can help.

Madeleine and her cousin

“Mrs McCann [Madeleine’s grandmother], 67, said she planned to put a large pink teddy bear with a big white heart on the four-year-old’s bed, ready to welcome her home.

She said: ‘I always pick out clothes and put money in a little envelope for each of [Madeleine, Sean and Amelie]. This year I did the same for Madeleine. I’d never leave her out.

‘She loves the colour pink. I have a huge pink teddy bear with a white heart on it -‘  “

Read more:

A touch of sex

‘Add a touch of sex and we’ll have them…!’

He emphasized his brilliance with a casual click of fingers to attract a waiter’s attention. The man’s capitalist orientation was all there in the casual certainty of his educated voice.  You couldn’t have missed it.

We’ll satisfy the insatiable appetite, attract them with plastic breasts, draw them in with what they can’t get enough of and feed them our subliminal message. They won’t even know that we’re selling them something else… was the implicit message.

Sex. The cherry on the top. The sweetener. The appetiser. The addiction.

He reminded me of a thirty-something self-starter I once worked with who owned his own Company and developed client training material.  A successful businessman who wore an earring and long shining black hair in a ponytail; nothing wrong with being smart and arty his whole attitude seemed to say. Contrary to what you might have expected the big corporate executives gave him plenty of work. We put it down to the confidence he projected.

That’s what this guy in the coffee shop was like too; super-confident, no doubts in his mind about sex being the ultimate additive. The woman opposite him was listening closely, her head to one side; she wasn’t going to challenge him. He could have been an advertising executive or a literary agent. I keep thinking back to what Saul Bellow said about every serious writer having to write a book about death and another about sex.

Sex is as weighty a topic as death is, I want to say to the stranger I overhear on my way out the coffee shop. It’s not just a throwaway line. I want to tell him I find gratuitous sex to be nasty and horrible. He wants to sell me cheap perfume and I want to buy a timeless erotic fragrance. I want to tell him: Sex isn’t just about pelvic thrusts and bared boobs in our faces; it’s physical contact between living breathing thinking human beings. A mysterious alchemy of mind and skin. That’s the secret, intimate space that could fascinate one.

It’s a great comfort that what goes around comes around; everything’s going retro these days. My coffee shop man may even impress a future acolyte with the immortal line: ‘add a touch of class and we’ll have them…!’ One can live in hope.

PS. Blogging is turning out to be more fun than I thought. There’s something therapeutic about being able to respond to a stranger’s words without ever speaking to him.