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Colleen Higgs

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

The dog in question

Dog leadI wish I could have called this story The dog of marriage, but that title was already taken by Amy Hempel. That story and the title set me off writing this one.

The dog in question

I want to write about putting down a dog, not because he was old or ill, and his time had come. But about the time I put down a dog that was only six years old, he was a dog I loved, but could no longer live with.

It’s not a neat story, with a beginning, middle and an end. Putting a dog down, having a dog put to death, killing a dog, is not like that.

You could tug at this story in many ways; each tugging could lead in an altogether different direction. One tug is about the dog training, the many different approaches we tried or that one could try with a dog. K9 training (a quasi-police dog style of training) is one approach, there is dog whispering and there is clicking. I could tell you about countless Saturday mornings spent on a field with this dog, and with other dogs and their owners. My pockets filled with bits of dog biscuit and salami. I could tell you about how to be the Alpha Male so that the dog gets it, or at least how to act as if you are an Alpha Male, even if you aren’t one. I could tell you about being firm and consistent. About why a dog needs a choke chain, and about approaches that abhor choke chains. I could list all the books I read, all the people, the experts I spoke to and their different views about what I should do with my dog.

“All he needs is for you to be firm.”

“He needs clear boundaries.”

“He must know who is boss.”

“You must never let him on your bed.”

“He must never go into the front door ahead of you.” I could tell you about how I tried to train this dog.

I should mention here that he wasn’t even my dog. He was my husband’s dog. You know how that is, a dog belongs to someone, ultimately. That is another thread we could tug at. I am no longer married to the man who was the owner of the dog that I chose to have put down. See how I use the passive voice, to distance myself from what I did and from the man who is no longer my husband.

I could write about how our dog had mange as a puppy. How peculiar he looked, like a moth-eaten fluffy toy, a well-loved toy, how he looked like the Velveteen Rabbit. I could write about the weeks of smearing smelly unguents onto his patchy skin. About how I washed my hands afterwards and how the smell didn’t come out easily. I could write about how he whimpered when we washed him, whimpered and wriggled. I could mention that Rescue Remedy was used. And how my husband carried him around in a red towel slung over his shoulder, and how I took a photograph of my husband, the red towel and the dog. I could describe how after months of treatment his fur grew black and thick. And of how his fur came to have a reddish undertone in a certain light.

I could write about why I felt he had to be put down, and about why my husband didn’t want to be the one to do it.

These are some of my reasons. He snarled at our child. Three times. Savage snarling. Real snarling, like a dangerous, chained dog. Another species. A dog kept especially for dog fighting. It took me three snarls over several months to come to a decision. I could explore in detail how I watched the dog, how I kept the child away from him. Kept him away from the child. How it started with the dog chewing her toys, shredding her clothes, her baby-gros, her blankets, her tiny little jerseys, her booties. I could fill in some of the back-story of how he nipped almost everyone who visited us, perhaps even everyone. I should tell you that I tried to make out that it was just a nip, no big deal. People were afraid of him, afraid of visiting us. I could tell you how in the years that we had the dog, we had few visitors, few friends in our home. And in the same breath I could write of how much the dog loved me, how devoted he was, how he liked nothing better than to be right next to me, almost touching me, and how reassuring I found this.

As I said, I learned to be careful of where I left my little girl’s things – I came to know that the dog would destroy them. We had two dogs. The older dog was a little crazy, a hysterical maiden aunt sort of dog, but he would never bite a child. But the younger dog, the dog in question, I can’t say for sure. At the time I tried to think of what to do, to come up with a constructive solution. I tried to find the dogs new homes. They will be happier together, is what I told myself. I advertised in the Worcester local paper and in all the Classified Ads in all the Cape Town daily newspapers. There were no takers.

I could tell you more of the back-story of how the dog was born on a farm outside Grahamstown. How he grew up going for long walks in the veld, barking at monkeys, and sometimes even chasing buck. I could even tell you about how he and the older dog became a small pack. How they yelped in a particular way when they saw a buck and of how they didn’t come back till they felt like it. I could tell you about how the neighbouring farmer nearly shot them. How he phoned to warn us that he would shoot the dogs if they ever came onto his property again. I guess they were lucky not to be shot by the neighbouring farmer – the dogs – because we couldn’t control them. We tried, but we didn’t have a fenced-in yard. It was a communal farm. There were other dogs. We lived furthest away. I could admit that we never walked the dogs with leads on. I am not sure if this part of the back-story has anything to do with what this story is about. How I came to put down our dog. But I suspect it is central.

He was only six years old when I had him put down. He was my husband’s dog. But secretly he was my dog. He doted on me. He wanted to be near me. I think he was a little afraid of my husband. And I was a little afraid of the dog, in spite of his devotion.

Of course I shouldn’t forget to mention how many phone calls I made to animal rescue places, DARG, TEARS, the SPCA, how I tried to find him another home, and how futile it all felt. As an aside, I should say that at the time I had a full-time job, a child under two, I was forty-two. I was exhausted. Bone-achingly tired. I offer this to provide context, not an excuse. I knew I didn’t have what it took to drive him to Hout Bay or to Somerset West twice a week for three months to attempt to correct the dog’s behaviour. I knew it was beyond me. I also knew I could have the dog put down. This is how our world works; we can have dogs put down. It’s not a crime.

I discovered that I have it in me to kill a dog I love. I knew what I had to do and I decided to do it. To have a dog I love put down. I prefer the euphemism.

It was up to me; my ex husband wasn’t up to the horrible stuff.  It fell to me to do those things – the unpleasant things. I picked up the dog shit in the garden, took the dogs for walks every day, had them neutered. I knew I would have to do this thing too. I wondered, even then, sometimes, if I stopped picking up the dog shit, how high would it pile up? What would my husband do, would he hire someone to clean it up? Would he ask our child’s nanny to do it? Or would he just ignore it? Would he even have noticed?

My husband and our child waited in the car on the day I took the dog to the vet for the last time. I led the dog to the security gate entrance. He walked a little way in front of me as he always did. His ears down, but he wasn’t afraid, he trusted me. If he had been afraid he wouldn’t have been in front, leading the way. He would have resisted, sat down or pulled back. He didn’t know where we were going or why.

As I entered the vet’s surgery I avoided looking at the other people on the seats with their cats in baskets, their dogs on leads. The usual receptionist was there, a woman in her sixties. When she wasn’t answering the phone or taking payments, she knitted. I told her my name. Oh yes. She looked at me; she knew what I had come for. She waved me to a seat. I led my husband’s dog to the seat she pointed at; he sat close to me, leaning against my legs. I patted his head and fondled his ears. We waited.

I don’t remember much of the rest of what happened that afternoon. Inside the surgery the vet explained to me what he was going to do. I thought of the death sentence by lethal injection. I patted the dog softly on his side. He was quiet and gentle. The snarling dog was nowhere to be seen. I thought, panicking a little, ‘maybe I’ve made a mistake’. The vet injected the tranquiliser. I patted the dog, gently over and over. Sorry boy, I said, sorry. Sorry.

Then the vet injected the lethal poison. Our dog was already lying still from the tranquiliser, and before I knew it he had gone. He was gone. He had stopped breathing. I looked at him, lifeless, my hand on his side. I stopped patting him then, he was still warm. The vet unhooked his lead from his collar and gave it to me.

I re-entered the waiting room, carrying only the lead. I opened the security gate and crossed the pavement to the waiting car, to my husband, my child. Just before I climbed into the car I noticed the flower seller on the grassy verge and her buckets of brightly coloured flowers. Poppies, freesias, ranunculus.

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Book Launch: Looking for Trouble by Colleen Higgs

NELM and Hands-On Books are delighted to invite you to a Grahamstown launch of Looking for Trouble – a collection of mostly Yeoville stories.

Looking for Trouble is a collection of short stories set in Yeoville from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. The stories capture with a dark humour the lives of young people trying to make a go of things, given the constraints of the country and the volatile period. Most of the stories have been published in literary magazines; one of the stories was published by Femrite (Uganda) in a collection called World of our Own. A slightly earlier version of the title story was published in a collection of stories by South African women edited by Maggie Davey, Dinaane, Telegraph Books, London.

Comments about the collection:
“These wry, subtle stories are deceptively simple, completely compelling. Brave, evocative writing that takes you back to the intense milieu of 80s Yeoville, and to all the bittersweet sexual questing of youth.” Henrietta Rose-Innes (Author of Shark’s Egg, Homing, Nineveh, and Caine Prize Winner)

“Looking for Trouble is a book that will make you late for work. Like an unexpected fist in the stomach. Words that will stay with you long after you turned the last page.” Melinda Ferguson (Author of Smacked and Hooked)

“These stories awakened in me a sense of nostalgia, not only for Yeoville in the early nineties, but for being young, love’s fool and sexually reckless. At some point, experience forces us to lose our illusions and come of age, damaged by love but wiser. This spot-on collection captures that arc of life and, as I turned the last page, I felt we had lived well, if imperfectly.” Rachel Zadok (Author of Gem Squash Tokoloshe)

Event Details

  • Date: Monday, 21 May 2012
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: National English Literary Museum, Eastern Star Education Centre, Anglo African Street, Grahamstown
  • Guest Speaker: Carol Leff
  • Refreshments: Come and join us for a glass of wine
  • RSVP: Colleen Higgs, Hands-On Books,

Looking for Trouble
Book Details

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Launch of Looking for Trouble by Colleen Higgs at Love Books

Looking for TroubleLove Books and Hands-On Books are delighted to invite you to the Joburg launch of Looking for Trouble by Colleen Higgs. Melinda Ferguson will introduce Colleen and be in conversation with her. Colleen will read from the collection too. Join us for a glass of wine and a snack.

Looking for Trouble is a collection of short stories set in Yeoville from the mid-1980′s and early 90s. The stories capture with a dark humour the lives of young people trying to make a go of things, given the constraints of the country and the volative period.

Most of the stories have been published in literary magazines or in collections both here, the UK and in Uganda.

Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, 25 April 2012
  • Time: 5:30 PM for 6:00 PM
  • Venue: Love Books,
    Bamboo Centre,
    53 Rustenburg Rd,
    Melville | Map
  • Guest Speaker: Melinda Ferguson
  • Refreshments: Come and join us for a glass of wine
  • RSVP: Love Books,, 011 7267408

Praise for Looking for Trouble

“These wry, subtle stories are deceptively simple, completely compelling. Brave, evocative writing that takes you back to the intense milieu of 80s Yeoville, and to all the bittersweet sexual questing of youth.” Henrietta Rose-Innes, author of Shark’s Egg, Homing, Nineveh, and 2008 Caine Prize Winner

“These stories awakened in me a sense of nostalgia, not only for Yeoville in the early nineties, but for being young, love’s fool and sexually reckless. At some point, experience forces us to lose our illusions and come of age, damaged by love but wiser. This spot-on collection captures that arc of life and, as I turned the last page, I felt we had lived well, if imperfectly.” Rachel Zadok

Looking for Trouble is a book that will make you late for work. Like an unexpected fist in the stomach. Words that will stay with you long after you turned the last page.” – Melinda Ferguson

About Colleen Higgs

As well as being a writer, Colleen Higgs is also a publisher, she started the ground-breaking independent southern African women’s press, Modjaji Books in 2007. She lives in Cape Town with her daughter and cat. Looking for Trouble is her first collection of short stories. She also has two collections of poetry Lava Lamp Poems (2011) and Halfborn Woman (2004) all published by Hands-On Books.

Book Details

Photo of Colleen Higgs by Liesl Jobson

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The fabulous, the dark and the hilarious #flf2011

This is my fourth or fifth time of going to the FLF. I always go with my close friend and it becomes a weekend of relaxing, pleasure and work. Thankfully this year I did not have a launch organised, so was able to be much more chilled.

Over the past few years Jenny Hobbs has asked me to chair a session and I always say yes. Even when I am overwhelmed or know absolutely nothing about the topic, I say yes.

This year I chaired the session entitled Love Stories; panelists were Lindsay van Rensburg, editor from Kwela; Nani Mahlanga – Sapphire romance author and the inimitable Fiona Snyckers, who needs no introduction to BookSA readers. I was bemused to be asked to do this one as I am probably the least romantically inclined, the person least likely to have read a romance that I can imagine. But I stuck to my rule and said yes. I learnt the following: South African romance readers require a little more challenge than the straightforward Mills and Boon formulaic stories, otherwise they get bored. Sapphire promotes responsible sex, there will be a condom in the story at a strategic point. Romance is seen to be a gateway to other kinds of literacy, so could be a way of ‘growing more readers’. I was left with a number of questions, such as; is there a tradition of gay/lesbian romance fiction? I wonder why the ‘rape fantasy’ is becoming more prevalent in international romances? Where will this all lead? I was hugely encouraged by the way our writers and publishers this genre are approaching this opportunity. I look forward to hearing more as they see how sales go and how readers and new writers develop.

The fabulous
Seeing and greeting and chatting with friends and colleagues that one normally only has online contact with, meeting new people, eating divine meals in various Franschoek eateries with fascinating friendly folk, the weather, seeing Modjaji authors looking pleased with their Franschoek experience.

Lauren Beukes‘s sloth draped over her shoulders, she looks like a real celebrity!

Listening to Janice Galloway’s talk; I was fortunate to have read her memoir, This is not about me before the festival. Galloway was brilliant, vivacious, confident and I loved her Scottish accent. Her writing is dark, funny, devastating and brilliantly written.

In the Masculinities session, Melinda Ferguson carried off her “counterpoint” role with enormous charm and aplomb. What was puzzling was that the issue discussed by the panelists was race rather than masculinities. Maybe it was that the panelists were seated on a stage looking over a sea of middle-aged to elderly (mostly) white faces, and race is what came up for them?

the dark
My bag was snatched while I was at the BookSA celebration organised by Louis Greenberg and Sarah Lotz. During the main course, a waitress noticed a bag lying on the ground just outside of where we were sitting. My wallet was open and all my cash – which wasn’t much was taken. And then I noticed my cellphone was gone. A few minutes later the manager had security and the police on the case and my things were retrieved. I had to go to the police station to identify my belongings. It turned out that a gang of boys, between ten and fifteen years old were the culprits. My friend and I sat at the police station, we had to wait for the detective to arrive. Eventually we asked if we could go back to the restaurant and have our dessert and coffee and pay. This we did and then when we came back to the station the boys were in the front of the charge office sitting in row. They were apparently well known to the police. Feral boys. They had to wait for the parents to fetch them. By the time we left the station at about 12.30 only one mother had arrived. We heard that there were two armed robberies in the squatter settlement. A group of Somalians arrived at the station to lay the charge regarding the first armed robbery.

I decided to lay a charge against the boys, as this would mean that some of them might go before a magistrate and be put into a diversion programme for youth at risk. I will have to go through to Franschoek at some point and spend a day in court waiting for this case to come before the magistrate.

I saw the boys again on the streets on Saturday and Sunday, drifting up and down the main drag.


the hilarious

Justin Cartwright’s anecdote “Iris Murdoch’s method of writing was to lie on her back for three months on the floor and then get up and write the novel in a week.”

Zakes Mda saying something like this:
“I had never read a memoir or autobiography, so I thought I better read one or two. I started with Gunther Grass, after about ten pages or so, I thought nahhh, I am a storyteller, I have written all these novels, I can do this.” He then proceeded to write it in three months and refused editing suggestions, he wanted it to be shaggy (I think that is what he said).

Khaya Dlanga’s wonderful story, that I hope he will write one day, told us with how To Kill a Mockingbird hampered his love life.

Michiel Heyns’s dry humour as he spoke about reviews in that session, see below:

[48]: Critical Factors (Hospice Hall)
Is author hagiography taking the place of informed literary comment? Regular book reviewers Imraan Coovadia, Michiel Heyns and Tymon Smith discuss the rise and rise of the personal versus the critical with Cape TimesBooks Editor Karin Schimke.

The toilet saga and looming elections as a backdrop to the FLF. The toilet humour in the Sunday papers, particularly Ben Trovato’s Whipping Boy.

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An unlikely trio

The Book of the DeadClose The Door Softly Behind YouAPETOWNBeen reading a lot lately, these three local books deserve to have something said about them, but I don’t have time to write separate posts, so in a tiny window of opportunity, here’s why I recommend all three books.

Kgebetli Moele’s, The Book of the Dead, his second novel is quite a book. Even though it is a fairly short read, it is a devastating book. It offers a scarey, bleak, and I guess realistic picture of the world it describes; and in that sense \offers an explanation for the rampant spread of HIV. In the second part of “Dead”, The HI Virus becomes a character in the way Death does in Zusak’s The Book Thief. Although Moele’s character feels more intent on doing his work, and has evil motivations. It makes an interesting read and could helpfully be read alongside Aernout Zevenbergen’s Spots of Leopard. One way of reading “Dead” would be as a case study of what Zevenbergen is looking at, ‘what it means to be a man’ in post-colonial Africa, in the context of HIV/AIDS; the breakdown of traditional society, the rise of materialism and so on. I prefer this book to Room 207, in spite of the violence and the horror. For me it holds together more coherently.

Emmaleen Kriel writes about her own experience of taking up domestic work in the UK and Europe as a way of earning money, she has seven children who have all left home and is a widow, in her fifties she decides to do what for many priveliged white South Africans would seem an extraordinary thing to do. She also writes about it. And of course it makes for interesting reading and for those who have ever employed a domestic worker it is interesting to read about how the world and her employers are viewed by one particular person. She has a range of employment situations and each one brings different insights. Kriel has republished her book herself as it was out of print. I can see why it is still selling.

Once I started reading Sven Eick’s, Apetown, I couldn’t put it down – a fast-paced novella that is funny, tense, and wonderfully evocative of a particular aspect of Cape Town with which, thankfully, I am not intimately acquainted anymore (night clubs and grungy digs). What I loved most about Eick’s novel was its dark, funny, sassy, critical, bright twentysomething worldview. Which also made me feel old. Especially bits like this:

“No Mom, I’m dead.”
She was really phoning to tell me she was still alive. I hadn’t phoned her for a week; she didn’t understand that I didn’t have any money left and I hadn’t really tried to tell her. At fifty years of age, she wanted me to think that maybe she had slipped in the bath or was lying at the foot of a staircase with a broken hip.
“Well, I’m fine, thank you for asking.”
And just there I switched off from the conversation, which was a rerun of a hundred conversations that amounted to little more than a catalogue of the iniquities inflicted on my mother by life during the last fifty years.”

His description of Lars’s mother makes me see her as seventy plus or older, even though I know some sprightly seventy year olds, but fifty and already worried about broken hips? But this is a minor point and I don’t think I am the intended audience for the book. I laughed out loud at the weird situations his characters got themselves into, bits had me cringing with sympathy and horror (intended by the author, I hope). Let’s see more of your work Sven, I think you are a gifted writer, with a wonderful darkly comic voice. Bring it on.

Book details

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8 reasons why I recommend Maya Fowler’s “Elephant in the Room”

The Elephant in the Room
1. As a parent of a girl, this novel makes me think I need to learn more about eating disorders and how they come about. Children can so easily become casualties of their parents’ inability to be present and aware.
2. Fowler takes us into the main character’s, Lily’s mind and body, her inner obsessions about food, eating and her body.
“My body screams for the icing, my mind says no, but its starting to quaver. My mouth waters as I beat the icing. It’s thick and glossy, made with real butter. The sweetness caresses my nostrils, and so does the rich bitterness of the cocoa; and then there’s the salty creaminess of the butter. Mind and body are fighting like mad. My body has transformed itself into a champion wrestler for the occasion. My mind is taking a beating.”
Fowler writes with vivid clarity about Lily’s inner torment, and she shows us the repetitive, circular patterns of Lily’s self destructive cocoon.
3. The style and language in this novel impressed me. So did the sense of place and the details that make Kalk Bay, Plumstead and the Karoo Farm come alive for me as a reader. The sound of the sea and wind, the stone walls of the Kalk Bay house and of the farm house in the Karoo. “Its windy and sand gets stuck in my teeth. I thought it would be a good idea to come out here to my lonely hill, but even the sheep are tucking their heads into their woollen armpits.”
4. We have a new, interesting voice in this young novelist. “The Elephant in the Room” is a strong debut novel and I look forward to reading more of her works.
5. The child’s perspective on family secrets, such as the death of Andre, Lily’s uncle and her grandfather and how their deaths came about.
6. The character of Gesiena, reminds me of characters in many South African farm novels, I loved her and was saddened by her life and her fate.
7. In spite of the tragedy/ies at the heart of the novel, Maya has a light touch, she writes with humour at times, deftly and seamlessly weaving in facts about anorexia, bulimia, butterflies and South African politics, so they are part of Lily’s life and engagement with her world and not the writer imposing her research or views on the reader.
8. As a parent, teacher or someone who knows young people you may be able to identify the early stages of anorexia or bulimia. Lily’s Gran and mother both ignore the signs, which seem to be quite obvious to this reader, in spite of how Lily goes to great lengths to hide her tracks and keep her awful secret.

Book details

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10 things I loved about Jassy Mackenzie’s My Brother’s Keeper

My Brother's Keeper1. Laki, Nick’s sidekick. His clothes (short sleeved shirt in a garish shade of green, embroidered with orange fish), his earnest demeanour, his loyalty, his yellow Renault…
2. The mystery surrounding Laki’s sexual orientation
3. The coincidences that tie up the plot like a well-laced boot (so to speak)
4. The opening chapter that grabbed me and kept me
5. Nick’s profession – paramedic, an unusual one for a crime fiction, but brilliantly chosen and woven through the book
6. Stronghold Security – and how it is at the heart of this very contemporary South African krimi
7. Joburg (I love the different Joburgs that writers are coming up with) – Jassy’s Joburg is a frightening, seedy, down at heel and glamourous, fast paced, and she zooms us all over Jozi from Newtown to Midrand, Yeoville to the Joburg Gen, suburban Northcliff to OR Tambo, Nandos in Germiston and the trip to Louis Trichardt in the dark at top speed.
8. Nick’s buzzy, manic energy that will drive him up to Louis Trichardt in the middle of the night on a hunch
9. Nick’s awful brother (didn’t love him, but he certainly kept up the stress levels as the story unfolded)
10. Cellphones on, off, broken, keep the plot moving in clever ways

Book details

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10 things I deeply admired about Jelly Dog Days by Erica Emdon

Jelly Dog Days1. I didn’t completely love the book, because it is a painful read, but I admire the book deeply and feel it is an important book. Painful to see Lizette, Terry’s Mom drinking and drinking and smoking and being irresponsible and oblivious to her children. (It does have resonances with Whiplash too.)

2. Working class Joburg, the West Rand – authentically imagined and described through the eyes of Theresa or Terry, the main character. And Margate.

3. The characterisation of Piet, Terry’s stepfather, my response to him was complex. I can understand that Terry’s was too. For example, how when she is a small child he plays roughly and physically with her and chases her and how this changes into a sexualised, abusive and highly manipulative treatment of Terry.

4. Erica Emdon’s unflinching writing of the narcissism of Lizette and how this plays out in Terry’s life, rupturing her life, leaving her unsafe in the world and undermining her chances of surviving and making it in any kind of way even though she is a bright girl.

My mother never enjoys baking and preparing for kids’ parties. On this occasion I think she had a massive hangover, which is why she went to buy the stuff just before the kids arrived. And even when they arrived, the cakes were still wrapped in their packets. No, my mother isn’t the type to scoop oranges out of their skins. She would lose interest after digging out the inside of one.

(page 195)

5. The references to Charles Bronson, Oros, apricot jam, the Carlton Centre, Coronationville, vetkoek.

6. Terry. She is a survivor. Tough, resourceful, responsible, feeling girl. An oldest child.

7. I was quickly drawn into the world of the book, and it has stayed with me. I can picture a girl of 13 walking around Joburg at night in the mid 70s as she runs away from home, which has become intolerable. I feel I know Lizette and Piet and Ouma and Oupa and Ulrike. And most of all Terry.

8. The melodrama that swirls around Lizette and Piet, seems totally believable to me. Drinking, shouting, arguing, swearing, scenes, and more. The writer describes each outburst and grounds it in what is going on. Terry changes as she grows up, in a particular way, largely to do with how she has been treated and what she has experienced.

9. I like the way Emdon weaves in the story of Sophie, the domestic worker and her son Rex, and the Soweto school boycotts and uprisings, is deftly written and also leaves Terry bereft of the one adult who has been stable and sane in her life.

10. The guardian angels that are there, even in the bleakest circumstances and whose interventions are at times quite limited, nevertheless they do make Terry’s life more bearable: the Sunday School teacher, Sophie, tannie Lettie – the neighbour in Claremont, her friend – Tormud, the farm workers who save her life, the teacher who makes it possible for Terry to go to Standerton High School.

Book details

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10 things I loved about “The Beggars’ Signwriter” – not a review

1. That there actually was a beggars’ signwriter.

2. The tenderness with which Louis Greenberg writes about adolescents, their inner life and hesitant yet overwhelming sexuality (Lyon and Tania). (See no 9).

3. The exploration of what it means to be an artist and how you get to be one and then what happens (Renee, Shane & Aden).

4. Joburg – Cresta, Melville Koppies, Melville, the Emmarentia Rose Garden, “JCE” sportsfields, the Mormon temple, the Sunnyside, Senate House at Wits, the Gertrude Posel gallery. I love Joburg and Louis’s Joburg in this book vibrates with carefully noticed details.

5. Addiction to playing Solitaire on a computer and where that can lead

The days just seem to blur one into another. He’s run out of words. He used to be a student, a writer, a love. He used to engage with life, belong to it. they took the only cords he had when they left, everything that connected him to the world. Now the virtual cards, red on black on red on black, spilling across his brain, red on black spilling over the virtual baize on the screen, the cards are his only interface with the world. …And his whole world is red and black, and smirking, aloof royalty.

6. How all the characters are linked – creates a pattern of relationship, like knitting or something

7. The book also has witchcraft in it (sort of), concerns about Satan and good and evil

8. Nieu Bethesda

9. Lyon is my favourite character. He is loyal and sweet and well meaning and kind and inept and becoming less so. He worries a lot and thinks too much. He loves wholeheartedly and worries about that too. He is a teenage boy.

Lyon thought about hugging Tania after Othern’s party so often in the following days, it became debilitating. He couldn’t concentrate, he could barely eat. He’d stare out of the window of his room, or watch lines of text pass soundlessly, while all he held in his mind was her scent and her breath and the feel of her body pressed against his. …
So he decided to wean himself off the memory. He’d start by thinking about the hug for half of every hour, and think of something else for the other half.

10. The old Greek lady. Forgiveness. How hard it is to get over some things.

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Beauty Came Grovelling Forward

Beauty Came Grovelling Forward: A Selection of South African Poetry and Prose on Big Bridge – Gary Cummiskey guest edited this new edition of the online magazine Big Bridge.
Here’s Gary’s intro:

The work contained in this Big Bridge feature is by no means a wide representation of contemporary South African writing. It is rather a bringing together of some writers whose work I respond to, and there are of course many fine writers whose work is not here. It is therefore not a general “anthology of South African writing”. It is nevertheless hoped this selection will give readers an insight into the diversity of creative voices in South Africa; a diversity that is in part reflective of the multicultural nature of South African society.

The voices range from established names such as Kobus Moolman and Kelwyn Sole, to newer ones such as Neo Molefe Shameeyaa. There is the performance-orientated work of Richard Fox and Mphutlane wa Bofelo, and the socio-political voice of Vonani Bila. There are mavericks such as Aryan Kaganof and Goodenough Mashego, and the subjective lyricism of Alan Finlay and Mxolisi Nyezwa. There are also several women represented: Arja Salafranca, Haidee Kruger, Janet van Eeden, Megan Hall, Colleen Higgs, Makhosazana Xaba and Neo Molefe Shameeyaa.

The short fiction selection is only a handful of pieces, but again it is hoped they will indicate the diversity of short fiction writing in South Africa: from the poetic prose of Haidee Kruger and fantasy of Silke Heiss, to the playfulness of Liesl Jobson. There are the parables of Allan Kolski Horwitz and the exploration of relationships in the realistic work of Colleen Higgs and Arja Salafranca. Pravasan Pillay’s story is a sensitive study of early adolescence while Gary Cummiskey’s surreal horror story touches on issues central to a historically divided society: isolation, the Other, uncertainty and violence.

I’m pleased to have a poem and short story published here and to see Modjaji authors Megan Hall, Arja Salafranca & Makhosazana Xaba (forthcoming); as well as Book SA’s Liesl Jobson featured here.

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