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is a very sporadic blog thing, including a collection of some of my blog posts and articles from around the web.

You can plumb the depths of my blogging over at my BooksLIVE blog.


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The Spark: Dark Windows

Lauren Beukes hosted my guest blog about Dark Windows on her blog series, The Spark. The Spark gives African writers a chance to describe the origin of their latest books.

***

The spark for Dark Windows is shrouded. All I remember is that early in 2011 Sarah Lotz and I had just finished writing The Ward, the second S.L. Grey novel.

Between juggling a dozen freelance editing and tutoring projects,  I was tooling away rather unconvincingly on a solo novel involving cricket umpires, an agoraphobic psychologist and a sports betting scam.

I had plotted the whole thing out on my whiteboard in different-coloured pens, even as far as detailing the day-by-day weather conditions in the city where it was set. But I had no momentum. The fact that I was romancing my whiteboard instead of sitting down and writing suggested that I wasn’t feeling the plot or hearing the characters.

Then one morning I came into my office with the kernel of Dark Windows – maybe it came to me in the bathtub or during those five extra minutes of sleep – flipped the white board around and started typing. This new idea had enough fuel to get me started. You need that propelling momentum when you start a novel, like the massive tanks required to get a tiny capsule up into space. Once you’re there, you can drift around exploring for quite a while before inevitably burning your way back down to earth.

I think that initial burst of energy came because Dark Windows was the sort of novel I wanted to read right at that moment – (by the time you’ve finished, of course, you’re onto other things) – so I had to set to writing it. I’m inspired by writers like David Mitchell, Scarlett Thomas, Audrey Niffenegger, Haruki Murakami and our host, Lauren Beukes, who blend magic and rich ideas with recognisable, concrete cityscapes. That’s what I wanted to do with Johannesburg in Dark Windows: apply a magical filter to it that would make it just that little bit less familiar and mundane, because to someone who’s lived here all his life, despite all their fits and starts Johannesburg and South Africa can sometimes be depressingly predictable.

Read on

 

 

Dusty old books

I wrote this for LitNet in 2011, but it's still true. The original link is here.

What made you fall in love with books – and how did it happen?

I never was in love with books. I find library porn like The Shadow of the Wind a little cloying, and I nearly came out in hives when I visited Hay-on-Wye. Too many dusty books. I remember sitting next to my mother, breathing in the plumes of dander as she slapped the books in our house together, flipped their pages, flapped a dust-cloth over them, cursing the fish-moths heartily as she went. The memory makes me long for nothing more than an e-reader with all my novels on it.

In my house, books were like another member of the family, getting in my way, tripping me up, and offering me unexpected respite from my houseful of siblings. We didn't have many children’s books. It was the picture books – the ones you can't keep on a Kindle – that first grabbed me and sheltered me: illustrated books on the sea, on space; books on animals and stones and patterns in shells; health manuals and art books. And it delights me that my older son’s current bedtime story, between Paddington, Winnie-the-Pooh and Julia Donaldson, is a book – for grown-ups  – on the universe.

My transition to fiction was a gradual one, via Tintin and Asterix ... I clung to the pictures for a long while. I started flirting with detective novels that my mother liked, and stories by Poe. Only at university, when I started enjoying the novels I studied, was my relationship with fiction consummated.

Watching my parents lay out their weekly newspaper the old-fashioned way, with big sheets of paper, scissors and glue, gave me a sense of the heft and the shape of words. Books, words, paper, were inky, earthy, dusty companions throughout my childhood, not the object of a delicate romance.

 

 

The Short Story Day Africa interview

1. Do you actually enjoy writing, or do you write because you like the finished product?
Most days, I do prefer having written to writing, but the reward of reaching a target or finishing something so perfectly challenging is immense. When it’s flowing well, it’s addictive. I don’t think I “have to write”; I could one day go cold turkey, but I’ll write as long as it’s feasible. So that, I suppose, means I do enjoy it.

2. What are you reading right now? And are you enjoying it? (No cheating and saying something that makes you sound like the intelligensia).
I am proofreading a guide to labour law. I actually am enjoying it. The neat rationality and logic of the law appeals to me when I need a break from all the subjectivity and mushy inconclusiveness of fiction. And it’s comforting to know that we have clearly formulated and fair laws that apply to everyone in the country.

3. Have you ever killed off a character and regretted it?
No. They deserved it.

Read on ...

 

 

Trying to Pass: Building a Career in Reading and Writing

My career as a writer (reader, novelist, poet, story-writer, blogger, performer), as a one-time bookseller (salesman, computer technician, merchandiser, buyer, reader, marketer, web designer, copywriter, schmoozer), as an editor and proofreader (reader, wrangler, negotiator, stickler, sympathizer), as a one-time literary scholar (student, researcher, teacher, consultant, reader, writer), consists of a schizoid routine of squeezing on masks ranging from ill-fitting to fairly comfortable, a daily performance of trying to pass as clever, accessible, worth your interest, skilled, friendly, serious, one of the boys, self-possessed, appropriate. The confidence to change these faces repeatedly without dissolving has been slow to build, and always a work in progress.

Reflecting on my academic and creative development so far, I’m tempted to ignore the first eighteen years of my life, mired as I was in the blinkered and uncritical complacencies of a white, suburban, apartheid, 80s education. I remember a Poe-esque ghost story I wrote in standard three, when I was ten – mainly because it remains in the only school exercise book I didn’t discard or burn in a rush of year-end glee. It’s a handwritten half-page replete with time-shifting infidelity and doppelgangers to which a rather satisfying Freudian or feminist reading can be applied, and illustrated in pencil-crayon.

Read on ...

 

 

Interview about the state of horror

Nerine Dorman: There're a lot of doom/naysayers who say that horror's golden age had its boom, and that the genre's now dead. Your thoughts?

Louis Greenberg: I suppose one reader's golden age is another reader's poxy selection of rip-offs. Whatever you grew up with, I suspect, you'll consider the golden age. But there's always something fresh, along with a lot of derivative stuff, being produced in any given cycle.

ND: Any advice to writers of horror? What's the best way forward in such a competitive industry that's mutating so fast?

LG: Don't try to catch a wave, because you'll be too late. Stay honest; keep your integrity; work on your craft; write what moves you. Well crafted, honest writing has more chance of lasting a bit. (And don't confuse honesty with realism.)

Read on at Nerine Dorman's Bloody Parchment blog...

 

 

Notes on the Suburban Gothic

I’ve long been interested in the manifestations of the suburban Gothic in contemporary fiction, art and architecture. At first glance, there seems to be little to connect a grand Gothic cathedral and strip mall or a box house in any Western city’s suburban sprawl, but aesthetically they are on the same continuum.

Nineteenth-century Gothic fiction and the Gothic revival architecture of the same period – follies, faux ruins and mazes – is a reaction against the scientistic certainty of Enlightenment rationality. By setting their Gothic works in crumbling ruins of medieval cathedrals and in ancient castles, Coleridge, the Shelleys, Byron, Poe, the Brontës, Le Fanu and ultimately Stoker celebrate the invincibility of death and the inescapability of history. The bloody shadows of the Crusades cannot be expunged from Europe by Enlightenment politeness; the Gothic celebrates the rejection of scientific rationality and its neat polarities. In the gory darkness of the middle ages, life and death co-existed, good and evil, sex, love and hatred mingled in a heady, human soup that the clever scientists tried to strain. Enlightenment rationalists tried – and failed – to taxonomise the conflicts and contradictions out of human society. The nineteenth century Gothic delighted in showing how death and entropy would always emerge victorious.

Read on ...

 

 

Note to my inner brat

I’m in the middle of writing a solo novel and I’m having a bit of a wobbly at the moment. It was all going so well. I would get up, have ideas and batter out a couple of thousand words in the morning. For two days, that is. Before that was Monday and, of course, I had to reboot from the weekend. I’m a father of two young children, you understand. The week before was okay: a good day, a bad day, a mediocre day, two days lost to paying work. Don’t get me wrong, I like earning some money to help my wife pay the bills, but I really what I want to do is write. Except when I have the time to write, when I prefer to agonise.

Don’t you hate people who update you on their poxy word counts?

Read on ...

 

 

Some notes on delving

As the next link in this Big Book Chain Chat, I’m very lucky to be following Craig Higginson’s piece “Is it possible to do too much research?” because I agree fully with him and won’t have to build a compelling counter-argument.

Higginson’s approach to research in fiction is brave for a historical novelist. As he notes, many writers in the genre are so keen to show off how much they’ve read about the period that they bog their stories down in detail. Readers get a painstakingly drawn (and painsgivingly taxing) account of the carriage that someone drove in 1896, the cut of his cloth and the provenance of the leather on the horse’s reins. If this information is well researched, the result might be more like history in disguise as a novel: too much attention spent on drawing a picture and too little on channelling characters. Higginson’s sort of contemporary, thoughtful take on crafting historical fiction promises to refresh the genre.

Drawing a picture in words can be a mind-boggling affair. When do you stop? When is enough enough?

Read on ...

 

 

What writers should know about the publishing process

Working in books, as I’ve said often before, I have many personae, and often they don’t match. When I don my writer mask, I want to be alone and inspired and in sepulchral-yet-fresh-as-a-mountain-field silence and air; when I submit I want to be loved and cradled and told it’s okay, I want to be the centre of the world. As an editor and proofreader and abettor of publishers, I try to be an empathetic stickler; I try to get what you’re saying but I know damn well that I know the best way to say it. My designer face is used to blushing at its baroque and hare-brained schemes, which the client generally rejects and improves upon immeasurably.

The benefit of owning all these interlocking masks is that sometimes you can get them to talk to each other; you can, if you will, play a little schizo puppet show.

I thought about this while a writing friend was nervously awaiting her readers’ reports, and while I was simultaneously waiting for a manuscript in the mail. I realised just how hurt and uncared-for I often ended up feeling in the process of letting my writing go, and some sound advice would have come in handy.

Here’s what my Publishing Self would advise my Writing Self:

1. Be patient when you submit your manuscript.

Read on ...

 

 

My trip to Cape Town in photos

Todzilla (TZ) on his first ever plane trip, travelling like a veteran. Though I was a little wary of flying with him alone to meet B after her workshop, he’s sleeping with Puppy in his lap.

Cape Town drivers filling my rear-view mirror. Not so long ago I bought into the myth that Cape Town drivers are slow and over-cautious. They cram my mirror in the rain, they cram my mirror in the dry, they cram my mirror on precipitious winding passes and on the flats.

A lame-born springbok sleeping on a blanket on front of the fire in the reception room of our guest house. Also pedigreed ducks in toffee and white, black and red, green-purple flashes on yellow-billed teals. A white goat munching on agapanthus leaves. Guinea fowl skittering hautily across the lawns.

Read on ...

 

 

The better side of Johannesburg

I’ve done quite a bit of Johannesburg-bashing lately, so I thought I’d tell you about two of my favourite places in the city.

The Johannesburg Zoo is a lovely place for a weekend outing with a toddler, or a truant day off during the week. I’ve had plenty of political opinions about zoos, and I am aware that the animals in the zoo aren’t as free as their wild counterparts, but the zoo remains essential to my city life. It is one place in the city where I can take small children to show them a variety of animals, and this instils a life-long love and respect for the world’s creatures. I fully trust that my son, after going to the zoo every second weekend, will grow up to be a man who loathes zoos and wants to release the animals.

Read on ...

 

 

One glass of whisky

I’m one of those people. TV ads about fathers and sons make me want to cry. The manipulative moment at the end of a soppy sitcom where the father tells his wayward son that he’s proud of him makes me want to cry. My father wasn’t a sentimental man. I’m not sure we can blame this on his upbringing. He had it a lot easier than many children of his religion and his generation. He was born in 1921 in Riga, Latvia, in a Jewish family in transit from Belorussia, on the run from the new Russia, and could have ended up in far worse places than Cape Town. In the end he, with his ghost-hunt and his books and his ideas of what things should be but never are and how people should behave but never do, was probably the hardest part of his own life.

But you know that whisky ad where the adult sons and old fathers get together for fishing or football or a drink? They press their bald heads together, they have the same profile, they hug each other after Celtic have won. They look like they’re having fun, that everything that went before is forgiven. They look like they share “I love you, Dad”, “I’m proud of you, son” moments all the time. My father wasn’t a sentimental man.

Read on ...

 

 

Palliative care

Palliate: to lessen the unpleasantness of (e.g. a disease) without removing the cause.

His mother had a drip inserted to rehydrate her during the last renal-oncological crisis, and now she has a tap. Every few days she lets out a little more of her life into a plastic bag lying on the floor. It is important to keep the bag on the floor and not to let its contents run back into her body. That would not be good.

All he seems to hear these days, even in the shattered night, echoing against the muck-lined cavity of his head, are loud, certain voices debating whether to stay, whether to go. He knows that like his ancestors before him he has been saying goodbye all his life. He has not yet managed to leave.

Read on ...

 

 

My Holiday (Part 2)

One of my new year’s resolutions is to kindle and nurture a positive attitude, so My Holiday (Part 1) will have to wait until I am back at work and grumpy again.

This holiday I saw two films, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and American Gangster. Both were long, the sort of leisurely time-outs that I could only achieve during the holidays, and they are interesting to compare.

Jesse James was a poem in motion, with sensual, languid studies of light and shadow, the wind blowing over brown and snowy prairies. Milky winter sunlight slanting shadows through an empty wooden rocking chair over a deserted strip-plank floor: the James family’s latest up-and-leave. A pair of riders tromping across the snowy wastes of Kansas. The rough cloth of the mens’ vests. Late autumn spruces crosshatched against a thin blue sky.

Read on ...

 

 

John

My wife and I moved out of a warm and peri-urban Parktown flat and into our Kensington house a few years ago. Suddenly we were faced with suburban life: the barking dogs cruising around in packs, plants that grew on the house, neighbours tuning cars and hosting discos in the street. And then there was John.

It must have been in the first couple of weeks when we were woken on a Sunday morning by a hoarse, repeated “missus! missus!” called from the gate. Those were the days when we liked to sleep until 10 or 11; we thought if we ignored him he’d just go away, but John was persistent. We peered out of the window to see a bent and shambling old man, wearing a filthy overcoat in the muggy heat, his aged face folded in on itself, carrying his possessions in a plastic bag.

“I worked here in 1951,” he informed us, “for the old man. You must cut this,” he ordered, indicating the bougainvillea at the fence.

Read on ...

 

 

Useless and arcane trivia

A large part of my day job involves updating and maintaining the content on a bookseller’s website. The 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature will be awarded on Thursday so a few minutes ago, giving that web page the once-over, I corrected the spelling of Elfriede Jelinek, the 2004 laureate. Then I moved straight on to editing the blurbs of some books that will be featured on the site, including one called The Reverend Guppy’s Aquarium by Philip Dodd, a light-trivia book which discusses the people behind the names behind certain everyday words. In these five minutes I came across the most remarkable connection:

Elfriede Jelinek turns out to be the grand-daughter of Emil Jellinek who sat on the board of Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft between 1900 and 1909, and whose daughter, Adrienne Manuela Ramona, nicknamed Mercedes, gave the name to the car now often-used by politicians, compensators, the status-addled, the credit-heavy and folks who believe the rules of the road are below them the world-over. It’s a shame, she looks like a nice girl.

Read on ...

 

 

Bloggers' remorse and MOOs

I’m suffering a case of bloggers’ remorse. I feel a bit like I feel after I guzzle an eisbein with three pints of imported weissbier. A bit. Sharing ill-considered and knee-jerk opinions is a guilty indulgence I know I’ll feel the worse for afterwards, and I know too will line my arteries.

Isn’t it an odd thing to gather a group of strangers who most probably have never met, call them a community and get them to talk with each other, and then keep a record of the dialogue? Particularly a group of readers and writers, who are especially fastidious about what goes on record.

But I remember that I’ve been online-opinionating since before most people knew what online was, apart from a thing the bank’s “computers” never were.

Read on ...

 

 

That's brun-koosh, you pleb

Paul Bailey (writer) writes about Constantin Brancusi (sculptor), “How pleasing it is for me to write of an artist who loved his work, and working, above every other distraction or temptation. The loss of integrity, the desire for praise or fame, were matters for lesser spirits to cope with or combat.”

Sometimes my wife says to me, “You’ve woken up in a mood today,” and I reply, “I am a struggling artist, and have weighty matters with which to grapple.” I shouldn’t really. I don’t really have a right. I have no integrity; my spirit is low and sullied.

Perhaps in the medieval days there were painters who didn’t eat or get horny, or writers who didn’t worry about how their children would stay warm and fed. Perhaps back then writers and painters levitated soulfully as they composed and the common folk warmed their hands by the glow of their auras, but I’m not sure; I’m no historian.

Read on ...

 

 

Star signs and book reviews and how they contort us

I’m a Scorpio, so ever since I was a few years old and could read the comics in the paper and their periphery, I’ve been conscientiously cultivating my determined, forceful, intuitive, magnetic, jealous, passionate, mysterious, quick-to-anger, slow-to-warm, occult-obsessed, creative and supersexy persona. I wasn’t sure if it was a fit, but that’s when I was born, so that’s who I was, surely? I would become.

In the same way, I’ve been reading book reviews all my life, so ever since I was a child I wanted to be a writer who could write an unputdownable, wickedly funny tour de force, a searingly honest and high-octane romp through the steamy underworld. My epic would be a deceptively simple emotional rollercoaster, sincere without being mawkish, touching without being sentimental. I wasn’t sure if that’s the sort of book I could write, but that’s what they like, isn’t it?

Read on ...

 

 

I’m for dogs

I don’t think it was that long ago when the general image of a contemporary writer was must and tweed, Sharpei faces and old cardigans, unapproachability, yellowed bookshelves and fingers, cynicism. Curmudgeonly writers so immersed in their studies they forgot how to talk to real humans. Hard or scary to interview, behind-the-camera, behind-the-page sort of writers. Writers whose paragraphs made you ache, whose words made you stop. Whose books bent your brain.

It was clear: if you had to choose, you’d rather bring White Noise to Mauritius than Don DeLillo.

Read on ...

 

 

Behind the scenes

Editors and proofreaders are some of the many silent partners in the creation of a book, also including typsesetters, designers, project managers and publishers. I'm very proud of the books I've edited and proofread. Here are some of the highlights:

 

  Eric the BraveNinevehOnly the Dead Ms Conception

  Death of a SaintJourney From DarknessNever Let Go Of Cops and Robbers

  Black HeartKiller CountryThe Soldier Who Said NoA Sailor's Honour

  Handbook of Participatory VideoTransitionsFractured LivesThe Mistress's Dog

  Not a Fairy TaleJackie Cameron at HomeThe Root Cellar and Other StoriesAlegiance

  Desert PrisonerOliver Strange and the Journey to the SwampsSharp EdgesPatchwork

  Dreaming of LightDogtective William Travels the WorldArabellla, the Moon and the Magic Mongongo NutMaputo and Southern Mozambique