Booyahh!! The Big Reveal is here!!!

zs - outside covers.indd

Here it is folks! Zululand Snow, virtually in the flesh!

A big double thumbs-up to all of you for the support in getting me this far.

Now save the date!!  Thursday, 16 October 2014, for the official book launch at Kloof Country Club. Formal invitation to follow soon!

‘Tis also time for me to make an impassioned plea to please ‘Like’ my Facebook page. My target is 300 ‘Likes’ before launch so you people have some work to do! Have a great weekend!


Hi Ho!

SkydiveHi ho, hi ho,
It’s off to print we go,
With a bottle of rum
and a dirty bum,
hi ho, hi ho…’

I stole those last three lines from my father-in-law. Read into that what you will.

Although, I must confess, just reading that word ‘print’ scares the crap outta me. I feel like I’m clutching the doorframe of a Beech 99 airplane’s open doorway, 15000 feet up, with the air screaming past my ears. The jump instructor’s hand is on my shoulder and the countdown has begun. Except, I’m not quite ready.
My heels are gouging a furrow into the tin floor while my fingers grasp the doorframe, mulching the metal into putty. I turn to the instructor, “Unngh , excuse me, Sir…” The grip on my shoulder tightens and my voice quavers as I recognise the steely glare of my wife’s eyes behind the instructor’s goggles. Her left cheek is starting to twitch. It’s freaking me out, man!
I turn my face back to the rushing wind and either sink my head or raise my shoulders to my ears. Either way, I’m bracing for impact….

But, in the final moments before I release my grip, as I inevitably must, I have time to ponder. How in the name of Sweet Josephine did I get to be 15000 feet up in the air? Just a few short days ago the plane was parked in the cool shade of the hanger. We cracked jokes as we admired her sleek lines; ran our fingers over the polish on her chromed props. We high-fived as she was wheeled out into the sunshine. Somebody gave me a beer. And then…and then it gets a bit hazy. I don’t remember being wrestled into a jumpsuit. I vaguely remember being bundled into the plane.
But I vividly remember the sickening lurch as she left the ground and my gut boinged like a slinky spring into my kneecaps. Who knew it only took ten minutes of climbing to reach jump altitude? That just cannot be right!
But it’s no use whinging. The time has come to abandon this craft and see if she flies! By herself….

The editing is complete! The cover has been designed! The back cover blurb has been created! The front and back matter (publishing, copyright, dedication, Author’s Note pages etc) has been done! The manuscript has been typeset! The typeset has been checked, adjusted and set again….So, to Print we go!

Book launch planning is underway. Details to follow as soon as I’ve firmed up a venue, but the date is likely to be early October.

In the mean-time, it’s time to fire up that mighty Tennent marketing machine.
To that end, amidst a rising clamour for plot details, I will be giving away the very first signed copy of the book, yup, numero uno, to the first person who can correctly ‘comment’ the book’s title on my facebook page!
I’m feeling magnanimous today, so I’ll even give you a little cryptic clue. The title is two words long. One cryptic clue for each word:

 Caged animals might go here to flush
 No pig owns it but all around it makes me shiver

May the odds be ever in your favour!

(PS Only facebook comments will be considered to win the prize!)

Sentenced to death.

SentenceFirst up, an apology to my wife, whose patience with this first book is wearing thinner than a used sheet of one-ply bog-roll.
Secondly, an apology to the rest of my friends and family who have shown such enthusiasm for its publication. Your frustration at its delay is appreciated, even welcomed, as it spurs me on. The bottleneck in the whole process is quite simply, me. Going through the editor’s comments and suggestions has taken longer than I anticipated. Turns out I may just be the literary tortoise. But then you knew that. In my defence, just about all of my prior creative writing has centered around short essays; 1500 or 3000 words max. For me, in works of this brevity, the sentence is the supreme being. Each word is carefully selected, analysed through an electron microscope, delicately clasped with tweezers, turned, turned again, trimmed with a scalpel if necessary, before being lowered into the sentence at the exquisitely correct angle and given a final spit polish. Worked great for essays. Pretty shit for novels. Even the short ones. The more book-pages I write, the more I learn, that, while the Sentence may be king, the Scene is the true Overlord: a book-reader will ignore a clumsy sentence long before a weak scene. This anomaly cuts me deep but it is the undeniable truth. The other end of the spectrum can be even more perilous. A sentence that is too pretty can have a far more detrimental effect than a clumsy one, in that the reader pauses, withdraws from the experience of the scene, to admire the sentence’s craftsmanship. For the writer, that’s the death knell right there if it happens too often. But I’ve yet to come across a scene in any work I’ve read that was too pretty. In fact I welcome it. But that’s a topic for another day.
Rather, having come this distance on my journey, I thought it might be interesting, possibly even useful to any ‘comers-after’, if I share my experiences thus far with writing this book.

So, how should one go about writing a book? There’re probably fewer ways to skin a cat but, for what it’s worth, given the vacuum I found myself in at the start of this project, I seized the first asteroid that came past and clung to it like a refugee to a floating wine barrel. The asteroid in question was the Snowflake Method. Google it. Developed by Randy Ingermanson, the Snowflake Method at its core is simple. It’s based on the concept that a snowflake, while remarkably intricate in its entirety, is effectively just a repetition of a simple pattern. Randy uses a triangle fractal for his analogy. You start with a single triangle and add smaller triangles at strategic points and repeat until you reach your desired complexity. In practical writing terms, what does this mean? It means you start with a single sentence, 15 words or less. Ask yourself: what is your story about? What is the story’s essence?
For example, you could say my story is about,
“A thirsty refugee monk clinging to a wine barrel in the South China Seas.”
Okay. Now what? Now you expand that sentence into 5 sentences: one for the intro, one for disasters (i), (ii) and (iii), and one for the conclusion. Why three disasters? I guess it effectively takes you to 5 acts. Shakespeare was a staunch fan of 5 acts and he did ok. But the main point is, you expand your single sentence into 5 sentences, one for each act.
So, back to our floating monk:
“Phuntsok, a Tibetan monk on a secret diplomatic mission, gets captured en route to China via Kyrgyzstan by inept hijackers who mistake him for Arnold Vosloo and sell him to even more ignorant Somali pirates, who keep him hostage on board a floating shebeen, while they wait for Seacom to sort out the undersea cable so they can email a shrillion dollar ransom note to his father in Despatch. The Somali pirates, tired of waiting for Seacom, get drunk, argue with Phuntsok over his refusal to act out The Mummy, and shoot the shebeen full of holes, sinking the vessel and leaving a thirsty Phuntsok clinging to a wine barrel that soon drifts weirdly into the South China Seas. Phuntsok, ravaged by thirst and decidedly unamused at this point, abandons his monkish beliefs and rips the cork out the barrel with his teeth, only to discover the barrel is full of liquid nitrogen. In despair, Phuntsok hurls the barrel at a passing Anthrax laden Cargo Ship that ignored his wineless plight, instantly freezing the ships steering mechanism and setting it on a collision course for Hangzhou, the clandestine headquarters of the center left wing of Chinese government he had been sent to negotiate with in the first place. Fortunately for Phuntsok, he kept the cork and uses this to stay afloat until, religious beliefs intact, he drifts into Melbourne harbor and washes up the beach in front of Captain Baxter’s pub, where…” You decide the rest.

It won’t win any awards but your single sentence has been transformed into a paragraph. Now expand each sentence into a paragraph of its own. Then expand each paragraph into a page. Do this for each character and, voila, you have a fairly detailed overview of the story. I’m simplifying here but that’s the gist of it. What now? Now you have to decide how you’re going to show your story to the reader. Note that I said show, not tell. This is the first commandment of writing. The best stories out there are visual to the reader. And this is where your scenes come in. Decide how many scenes you need to show each act (less is more) and create a spreadsheet of one sentence scenes. Play around until you have the best order to maximize suspense. You’ll probably end up with an excel spreadsheet of something like 50 to 100 scenes. Now, and only now do you put skin to plastic and type each scene.
To be honest, it’s a great technique. Especially if you have project manager leanings. My wife loves it! It has structure, timeframes, deadlines. It’s neat, tidy and instantly measurable. You can’t hide. Anywhere!!
You can, however, get lost.
Lost in the planning. Analysis paralysis and all that. A big risk if you’re too detail focused. And so it was with me. Give me a penknife and tell me to cross a jungle on foot. Don’t ask me to plot the optimum route from Dulwich to Ponders End using all available London Transport resources. There’s always a better way, dude!
This was true for me even when I studied. Especially when I studied. My study timetables were things of elegance and beauty. Precision incarnate. The little blocks all squared away using my protractor, and 0.5mm clutch pencil with the lead snapped until it was sharper than a hypodermic needle; days and times stenciled in; lunch, rest and toilet breaks colour coordinated. I spent hours, days and nights constructing those bloody timetables then agonized over how to attach them to the wall. Prestick, Sellotape or 100mm Rawl bolt? Shit,I don’t have a masonry drill-bit, better go to Wardkiss. If I could have that time again I’d flush those timetables and put my textbooks next to the crapper. They would have seen more light there and so would I.
I’m not criticizing Randy’s method here. It’s a great method! It makes perfect sense and I wish I had the makeup to take full advantage of it. But I don’t.
Writing, I’m finding, is a bit like mountain biking. Knowing there’s a monster hill ahead plays havoc with your inner Zen. Your shoulders slump, you notice every ‘funny’ clank and grind coming from your gears, you frown at your ‘flat’ tires, your butt feels sore, something’s wrong…seat must’ve slipped…better get off and check….
By contrast, skidding round a bend and finding the equivalent of Paarl Rock in front of you is a whole different ballgame: you sit up, take in the terrain, the best line through the roots and boulders, get a bead on your heart-rate, your breathing. It’s not about the bike, it’s about you. Can you peddle up the sumbitch using every piece of trail-lore you own?
Chances are you’ll bomb out at the same point with both approaches, but I know which one makes me feel more alive. And, feeling alive, I’ll giggle at my failings and drag my bike up that hill by the derailleur if I have to….
Now you could argue that forewarning allows you to plan your time, manage your energy and hydration reserves, prepare for battle. Phoooieee to that, I say! Rather let me be prepared for battle with whatever I have at the time!!
Now, if you’re like me, I’m not saying you should just dive into a novel and swim through the breakers until you reach Paradise Island. Some preparation is required and I will still use parts of the Snow Flake method on my next book. But if you’re like me you don’t need to build the Archille frikkin Lauro before you launch! You’ll never get that thing off the beach. Before you know it, you’ll be digging a trench to try and bring the water to her bows. Nope, you need a kid’s lilo, 2 liters of iced tea and a handful of snickers bars, enough to survive, say a week. No more. Don’t worry about sea-sick tabs: you’ll just puke ’em up anyway. Now, in truth, you may not survive. But at least you’ll be bobbing on the ocean while that other you on the beach is shaking his head and painting the poetic name on his ocean liner, one three-story letter at a time.

But don’t take my word as novelling gospel. I haven’t reached land yet, but I’m close. The best I can do is tell you where I’ve been, where I’m at and when I’m aiming to hit the island’s beach.
In a nutshell, my editor has returned my manuscript with suggestions. I’ve reworked sections and sent it back. She’s going through my reworkings now. The book cover is still bugging me and I’m tackling that now. But it’s also time to nail down the physical attributes of the book so that I can order a print run. In order to quote me, the printers need to know things like: how many pages, what size book (ie. dimensions), how many colours present in the cover, text colour, paper type etc.
However, in order for me to arrive at that info I need to format the returned manuscript into PDF, deciding on Drop Caps, Chapter headings, fonts, page numbers, paragraph breaks. Et al. Basically, once the layout is done, the page-count will be known and we can determine the book size. Only then can the printers give me a price and guidelines for spine dimensions (so that I can design the book spine and back cover). Then, once those are done, we go to town. I’m aiming to have all that done by my birthday, 8th August. The printers reckon the lead time on a 100 book print run is about two weeks. So, God willing and the creek don’t rise, this should mean I have physical copies in hand by 25 August. At which point it will be time to have a book launch. When the manuscript goes to the printers I will be able to ink in a book launch date, but it should be fairly early in September.
Formatting the manuscript for Kindle is, I believe not too bad, although I still need to learn how to do this, and I want to coincide this with the physical launch.
Let me stop there before I build this mountain up any bigger!
Have a good weekend!

Worts and all

Krausen explosionI like beer! Hell, I luurrvve beer!! So much that I now brew my own, if not quite with the arcane artistry of the brewing adept then certainly with all the craftiness of the alehouse enthusiast.

After bottling my last batch of American Pale Ale, it struck me how alike the craft of brewing is to the craft of writing. They may even be cousins. Although, like cousins, they should probably be encouraged not to flirt with one another. Unless one is Blogging, of course, in which case its perfectly acceptable, arguably essential, to invite keg and keyboard to cuddle up next to each other at your table and let them footsie footsie.

But the point I’m making is not so much that they mix well – generally they don’t – but how similar they are in their composition. Indulge me awhile:

The fundamental element of all good books lies in Character. And so it is with an honest brew. Now, you can make beer with jungle oats and cane sugar if you wish, it shouldn’t kill you. It will undoubtedly get you talking Cantonese, if that’s your objective. Just as your typical airport fodder action-packed paperback will dull your senses and induce a time-draining stupor while you cling to life in the departure lounge like a big panda up a small tree. However, a good book hangs its success on good Characters. Likewise a good brew hangs its success on the characters of the grains, hops, sugars and yeast used. From the sinister richness of chocolate malts like Carafa 1; the aromatic caramel of Caramunich 2 and the lingering smoke of Beechwood Smoked malt to the spice and citrus flavours imparted by seductive hops such as Styrian Goldings, Amarillo, Crystal, Green bullet, Falconer’s Flight, the list is infinite… the combinations infinitely more.

The second element of a good book is Plot. To the brewer concocting his magic potion, this is akin to the recipe. Without a plot, your characters ramble and roam wild, crash into one another, hiss, spit and  scratch. There is no harmony, no chorus, no crescendo. Without a recipe, your homebrew, even with the best ingredients, can quickly degenerate into pigswill.

A point to note at this stage, a perfect plot melded with memorable characters is still no guarantee of an acceptable union. Sometimes, for reasons inexplicable, the whole concoction blunders and behaves poorly. If this happens to you while writing a novel, where your artistically created adversarial characters refuse to stick to the meticulously researched plot, preferring instead to get shit-faced together in the local pub, there is a recourse. Simple yet effective.
In the immortal words of Chris Baty, ‘Just add Ninjas!’ That’s right. Ninjas! Never fails! Send a squad of ninja’s into that pub and watch your protagonist and antagonist stop buddying up and start kicking the crap outta each other.
On brew day, hops are your Ninjas! Whole flower or pellet form. Who cares. When all else fails, hop that brew till it begs for mercy and forgiveness, then grit your teeth and hop it some more!

Now, armed with your characters and your plot, before you venture any further, just like a novel, your homebrew needs a hero: a protagonist…Enter the yeast! King of the ring! Yup, without these yeastie beasties your sugars will not magically morph into alcohol and your beer will be little more than glorified tea. Like heroes, yeasts also have their own character. Some are aggressive, some quiet, some need a slap upside the head to get them moving, but all are essential.

So then, our protagonist sorted, who, then, is our villain? The equivalent of our literary antagonist?

None other than…wait for it…. Infection! That’s okay. Easy now. it’s okay to be scared. Terrified even. The heinous evil of infection is well documented in brewing circles and has most of us sweating over our fermenters. But fear not. Your yeast, carefully trained, is more than a match for the most insidious of infections, and his repugnant army of offensive odours and foul flavours. And what’s more, he’s hungry for the fight.

To the third common element, then. The Crucible. What is this thing, I hear you ask. In scientific terms a crucible is a vessel capable of withstanding extreme heat, think iron smelting. In literary parlance the crucible is that which prevents the characters, especially the protagonist and antagonist, from escaping each other’s influence as events heat up. It can be a place or a desire or a relationship (the lifeboat in Life of Pi; the courtroom in A Few Good Men; the ring in Lord of the Rings;  the blossoming love in Romeo and Juliet). In brewing terms the crucible is firstly the brew kettle where the malts and hops combine, followed by the fermenting vessel where yeast battles infection for ultimate supremacy over the wort (the liquid tapestry that arises from the skilful blending of your lesser characters: the malt, hops and water.)

So then, eventually after numerous trials and tribulations the war is won. Your brew has survived. Good (yeast) has triumphed over evil (infection) and all manner of pitfalls in-between…ranging from extreme temperature fluctuations to Krausen explosions and over-zealous domestic workers trying to reclaim the nappy bucket before fermentation has run its course. Now what? Time to get it into consumable form. I’m alluding to publishing here. Bottling being the brewing equivalent. But you can’t bottle until your bottles are sterilised. Enter the editor. And this is crucial. Your beautiful golden brew can still sour in a bottle that hasn’t been disinfected properly. So be diligent, be cautious, be precise. Let the disinfectant (the editor) do their job.

Bottling complete, the next step is marketing – giving your creation a name, designing and producing the label, and an enticing blurb on the back (if your ale is a 10% skullsplitter then a PG rating is also advised).

And finally then to the ultimate prize: cracking the crown on your perfectly chilled homebrew; hearing the satisfying shwickk it makes before the bottle-top dances a jig on the counter; pouring it slowly, watching diamonds condense on the tilted glass, admiring the bubbles of cream that frolic to the surface and settle in a plush bed of luxurious froth; handing the glass to friend and living the first shlurp with them….ahhh…

Right people, it’s Friday, I’m officially thirsty, I’m off.

Have a good one!

The power of words beyond life.

GravestoneI’ve recently been brooding over a Will Questionnaire given to us by our financial advisor in an attempt to shore up our financial position. It contains some pretty tricky questions. Not so much on the subject of who gets what. That’s the easy bit. Pretty much everything I own goes to my wife (apart from the paperweight on my desk, a Penn 500 fishing reel, relinquished to me by her brother ten years ago during a game of pool…on the black ball…It was heartbreaking to watch).
Now, while my wife has many talents, the art of slow psychological torture is unfortunately not one of them: if I left the reel to her, she’d simply hand it back to her brother and what would be the point of that. So, I’ve instructed that the reel, named ‘Old Yeller’, after the Yellowfin Tuna she could winch from the seas with consummate ease, be chained to the flag-post that graces the summit of Kilimanjaro. If he can drag his lard-arse up the hill he can have it back.
No, the question that bothers me most centers around the burning issue of cremation. Or not.
Religious reasons aside, in my view there are a helluva lot of pros on the cremation side. For who would openly welcome putrefaction? And yet, while it may seem like a slam dunk case for cremation, there is one powerful argument for burial: you get to leave a kick-ass Epitaph on your gravestone.

Take for instance this one that I stumbled across at a grave in Scotland, somewhere near Pitlochery. Haven’t a clue who it belongs to but it reads thus:

“Death is a debt which to God is due,
I’ve paid mine and so shall you!”


How about this one:

“Here lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go.”

Apparently on hearing of this inscription the author CS Lewis was heard to remark,
‘I bet he wishes that were so.’

Of course, if you do go the burial route best get in quickly and get your Epitaph set in stone before someone else does you the honour or you may end up with something like this:

Free your body and soul
Unfold your powerful wings
Climb up the highest mountains
Kick your feet up in the air
You may now live forever
Or return to this earth
Unless you feel good where you are!
—Missed by your friends”

If you didn’t get it, cast your eyes down the first letters of each line of poetry.

Here’s one from the wild west days:

“Here lies Lester Moore.
Four slugs from a 44,
no Les, no more.”

And as for my Epitaph, should the need ever arise, as an aspiring writer I could do worse than borrow this one from Hilaire Belloc:

“When I am dead, I hope it may be said:
His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.”

Editnig in Progress

EditingNobody can cheer you up quite the way a mate can. Especially when you’re unemployed and living hand to mouth on the crusty edge of the breadline. Take yesterday, for instance. After my last post I got a lovely comment back from one of the guys. Something along the lines of: ‘Great essay, Ian! I may have a small job for you.’ Wow! Fantastic! Tears of joy and adrenalin coursed down my cheeks. A job! For me! Clearly my mate is in need of my highly under-rated literary genius. Maybe he needs me to draft a business proposal! Or come up with a press release. Jeez, maybe he needs someone to write his Memoirs! Okay, easy tiger, maybe he’s just after a wedding speech, or it could be, he simply needs his CV proof-read. No matter, I’ll take it! It’s all vindication of my change in career! Eagerly I approached him, ‘Sven, old boy. What’ve you got for me? How may I put my sublime skills to use in your service? You merely have to ask, Sir, and it shall be done!’
To which he replied, and I quote: ‘Our grass is getting healthy as the weeks pass – cause no one’s picking up the dog shit!’
‘Sven, you are a rare gem. A scholar and a gentleman. Words fail me….’

Moving swiftly on then to my literary progress. I received my manuscript back from the editor on Monday. Red ink was all but dripping off my computer screen once I opened the file but a lot of her comments were positive. I’ve included the relevant parts below:

‘I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to read this book and to comment on it and I think you are an extremely proficient writer with a really beautiful turn of phrase at times … delete, delete, delete….but you have a real flair for descriptive text … delete, delete, delete.’

‘You have a talent for wonderfully lyrical prose, however…. delete, delete, delete.’

‘I think this is a wonderful story with many great elements. There are magical ‘moments’ in the novel. Some moments are not as … delete, delete, delete.’

Most of her comments centered around my characters, with questions such as: What was X doing up the water tower with a bottle of vodka, a hermit-crab and a tub of Aloe Vera? Why does Y not seem to have a purpose when he drives the tank through the sewage farm? And what made Z act like a complete dork over the missing party balloons, etc, etc? Completely dismissing my explanation that he was a dork and that’s what dorks do when they’re awake.
She also seemed to get quite confused in places but I don’t think she’s been editing for that long so I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and stick with her for now.

As to next steps: I’m going through her suggestions and corrections this week. Next week I’m going to sit with her and triangulate some of her comments with the comments made by a friend who kindly ‘beta’ read the manuscript before I sent it to the editor. A ‘beta’ reader is basically someone you trust who reads the manuscript through with a view to critiquing the plot rather than the language. You’re aiming for an objective and independent viewpoint with this! From there it may take me a few weeks to implement and get approval from The Grinch for all the changes. Once that’s done I’ll get down to the nitty-gritty of formatting for kindle etc.

In-between all this I’m still wrestling with a cover. When you don’t have many resources this is a pretty tough nut to crack: I recently found what could well be the perfect pic to use on the cover – at the bargain basement price of R5000. Yup R5k for a photie that I would have to tweak! Needless to say the search continues….

Have a good weekend. The Sharks are due for a big one! I fear the real sardine run may begin on Saturday…!

Echoes from my past

Pooper scooper2My current manuscript is still with my Editor. I’m choosing to interpret this as she’s lost herself in its sheer craftsmanship and the extra time she’s requested to review it is no indication of the chronic surgery it’s undergoing.

While she slogs away I thought I’d post my very first published story here: my matric essay; twenty three years ago! Not because the writing is spectacular. It isn’t. But more as proof to myself that I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again! And also because it was my first (and only) publishing and deserves its place in the sun for that reason alone.
I was in the army when I got the news. I was technically AWOL as I recall, nursing a plastic two litre bottle of lukewarm Mitchell’s draught while sunning myself on a grassy bank a mere grenade’s throw from Oudtshoorn’s Infantry School army base and congratulating myself on my cunning disguise from military eyes. For surely that shirtless bloke with crew-cut hairdo and military tan lines, curled around a scud missile of beer at eleven in the morning, in full view of the town citizenry, surely he could not possibly be one of the SADF’s elite training unit’s Candidate Officers! No Sergeant Major. Impossible Sergeant Major! No CO of ours would be that dumb! Why, he would have failed our rigorous application process for starters!
I saw a payphone nearby. I sauntered across and dialed the number of a cute and curvy redhead I’d been thinking about. Her damn brother answered the phone. I hastily got the twat to phone me back and we chatted for a bit. In between dodging any references to the redhead, Jason told me my English essay from my final exam of the year before had been selected as one of the top ten or twenty of something somewhere. My memory clings to the belief it was in the top ten in Natal. Realistically it probably made the top twenty of the lesser Umhlatuzi district. There may, in fact, have been only one high-school in the catchment area.
No matter. It mattered even less that the publication took the form of twenty or so A4 pages bound together with a staple. I didn’t care. What mattered was that I’d made it from ball point pen to honest-to-God bold black print.
No doubt the Mitchell’s fizzing in my veins had something to do with it but I walked on air from that payphone all the way back to Riempie’s bottle store where I bought another, warmer two litre bottle.
I give it to you here in all its teenage glory, wart-like pimples and all:

The topic of question 1(d) was: ‘I’ll think about that tomorrow.’ _____________

The Kreepy Krawly was drowning. It was an Aquanaut. It had climbed up the side of the pool and it was now sucking air near the rim. I let it drown. With a final sputter it dropped away from the side and sank to the bottom. The phone rang. I left my towel where I’d been tanning and answered the phone.
‘Hey, Ian?’
‘Wanna come to the beach this afternoon?’
‘Nah, I can’t. I got to do some chores. Mow the lawn and stuff, sorry.’
‘Ja, maybe tomorrow.’

I was in standard 8 then and I can still remember that first day of embarrassment with perfect clarity. There I stood, unable to go to the beach because I had to mow the lawn. Now, before one mows the lawn there is a really disgusting ritual one has to perform: ‘Super duper pooper-scooping.’
And we have two dogs.

My mom prefers the direct method: a plastic packet over one hand and an open packet in the other hand. Step one. Approach land-mine/booby trap/ doggie-doo. Step two. Remove unsightly object using hand wrapped in plastic packet and place object in open packet. Repeat procedure until garden looks green again.
Thumbs down for my mom’s method. No way, uh uh. When I do it, I do it in style. Take one bucket and line it with a black plastic bag. Take the longest spade in the garage and only now are you ready to scoop.

For all my efficiency there was one factor over which I had no control. Our house is situated next to one of the busiest roads in Empangeni and we have a very low garden wall with the road overlooking the majority of the garden. Now I loathe ‘Super duper pooper-scooping’ beyond belief, partly because it’s disgusting, but mostly because of the intense embarrassment one suffers. I believe I was the only one in my circle of friends that had this abhorrent task forced upon them by their mothers. Anyway, I used to keep pretty quiet about it until that day in Standard 8….

I was operating in the front of the garden now and every time a car drove past I would casually stop what I was about to do and lean thoughtfully on my spade. When the car passed I would scoop in earnest to get the job done as quickly as possible. I looked around me. Hell. These dogs were getting too much to eat. I walked towards a really fresh pile and hefted my spade. Got it. In mid-scoop I saw them. They saw me: three of my friends who were going to the beach and they had chicks with them as well. My face flamed red.

‘Hey, Ian. Are you still mowing the lawn?’
‘No, I haven’t started yet?’
‘So, what are you doing?’ They were all standing at the gate now.
‘Ag, I just cleaning up after the dogs.’ Trying to make it sound like an everyday experience that everyone took part in.
‘Crap?’ asked Edmund in total disbelief.
‘Ja, literally,’ I said.

And then they cracked. The whole bunch of them were nearly collapsing with laughter. I could still here them a kilometre away. I cursed my mother then and I couldn’t have cared less whether she head me or not.

That was Standard 8. I’m in Matric now and I have learnt a few things. Number one: ‘The only answer to total defeat is total defiance.’ And number two: ‘Where-ever you are and what-ever you’re doing, always keep your sense of humour.’

The Kreepy Krawly was drowning. It was a new improved Aquanaut, ‘capable of getting out of the tightest of corners.’ It was stuck. I let it drown. The phone rang.
‘Hey, Ian! Are you coming to the beach today?’
‘Can’t, it’s Saturday.’
‘Oh, okay….’
I’m in Matric now and I’m still doing this. What a joke! I get my spade (I still haven’t sunk that low that I’m going to use a packet) and a bucket. I get some beers out the fridge and turn the music on loud. ‘Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers’ – whoa, what a party. All right! I’m ready. Let’s go scoop. I tramp around the garden, shoveling everything from last week’s carrots to today’s rice and gravy. In Biology we refer to these undesirables as faeces. What a crappo word. Cars drive past. Some hoot (friends). I wave my spade in the air triumphantly.
Edmund is at the gate.
‘Hey Ed! Come help me. I’ll even give you some beers.’
‘Nah, it’s okay.’
‘C’mon, Ed it’s a shit job but someone’s gotta do it.’
‘So, when are you going to stop?’
‘I’ll think about that tomorrow.’
‘How many beers do I get?’
‘How many cruds are you going to shovel?’
‘Give me a spade.’
I hand him a beer.
‘Welcome aboard.


Bit of a dodgy ending that! I suspect the exam clock was rapidly winding down and by that time I had skied so far off-piste I had no choice but to chuck the words of question 1 (d) into the fray somewhere. Anywhere!

Hold thumbs that when I get my manuscript back on Monday, it has fewer holes in it than my current crop of underwear. Have a good weekend everyone!

Will I get into kak for this?

pony1. Will I get into kak for this?
2. How deep will the kak be??
3. Will my Pulitzer prize for fiction be stripped from my sweaty fingers before I’ve had a chance to nail it to the wall above my pub???

These are the thoughts I grapple with as my mouse pointer hovers over the image on my screen. I am one week into my DIY ‘Book Cover Boot-camp’ and I do not know the answers. This alphabet soup world of Images and Fonts and Backgrounds is less hospitable than I thought. I should have minions doing this for me. My minions should have minions….

The big question: exactly which internet images am I allowed to use on my book’s cover and which am I not? I’m talking regular mainstream images here, not porn! I know nothing about that despicable industry.
I’m talking about the images (photographic or otherwise) that would look pretty slick on a book cover in your local Exclusive Books. Now some pics on the web are clearly marked as Not For Free. And some pics won’t even let you copy and paste them to your own private, not for commercial use, Art Appreciation folder (there’re just wayyy too many cynics in this world).
But most pics seem to be accompanied by the following tagline: ‘images may be subject to copyright.’ And it’s the ‘may’ in that sentence that disturbs me.

I consider the flawless image of the massive hairy Baboon spider on my screen: Ceratogyrus brachycephalus according to the caption on the web page dedicated to twelve year old Stoffel Van der Horst’s biology project. He’s captured the spider’s aggressive pose perfectly. It has a certain ominous elegance. I drum my fingers on my desk. Exactly how deep do young Stoffel’s pockets go? And what exactly is his appetite for copyright infringement litigation? What would happen if I took his photo, converted it into a mirror image and removed one of the beast’s hind legs? Would this be a ‘new’ image? My image?………………….What about…two legs?

But just how hard can this cover design stuff actually be, I muse?
A voice in my head sings out an answer, ‘when you pay peanuts you get monkeys.’
‘What do you get for half a sesame seed?’ I reply….
No answer.

I move my pointer off the image of the spider and onto an image of a rearing horse.
Could a horse work? Could a horse work? I wonder.
And, just like that, genius finds me and wallops me up-side the head.
Almost crackling with inspiration, I leap from my office chair, dash to my daughter’s room and plunge headlong into the realm of backyard special effects. I rifle through her chaotic toy basket and fish out a random unicorn. The horn snaps off easily.
From there it’s mere child’s-play to balance it on a window sill next to a bonsai tree for effect. It now rears like a fearless Arabian stallion. I switch off the light, darkening the room and crouch down, appreciating the silhouette the morning sunlight gives the drama of horse and ancient tree, squaring off on a barren skyline that’s flatter than a salt pan. Maybe they’re standing on a frozen pond, I muse. Could be. The water obviously rose up around the tree and froze. Anyone can see that. No matter, I mutter. I can crop the skyline out later if need be. I whip out my ipod and shoot the scene, adding the faintest quiver to my hand to ward off critical scrutiny with an artistic blur. I rush off to my computer and download the image. Against the surgical glow of my laptop screen, the shadowy image looks less like an Arabian Stallion rearing beneath a malevolent tree and more like a pony farting flames, en route to the Magical Kingdom of Ealeantria.
I drift back to the window sill tableau. Who’udda thunk writing the book was the easy part.
I inspect the unicorn eunuch. I could get into kak for this. I squish the horn back on the head with the tiniest snollie of Prestik and balance the unicorn on the top ledge of my daughter’s bookshelf. She’s sure to skittle it onto the tiled floor when she hurtles into her room after school. Clumsy girl.

But there’s no time to ponder my daughter’s failings. The clock is ticking. The kitchen is getting warmer. The cheering crowds are gathering on the balconies….

The story thus far…

Old BookIn 1986, at the age of 13, I decided I wanted to run away from home and be a writer. I gave it some thought.

My mind made up,  in November of 2011, I wrote a novel , in a month: 50 000 words in 30 days (see NaNoWriMo for more).

It was hell. But it got me off my arse.

Now I know what you’re thinking. 50 000 words is hardly a novel, but believe me it adds up. That’s 1667 words per day and If you think interest compounds, you should try word count. Miss a day and suddenly you’re up over 3300. Chug a couple of beers on the weekend and you’re staring down the barrel of  5000 words while Sunday night’s KFC bucket churns your Monday morning guts to fish oil, easy.

It taught me a lot about discipline and zero about craft. In this game you need both. But first you need discipline. It was a valuable lesson for someone who put the Pro in Procrastination.

I spent over a year scrubbing that story before submitting it to an editor for review. He liked some of it but not all.

He was right.

I hacked out the broken bits and re-forged them anew, polishing the whole shebang until it glistened like the tears in my navy blue eyes.

And so, my life-long crusade complete, I submitted my manuscript to a couple of mainstream publishing houses and provisioned myself for the long wait. The time-frame they gave me for a response was anywhere between 3 and 6 months.

In fairness they rejected my manuscript well before that.

But, the rejections, while harder to swallow than a suppository, were very encouraging and I took a lot of heart from one in particular which read as follows (***titles and names cunningly removed***):

‘Dear Ian

At our recent editorial meeting we spent time reviewing (***). Unfortunately we will not be offering to publish your novel – but only because we don’t publish (***) fiction. We thoroughly enjoyed your manuscript – the plot is compelling, your writing is original and highly readable, the characterisation and dialogue are convincing … I could go on. (***) is in the process of setting up an imprint that publishes (***) and (***) fiction, and we have sent your manuscript to the publisher there. I hope that she enjoys (***) as much as we did.’

I’ve retrieved my sword, dusted off my shield and straightened my visor. By the time you read this I will be charging headlong toward the E-publishing dragon…. ‘Yipppee ki yayyy!!’

Hang around, there’s sure to be more gore.

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