Location, Location, Location #11

Location No. 11 – The West Coast National Park, South Africa

This time, on our literary journey through the pages of my books, we’re back in South Africa to explore a little more of the beautiful west coast, where Song of the Sea Goddess is set. My imaginary little town isn’t a single place, but an amalgam of different locations, all quite close to each other, but brought together so as to satisfy the needs of the narrative.

Today’s visit is to a key site for the story. So pause, feel the African sun on your back, breathe in the salty sea air mixed with the sweet, spicy scent of the fynbos under your feet, and join me in the West Coast National Park, where the flora and fauna are protected and visitors now step lightly on the land.

I first visited the park on a day trip with my cousin and her husband, while they were visiting from the UK. It’s a lovely place for a walk by the lagoon, a little bird spotting and a pleasant lunch.

As a quick aside, the photo for the cover of my short story collection was taken at the restaurant.

These attractive yellow birds are weaver birds, whose nests fill the trees above the outdoor seating area. The males painstakingly weave their intricate nests out of grasses and the fussy females make their choice. If they don’t like them they destroy them and start again.

Better than a day trip is a couple of nights spent in the self-catering accommodation in the park. Some of the cottages are very isolated so that once the day visitors have left, it’s just you and nature and the night.

On one such visit, the sun had slipped beneath the horizon, not long after the photo above was taken, and we were sitting contemplating the dying embers of the braai (barbeque). Suddenly we were roused by a strange clicking sound. Lots of clicking. There was something around the other side of the cottage. Slowly we crept around the building.

What an amazing sight! One after another, a long ribbon of eland were walking past the cottage between us and the lagoon, no more than 20 yards away from where we were standing. There must have been about 50 of them, knees clicking as they walked, apparently so they can keep in touch with one another in the dark, or so I was once told by a park ranger.

Listen carefully. My increasingly arthritic knees can relate!

And now we come to the specific location and its role in the story. In the excerpt below we meet Jannie, one of our main characters, and catch an early glimpse of a mysterious, mythical figure who dives from the ‘looming headland’, which is a key part of the local landscape.

This is the ‘borrowed’ location, Kraal Bay, on the Langebaan Lagoon in the National Park. This is the place where Eve’s footprint was discovered: a set of fossilized footprints left in the sand some 117,000 years ago by one of the first people to walk on this shore.

My imaginary headland is possibly a little more whale-shaped, but that is the writer’s mind at work. Knowing the paths of the ancient people ran through this place, what else might be eventually be discovered beneath this domed hillside?

Kraal Bay – sanparks.co.za

Excerpt from ‘Song of the Sea Goddess

Jannie stretches out his legs and breathes in the warm sea air, which is laden with the smell of diesel and freshly caught fish. He smiles to himself. This is the life, he thinks, far away from all his cares and responsibilities. It’s been a stroke of luck that his brother, Robert landed a two month contract working up-country, and asked him if he would like to come and mind his little house on the coast while he was away. Robert, a long-time widower, lives alone now his family’s grown up and moved to Cape Town. He didn’t want to leave his house unoccupied. People are for the most part honest in the little town where he’s settled, but with more mouths to feed and fewer jobs, no one’s property’s safe for long.

Jannie has his own problems back home. Much as he loves his extended family, it was all becoming too much. What with his own grown up children, their children and assorted aunties, nephews and nieces constantly calling upon him for help, he’d really had enough. It wasn’t as if they couldn’t manage without him. It would be good for them, especially his four sons, to stand on their own two feet for a change.

He casts his eyes over the small harbour, looking out for Sam in his little fishing boat, Porcupine, which he’d helped him repair over a week or two when he first arrived. Jannie likes to keep busy, and was pleased to be able to use the skills he’d gained during his fifteen years at sea. But there’s no sign of Sam or little Porcupine. Perhaps they’ve gone further up the coast for a while, he thinks. Sam might be turning a better profit for his catch at one of the other busier harbours up the coast.

Remembering the past, Jannie chuckles to himself and closes his eyes. He’d run away to sea with his friend when they were just twelve years old. Carrying a little bag of warm clothes, he’d snuck out of his mother’s shack while she was sleeping and met his older sister up by the highway. She had a job in a bar next to Cape Town harbour, and she knew an officer on one of the deep sea fishing boats who would help them once they were on board. Jannie recalls standing in the almost pitch black on the quayside, his body swaying, thinking it was the ground under him which was moving, when in fact it was the looming steel hull of the ship in front of him. And oh, they had been so sick once the ship was underway…

Shouts and running feet jolt Jannie back to the present. The harbour master, jamming his peaked cap on his head, rushes past him towards the southern end of the harbour, where a small group of people have gathered. Jannie stands up and shakes himself, then hurries after the harbour master to join the gathering crowd, jumping up onto the harbour wall to get a better view of what’s caught their interest.

A tall, slender woman in long skirts is standing on the edge of the headland across the estuary. Her arms are held out in a welcoming gesture as dozens of whales break the surface of the waves before her. She lifts her head skywards, spreading her arms out widely, in a pose that reminds Jannie of the statue he’d so admired, long ago in Rio de Janeiro.

The woman opens her mouth and a loud, ululating song resonates across the bay. Suddenly the whales take to the air; wave upon wave of them. Jannie blinks and shakes his head. What’s going on? The woman’s song grows louder. The whales are flying! Jannie pinches himself.

The sky darkens, filled with the huge beasts. Then the song stops.

A close up of the woman’s face appears before Jannie’s eyes. She smiles revealing a row of pointed teeth. A selkie! He’d heard talk of these when he’d been sailing in northern waters. Jannie feels the harbour wall ripple beneath his feet.

Her face disappears. Up on the headland he watches her dive into the ocean. Her silver seal tail flaps once above the waves, and then she’s gone.

Jannie looks around. He’s alone on the harbour wall. A man passes close by him, he glances up and smiles, tipping his broad-brimmed hat in Jannie’s direction, while behind him, people are going about their business as usual. Jannie sits down on the wall and rubs his eyes. He looks up, the headland is deserted. Far out in the ocean he sees a solitary whale breaching.

Jannie returns to the white plastic chair that he’s claimed for himself and sits down. He rests his head in his hands, his thick brown-black dreadlocks spilling over his shoulders. It’s been more than ten years since he gave up the booze. So what kind of strange vision has he just had?


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3 things, 6 lines #2

She’d always wanted to be the perfect lady, all glossy hair and high-heeled shoes, smiling graciously behind flawless make-up, while people marvelled at the poise of her bearing and her chic couture.

But nature was cruel. The golden-haired baby girl grew into a spotty awkward teenager. There was no extraordinary mutation from ugly duckling to elegant swan for her; no amazing transformation in her teens nor late-blossoming in her early twenties.

And so she became a writer, acclaimed for her literary accomplishments while sheltering beneath the camouflage of the well-turned sentence and gorgeous prose.

What lies behind your wordsmith’s mask?


Image credit: Ava Sol on Unsplash

Written in response to two challenges:

Di of Pensitivity101‘s Three Things Challenge – LADY, PERFECT, HIGH

Denise Farley of GirlieOnTheEdge‘s Sunday’s Six Sentence Story Word Prompt – MARVEL

Purple Prose

Like luminous petals falling
Over lush green lawns your
Violet verses float down in
Eloquent abundance.

Love-filled lyrics pervade the ether
Elegant stanzas resonate with rhyme
Tantalising texts torment my senses
Tempting cantos seep into my soul
Eternal love spills from your pen while
Rhythms of ecstasy permeate my heart.


Written in response to Sadje‘s What do You See #65 photo prompt.

Image credit: Simona Sergi @ Unsplash
The image shows an envelope hanging by a white thread. In the background there is a house entrance
.

Today’s the day!

What’s in the box?

Hot off the UPS delivery truck all the way from the USA via Dubai to Johannesburg to Cape Town to me! At last, the author copies of my new novel have arrived. They seems to have been on a little book tour of their own since I ordered them from Amazon on 6th December.

But never mind. They’re here now and I’m very pleased with the look and feel of them. And the smell. Don’t you just love that when you open a brand new book?

I gave you a little opening excerpt from the book to whet your appetite last week, but today I have something special to tempt you with. It’s the recipe for Auntie Rose’s vegetable curry, which she uses to fill her famous rotis. I took a tiny peek over her shoulder when she was last making them.

Auntie Rose is always cooking up a storm. Maybe she’ll bring out her own recipe book some day!


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If you’re in South Africa and would like a signed paperback sent to you, I have a few copies for you at a special price of R250,00 including P&P – just drop me a line!

3 things, 6 lines #1

photo of an old trunk

Kneeling before the old chest, watching the winter sunlight filter through the dusty window of the attic, I’d paused in trepidation. I’d never been in this part of the house, as my uncle had forbidden it and his directives were not to be ignored lightly; but I’d been driven to explore the unexplained parts of my past and now I’d discovered that the chest contained the final few pieces of the puzzle.

Finally, I’d unlatched the lid and lifted it.

If only I hadn’t. My uncle had been right.

That day I learned that some things are better left undisturbed.


Image credit: Pinterest

Written in response to two challenges:

Di of Pensitivity101‘s Three Things Challenge – PAST, FEW, CHEST

Denise Farley of GirlieOnTheEdge‘s Sunday’s Six Sentence Story Word Prompt – FILTER

Stepping Out

Vermillion streaks of swirling silk
illuminate the slate-grey dawn
while fervent feet, with careful steps
traverse the open gates of morn’

Viridian hues tint distant trees
beckoning the breaking day
while eager feet, with girlish grace
greet the golden sun’s first ray

Violet veils shroud verdant hills
soft’ning lofty umber peaks
while dancing feet, with tender tread
roam the purple path she seeks.


Written in response to Sadje‘s What do You See #64 photo prompt.

Image credit: Timur Kozmenko
The image is of a girl dressed in a red swirling frock walking towards open gates. The gates appear to be of oriental origin and are very tall. From the open gate you can see mountains visible through a cloudy sky.

Location, Location, Location #10

Location No. 10, Berg River, Laaiplek ©River Tides Guest House

In the latest stop on our literary tour through the pages of my novels, we’re taking a trip up the west coast of South Africa to a small town called Laaiplek, situated where the Berg River meets the Atlantic Ocean. This is the spot where my latest novel, Song of the Sea Goddess was conceived.

A visit to Mike Harvey’s lovely River Tides guest house just after New Year has become something of a tradition for us, although sadly our sundowners with Mike have had to be postponed this year with beaches and rivers out-of-bounds and travel between ‘hot-spots’ actively discouraged. But we will return.

Here I am, back in January 2019, sitting on the shady bench on the right hand side of the photo, busy with pen and notebook, during our customary short summer break. I might well have been writing the very words that eventually evolved into the first chapter of the book, which started as a short story involving Sam the fisherman and his little boat, Porcupine.

Sitting by the banks of the broad brackish Berg River,  fishing boats periodically put-putter past. It was easy to start to imagine a story about one of them. A little blue-painted fishing boat, which I watched throttling past the old fish-processing factory as it set out on an evening voyage, captured my imagination.

I know from reading Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, that night-time is the right time to catch octopuses, using a little olive oil to ‘calm troubled waters’ and a light to attract them. But then, once Sam had caught his two octopuses, I desperately wanted to save them because, as we all know, they are at least as intelligent as dogs, and I really couldn’t bring myself to let them be despatched. And so the fantasy was created and the adventure begun.

Some of you might remember the original short story from when I put it up on my blog almost exactly two years ago, although it has undergone some reworking and refinement since then. But the essence of the place remains unchanged, for who could fail to be inspired by a location like this?

“Many ghosts of ships and men haunt Laaiplek. A place of adventure and romance.
Coast of Treasure’ by Laurence G. Green (1932)

Sunset over the Berg River ©Cliff Davies 2019

Excerpt from ‘Song of the Sea Goddess’

Sam casts off from the jetty in his little fishing boat, Porcupine. The last orange and gold sunset slivers are disappearing behind the blue-grey hills on the far horizon as he pushes the throttle forward and eases little Porcupine out into the broad brackish river that leads to the ocean.

Gulls wheel noisily overhead, their keening cries eerie in the twilight. The twin lighthouses blink at each other on either side of the bay. Sam pushes the throttle forward another notch against the growing sea swell. He runs his work-roughened hands around the little boat’s steering wheel and sets his course along the coast, inhaling the sharp sea air.

Sam grew up on the Cape Flats. Life had been hard there; it still is. But he’s escaped. He had to. On the run from members of an opposing gang, he got on the road and hitched up the West Coast. He slept rough; got work, casual stuff; then things started to look up. He found a broken-down little boat one day when he was exploring the shoreline for salvage. Slowly he fixed it up with the help of a retired ship’s engineer called Jannie, who spends his days giving advice and watching the activity in the little harbour by the river mouth.

Sam and Porcupine make a great team. He’s brought the little boat back to life and in return she gives him safe shelter and a means to make a living from the bounty of the ocean. Tonight he’s fishing for octopus, which is best done at night with a lamp and a little can of vegetable oil to make a window in the waves. He rounds the coast to his favourite cove and drops anchor.

Night comes quickly, and within half an hour Sam has two good-sized octopuses in his fishing bucket. He shifts a little on the makeshift perch of his old sleeping blanket, propping his back against the wheelhouse. Sam has been busy helping out in the harbour all day. He feels the stiffness of a hard day’s work; he’s tired. Lulled by the bobbing boat, Sam slips away into a glorious slumber.

He is awakened by the sound of voices. Someone’s on the boat!

‘Concentrate,’ says the first.

‘I am concentrating,’ says the second, rather indignantly.

Sam holds up the lamp. ‘Who’s there?’ He stands up and turns around sharply. There’s no one. He walks around the little deck, holding up the lamp and peering out into the inky ocean. Then he hears them again.

‘Over he-re,’ the voice calls in a sing-song voice.

‘Over he-re,’ joins in the second voice in a deeper tone.

Sam spins around. Where are the voices coming from?

‘Coo-e,” calls the first voice.

Suddenly a jet of water spurts out of the fishing bucket, wetting Sam’s feet. A tentacle waves at him. ‘Coo-e.’ It waves again.

Sam crouches down by the bucket. The two octopus heads bob up, their eyes fasten upon his. ‘What the…?’ Each of them winks at him. ‘No!” Sam stands up and takes a step backwards. More tentacles appear, waving at him. Sam shakes his head.

‘Let us go!’

‘Please, mister fisherman!’

Sam approaches the bucket again. He squats down. ‘No man. Fish don’t talk.’

‘We’re not fish,’ says the first voice indignantly.

‘We’re cephalopods.’

Sam rubs his eyes; he pinches himself.

‘You’re not dreaming, you know.’ A tentacle extends towards Sam’s arm and prods him gently. ‘This is real.’

‘Tip us out and let us go,’ sings the first voice.

‘And lots of treasure you will know,’ choruses the second.

It’s as if someone has taken over control of his body. Sam picks up the bucket and steps over to the side of the boat where he gently inverts it. As the two octopuses slide into the sea, a huge wave breaks over the boat, knocking Sam flat on the deck. The empty bucket lands next to him with a clatter. Porcupine bobs about like a cork, and suddenly dozens of octopuses appear above the waves. As Sam tries to find his feet, a vast tentacle reaches onto the deck and grabs the bucket, swiping Sam across the head and knocking him out cold.


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When all else fails…

…visit a bookshop. One with a cat!

Bikini Books is one of my favourite second hand bookstores and fortunately it’s only a short drive from home. An added bonus is that it’s right by the ocean, with a fabulous view all the way across False Bay to Cape Point. The beach was completely empty since it, like almost every beach on our beautiful coastline, is currently closed for Covid.

It’s not the kind of store where you can go looking for a particular book. It’s a bit chaotic.

Francois and Jackie vlogs

You just have to run your eyes over the titles and wait for the books to choose you!

Here’s the book haul. All of them, apart from the art books, cost the equivalent of $3 or less, which is huge bargain, since new books are very expensive here. As always, my taste is eclectic.

I really ought to have read Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie before now: such an important book. There’s a Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behaviour, with a climate change theme. She’s such a good writer. I’ve read La Lacuna and The Poisonwood Bible in the past and loved them both. Then there are a couple of books set in South Africa, to keep my promise of reading more books by local and Southern Hemisphere authors, Andalus by Jason Webster, who wrote Duende (another past favourite) and a collection of short stories by Sara Paretsky involving her feisty private eye, V.I. Warshawski, one of my favourite fictional characters (apart from my own, of course).

Under ‘normal’ circumstances, we would have been on a little summer break to a beautiful West Coast town on the banks of the Berg River, but the new lockdown last week scuppered that plan. Never mind. That’s what photos and imaginations are for… and, of course, books.

I’ll be taking you with me to that very town at the end of this week, when we visit the location where I wrote the first words to my new novel, Song of the Sea Goddess – available on pre-order now.

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Paralysis of Indecision

Today I’m still waiting by the track
choices limited, just forward or back
when at dawn, new light ascends
empty platform, empty track, possibilities

Choices limited, just forward or back
step on, step up, step up to the plate
empty platform, empty track, possibilities
which route shall I take?

Step on, step up, step up to the plate
hurry now, it’s not too late
which route shall I take?
inertia stays my feet

Hurry now, it’s not too late
when at dawn, new light ascends
inertia stays my feet
today I’m still waiting by the track


Written in response to Sadje‘s What do You See #63 photo prompt.

Image credit: Rodrigo Curi @ Unsplash
The image shows the sun setting over the horizon and in the foreground you can see rail tracks.

My characters are tugging at my sleeve… again

‘Another new book? I say, Ms Hall, that is admirable.’ Connor raises his whisky glass in my direction and takes a long pull. ‘And you’re already onto the follow up novel. You’re becoming almost as prolific as The Poet!’ He strikes a dramatic pose from his position by the fireplace.

I smile politely as my eyes travel around Cynthia’s sitting room. Cynthia is lounging languidly on the battered silk chaise-longue. Her eyes are shining over the large glass of red wine she’s sipping. ‘Song of the Sea Goddess; it’s a lovely title,’ she smiles at me encouragingly. ‘Do you have a copy for us?’

I’m still waiting for them to ship from the printers. ‘Next time,’ I promise.

Gina is sitting in the armchair opposite her. Her left hand rests on her knee and the light is catching the diamond in her ring. She sees me looking at it.

‘We decided to put the wedding off for a bit.’

‘I hope you weren’t waiting for me to…’ I stop in mid-sentence, feeling awkward.

Gina laughs. ‘Only Ma and Auntie Marie are bothered. You know what they’re like!’ She shakes her head. ‘No, I’m concentrating on my career.’

‘Good for you,’ I say, raising my glass and taking a sip. The pleasant taste of the cheap Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon takes me straight back to the early 1980s. A sudden thought occurs to me. ‘Where’s Gary?’

‘Oh, he and Bob have gone to the match, nursing their New Year hangovers.’ She grins. ‘Fingers has become quite a celebratory at Anfield.’

‘I can imagine,’ I say, smiling back.

Gina’s expression darkens. ‘Your new book’s set in South Africa, isn’t it? She raises a disapproving eyebrow. ‘You do know we’re boycotting everything South African*.’

Connor clears his throat but says nothing and Cynthia shifts awkwardly on the chaise-longue.

‘Yes, I know. I did the same.’ I reply, remembering short supermarket dilemmas. ‘But things have changed. The country celebrated 25 years of democracy last year. Apartheid is over. Nelson Mandela became the first president.’

‘Well I never.’ Connor stares thoughtfully into his glass. ‘But I suppose we’re part of history now.’

‘I’m afraid so.’ Strange as it still seems, the 1980s are history. It feels to me like only yesterday.

‘Oh, but Ms Hall, you bring us to life.’ Cynthia casts a theatrical gesture in my direction.

‘Which is what’s happening to us now,’ says Gina determinedly. She shifts in her seat and pulls a crumpled postcard out of the back pocket of her jeans. ‘This came from Lucy last week. She and Pierre are working on a cruise ship now. He’s a DJ and she’s a croupier in the casino.’

That makes perfect sense.

Connor interrupts my thoughts. ‘As a fellow writer, I understand you have to go where the muse takes you, as it were.’ He strides over to the sideboard to top up his glass. ‘But I thought there might be at least one more historical fiction book in you.’

Our sequel?’ Gina waves the postcard at me.

I glance down and see my notebook has fallen open on my lap. I look up at their expectant faces. I guess there’s no harm in jotting down a few more notes…

*For a long time, Nelson Mandela and the issue of South Africa under the Nationalist apartheid regime weren’t widely discussed in the UK. When this song hit the UK charts in 1984 more people started asking questions, which contributed to the issue rising to national prominence. The rest, as they say, is history.

Side Note: I vividly remember my flat-mate, who makes a tiny cameo appearance in ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone, dancing round our kitchen singing this!


Many of you will know that the characters from You’ll Never Walk Alone are frequently tugging at my sleeve. One day, I will give them their wish and write their longed for sequel. They’ve certainly come up with a few good ideas to start to shape the plot. Meanwhile, my new novel, Song of the Sea Goddess, is coming very soon.

And finally, a Happy New Year
to one and all.
Keep safe, keep sane, and let’s hope for a better 2021!