First of all, let me reassure you, I have not got the virus!
A little while ago, I was delighted to be invited to write a guest blog by writer, blogger and podcaster, da-AL. Then, just as she was preparing to publish my piece her husband came down with Covid! Thankfully he’s on the mend, and so is she, having also fallen sick subsequently.
Talking of masks, as she does, you can see one of mine on my desk in the photo of Luna, next to my ‘Pride and Prejudice’ mug. Looking at that messy desk, I could write a whole post about that. But I didn’t.
Instead, here it is, my guest post, in which I explain how my new novel came to be…
Note: Earlier this week, my husband became feverish and unwell. Turns out he has COVID-19. He’s doing his best to get well while I feel healthy and am awaiting my test results. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been super careful. I’m letting you know this as a reminder that one can never be…
There is no going back from here, for what I discovered up in that dusty attic on that cold winter afternoon has marked me out.
Now I am one of them.
I should have obeyed my uncle’s directive, but I’d been determined to find out the truth. The secret that was hidden from me, that was buried along with my parents, whose mysterious disappearance has never been discussed.
But now I have the truth, I must face the challenge ahead: the one that all our people must face.
On the lonely road our kind must travel alone; destiny calls me.
Today’s stop on our literary journey through my novels takes us back to Liverpool, to Sefton Park where a little piece of the action in You’ll Never Walk Alone plays out.
I lived within a short walk of Sefton Park for more than 15 years, moving from one bedsit, to three different flats and eventually my own house. We only have a fleeting glimpse of the park in the book, but the location gives the narrative a sense of place, particularly to anyone familiar with the city.
And now, as I imagine myself back in the park, I’m engulfed by a huge wave of nostalgia, which threatens to stay my fingers while I wallow in memories… but no, we must press on!
Sefton Park is a huge and glorious public park; a green island set amongst row upon row of terraced houses dating from the early 1900s, and encircled by impressive old mansions, once the homes of rich merchants, civic dignitaries and even a foreign embassy or two, although many of these have been converted into rather desirable flats. Over the years I spent countless hours in Sefton Park, wandering its paths, feeding the ducks on the lake, and on occasion, watching my friend’s husband playing cricket or, more accurately, sitting in the sun gossiping over a glass or two of wine (sorry, Jim, you scored how many?).
In all the time I lived there I don’t think I ever took a photo of any of the wonderful aspects of the park, so let me hand you over to another ‘tour guide’ whose blog I came across the other day. Take a moment for a spin around the park to see why it’s such a special place.
I hope that gave you a little flavour of a true Liverpool gem.
And now, we’ll take a tiny detour into Lark Lane, which is just across the road and where, if you’d met up with friends in the park of an afternoon, you’d be sure to end up.
Lark Lane was, and still is, a lively little street, full of trendy bars, ‘proper’ pubs, well-priced eateries and quirky shops. It’s popular with students and locals alike, and perfect for a Sunday lunch or a weekend night out. Needless to say, my friends and I spent a fair amount of time hanging out here over the years.
Now, back to the book. The house in which my principal characters live in You’ll Never Walk Alone, is based on a very similar house, also with a Chinese landlord, where I rented a room, back in 1984-5. Just a stone’s throw away from the northern edge of the park it’s a pleasant 15 minute walk over the grass and along the paths to Lark Lane where we join Gary and Bob for a lunchtime pint. Of course they choose The Albert, a traditional ale house, over one of the poncy wine bars (as Bob would, no doubt, say).
Excerpt from You’ll Never Walk Alone
Bob looked up from the Echo he’d found on the seat next to him as Gary put their drinks down on the scuffed wooden table.
“Cheers mate,” said Bob as he picked up his pint. He swallowed some of the golden liquid. “I keep thinking about that Pierre guy. Why would he have a load of Chinese thugs after him?”
“Who knows? Maybe we should ask Tony?”
Someone switched on the television. The highlights from the previous day’s football were showing. Bob and Gary turned their attention to the game. Neither of them noticed the three smartly dressed oriental gentlemen who’d just entered the pub.
The match highlights had finished as Gary and Bob drained their second pints. “Better get off then, I suppose,” said Gary putting his glass down on the table. Bob nodded.
Gary glanced towards the bar as he picked up his jacket. He grabbed his friend’s arm. Bob looked at him: “Wha…”
Gary put his mouth close to Bob’s ear: “Don’t look round, but there are three Chinese guys at the bar. “D’you think they’re watching us?”
Bob frowned and started to turn around. Gary jerked his sleeve. “Don’t look…”
“Don’t be daft, what would they want with us?”
“The thing with Lucy,” Gary hissed, raising his eyebrows.
“Look, you’re just being paranoid. C’mon, let’s get off.”
Gary let go of his arm. “Alright, but maybe we should get a cab?”
Bob rolled his eyes and put on his jacket, glancing across to the bar as he did so. The three Chinese guys were busy chatting and didn’t even look up. “Okay, let’s go.”
As the door swung shut behind Gary and Bob, the three men finished their drinks and headed after them.
Bob and Gary crossed the road into Sefton Park passing a queue of noisy children by an ice cream van. As was usual on a warm Sunday afternoon, the park was busy with families, couples and dog walkers. Bob sometimes went fishing in the central lake, not that he’d ever caught anything. Few people did. Gary cast a look over his shoulder, but there was no sign of the Chinese guys. Bob was probably right, he was being paranoid. They plodded across the grass, skirting around a football match between two teams of random players, before reaching the edge of the boating lake.
Suddenly they were aware of someone running behind them; there was a shout. Both turned to see one of the Chinese guys from the pub. The other two weren’t far behind.
“Shit,” Gary muttered under his breath.
“Look, we’ll just have to face up to them. There’s loads of people around. It’ll be fine, no-one’s going to attack us here in broad daylight,” Bob muttered back, flexing his fingers ready to fight if need be.
The Chinese guy slowed down to a walk and approached them. His friends had caught up and had fallen in just behind him. The guy in front reached into his jacket pocket.
You’ll Never Walk Alone is available from Amazon in paperback and ebook and on Kindle Unlimited
She stands on the hot, hard pavement, inhaling the ozone-laden breeze. Her eyes feast on the tempting glint of lapping waves breaking gently on the crescent of white sand, which circles the foot of the flat-topped mountain rising from the shining city by the sea.
Here in the city, where two oceans meet at the southern-most tip of the continent, she remembers all the summers when the whole world, it seemed, flocked to the beaches where they bathed and frolicked in the clear blue water.
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.
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?
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?
She’d always wanted to be the perfectlady, 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.
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.
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!