Monthly Archives: June 2020

The joy of being beside the seaside

Review: Vivien Horler

Land’s Edge – a coastal memoir, by Tim Winton (Picador)

Any half-awake policeman based at Muizenberg has only to look out of a window of the splendidly positioned police station to know that that the regulations against going on to the beach under Level 3 are being widely flouted.

At first it was just the surfers, scuttling across the sand with board under arm to get into the waves, but now it’s everyone: walkers, sandcastle builders, paddlers, dog walkers, even, in late June, the occasional swimmer.

Maybe the police have better things to do, being out looking for murderers, gangsters and cigarette smugglers, or maybe they’ve just given up. Because it’s not easy, or even very sensible, to keep residents of a coastal city away from the sea.

The Australian writer and environmental activist Tim Winton would understand the drive to be in or near the ocean, to be close to its wildness and unpredictability, to feel the wind and swirling water at a time when nothing is guaranteed. Continue reading

Use your lockdown time to write a novel

Vivien Horler

Mike Nicol

When you read detective thrillers by overseas writers you can enjoy them, knowing your chances of bumping into the baddies roaming London or Los Angeles are pretty small.

Mike Nicol’s books are different. The Clovelly-based writer creates recognisable Capetonian baddies of the type you would not want to irritate on the M5 on a dark night.

Now Nicol, author of successful and chilling crime novels, biographies – including one of Nelson Mandela – and memoirs, is offering budding writers who want to end the tedium of the lockdown an opportunity to write a best-selling novel.

“The lockdown provides at least one of the critical elements of writing a novel – and that is the time to write,” says Nicol. Continue reading

Elsa Joubert – a writer who travelled life’s long journey


Vivien Horler

You can go a long way in 97 years, and Elsa Joubert did.

Born in Paarl in 1922, Joubert grew up in an orthodox Afrikaner family, and at first embraced their beliefs. In fact in her early years she felt her father was not sufficiently committed to the Afrikaner cause.

In 1938, when Afrikaners celebrated the centenary of the Great Trek, 16-year-old Elsa was in the crowd when the Cape Town wagon, on its way from the Mother City to Pretoria, passed through Paarl. The oxen were unhitched for the night and Joubert was one of the proud young Afrikaners who placed the yokes over their shoulders and pulled the wagon to the showgrounds. Later she wrote in her diary: “I shall never forget this day.” Continue reading

Lady Anne Barnard author turns to the history of Jack Tar

Review: Archie Henderson

Sons of Waves: The Common Seaman in the Heroic Age of Sail, by Stephen Taylor (Yale)

Stephen Taylor is hardly known in South African literary circles, yet he was born here, trained here as a journalist and worked on the Rand Daily Mail in its glory days. Three of his eight books are about South Africa: Shaka’s Children, the Caliban Shore (about the wreck of the Grosvenor off Pondoland and its castaways) and Defiance (the first full history of Lady Anne Barnard).

More recently he has become, as The Times of London reported this year, “an acclaimed naval historian”. Following his researches on Britain’s naval history, this is the book he has long wanted to write. It’s about a time when Britain began to rule the waves and about the men who enabled that rule: the Jack Tars of the Royal Navy who did the heavy lifting while heroes like Nelson took much of the credit. Continue reading

Blood, love, murder and fable – a wonderful read

Review: Vivien Horler

The Inn at Helsvlakte, by Patricia Schonstein (Penguin)

A platoon of State soldiers rides into the gap between two calcified dunes on the edge of Helsvlakte. Separatists have been spied in the area, and the military authorities in the Capital want them eradicated.

The soldiers are led by Captain Leander Botha Malan, an experienced soldier not expecting a major confrontation, although he is confident he is prepared for one. And then, as they slip into the embrace of the dunes, Malan’s “soldier-marrow” senses something deeply wrong.

He gallops forward to turn the column back, but it is too late. Separatist fighters are positioned on top of the dunes, and they open fire. There is an explosion. “… and then it was just his hammering heart and the acrid, massed smell of terror.” Continue reading