It is seven o' clock and I'm sitting in the cafeteria of the Public Leadership School of the Bellville campus of Stellenbosch University.  How my life has changed. My poor novel is like an abandoned child temporarily in the custody of a friend and French student of mine who will be giving me feedback on how she's experienced reading it. It has been a while since I first handed it/the baby over to her. But even if it was 'at home' I wouldn't have been able to pay any attention to it as I've been doing paying jobs. In November I gave a workshop to municipal officials on how to use census data for their planning. Then came a workshop to members of Tourism Department on Research Methods followed by a week of teaching Masters students in Public Admin. I then taught Masters students in Environment on Research Methods followed by four lectures to foreign students at SU on South African family and demography. Now, it's the turn of Honours students in Public Admin - first here in Bellville and then in Pretoria. So, my life has been quite full of academic stuff and despite my previous intentions of staying away from it, I've been sucked in again and have to admit I'm enjoying it. As a friend said, 'you are who you are'.    

 

All for now. I think I can hear the proverbial bell ringing for class!

 

 
 
It's probably just as well you haven't heard from me for a while. You would have been assaulted with verbal missiles and plaintive cries from the depth of despair!!!

About three years ago, I finally decided to accept someone for who and what they are. It was such a relief and I came to the conclusion that acceptance is the biggest gift one can give oneself. No more expecting the person to do the right thing, to act responsibly, to show concern for others etc. They are who they are and that is that. I had some lapses and was once again confronted with the reality of the situation and had to crawl my way back to that place of acceptance.

In the last three weeks, I've gone through the same process and this time with someone much closer to me and someone who I'd held out hope for. Surely this person will understand? I had thought naively for fifty years!!! I knew one can't change people but with this one I really thought I'd have an impact if only I expressed myself clearly, tried to get the person to see my point of view and even beg. But the proverbial brick wall smacked me in the face once again and I've been picking up the pieces ever since. I retreated to my hovel and it's not that I didn't want to face the world, I couldn't. Just doing ordinary things like going shopping became an achievement! I eventually gave up and holed up in my flat. I saw three medical practitioners in one week and the R350 I spent on one who said: 'Stop banging your head against a brick wall and all you can do is to take care of yourself' was well-spent, I suppose.

My flat has been the beneficiary of this expensive advice. I've been painting any piece of furniture I can lay my hands on and am now turning my attention to the garden. Can't wait to get stuck in.

Here is some of what I would have written if I'd done this blog a few weeks ago.

Whoever said no man is an island was lying. Even within one's family it's each man/woman for him/herself and bugger the rest. In the end we are all alone and have to look out for ourselves. That's what I'm doing with the help of some little white pills!

 
 

 
 
I had a real Settimana Italiano last week. On Tuesday I made a risotto (with butternut, green and red peppers and chicken pieces) for supper. On Wednesday I was invited to Mario's Restaurant in Greenpoint and had veal piccatta (prices are not justified by the food) and on Thursday I gave at talk at the Blouberg Rotary Club which has its meetings and diner at, you guessed it . . . the Italian Club in Brooklyn! The place is so typically Italian you can't help but want to take your paintbrush out and give the walls a good going over. But the food is always great and there's even a shop where you can buy Italian Stuff. It was a great evening, I talked about my German Settlers book and met some nice people. I might even take up their suggestion I join, now that women can become rotary members in their own right. Apparently the change happened in the 1980's and not without a fight.

I wrote my last blog in a rush. My writing has been going so well ever since I met with John Linegar to discuss the possibility of some of his students taking my book on as an editing project. Telling him what my story is about helped me to clarify issues in my mind and finally I was able to sit down and write the blurb in only a few sentences. Here is it:

"Megan is tired of the men she works with. Their underhand tactics have left her wondering why she ever thought she could make it in the advertising world. As she struggles to muster the passion she once had for her career, Megan's mother suggests they go on holiday to France. The events that unfold there, lead Megan to question her priorities. She also comes across the work of George Sand and is amazed at the similarities between her own situation and that described by the controversial novelist of the eighteen thirties."

I've even designed my own cover which I'll have to show you next time.

I didn't inform my blog-alert people on email about the last one as I had such misgivings immediately after I posted it. My Facebook friends were, however, told about it. I wrote it when I had about an hour and a half between meeting with my "Mums and Coffee Club" and before our complex's AGM. Sally, my very feisty eighty-year-old opposite neighbour wanted us to go 'en masse' so we could get rid of, let me say, some people. Nothing happened though as the meeting had to be postponed because we didn’t have a quorum. The first thing I did the next morning was to go to my website with the intention of deleting the post. But to my horror I discovered it had already had 100 hits (between 6 the previous evening and 10 the next morning). So I left it and going back and reading it now it doesn't seem as bad as I first thought. I really wanted to write a lot more about the links between saying goodbye and writing. Probably because I'm very bad at saying goodbye (I usually try and slip away unnoticed) I have found it hard to replace the words I wrote yesterday with those I'm writing today. But I'm getting there . . .  

In response to the last blog, here is the evidence: 

And engaged in another misdemeanour.  

Oh, I'm now on the body corporate of my complex. So, those people, better pull up their socks.

 
 
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The fridge arrived the day after my last blog. So my faith was well-placed. Phew!

Becoming a writer means learning to say good bye to the things your value most - your words. I'm now on the fourth draft and am re-writing quite a lot. That's because what I wrote only a few months ago now seems so bad. I've also come to the realisation that the best way to learn to write novels is not to do courses and read books about creative writing (as I have done) but just to do it. Write, write, write and read, read, read and your writing will improve to such an extent, you'll realise what you wrote a year ago is absolute crap. Well maybe not, but not as good as it could be.

Tinkerbell is still keeping me highly entertained. We have an issue now about my radio which she insists on sitting on and in the process changes the station. I was forced to listen to an entire programme of Happy Clappers the other morning. I tried (unsuccessfully) to take a photo of her doing the deed, thinking after that I'm really going to put my foot down. Watch this space!

For her birthday I took my mother to see André Rieu at Grand West Casino. We'd seen him a few times on tv and the real thing was also great. Such positive energy and wonderful music, classical but upbeat.  Unfortunately, I did not make detailed enquiries about exactly where we would be sitting. I could only afford the cheapest tickets (R400) which meant we had restricted view. We could see 99% of the stage but only a quarter of the large screen which was kind of important given we were sitting so far away. After a while it didn't bother us, though what did, and we giggled about this quite a bit, was the woman sitting next to my mother who was so animated she stomped her foot on the floor and jumped up and down in her seat to such an extent the whole row vibrated throughout most of the show. I also didn't realise we'd be quite so far back and that my mum would have to climb some steep steps. The entrance was at A row and we were in M!!! With much huffing and puffing she managed with the help of a very kind usher and myself.

At interval I said to her:' You're not going anywhere but I am.'

I had been most impressed by the start of the show which was at eight on the dot even though people were still coming in and I asked the usher how long the interval was. Twenty minutes he said. When I returned the doors were closed. "It's not been twenty minutes," I protested but then I looked at my cell phone and discovered it was. Us stragglers were not allowed back in until the end of the next piece. When I got back to my mum she said in a shaky voice: "I thought you'd got lost!"

Anyway we had a great time. There was even a little bus to take us to our car. We were home twenty minutes after the show ended.     


 
 
Had a positive 'service provider' experience this week. Such a pleasant surprise after all my other bad experiences. Even though I visited Telkom four times (more than an hour each time) to transfer the phone back into my mother's name, they still cut off her phone due to 'non-payment.'  When I phoned to complain I was told there was actually a credit on that account! My Standard Bank saga also continues. Sent two emails to 'Prestige Banking' on Monday this week and haven't had a response to either (five days later). It's been quite a business getting my money out of Paypal but they've also been quite helpful. I have needed to register with FNB to link into their accounts. Anyway, I was at the police station to get my documents certified for FICA. I was fifth in the queue. Only two people on duty. Had to wait about half an hour and entertained myself by looking around and listening to other peoples' complaints. The girl in front of me had her cell phone stolen. The woman in front of her had someone bang into her car. Two Chinese men were there because someone either stole or broke into their car. There were large dogs involved. A Nigerian-looking woman with a baby in a pram was looking for someone ('a cousin') who I think is in jail. But she didn't have a case number and so her request to see this person went nowhere. Another man told a story of a guy breaking into his car and when he went to investigate found the perpetrator (presumably) asleep on the back seat. 
While waiting, various other police people walked in and out. One stood out for me. He was dressed in tight-fitting faded blues with all kinds of pockets down the side and a gun on his hip. His demeanour and stride all suggested, 'don't mess with me, I'll shoot!' and 'I'm important, you're nothing!' The mine killings (Marikama) come to mind when I write this. The worst part of this experience was getting to the end of the queue and having to wait for the police officer to write in a book. He was copying all the information he'd just taken down from a complainant and, of course, it took quite a while for him to do this.

'Aren't you computerised?' I asked the very friendly gentleman.

'They don't want to spend money on computers,' he said 'in any case we don’t know how to use them.'

'I'll come and teach you!' I said. So, that's the other problem with the SAPS. Writing everything by hand wastes time and leads to mistakes. No wonder so many people get off because the police stuffed up the docket!

Here's the good news story. My fridge has been making a loud cracking sound every forty minutes or so. I phoned Whirlpool (who owns KIC) and told the story. A technician arrived soon after, checked the fridge, said there is an 'ice displacement' problem and the unit needs to be replaced. I'm told this will happen soon. I love my fridge (I know that sounds wacky) so I'm happy with the service I got in this instance. So, it's not all gloom and doom in the new/old South Africa!

Just hope the new fridge arrives.

 
 
The trouble with waiting so long between blogs is that so much happens it's hard to fit it all in. If a funeral could be nice, then my aunt's was. Four of her grandchildren gave heartfelt speeches/eulogies which shows how much she was in touch with that generation and also how generations have changed. In my day a grandchild would never have had the courage or been trusted with such a grave task.
I lied when I previously said I was fully installed in my new place. Yes, Tinkerbell is here and up to much mischief (see photos) but I still hadn't unpacked about thirty boxes that were in my mother's garage. It has taken me three weeks and I've gone from 'why do I have so much stuff/crap?" to 'Oh I forgot I had that!' One of the gems was a cushion cover I bought in France (during the fateful trip with my mother) at the gift shop of a Chateau de Villandry where Carème used to cook for Napoleon. It is made of sturdy linen, is an earthy colour and has pastel irises woven into the fabric. Another object that brought back memories was a glass jar (about half a metre high) I received as a present from my very old (meaning we've known each other since primary school) friend Brenda Thompson/Lunnon, now resident in New Zealand. Along the way she also made me a lace lampshade-cover which hung in the entrance to my Short Street house for many years. It hasn't made the journey here though. Sorry Bren!

I've also got about fifty pictures -either paintings by other people or photographs or my own paintings - and it's been tough sorting them out and throwing some of them away. One was a sketch done of 'me' done at Montmatre (PARIS) in the 1970's. It looked nothing like me so this time it got chucked. I'm also proud of myself for throwing away two George Benson tapes! Yes, I mean tapes! And a Joan Armitrading one!  'All' have left to sort out now is some linen - lots of it. But that will have to await another time. So, I suppose one is never really 'fully installed!'

My work prospects are looking up although nothing is 100% definite yet. I once again have to get a tax clearance certificate and jump through tons of hoops to register as a government service provider. I intended to pick the certificate up today but when I drove past the SARS building in Long street and saw the queue stretching around the block (in the rain), I carried on driving. Ah, the joys of being your own boss.
  I'm still trying to finish my Forty Days novel and am determined to do so before I start engaging my academic brain again. Oh, I almost forgot. My mum turned 84 on Sunday and we had a lovely lunch for her at On The Rocks, Bloubergstrand.      

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I dare you not to love my Tinkerbell!!
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Liz, my mum and her brother John
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Robyn (cousin) and me at On the Rocks.
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Mum and Justin (Robyn's son).
 
 
This week has been a non-novel writing week as I prepare documents, fill in forms (including getting a tax clearance certificate) to enable me to offer some short-courses at Stellenbosch University. I also had a meeting with Beryl (Eichenberger) and Lynne (Smit) to see if their company (Hippo) could come on board to market the courses. Following on my previous blog, I spoke to Beryl about the possibility of people who'd done John Linnegar's editing course with her, could help me out with my dilemma.
'He's launching his new book on editing (for South Africans) at the Book Lounge tonight, why don't you come along,' she said.

Having never been to the Book Lounge and it being on my to-do list, especially since I have not yet got around to offering my book to booksellers, I agreed. The fact that Nancy Richards of SAFM fame was going to be the speaker, added to the appeal. I decided to take two copies of my book with me but haggled over what I was going to carry them in. I didn't want to use a Checkers bag and they're too big for my handbag. I settled on a brown carry bag from the Body Shop, thinking the logo might be a good ice-breaker. A Clementine body scrub (or Gel Douche Gommant, if I really wanted to impress) would be my response to admirers of my shopping taste!  

Not my favourite place to be (the centre of town at night), Beryl and I arrived at about six. She pointed out the owner of the Book Lounge (Mervyn) and introduced me to John Linnegar. While chatting to John, I kept on looking in Mervyn's direction to see when he was not occupied so I could approach him about putting my book in his shop. After a while I gave up and went downstairs to partake in the very tasty snacks. Returning up stairs, I noticed he was unencumbered and approached him, glass in hand.
I introduced myself as the author of a book and could just see thoughts of 'oh no, not another one' flash through his mind. I also had the problem of what to do with the glass so I could get my masterpiece out of the Body Shop carrying bag. I placed the glass on the floor and took it out shakily knowing I was the peddler of wares and not liking the role at all.
'I was wondering if you could bbbb .. ' I started, feeling every bit like a ten-year-old.
'The launch is about to start,' he said dispassionately. My age had now dropped to an eight year old as I sheepishly replied, 'I didn't realise what time it is.'

After the speeches, I noticed him casting a second look at me when I was chatting to Nancy and Beryl. We'll laugh about this one day, I thought. One day, I'll be the author you'll be introducing and I'll use this incident as an example of how hard and humiliating the life of an author is. Needless to say, I returned home with both books still in the bag.
BUT, during the speeches, I sat next to Xavier who is a book distributor. So, maybe that is what was meant to happen. We exchanged emails and who knows what will come of that. Maybe he will be able to divest me of the horrible role of book-pedlar and I will never again have to say 'would you like to buy my book'!


My cell phone rang numerous times during the launch and I just knew it was news that my mother's elder sister had passed away. That was the case. At the age of 85 she'd had a full life and had shown incredible will to live for the past five years (at least) when she'd been going for dialysis three days a week. Rest in peace Aunty Joan, you will be sorely missed. 

 
 
 I've come to the conclusion writers spend more of their time re-writing than writing and that our craft is like making pasta. The flour, salt and oil represent the ideas we have for our plot. Mixing them together and rolling the dough out to the size and thickness of a slice of white bread, is our first draft. THEN it gets put in the pasta machine and rolled to a less coarse version. And then again! And then again! Until you have something delicate, tasty and refined. Something that other people would want to eat and enjoy.

I'm on my fifth rolling of the dough and would love to give it to an editor who can put it through the machine. But the problem is I don't own a machine and if I did, I still couldn't make my own pasta i.e. edit my own book. Even best-selling authors have editors. So, it's not something you can get rid of once you've garnered enough experience. That is, every writer needs someone with a pasta machine, who knows how to operate it and knows when it has gone through the mill enough times. The other problem is, people who have the machine (the skills and knowledge to do good editing) naturally charge for their own time. This makes the pasta dish the public is going to enjoy a very expensive one for the writer. Even if you are not into self-publishing and have decided to take your chances with mainstream publishers, you still need an editor to get you pasta to a standard that would entice them to invest money in your book. So, writers are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place. In order to make money from their craft (or just be compensated for the years of effort that went into writing a book) they need to spend money which they usually don't have. Is there any way out of this?

Perhaps there is. 



If editors could club together with writers and, instead of demanding to be paid up front for their very valuable efforts, agree to delay compensation until the book goes to market, there may be a way out of this dilemma. The writer and editor (and perhaps marketer) could then agree on how to split the profits.

Any takers?

 
 
So, I'm fully installed in my new place. The burglar bars have arrived and so has Tinkerbell. She uses them as a jungle gym - one of her favourite pastimes. As I write, she's in the lounge growling at a big fat black cat staring at her through the glass doors. His name is Roland and his owner assures me he's harmless. He does have a sweet face, so we'll have to see. Tinkie isn't convinced though, there's another loud growl!

I was feeling rather sorry for myself a few weeks ago. The flat was much colder than I expected and my brand new mattress hard as nails. The move and particularly painting the place out cost me much more than I'd thought it would. But then I was invited to Stellenbosch by my friend and ex-colleague Simon (Bekker) and Sandra to a duck supper. The last time we had duck together was in Beijing while attending a conference, the highlight of my academic career (walking the wall at the university's expense!). While in Stellenbosch I made an arrangement to meet with the Head of the Sociology Dept. I left the meeting very encouraged and excited about me contributing to the dept as a way of earning extra bucks to keep food on my table while I write my novels.

Talking of writing, I was disappointed by the Cape Town Book Fair. Entrance was R60 and for that you get to walk around and look at different stalls around which there was very little activity. The most vibrant one was the Bargain Book stand where people were buying books they could do in any mall any time. The big publishing houses did not exhibit this year (Random House and Penguin, for example) and that accounted for the lack of talks on fiction (my interest) and big names like Alexander McCall Smith who was there a few years ago. I did attend a free talk though on how to use social media to promote your book and SEO (search engine optimization). The latter is something I can do through my webpage but just haven't got around to. Oh, and I sold my first book on Kalahari!

 I also attended Simon's book launch (Capital Cities of Africa) and recognised some familiar academic colleagues. They do seem to look alike. I didn't stay long though as I have to guard against falling back into left brain thinking. My priority is my novel and I'm now on the 4th draft and re-writing (almost from scratch). It's going well and I'm once again at the point where my characters (Megan and Jean Claude) are about to have a dip in a lake in a French forest! Do you want to know what happens next? Hope so.

I've now divested myself of Telkom (almost) completely. During the second of my last one hour stints in their office at Bayside Mall, I was told it would take 3 not 2 weeks to transfer my ADSL by a woman who spent time walking around looking for a stapler! When she couldn't find it in her colleague's draw she went to the next one and after some serious scratching found one there. I hope you aren't the next customer of his! I'm beginning to think the Neo-liberals are right about our labour laws making people too secure in their jobs. After that I went to the bank . . . Don't get me started on that except to say I'm seriously considering switching to CAPITEC. Who needs all those cards and accounts that do more or less the same thing when you can have one?

I purchased a Cell C internet bundle (stick/connection plus 3 GB) for R599.00 valid for a year and I can top up when my 3 GB's are used up. After two months I still have 2 Gb left, so I'm very happy with my choice. I still have my Telkom email address which I'll keep for a year (R17 per month) but am now using my gmail address more: scziehl@gmail.com.

All for now.