My favourite saying about being a writer is that it’s easy: you simply sit down at your desk, make yourself comfortable, scroll in the imaginary typing paper then slit a wrist and let it all bleed out. I know this is true because I have written (and had published) going on 30 books. That’s more than Wilbur Smith, though he gets bigger advances. I never planned to become a writer, I kind of stumbled into it. What I was born for though, or became at a young age, was a compulsive storyteller.
We didn’t know it at the time of growing up but our mother was bipolar. We never knew if it would be the good or the evil mother that would come home each day. So I learned early that I could deflect her rages by breaking into a song-and-dance routine. It worked so well my present partner calls me Oscar, as in “and the Oscar goes to ...” Some of her friends still think it’s my real name.
My first 20 or so books were mostly about travel and nature — as well as one about Soweto, where I worked for a while as a journalist during the emergency ’80s, with photographer Peter Magubane.
For the past decade I’ve been collecting stories about characters who flitted across my life, or the pages of books, that make me think: WTF was that all about? Thus was born my idea for writing a series called Stories from the Veld.
The first in the series was titled Running Wild: The Story of Zulu, an African Stallion, published last year. It took me a year to research, a year to write, a year to rewrite three times and then a further year to find a publisher. I received 174 rejections from publishers and agents around the world before finally getting a “yes” from Jacana Media in good old Jozi.
The second in the series, The Game Ranger, The Knife, The Lion and the Sheep, is about curious characters from Southern Africa past and present. In it you’ll find Krotoa (pronounced Krotwa), a Khoi woman working in the household of the Van Riebeeck family in the 1650s. She has become a political football, knocking around issues such as colonialism, sexism, forced labour, forced sex labour, slavery, the demise of indigenous cultures and all that mucky stuff.
You’ll meet Maria Mouton who, with the slaves Titus van Bengal and Fortuinn van Angola, murdered her husband and were all tortured horrendously in the Castle of Good Hope. There are adventurers, artists, scientists, shamans, and even a few rain queens. LS
The Game Ranger, The Knife, The Lion, and The Sheep — 20 Tales About Curious Characters from Southern Africa by David Bristow, published by Jacana Media, R240