The Mercury

Meandering memories turned into tales

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SHEmay be a Cape convert, but Jenny Hobbs’s formative years were moulded in KZN. Born in Durban, her “warm memories” of visits to her grandfathe­r’s farm in Umfolozi in the school holidays rival her recollecti­ons of her teenage years in Pietermari­tzburg.

Like most writers, she creates her fiction from a factual past… an uncle who fought in World War II, his stories of POW camps and heaps of family rugby outings.

is a novel about a young war hero and rugby Springbok who makes a mistake that dogs him all his life, says Hobbs.

“It’s about the long-term effects of war on his family, war comrades, friends and associates and is set mostly in Natal (as it was then) and POW camps. It’s about the women in his life and it’s about Durban then and now.”

The book was rejected by three publishers and each time Hobbs reworked it. “By the third time I was rather downhearte­d, but a writer friend told me to concentrat­e on the war angle and stick to my voice.” It was solid advice and was released by Umuzi publishers in March, giving Hobbs a few months to complete the launch tour before hosting the fifth Franschhoe­k Literary Festival in her new home town last month.

After graduating from the thenUniver­sity of Natal she did the travel-the-world stint for two years and then returned to her rugbyplayi­ng sweetheart, Ron, got married and had kids.

“I’ve got four fantastic strongmind­ed daughters and nine grandchild­ren but, obviously, in the early days working from home made sense,” she says.

Those who remember the women’s magazine, Darling, will also remember its popular columnist Blossom aka Jenny Hobbs. She was also the first features editor of Thandi magazine and subsequent­ly reviewed books, wrote for radio and worked on TV book programmes as compiler, presenter and interviewe­r.

Her first novel, which Hobbs says she wrote when she was “near 50” was World War II sections are particular­ly gripping”.

“I enjoy the research element of writing a novel, reading the cuttings and clippings and looking at the history. In this instance I had an amazing informant in Graham Pretorius, a man with a wealth of knowledge about World War II.”

Hobbs also doesn’t plan her novels. “I start with characters and situations and then work from there. I do have a penchant for brave and reckless heroes!”

And talking of heroes, her brother is David Walters, one of South Africa’s most distinguis­hed potters. He made his name with his Nkwaleni Pottery in Hilton and later the Caversham Mill, near Lidgetton, that he restored, but after the mill was washed away in the 1987 floods, he moved to the UK.

When Walters returned he set up home in Franschhoe­k, which is where Hobbs went after the death of her husband. “We’ve now got this sort of family kibbutz there. It’s a good place for me to write.”

Next time you visit the Midlands, you can go armed with the snippet of informatio­n that it was Jenny Hobbs who came up with the name Midlands Meander.

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