In early December 2014, I had a slipped disk in my back, which meant I had to lie on my bed for three weeks and could only move thanks to voltarin suppositories (big shout-out to them, they are FABULOUS) and v gingerly as though I did have a carrot inserted in the nether regions.
I was trying to get a literary agent for the psychological thriller I had just finished writing. Anyone who has tried to get an Overseas agent for their novel knows how much work goes into tailoring your submission for each individual agent – some want the first three chapters of your novel, some want the first ten thousand words, some want a one page synopsis, others want a synopsis of exactly 423.5 words in Arial and 1.5 spacing, along with your kidney, an ovary, your firstborn child and a lock of your hair.
Plus they all want a perky letter that is long enough to spark their interest but not too long that it bores the tits off them. And at the end of it all they will send you an email saying “The work you submitted is very interesting but please fuck off now and leave us alone…”
So there was that, plus work was not going brilliantly as my very dear friend and colleague was about to leave the Muvhango writing team after we had been together for eight years. Frankly, it felt like a divorce.
I was not in a happy place which is why when I got a letter from the publisher of Umuzi, Fourie Botha @umuzites, saying that they had decided to bring my novel “Ms Conception” out in print the following June, I was more than a little ecstatic. I think I burst into tears. Although that could also be perimenopause.
What followed was basically a whirlwind of a year, where I got to meet and befriend some of the most interesting people. Some are writers, some are not. All have contributed to making this a fabulous year for me.
First up, Jan Bartlett @janbartlet. Jan and I realized we both went to Maritzburg varsity around the same time, had many of the same friends but couldn’t remember if we’d ever actually met. As Maritzburg won the title of “South African University That Drinks The Most Beer” (we beat Rhodes), we were possibly slightly inebriated when our paths did cross, which would explain it. Jan has the most fantastic, dry sense of humour. A sample of our emails to each other:
Me: Have been looking seriously ugly and full of zits – perimenopause is a wonderful thing. So now that I’m looking slightly in less need of photoshopping, I will get a piccie taken. Hopefully tomorrow. Pam
Jan: I ate an entire jar of Nutella, with a teaspoon, over the course of 3 days. Now that’ll wreak havoc on one’s complexion! No rush on the photo. Jan
I have only met Fourie Botha via skype. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m slightly in awe of him. He’s scarily clever and (sickeningly) looks about 22. He has a very quiet way of saying what he wants in a manuscript ie. “Pamela, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have the afterbirth on the first page of Ms C, do you?” *Pammy scuttles off and immediately finds new place for afterbirth*
Next, my current work husband, Ryno Posthumus @taxi2venus, the Umuzi publicist. He slipped me his card at that first meeting at the Penguin Random House offices, little did I know things would get serious in the latter half of the year. The relationship is new, but we have bonded over cappuccinos, books and wine.
I have not met the managing editor of PRH, Beth Lindop @BethLindop in the flesh, but we’ve spoken over email a LOT and she was incredibly patient with me. My emails would start with things like: “Beth, is it too late or can I just add champagne to the placenta pate recipe?” I’m sure she was sighing and rolling her eyes, but she was always so lovely to me. Am looking forward to finally meeting her in February in Cape Town.
I met Karina Szczurek @KarinaMSzczurek over Twitter and a few weeks later got to have coffee with her in Joburg. Wow, wow, wow. What an amazingly clever and all-round wonderful human being. She has this knack of talking about books in such a way that I want to read them. She’s even got me reading Lee Child. Her piece on “Flame in the snow” was totally captivating, I ordered no. 47 of the numbered edition of “Flame” because I turned 47 this year and so many lovely things happened to me. It’s my Christmas present to myself .
The husband: what? Another one. Will there be anything left for me to buy you??
Me: I’m sure I’ll think of something…
Karina has very kindly agreed to interview me at the Book Lounge in February next year. I’m so excited, I can’t wait!!
Another highlight of my year was going to the SA book fair where I made a huge tit of myself by attempting to make off with a shitload of books from the PRH stand…until someone very firmly informed me that they were not for sale whilst the rest of the staff stood about and pissed themselves laughing (thanks, guys).
Besides trying to steal books from the PRH stand, I got to attend a panel that my lovely friend and fellow writer, Gail Schimmel @gailschimmel was on. Whoever (Whomever?) put together the panel did not realise that Gail’s book “Whatever Happened to the Cowley Twins” was fiction, and not at all based on Gail losing anyone’s twins. Gail was on a panel with the wonderful Bev Rycroft @BeverlyRycroft and Ruth Carneson and it was chaired by the rather gorgeous Bontle Senne @BontleSenne. Bev and Ruth both had harrowing tales of loss to tell whereas Gail…didn’t. It could’ve been a disaster, but Gail handled it with grace and humour and I learnt a lot just from watching her.
I had always been thrilled to be published digitally because that meant I wouldn’t have to do any book launches, or panels or anything where people expected me to be vaguely intelligent (always a challenge for me). That was about to change as I got to connect with people over Twitter and my lovely work husband, Ryno started arranging various events for me.
I met Khalida Moosa @rosybic over Twitter, chatted to her a few times and the next thing I knew I was on my way to her neck of the woods to chat to the women of her community book club. What a lovely group. My best moment of the afternoon was when a woman with six kids said to me: “I think I was depressed for the first two years after my first child was born.” It reminded me of why I had written Ms C in the first place.
I started getting requests to do various radio interviews. My first one was with Marguerite Richardson @MargsRichardson at Classic Fm. I was shitting myself and got all tarted up for some reason. I couldn’t decide which scarf to wear so asked the husband for his advice:
Me: what do you think of this scarf?
The husband: it’s radio. They can’t see you.
I also did interviews with the fabulous Shado Twala @shadotwala at SAfm (we still need to meet for wine), with Jonathan Ancer @amabookabooka (you owe me coffee), Terry Shakinowsky @TerryShakinowsky (I apologise for the strength of the eggnog at the launch) and Bruce Dennhill @BroosDennill (sorry about the sitting on the lap thing).
I got to go to the opening of the Dainfern Exclusive Books where I bonded with the wonderful Marcia Love @Awareader. Marcia introduced me to blogger Janice @Janjanmel who went on to write a glowing review of Ms C and who generally keeps me entertained with her fabulous blogposts.
The blogging community has (have?) been fantastic – Annetjie Van Wynegaard @AnnetjieVW at @BooksLIVESA, Kerry Sharper @KerrySharper , Bev Bouwer @BevBou and Belinda Mountain @BelindaMountain, whom I’m hoping to finally meet in CT have all been wonderfully warm and supportive. I’ve also had some lovely reviews in local magazines, Woman&Home @womanandhome_sa have been particularly great.
In fact, everyone was so nice and positive and complimentary, I thought, “hey, this promoting your book stuff is so cool. Don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner.”
Ah, hubris, Icarus, wax wings, flying too close to the sun and all that shite. The ParkWords Literary Festival made me feel like I’d quite like to leave the country and change my name. I was on a panel with Craig Higginson @CraigAHigginson and Mandla Langa @Mandla_Langa and we were interviewed by Jenny Cryws Williams @JCWlife. I had read both Craig’s and Bab’Mandla’s books and was MASSIVELY intimidated, not just by them but by JCW. I should’ve taken a leaf out of Gail’s book, when you find yourself on a panel where you are the odd person out, you should keep very quiet about issues you know nothing about. I, naturally, didn’t.
JCW asked me “So who do you think is going to write the next Anna Karenina in South Africa?” My answer should have been, “No fucking clue. Anna who? Wasn’t someone hit by a train or something?” Instead I waffled on about NoViolet Bulawayo (if you haven’t read #WeNeedNewNames, you must. Immediately). Basically I sounded like a complete dumbass, and the less said about this event the better. Luckily, my shredded nerves were soothed afterwards by the kind words of Kate @KateSidley and Boykey Sidley @StevenSidley and a bottle of red wine from my Bread and Butter.
The good thing about these panels where you make a tit of yourself is that there will always been a really nice experience that will make you forget your former humiliation. Marcia from EB Dainfern booked me to do one of the first coffee mornings there and it was my first taste of being interviewed about my book. Admittedly I did make my cousin, Kelley Thorrington @KThorrington (an ex-Classic FM presenter) interview me. Maybe it was just the bellinis but it was a helluva lot of fun, and I thought to myself, “hey, I’m not such a tit after all, I think I can actually do this”.
Paige Nick @paigen had approached me about being interviewed for the Good Book Appreciation Society on Facebook and Joanne Macgregor @JoanneMacg offered to do the interview. Joanne was brilliant. I’m a huge fan of hers. Her YA book “Scarred” is one of the best books I have read this year and is definitely one of my daughter’s favourites. Joanne (who is not bossy but is very FIRM) also got me involved in #NaNoWriMo2015 and through that, my writing buddy, Melissa Volker @MissyAnnV and I both managed to finish the last twenty thousand words of our manuscripts, which was a huge relief (Bruce Dennhill, I think Joanne needs to sort you out).
The very glamorous Rahla Xenopolus @Rahlax and I met over Facebook and had a mock-serious fight over who (whom?) Ryno really belonged to and so it was lovely to finally meet her properly. Her launch was as fabulous as I expected and Mbali Vilakazi @mbali_vilakazi asked really thoughtful questions. We also met for lunch and had a lovely chat about our kids. She has triplets. I know. Respect. Can’t wait to catch up with her when I do my Cape Town launch.
Having attended quite a few book launches at the wonderful Love Books at Bamboo in Melville @LoveBooksJozi, I then decided that I was ready to do my own launch. Ryno booked it, I arranged for the cousin to interview me, I booked a table at the Service Station afterwards, got a fabulous frock from Heart&Heritage @Heart_Heritage at #Convoy. It was all set.
Then my cousin thought she would have to go and shoot an ad in Cape Town on the Wednesday. Panic stations, I summoned Gail Schimmel to an urgent meeting at Croft&Co and she was put on stand-by to do the interview and reread my book in preparation (still owe her for that). But after all that my cousin was able to make it, we got a good crowd, the egg nog was awesome, the well-endowed gingerbread men were delicious, Sarah McGregor @worktheclock tweeted about it and the post-launch lunch finished at 5pm. It was the most perfect day and the best first book launch a girl could wish for.
The final big event I was involved with was the JCW Book Brunch. I was TERRIFIED after my less than impressive performance at the ParkWords Festival. I asked everyone for advice about how to handle it.
Anna from Love Books: just make sure you and Ryno do not get drunk
Me: but there will be champagne and I am cheap drunk
Anna: It is at 10 o’clock in the morning FFS!!
I got all tarted up (thanks to #TheHairdresser and #Joy at #BambooCentre in Melville) and was very glad that I did, as the women at the brunch looked stunning. I was very relieved to bump into the lovely Kate White @KathrynWhite_za when I got there and I was also at a table with the hilarious Kobus Galloway @IdeesVolVrees, and was reunited with the fabulous Melinda Ferguson @MelindaSMACKED (we used to have the same acting agent).
Me: remember I fetched you for the corporate video shoot for Standard Bank like twenty years ago?
Melinda: I do kind of remember that so maybe I wasn’t on the heroin then. Or maybe I was just taking a little bit…
My one worry was that my dress was low-cut at the back and that my bra would stick out.
Me to Ryno: if my bra starts hanging out, you will have to stick your hand up my dress and pull it down.
Ryno: *takes large gulp of champagne*
Ellen @EllenatPenguin: Excellent. We will take picture and put it on the noticeboard at work. Perhaps email it to everyone.
Luckily, the bra was fine and it turned out to be a blast. Ryno kept me supplied with bellinis (but not too many #cheapdrunk). I was up with the funny Gareth Crocker @garethCrocker and lovely Jane Griffiths @DeliciousJane. JCW was brilliant and it was great to meet her daughter Jacqueline @PookieRose (who has a fabulously wicked SOH) and thank God a couple of people even bought my book.
Me: I need to pee.
Gareth Crocker: Again?? You’ve peed four times already
Me: Do you know what it does to your bladder? Pushing a 4kg baby out of your-
Gareth: *cuts in* Okay. Thank you. Get the picture. You really have no filter, do you?
I have also been lucky to connect with some British writers on Twitter: Emma Kavanagh @EmmaLK, Elly Griffiths @ellygriffiths and Gilly Macmillan @GillyMacmillan are all lovely and have written some fabulous books. No pressure, girls but am waiting for your next offerings. Can’t wait for them to visit South Africa so Louis Greenberg @louisgreenberg can organize one of his famous writers’ lunches.
Of course the writing team at Muvhango have been a wonderful source of support and encouragement to me throughout the year, especially Kelton Sinyosi and Nonthu Magoxo @Ntuthu_M. Big shout-out to you.
Last but not least, I must thank my longsuffering husband, Paul Vos @PJVos (who is nothing like Nick de Villiers in #MsConception – but you already knew that) and my gorgeous kids, Liam and Ruby. As they always say “mummy works” but I promise I will not work on holiday this year *crosses fingers behind back*.
It certainly has been a wonderful year. All I can say is…thank you. Especially to everyone who has bought #MsConception, I really appreciate the support. Wishing you all love and light and may you read many, many wonderful (South African) books in 2016!
Invisible Others Karina M. Szczurek
Flame in the Snow Andre Brink & Ingrid Jonker
The Killing Floor Lee Child
Whatever happened to the Cowley Twins? Gail Schimmel
A Slim Green Silence Beverly Rycroft
Girl on the Edge Ruth Carneson
The Dream House Craig Higginson
The Texture of Shadows Mandla Langa
We need new names Noviolet Bulawayo
Imperfect Solo Steven Boykey Sidley
The Agony Chef Kate Sidley
Death by Carbs Paige Nick
Scarred Joanne Macgregor
Tribe Rahla Xenopolus
Anna Peters Year of Cooking Dangerously Kate White
Where’s Zuma? Kobus Galloway
Crashed Melinda Ferguson
Kapow! Gareth Crocker
Jane’s Delicious Urban Gardening Jane Griffiths
Hidden Emma Kavanagh
The Ghost Fields Elly Griffiths
Burnt Paper Sky Gilly Macmillan
Dark Windows Louis Greenberg
Oktober Reney Warrington
Why you were taken J.T. Lawrence
Now Following You Fiona Snyckers
And I’m sorry but I don’t have space for anymore!!