Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


And … To Print We Go

Balthasar’s Gift in English is about to become a real thing. I have been working on this baby since 2008, had the joy of seeing it go to print in German last year, and now in June 2014, it becomes an English novel, with my name on it, that can be bought in shops.

I feel hysterical. And giddy. And grateful. And quite weepy.

I have so many thank yous. There are people who have encouraged me to write since I held a stub of pencil in my chubby fist. I think of my grandmother Elise Cooper, who bought me my first copy of The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook when I was nine, and to whom I dedicate Balthasar’s Gift. My mother, Toni Jubber, who named me in honour of two famous writers, because she believed the baby in her belly would be one too. A couple of teachers, Cheryl Stobie and Colleen Irvine, who gave me stars and asked for more. My school friends, Dani Cohen and Kerry Hancock, who read my words, even the crappy teenage dirge stuff, and told me to carry on. Thank you to all of you.

balthasar cover_lowresThen there were the wilderness years. The only writing that I did was university essays, journals and journalism. Even though I didn’t write creatively, I always gravitated to storytellers and book freaks (among these, one Isa-Lee Jacobson and one Georgia Dunning Morris). I managed to find jobs that involved writing, so that I could still call myself a writer. However, I put in my ten thousand hours, and am grateful to all the teachers who helped me learn to write leaner and cleaner. Thank you to you.

When I took the plunge in 2008, and started writing again for real, the teachers flocked in. A whole flood of amazing people off the Internet presented themselves as guides and mentors. Their feedback was rough, sometimes brutal, and I had to learn to separate the wheat from the chaff, but it toughened me up. This was a necessary lesson, because getting published is freaking hard and there is no room for delicate flowers. I still talk to these people on a forum and though I have not met one single soul in real life, they are all as real to me as if they were standing here next to me. For talking tough and teaching me everything, I thank all of you.

I thank those of you who have supported my blog since 2006 and shared your words of wisdom and encouragement with me. Thanks to Lia Hadley, who jumped out of the Internet and became a real life friend, and a real life midwife to Balthasar’s Gift. Thank you for the hours you dedicated to reading, your ideas and your very firm adherence to timelines and facts. I also need to thank Rebecca Servadio, who told me to get the book the hell out of the first person. (Glad I listened to her.)

In the acknowledgements to Balthasar’s Gift, I thank three people in the publishing industry who saw a spark in Maggie and decided to take a risk on her and me. Thank you to Michaela Roell, Else Laudan and Colleen Higgs – and the amazing teams that stand behind you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

A very special thanks to my dear friend Angela Briggs, whose beautiful painting forms the cover of the novel. Thank you to you.

I have a ton of cheerleaders; friends, colleagues and family whose job it is to say ‘Just keep going! You can do it!’. The leader of this motley crew is my husband, Thomas Otter, ably supported by my children, all of whom provide huge draughts of enthusiasm about what I do. How lucky I am to have each and every one of you. Thank you.

I am also grateful to Maggie and Balthasar and Lindiwe and Mbali and Sanet and Spike and Ed and Zacharius and Aslan and Cora and Nkosazana. You take your own journey now, independent of me. Thank you for filling my head with your conversations and obsessions and craziness for all these years. I release you to inflict these on the world. Goodbye and good luck!



From There to Here

Anyone remember The Cool White Room of Peace? I was there this week. Lying there, with someone drilling inside my head, specks of spit hitting me in the face, the numb slug of my tongue in my mouth, I had some time to reflect.

When I wrote that post in 2006, it was right at the start of my writing journey. I was just starting to find my feet as a blogger, starting to peek out from behind the wall of fear at the possibility that I might start writing something out of the images in my head and the rage in my heart. It took another eighteen months, but in January 2008, with the awareness that at the end of the year I would turn 40 and the feeling that if I didn’t start then I never would and I would one day die angry and bitter, I started a novel.

It was very bitty. I had no idea where I was going. I wrote my way in, draft after draft after ever-loving draft. Cheerleaders read my chapters, saying encouraging things. Friends leapt out of the internet to read my drafts and make suggestions. There were highs and some horrible lows. It started out as literary fiction and turned into crime. First person became third. An entirely new character presented herself to me as I drove my family home from Berlin and she became my main character. I killed darlings. I erased characters. I murdered words.

Around draft six, my agent Michaela phoned me to say she loved the book and wanted to represent me.

Around draft fourteen, my publisher Else offered a contract to publish Balthasar’s Gift in German. She titled it Balthasars Vermaechtnis and translated it herself with loving attention to detail and to the accuracy of words and meaning.

July 17 is publication day. Sometime between now and then, I will hold a book that I have written myself in my very own hands.

It has been a long hard road from the cool white room of peace to this. But every detour, every dead end, every hard shoulder presented a chance for me to become a better writer. I am grateful for them all.


BG: Now with Added Translation

For my friend Di, who claims not to be able to read German, though I doubt it because she is so damn clever at everything else she does, here is a very rough translation of the Balthasar’s Gift promo materials:

Pietermaritzburg is the capital city of the South African province KwaZulu-Natal. And the two main beats of the local Gazette are crime and health, which says something about Pietermaritzburg.

Crime reporter Magdalena Cloete knows her town and has no illusions about it. One morning, a man is shot on the front verandah of the local AIDS Mission. A political murder? Maggie’s instincts go into red alarm, since the victim, Balthasar Meiring had tried in vain only the week before to draw her attention to an ongoing court case. It focused on the sales of AIDS medication that fraudulently claimed to cure the disease. Was there more to it than the usual business machinations?

As she starts to investigate, Maggie finds she has a gang of thugs on her heels. Threats and physical attacks only serve to heighten her determination. In the meantime, she learns enough about Balthasar’s life and his commitment to his cause that she loses all professional distance and risks her own skin …

And the back cover text:

Farmer’s son Balthasar Meiring was active in an AIDS Mission – until someone put four bullets in his chest. Crime reporter Magdalena Cloete suspects that there is much more to Meiring’s murder. On her search for truth, politicians and gangsters do their best to get in her way.


The Next Big Thing

I’ve been tagged by my new friend, writer JJ Marsh, to do this meme.

The idea of this is that a writer puts up a post on his or her own blog answering ten questions about his/her work in progress, and then “tags” three writers to do the same. Then, the writer posts a link to his/her “tagger” and to the people he/she is “tagging” so that readers who are interested can visit those pages and perhaps discover some new authors whose work they’d like to read.

I’ve chosen to focus on my completed – and soon to be debut – novel Balthasar’s Gift, rather than my work-in-progress, because the latter is still in bits and nowhere near being a coherent, pleasing whole of which I can speak in sensible sentences. It’s still at the stage of being a feeling, a synopsis and a few thousand words on my laptop. However, when I do think about it, I feel little short shards of joy that are painful and pleasing at the same time – but it’s too close to talk about.

So, herewith, I give you The Next Big Thing meme:

What is the working title of your book?

Balthasar’s Gift. It was always so. My German publisher has indicated that it will need a different title in German, which is probably sensible as Balthasars Geschenk doesn’t have much of a ring.

Where did the idea come from for this book?

Two places. First, a huge feeling of rage that Thabo Mbeki’s government were denying that HIV caused AIDS and thus killing people with their lack of action. Second, an image of a juggler. I put the two together.

What genre does your book fall under?

It’s crime. The first draft was literary fiction, but luckily I woke up to the fact that this story needed to be told in a very specific way, and by a very specific character who I needed to create specifically for the purpose.

Which actors do you have in mind to play in the movie of your book?

I wrote this role for Charlize Theron. But if she turns it down, my other choice is Jodie Foster, circa The Accused. As for the love interest, Spike, I spotted him on the street in Heidelberg a few weeks ago but I’m not sure if acting’s his gig.

What’s the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Oh bloody howl. This is so difficult. Here’s a little something I wrote last night but it’s by no means the final version:

Journalist Maggie Cloete has no idea what she’s in for when she investigates the murder of Balthasar Meiring, an AIDS activist, and discovers that the family of AIDS orphans he’s taken in are being targeted by a dubious local politician and a posse of vengeful gangsters.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I have an agent, who has sold the German rights to a publisher in Hamburg. We are still looking to nail down the English rights. However, if we don’t succeed in selling BG into the English market, I have not discounted self-publishing. It’s a lot more respectable nowadays, especially if authors are happy to be both professional and entrepreneurial.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the novel?

Fifteen long months. This baby has been slow in the making: four years, in fact. However, I think by writing a novel I have learned how to write a novel and with better planning, Karkloof Blue will take less than half that time.

Which other books in this genre would you compare to your novel?

It’s Nadime Gordimer (South Africa, politics, pain, race, redemption) meets Janet Evanovich (gritty, acerbic, tart).

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Inequality – the unfair deal some people get and the privilege others get just by dint of birth – and how people challenge their birth-right to make a new world for themselves.

What else about your book might pique a reader’s interest?

It’s feminist crime fiction. I believe in turning over stereotypes – men as warriors, women as victims – and giving power to the disempowered. Writing that was a lot of fun, but it was also a challenge to me, as I had to keep to keep questioning my own filters and biases and trying to break through those. Whether I’ve succeeded fully still remains to be seen.

Who to tag?

Well this meme has been around some, but how about these favourite writer friends of mine?

Melissa Romo

Christine Lee Zilke

Nicole Doherty

Nova Ren Suma

Liz Fenwick

If I haven’t tagged you, please feel free to play!


A book deal for BG (and me)

Dear readers, I am so very, very happy to be able to tell you that I have sold the German rights to Balthasar’s Gift to Argument Verlag! I can now, without conscience, call myself an author.

The book will be out, in German, in Spring 2013. Argument have an imprint called Ariadne, which focuses on crime fiction by women. They tend to publish left-leaning, feminist fiction with edgy female protagonists. Ahem!

I have known since late April, so have already drunk my body weight in celebratory alcohol, but tonight I will sleep happy knowing that the contract is signed and we are on our way.

Next step: a contract with an English publisher so that my friends and family can read BG in the language in which it was written. Hold thumbs as BG wings its way around publishers’ desks in the UK!

If you want to get a feel for some of the themes in the book, here’s its mood board on Pinterest.


Turning Up

If you have 60 minutes to spare, here’s an amazing video on creativity and the brain with neurologist Oliver Sachs and artists Chuck Close and Richard Serra:

About halfway in, Chuck Close says something that electrified me. Charlie Rose asks him about inspiration and how that figures in his art and Close says, to great general amusement, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just turn up for work.”

This week I turned in draft 13 of Balthasar’s Gift, the draft that, if they are happy about it, my agent and her co-agents are going to start shopping around. Thirteen drafts and three-and-a-half years of writing. If I was still relying on inspiration, I’d have given up years ago.

Close’s off-the-cuff comment also made me realise why it took me so long to commit to being a writer. I was waiting for the inspiration. Now I know it’s mostly about the work.


Happiness and Revisions

I’m still unpacking boxes but am gloriously happy in my new home. Living without a kitchen is interesting, but since I was the one who sold the concept to my family as a big adventure, I’m not allowed to complain. Let’s just say that once the cooking on camping plates and the washing up in the bath comes to an end, I’ll be even happier than I am now. Fit to burst happy. Disgustingly, floating on air happy.

I had more happy news about Balthasar’s Gift. My agent M works with a fabulous London literary agency who sell her books in the British market, and she sells theirs in the German market. A couple of agents read BG over Christmas and reportedly ‘loved it.’ They have asked for some revisions and after a call with them next week, I will be getting to it.

This is the third set of agent revisions I will have done since August last year. The road to publication is not easy! And ’tis filled with revisions!

However, I can see BG getting stronger and stronger and that makes me – you guessed it – happy.