Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006


Am Reading

So I am writing, but there’s always time for reading. Here, in handy list form for ease of use, are my latest five-star books:

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat, Pray, Love was a Marmite book. Some loved it, others hated it. I was amongst the lovers. But that aside, the raging success of E,P,L gave Gilbert the money and time to research and write The Signature of All Things, which is the book she was born to write. It is the big, bold, open-hearted story of Alma Whittaker, a nineteenth century botanist whose research takes her in the same direction as Charles Darwin’s. Gilbert says she was inspired by Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, in which the author writes historical fiction with a modern sensibility. This was exactly what I loved about Gilbert’s novel. I also loved it on sentence level. There was deep, deep sentence jealousy.

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

Lauren is a superbly talented South African writer. Her last couple of books have gone to auction at Frankfurt Book Fair and earned her huge advances. She is a genre-busting wild child, presently sporting pink hair. Her latest is set in Detroit and focuses on the efforts of a female detective to find a serial killer. What starts as a crime novel spirals into a deftly managed horror story. It is vast in imagination and bold in its reflection of the twenty-first century sensibility, replete (in a good way) with Facebook posts, Reddit conversations and journalists manipulating the Internet for cheap fame. Stephen King should look to his laurels.

Eleanor Marx: A Life by Rachel Holmes

Loved this. Marx’s big-hearted youngest child got most of her schooling at her father’s feet, and grew up to be a tireless trade unionist, journalist, writer and campaigner before committing suicide in her forties. She forced the suffragettes to consider working women in their campaigns, forced British trade unionism to be more international and fought on every side for workers’ rights. She is a fascinating human being and Holmes does a great job bringing her to life. If we’re talking modern sensibility, then Tussy (as was her nickname) was the epitome of this with her absolute refusal to countenance the mores of her time.

All my Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews

I am an unabased Toews fan. I love everything she writes, mostly because no matter how tragic the subject matter, it is always thread through with dark dark humour. The same goes for her latest novel, about two sisters, emotional refugees from the Canadian Mennonites, who have gone on to make their lives outside the sect – Elfrieda as a concert pianist, and Yolanda as a messed-up normal person. Most of the story is told at Elfrieda’s bedside in a mental institution where she is recovering from her latest suicide attempt and contemplating her next. Witty, tragic, beautiful. This book is hard not to love.





Chased by a Rhino

I hitch-hiked from Narbonne to Perpignan in the back of a fish-truck.

I sold dolls that wee in a supermarket in Bloubergstrand.

I was chased by a rhino.

I met a naval officer who was dancing in a fountain and I took him to my school dance.

I am good at croquet, average at bridge, poor at tennis.

I gatecrashed the first opening of parliament of South Africa’s new democracy.

I waitressed at a Foreign Office event without a work visa.

I’ve slept all night on a beach.

I wore a paper hat for work in the John Lewis staff canteen.

I know that angels smell of roses.

I’ve given birth three times, but only once in a hospital.

I spent a week in Rome in a villa on Appian Way.

I have shaken hands with a Prince and dined with international cricket stars.

I went to Oliver Tambo’s funeral.

The garden of my last home was the site of a Roman temple.

I used to ask boys out on dates.

On honeymoon, my husband and I had to call guards to chase away the elephants outside our hotel room.

After her death, my grandmother visited me in spirit.

I was trapped by floods in a Transkei village.

I write because there are stories in my head.

I write because words follow each other.

I used to be a crime reporter, but not a very brave one.

I have written a book about a crime reporter. She climbs walls, rides motorbikes and saves a child. She is the hero.

Inspired by Simonne Michelle’s beautiful post Dancing on a Greek Island


Over To You

I know I said I was taking a break, but you can’t keep a good blog post down. Today, I’m inspired by über-agent and blogger, Rachelle Gardner, who’s asking her readers some questions.

Here are mine, for you to answer in the comments:

1. What’s the best book you’ve read this year and why?

2. What are you tired of reading about on blogs?

3. What do you never tire of reading on blogs?

4. What’s the one blog on your feed reader that you’ll always read first?

5. Dark or milk chocolate?

Have a great Easter weekend!



Life has taken over from blogging – nothing serious, but an accumulation of things over the past three months that have left me exhausted. I’m giving myself a blogging break. I’ll be reading blogs, commenting occasionally, but not writing anything until after Easter. May the books you read be inspiring, the words you write be lovely and may the Easter bunny bring you shedloads of very expensive and very tasty chocolate.

Auf Wiedersehen, pets!


Moving Swiftly On

… from that unpleasant image, I would just like to inform you that while having had a melancholic week trying to fathom the novel revisions required by my agent’s agents and feeling the need to meditate on the word poignant, while listening – inadvertently – to Rodrigues (which reminded me of being an undergraduate, listening to Rodrigues, and being poignant and melancholic pretty much for three whole years without let-up) at the Literature Cafe in Heidelberg yesterday, and having been depressed on the phone to at least three friends (I love you, you are good to me, thank you), the sun has come out in my life today – literally and figuratively – and I am feeling upbeat, inspired and happy.

I no longer feel the need to write long, Dickensian sentences.

I’m working on short ones.

Ones that are peppy.

Sunny, upbeat and full of potential.

Going for a walk now to look for signs of spring:


Writing Distractions

Just so you know what’s keeping me out of the cellar:

1. The World Cup

I used to pooh-pooh soccer, now I’m obsessed. I think it’s less to do with the game itself and more to do with the fact that it’s taking place in my homeland. South Africa is proving itself to be a great host and not only is the World Cup running smoothly and well, but tourists are having a fabulous time. Our team may not have been the best, but South Africa is a world champion host country. Here’s Shari Cohen of the Huffington Post on what the World Cup has meant to her. It made this expat wipe away a tear of pride. Also, I’m loving the sound of vuvuzelas in the Burg. A little bit of Africa floating to me on the night air.

2. Work

I have a great part-time position as an in-house journalist for the next three months. I am really looking forward to being in the working world again.

3. Marketing

The time to start marketing Balthasar’s Gift, a 75,000 word murder mystery set in South Africa at the height of AIDS denialism, is upon me. I am researching agents, writing query letters and synopses and thinking about the  best way to sell my book.

4. Summer

We are going to the pool a lot. It is a mere five minutes’ walk from our house, so we are there as often as possible. I have two-and-a-half swimmers, so the experience is more relaxing than it used to be. I can now read my book and do some lengths if I want to.

5. Parties

Loads of parties! Summer parties, farewell parties, got-a-degree parties, soccer parties, work parties. We are up for a party chez Otter, we love a bit of music and dancing and chatting to people we know and don’t know.

Hope summer is turning out just as lovely for you. Here’s the World Cup Waka Waka to put you in the mood: