You Win Some, You Nearly Win Some

You win some, you nearly win some. 

A couple of weeks ago I posted after I had been nominated for the ST Fiction Award shortlist. In the following couple of weeks I was also shortlisted for the UJ Debut Writing Award, and then last Friday morning I got a call telling me that I had won the UJ.

Heady stuff indeed. I was considerably unnerved, assuming that such good fortune would brutally revert to the mean by means of some seriously awful counter-stuff that was certain to bear down on my bewildered head. I am quite aware of the bell curve here, and I am at the far edge, the longest of tails – this little writing journey has taken me from modest self-published Amazon aspirations to, well, here. In the rarified air of so-called ‘award-winning authors’ (a phrase which I am sure has a half-life of some wildly unstable little particle). Not even the most brazen and unhinged of fiction writers would be shamed to write this narrative.

But enough of that.

What I really wanted to talk about the impossibility of constraining hope. I arrived at the ST event at Summerplace on Saturday night on a continuing float and grin after the UJ news a mere 24 hours earlier, and told my wife Kate, and myself, that there were 5 good books in the  ST shortlist, each of us had a 20% chance, and besides, I had a fresh and untarnished literary award in my bouquet and was therefore inured to wild expectations and disappointments. Let the chips fall where they may, I proclaimed. All is good, I am fine. More than fine. Really big cup runneth over, actually.

The event was crowded with black ties and impressive gowns, and peopled with the fine and talented and elegant – the cream of publishing and writing, including some icons like Gordimer, and my co-shortlisters, all of whom I rather like. We eyed each other, drank merry, clapped backs, kissed cheeks.

And thought, will it be him, will it be her?

And against all of my rational bluster – will it be me?

Stop it, you greedy little shit, I thought. It is fine, let the chips fall where they may. I am fine, really.

Into the dining room we trooped. I found myself seated at a table with all sorts of interesting people.

Which was far from the stage.

Really far.

Further than my co-contestants, who were seated nearer the front. WHAT THE FUCK, WHY ARE THEY SEATED NEARER THE PODIUM?.

No, no, get a grip man. I have my award already. It is fine. I am fine. REALLY, I AM FUCKING FINE.

And then the entertainment (a funny Nick Rabinowitz), some other announcements, and a gorgeous soaring address by Judge Cameron, and short crisp speech by Gordimer. A few more minutes to the Fiction Prize, and my mouth goes dry, and I forget the speech which I promise you I didn’t write, because I have my award, and I am fine, and I don’t need another. Really.

And then – a surprise guest. Vusi Mahlasela . Good, he’ll sing a song, he is one of the greats. This will be good. I can wait. I am not getting the fucking award anyway. Right? right?

Then he sings another. This is an icon of SA music, who I have never seen before, and all I want him to do is stop singing. GET OFF THE FUCKING STAGE! PLEASE!

Oh God, and then another.

And so I didn’t win. The man at the podium said ‘Karen Jayes’. And some other stuff I didn’t hear.

I clapped.

I smiled.

I nodded.

I went over to give her a congratulatory kiss.

Because I am fine.


Mourning a loss

Mourning a loss

I recently fell victim to a alarm blocker scam, and returned to my car  from gym (VirginActive Houghton) one morning a few weeks ago to find everything gone.

Including my PC.

Which had about 10,000 words of my new novel (not the one coming out next year, but the one I was working on for some unspecified future publication).

Which of course, I hadn’t backed up (so much for my reputation as a technology guru).

After the initial shock, and the subsequent progression of Kubler’s 7 stages of grief, I am a man humbled and wise.

The book started, as all of my books do, with the rendering of a character I found interesting, and around whom my story was to coalesce. As sometimes happens, I got immediately into the zone, and the character, one Cory Pinkus, just flowed out. I loved him,  was able to inhabit him quickly, without too much forethought. He was born dimensional, and his life and times were coming into focus.

And then the theft, and the loss of Cory.


Much like in real life, the character cannot be reincarnated, brought back from the dead, re-animated. I have tried. He is another guy. He is not Cory. He has different concerns, fears, hopes and conceits. And I am not yet sure that his doppelganger can inhabit a book that anyone would want to read. We shall see.

There are two morals here.

The first is the fictional characters are slippery and elusive until their whole story is told. They exist as flickering film, a set of snapshots fleshed by words and connected by imagination. As the novel proceeds they begin to gain colour and texture and, if the author is lucky,  some solidity, even verity. A character barely born, with a mere 10,000 words behind him is still a toddler, and his loss mourned as such by his author.  And, I suppose, even those with 100,000 words behind them also eventually fade from view, but at least they have lived.

And the second moral is…back up your fucking work.