Madwoman by Louisa Treger to be launched at Exclusive Books Cavendish and I get to ask the questions … :)

Please join us for this launch. I look forward to talking to Louisa about her life, writing and her latest stunning novel, Madwoman, which tells the remarkable story of Nellie Bly.

Description

‘A moving story’ SUNDAY TIMES, Best historical fiction books of 2022
‘A must read!’ GILL PAUL
‘Intriguing … A fascinating read’ HAZEL GAYNOR
‘Remarkable’ ESSIE FOX
‘An astonishing tour de force’ REBECCA MASCULL

In 1887 young Nellie Bly sets out for New York and a career in journalism, determined to make her way as a serious reporter, whatever that may take.

But life in the city is tougher than she imagined. Down to her last dime and desperate to prove her worth, she comes up with a dangerous plan: to fake insanity and have herself committed to the asylum that looms on Blackwell’s Island. There, she will work undercover to document – and expose – the wretched conditions faced by the patients.

But when the asylum door swings shut behind her, she finds herself in a place of horrors, governed by a harshness and cruelty she could never have imagined. Cold, isolated and starving, her days of terror reawaken the traumatic events of her childhood. She entered the asylum of her own free will – but will she ever get out?

An extraordinary portrait of a woman way ahead of her time, Madwoman is the story of a quest for the truth that changed the world.

‘Madwoman is one of the best, a magnificent portrayal of Nelly Bly in all her journalistic integrity and daring’ New York Journal of Books

Louisa is also the author of:

Can’t wait! Hope to see you there :)

CLAWS: Clanwilliam Animal Welfare Society

Love me!

The little boy did not know what was wrong with his listless puppy. But he knew who Jeanine Mitchell was and that she would help.

clawsbig

I met Jeanine at Oudrif. She and her husband Bill own and run the place I always return to. I think part of my soul never really leaves Oudrif, so I have to go there to feel whole. Each time I visit, I meet other fascinating guests, and animals. Jeanine fosters cats and dogs who can no longer be taken care of for whatever reason by their original families and she finds new homes for them. She is the project manager at CLAWS: Clanwilliam Animal Welfare Society. Between 12 and 14 July, CLAWS, together with the remarkable Cape Town vet Dr Annelize Roos, organised another Pet Sterilisation Project in the greater Clanwilliam area.

The Pet Sterilisation Projects focus on the vaccination and sterilisation of disadvantaged dogs and cats to prevent more unwanted pets and feral colonies occurring in this sensitive environment. (The greatest threat to African Wild Cat is hybridisation with pet and feral cats.)

Jeanine and her team of volunteers pick up the animals from their homes or trap them if they are feral and take them to a building (neglected and grotesquely looted, but beggars can’t be choosers – that is the only place on offer to the Pet Sterilisation Projects at the moment) on the outskirts of Clanwilliam near the sports stadium. There, they are vaccinated or/and sterilised by Dr Roos and her team, and those who need to recover after an op are taken care of by more volunteers at the venue. Anyone who wants to have their pet(s) vaccinated or/and sterilised and can transport their animal(s) themselves, will also be assisted at the venue. People from the entire area arrive throughout the three days. Only those who can afford to are asked to pay the full fees for the services. Others make small donations, if they can. Everyone is assisted.

No electricity, no running water, no toilets, but everyone makes it all work no matter what the challenges (including the generator blowing up and damaging operating equipment, and threats of break-ins at night from the tik-addicts in the area). It’s brutal, but the community rallies around the Pet Sterilisation Projects and all you encounter are smiling faces wherever you look, even after everything goes wrong. Because in the end, nothing really does. Dedication and passion save the day every single time.

The Three Volunteers :)

In my small capacity, I have been supporting these Projects through all avenues of donation – and with books, Karavan Press’s and my own, which you can buy at Oudrif and all the money from the sales goes towards CLAWS – for as long as I have been visiting Oudrif. But, this year I decided to volunteer as well and went up to Clanwilliam for the three days to assist in whichever way I could.

For Jeanine, these three days mean 14 to 18 hours of work daily. It’s relentless. She has assistance only for part of the time. But she never loses her energy or her cool. Her patience and care – for the animals, their humans and the people she guides and works with – are astounding. She knows how to make a plan. I felt out of my depth most of the time and made many mistakes, but she gently taught me and all the others to step up and help to the best of our abilities. There is a gigantic responsibility involved, and life and death situations occur where the wrong decision or action can have dire consequences. Around 200 patients were attended to during the Project. Only one animal arrived too late to be saved. All others were helped, returned home or adopted. The listless puppy abandoned into Jeanine’s care by the helpless little boy could no longer stand properly on his little paws when we found the two, but with a little bit of food, the proper medication, a bath, and all the love around, within a day, the puppy was already going for a walk with me, barking to demand attention and wagging his tail with excitement. Jeanine will foster him at Oudrif where I am sure he will charm the pants off all the current visitors until he is fully recovered and ready to be adopted. He will have one more adult doggy companion getting treatment and healing at Oudrif after this Project.

All other abandoned animals who arrived at CLAWS’s doorstep this time found new homes already during the three days we were there.

Successful adoptions.

In the years that the Pet Sterilisation Projects have been up and running, the team has been able to vaccinate and sterilise thousands of animals. Singlehandedly, Jeanine has also saved many lives of animals who were sick and dying because of abandonment or lack of appropriate care. CLAWS is active throughout the year, helping people to deworm, vaccinate, sterilise and heal their animals. They use the opportunity to educate the general population about animal care issue. During a recent canine distemper virus outbreak, Jeanine and CLAWS were on the frontlines trying to assist (you can read the Daily Maverick article about the outbreak: “Virus has swept through Western Cape town of Clanwilliam, causing death and suffering to dozens of dogs”). She raises the funds to make this all happen from donations or out of her own pocket. At Oudrif, she makes compassion bracelets and handmade beauty products that are sold to raise funding and awareness, while Oudrif supplies logistical and financial support. In Cape Town, you can buy the beauty products at The Hoghouse. I love the liquid and solid soaps and the lotions, and my home is never without them, but there is so much more to choose from.

The most efficient way to support CLAWS is a direct donation:

Clanwilliam Animal Welfare Society, FNB account 629 2008 5504, branch 250655.

They are a registered NPO.

I will be going to Oudrif again in August and will be taking cat/dog food, blankets, sheets, towels, cushions and hot water bottles (all needed during recovery) with me. If you can donate any of these things, please get in touch with me and I will pick them up from you (in Cape Town) and take it all with me. Everything helps! The next Pet Sterilisation Project will take place later this year. It makes a huge difference, to the animals and the communities they live in.

Please hug your Furry Family from me. The Cats send their purrs.

Second Life Book Club: A conversation with Karina M. Szczurek

This should be fun! 15 June 2022, 9PM (South African time): Second Life Book Club with Draxtor

Here are some shots from my first visit to the Second Life Book Club, when I had my tutorial on how it all works.

My avatar’s ears wiggle :) She is a real Szczurek.

Of broken things

Someone I work with on a project had a serious medical emergency recently. Their recovery took a while and delayed the project. The delay wasn’t a big deal, we were all just glad that the person was recovering well and would be all right. And the project is more or less back on track now.

When objects or the body break, it is not only more obvious, but usually easier to accept the reality of the situation. The brokenness is a real thing in the world. If your leg is broken and in a cast, no one will ask you to run a marathon with them. One plans and works around the broken bones and adjusts to what is possible until they are completely healed.

When something invisible that does not obviously manifest in the physical world breaks, the only way to communicate it to other people is by putting on a cast made of words. But when you say ‘my mind is broken’ or ‘my heart is broken’ or ‘my soul is broken’ or ‘I am broken’, somehow it is usually not enough, unless you explain exactly what is happening. And the problem is that often you actually do not know, or are simply too vulnerable, too anxious, too confused, too exhausted to even try to explain. But because you seem otherwise fine, people still expect you to run the marathon with them.

I haven’t been well for quite a while and I am all of the above – too vulnerable, too anxious, too confused, too exhausted – to explain. I am sometimes angry that I have to explain anything at all. I want it to be enough that when I say ‘I am not well’, I am believed and that my invisible brokenness is respected. I want to be allowed to heal without constantly having to justify why I can’t run the marathon. I want to celebrate that I can get up in the morning and walk, which most days feels like the greatest achievement already. I still manage quite a lot, just not the marathon that is expected of me.

And then, there is the inescapable global brokenness. In her latest newsletter, the wonderful Esther Perel writes: ‘Is it any wonder so many of us are feeling numb and disoriented? Alert: this, too, is part of the mental health crisis. In response to tragedy after tragedy, many of us are cycling through fight, flight, and freeze responses faster than we can finish a cup of coffee—myself included.’

Empaths are having a really, really hard time right now, even if they themselves are not broken – the world around us is.

One of the hardest things for me right now is that I am breaking my promises. Because I promised to run the marathon – which is impossible with broken bones, even if only invisible – there are many people who are still eager to continue with the preparations and find it difficult to accept that it’s not happening as fast as I had promised them it would when I was still fit to run. My slow walking requires a lot of patience. But even though it does break my heart to have to deal with the occasional lack of patience, I also understand. After all, I made promises I cannot keep. It’s all right if anyone wants to run without me. I accept that.

I break promises I made to myself. This is hard, too. The only thing I keep hanging on to like a lifeline is my writing. The book is being written. But facing the book’s content is also facing my brokenness.

Another hard thing is the numbness, the inability to take stuff in – the good and the bad. It’s almost as if the metaphorical cast around me is so thick and large that nothing or very little gets through. Again, for an empath this is an unusual way of being.

Today, something really good happened. After almost five years of paying off the debt for Topolino, we finally, officially belong to each other, and this morning I received the document to prove it (the process of the transfer was quite challenging in my current state of being, but I managed!). I would take Topolino for a celebratory spin around town, but I – like so many others – cannot afford to be that frivolous when fuel prices and marathon dreams, among so many other things, are breaking my bank account. Also, ironically, I suppose, my garage door broke this weekend and going for a spin is another challenge altogether. I will be phoning the electrician today and waiting patiently for his arrival. I will walk until Topolino can be easily freed again.

Walking is fortunately still possible for me, even when I am invisibly broken. Walking will have to be enough for a while. Accepting my limitations and setting healthy boundaries are part of my healing process.

LitNet: The yumness of the Kingsmead Book Fair 2022

KBF

Even for Capetonians, it is doable in a day, and the access could not be more perfect: you take an early flight to Joburg, get on the Gautrain, arrive at the Rosebank station, and Kingsmead College is right opposite its exit. The college is the venue of the Kingsmead Book Fair (KBF). It is a one-day affair, so in the evening you can go straight home. This year was the first time I decided to attend, and I loved every second of it, despite the journey and the freezing cold and rain that accompanied the event.

LitNet

LitNet: Real Fiction – The revival of the Franschhoek Literary Festival

I wrote about the FLF for LitNet:

“Other people do not walk around with fictional characters and stories occupying the majority of their headspace. Writers do. Tuned into alternative realities, often the most intimate relationships they have are with their Muses. As readers, we are fascinated by them and the beauty, perception, solace and entertainment they can offer through their stories. We attend literary festivals to rub shoulders with these strange creatures and to discover what inspires them, what makes them tick.”

LitNet

FLF

FLF

Post-lockdown Dispatches: Week Seven

Healing is not always possible. The wheels of time turn, seasons change and there is no going back, because choice has been taken out of our hands. At one stage, all of us have to face the inevitable. But sometimes it is simply too soon. And no one is ready. We can never know when it is going to be our time to say goodbye.

So when time and choice are available to us, we have to make the most of them. Life is too short not live our dreams. Especially when the dreams flow from a core of love and kindness and beauty. And when truth can set us free. The things I want are simple and I am prepared to fight for them, no matter how tired I am and how easy it would be to give up. There has to be a way. And I have always been infinitely patient. And full of hope.

Post-lockdown Dispatches: Week Six

Someone I care about very much waited all afternoon long for her beloved husband to come out of a serious surgery. He was admitted to hospital last week and is in ICU now after the op. His recovery begins tonight.

Yesterday afternoon, I sat at a woman’s table who has faced cancer head-on and will not give it the satisfaction of ruining her life. She, too, is brave beyond words.

I have had to take my little Glinka three times to the vet in the past week. Today, she was there for eight hours. This is the longest she has been away from home since her sterilisation almost fourteen years ago. She had to have some more tests and a procedure done, and it wasn’t certain whether she would be able to come home tonight, but she is back, has already eaten and is on my lap. I couldn’t face the idea of sleeping tonight without her in the house.

I tried not to think too much in the last few days. Did my work and enjoyed every smile, beautiful word and sunray that came my way. The FLF happened and it was amazing. I am supposed to write about it. But that will have to wait until tomorrow. Or maybe even the next day …

Tonight, we sleep, and heal.

Post-lockdown Dispatches: Week Five

My washing machine is broken. It has been for quite a while. In the beginning of the year, the municipality was fixing the ancient water pipe system in our area and the repairs caused prolonged disruptions to our water supply. We hardly ever received warning when the water would be cut off. It was difficult to plan anything. One day, the washing machine was on, the water went off, no one noticed, and, running on empty, the pump broke. (I think.) Everything came to a standstill and no matter what buttons I pressed and dials I turned, the machine seemed dead.

The washing machine is ancient. It was in this house before I arrived in South Africa. It might be even more than twenty years old. But: it had served me well, and I love it. I really do. Sadly, I have been busy and broke and just as broken, so making a plan to fix or replace it has not featured highly on my agenda. The facts that my mother gave me a suitcase full of new clothes recently, and that I’d had enough clothes and linen to last forever anyway have encouraged the decision non-making about the poor, old thing. Anyway, there is a nice laundromat nearby, and my friends have functioning washing machines, and I have no problem with washing a few items by hand. Time is on my side, too.

After the breakdown, the machine did not respond to any attempts at revival. It needed to lick its wounds. A few weeks, I tried a settings or two and discovered that even though the pump was broken, the machine could perform other functions. It just needed a bit of help, and understanding, and time. I studied it, assisted a bit, fiddled some more with the settings, showed patience and did not expect miracles. I could do a pre-wash by hand, transfer the laundry to the machine, help with the pumping of water, and the machine would wash and spin like it used to. Gradually, we found a way. Together. I am not saying it’s easy. Nothing really changed: we are still both broken and need to be fixed, but with a bit of kindness and care, we manage – the ancient washing machine and I – and piles of freshly washed laundry are waiting for ironing.

Big family news: I am going to be a step-great-grandmother.