Tag Archives: The Fifth Mrs Brink

Montagu Book Festival

I love going to literary festivals, whether it is as a writer or a reader. I love interacting with readers when I am attending as an author, and vice versa. Festivals are always such inspiring, informative and fun gatherings. They often take place in beautiful towns or cities that are worth seeing in their own right. And so it is with the Montagu Book Festival/Boekefees.

I first visited Montagu a few months ago when the local book club asked me to talk to them about The Fifth Mrs Brink. I received such a warm welcome and I met so many remarkable people that I knew I would have to come back for the festival, no matter in what capacity. What I could not have anticipated was that I would be there as a publisher!

MBF3

Karavan Press is up and running, or rather travelling, at a dizzying speed. First book launch, first interviews and first reviews behind us; it was time for the first literary festival, and we could not have done better than with the enthusiasm of the Montagu Book Festival organisers and readers. Great attendance, generosity of spirit, beautiful venues and the town itself: a Litte Karoo delight. Did I mention that the audiences are welcomed to the afternoon and evening events with a glass of local muscadel? Other terrific food and wine has been had – the pizzas at Burgundy Gherkin had the most amazing toppings, and the BluVines Restaurant was a delicious highlight of the visit (and a sponsor of the festival!). I loved their Mimosa wines, especially the bubbly and the red blends. A few bottles made it back home and will be enjoyed with good memories in front of evening fires. The balmy winter weather was a reprieve from Cape Town’s wintery storms. And the Milky Way presented itself in its full glory above the gorgeous landscape, luckily deprived of artificial light at night.

The programme was fantastic. Something for every literary taste. I attended four sessions apart from the one at which I interviewed Karavan Press’s author, Melissa A. Volker, about her life and her writing, specifically her novels, A Fractured Land and Shadow Flicker. I had been dreaming of talking to Melissa about her writing at a literary event for years now, and it made me so happy to finally experience it, not only as a huge fan of her beautiful novels, but also as their proud publisher.

mde

Poets: “Julle is die lig van die wêreld”

sdrThe other sessions were Finuala Dowling reading from her latest poetry volume, Pretend You Do Not Know Me, a ‘best of’ collection which also includes stunning new work; followed by John Maytham performing “Being Human”, a poetry script compiled by Finuala; Wilhelm Verwoerd talking about “that last name”; and Duncan Brown encouraging us to “rewild” our lives. While John was still in the audience, listening to Finuala, I was reaching for a tissue to deal with the emotions her poetry was evoking in me and glanced at him wiping away his own tears. We were both incredibly moved. And then, John made us laugh and cry with his exquisite reading of the poetry Finuala prepared for him. There was one particular poem that made us all crave chocolate cake so much that some delicious sinning was happily indulged in at lunchtime.

Wilhelm made me think a lot about my troubled memories of my paternal grandfather. And Duncan’s ideas made me feel very proud of my exuberantly wild garden.

Montagu8

An obligatory swim in the delightfully hot springs of Montagu (I am an Aquarius after all) was the perfect finish to another great visit. Can’t wait for the next occasion to visit Montagu!

Stories with strawberry jam and clotted cream

In the night of 9 February 2016, on the twelfth anniversary of my first arrival in Cape Town, I dreamt that I was in a hospital. In my dream, André died there. A few days later I came to pick up his belongings, but no one was willing to assist me. They shoved me around the place, ignoring my distress. I felt desperate, lost. I wanted to take care of his possessions but nobody was keen to help me. And then out of the blue someone offered support. I woke up, relieved.

I signed the contract for my memoir about the relationship I had with André, The Fifth Mrs Brink, that morning. Afterwards, I returned home to find that our grandfather clock had stopped working without any apparent reason. I got it going again, but both the dream and the silent clock disturbed me.

In the late afternoon, on my way to a book launch, I had a terrible car accident in which I killed our beloved Brink Mobil, the ancient green Mercedes André and I used to drive. My friends told me later that I did not kill the Old Lady, that she died protecting me. I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that having the accident on the same day I signed the contract was a sign, signalling some kind of closure or an impending massacre. I hoped for the former, but had no way of knowing which it would be.

Three weeks later, I walked across the city to pick up a rental car provided by my insurance company. Passing the accident spot on an overhead bridge, I could still see the rust-red stains where the Brink Mobil had bled to death.

I walked past the funeral parlour where they took André after his death – he did not die in a hospital but on board of an aeroplane flying over Brazzaville.

I also passed a big red building in Woodstock which caught my eye because it looked quite new and impressive. I considered getting a coffee from a place on its ground floor.

Woodstock is where long ago I once appeared on a friend’s doorstep in one of her dreams. She told me the next day that I’d looked lost and just stood there, clutching a book to my chest. The same friend works in the big red building now.

I finished the first draft of The Fifth Mrs Brink in July. In September, I asked for the rights to my book back. I had to leave; I had no way of staying. If I wanted to truly take care of my and André’s stories, I had to find a home for them elsewhere. I submitted my memoir to another publishing house. They made me an offer. My new publisher gave me a book she thought might interest me: Second-Hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich, an account of how people survive, and make sense of, tyranny and massacres – by weaving tapestries of stories to keep us safe at night. The words of Second-Hand Time live in my bones.

In the evening of the 1st of November, someone asked me online which great writer I would like to have tea with. There is only one: The One. He liked his tea white with two sugars. And when he wanted to spoil me, he baked scones for us for breakfast.

scone

I don’t know what I dreamt in the night of the 1st of November, but I know I slept through it. That in itself is a gift, a good omen. Uninterrupted sleep had become rare in the past few months, although I am mastering it again. In the morning of the 2nd, I had a scone at my favourite coffee shop. I drove to Woodstock in the little car that a friend lent me after my accident. I parked underneath the big red building, found my way upstairs to the 4th floor where kind people were waiting.

It is perhaps fitting that the publication of The Fifth Mrs Brink will be delayed by a few months next year to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the first time I became a refugee when my family escaped the tyranny of Communist Poland and sought asylum in Austria.

Arriving on the doorstep of Jonathan Ball Publishers, I felt like a refugee who had sailed through treacherous waters in a derelict dinghy and found her way to the shores of a safe haven. With only my ancient fountain pen in the bag I carried, I was seeking asylum again.

Massacres and tyranny can be intimate, private, go nearly unnoticed.

I am not the only one who survives by telling stories.

My stories are safe now.*

*Sadly, they actually weren’t. Almost two years later, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that as long as greed, and not integrity, governs people’s decisions, your stories will never be safe with them. But my stories will always be mine to tell and I intend to continue telling them, with integrity… (18 September 2018).

“This is what matters: to say ‘no’ in the face of the certitudes of power.” (André Brink)

“Perhaps all one can really hope for, all I am entitled to, is no more than this: to write it down. To report what I know. So that it will not be possible for any man ever to say again: I knew nothing about it.” (André Brink)