#21 On writing, on Winnie the Pooh, electric blankets and the importance of wearing a panty – Joanne Hichens

November 23, 2010 in Sonder kategorie

A friend calls me, says, “Did you see the headlines of Die Son today? ‘Woman arrested without panty!’” she hoots.

As an aspiring crime-fiction writer resident in a bizarrely crime-ridden Cape Town, no wonder I take my inspiration from what happens out there before I put it through the wringer to create fiction. Writing, for me, is less of a shoowah and more of a keeping my arse glued to the chair type of effort, in a darkened space, staring at the blank screen while I intermittently pick up e-mails, drink a bottomless cuppa, work my way though packet on packet of Ouma’s rusks, puzzle my way through the words. Another thing I’ve learned about writing is that, much like life, it happens while I’m making other plans.

Life has dealt me a low blow. I am laid up in bed with a cold. Secondly, my intention to construct an essay of (some) intellectual merit has flown out the window. I started an essay on crime fiction, both the writing and reading of it, the dark, secret thrill it is. That abandoned after a coughing bout, I began a Jo-Soap on How Vital it is to Support South African Fiction in all its Guises: breathtaking, forceful, funny, intelligent, touching, thrilling, thought-provoking; how vital to celebrate the extraordinary stories created when writers and readers together engage their most extraordinary resource – the imagination! You get the picture. Then I promptly fell off my soapbox, thinking what the hell, went to sleep, and woke up to find my decent husband Robert standing over me with chicken soup and the unopened post.

With the Silly Season nearly upon us, the advertising brochure I page through is a welcome relief from bills of all colours and all stages of non-payment; the brochure extols Exclusive Books’s latest promotion, and I quote aloud for Robert: “‘The Exclusive Books Store Managers – with their knowledge of all things bookish – have compiled a list of 48 incredible books … there is book to suit every taste and passion.’

“Nothing much here to ignite my passion,” I say, again looking through the titles and blurbs, eighty percent of The Wish List comprising non-fiction titles – some promising heavyweight reads, I concede, Nelson Mandela’s Conversations with Myself a must for me, then the prerequisite cooking, sporting and gardening titles, and Winnie the Pooh cracking a nod for our children – but the only crime fiction teasers are for a Tom Clancy thriller and the Afrikaans Spoor by Deon Meyer.

I’ll ignite your passion for you,” says my husband, standing in front of the mirror, flexing his muscle: “Can you believe in three weeks of gymming I’ve chiselled my body from a slob to a slab?!”


“Go away, Bob,” I moan.

“Why are you writing about Winnie the Pooh?” my eight-year-old son asks as he lies here next to me in my bed, looking at my laptop screen as I type away. He’s brought me a hand-drawn get well card, he’s cuddling with his sick mom. “Stop writing about me and Winnie the Pooh,” he whinges.

“You,” I say, “stop looking over my shoulder at the screen, you pipsqueak, and get yourself to your own bed, now!”

Back to my piece, I wonder why Exclusives is flogging Winnie the Pooh and Peter Rabbit box sets so relevant (not) to South African kid readers. Where are the books, I’m thinking, which reflect our own children’s experiences – playing in the dangerous streets, dodging bullets and tikheads and rapists – not the veggie patch adventures of some out-of-date fluffy bunny in a blue jacket.

In all fairness, Peter Rabbit does get threatened by a shotgun. And his mother does beat him. Maybe times haven’t changed that much after all.

My feet are damp with sweat. I am hot. I swipe a palm over a wet brow. Am I feverish? Has my cold progressed to flu? Perhaps G-d is getting me back for dissing the bunny.

Robert comes to bed. “Jesus, why’s the electric blanket on? The idea isn’t to roast yourself! And it’s summer! Why’s it on in the first place?”

I’m not feeling the love.

What can I say? Our son loves buttons, switches, anything that turns on and off.

I write my own Wish List:

I wish book fans would root for South African fiction the way they scream and yell for the Proteas, the Springboks, Bafana Bafana. People pay good money to see a beloved team knock about, they hang in with their team even on a losing streak, and they pay good bucks to read accounts of the behind-the-scenes infamy – just ask Joost or Herschelle about cashing in on insatiable human curiosity.

I wish books were considered a need, not a want; a necessity not a luxury; books should lie around the house as do scuffed school shoes, a soccer ball, a blazer. Thumb ‘em, dog-ear ‘em, write in ‘em. (Don’t shoot me.)

I wish VAT on books was abolished.*

I wish John van de Ruit would go to therapy or maybe go on meds so the poor chap can move on from his schooldays.

Then again, I wish for a dose of laughing all the way to the bank.

I wish for a Hot Toddy.

(*This wish will come true.)

“Wow, I’m finished,” says Robert, laying down Bill Bryson’s Short History of Nearly Everything.

“You finished that big book! Well done!”

“Thanks, Mommy,” he says. “Now let’s get it on.”

“Let me think about that for a moment er … NO,” I cough and splutter.

If I can recommend anything to any aspiring, struggling or blocked writer, it’s don’t be shy to jot things down. Look to your own life and the things that happen in it. I keep a bedside notebook to record seemingly inconsequential scribbles. Jot down five things a day if you can. Five things seen, heard or experienced. Keep your ears and eyes open to whatever happens.

Oh, and to set the record straight, I am really and truly a Peter Rabbit fan and I’ve got tickets for Spud the movie.

My next vaguely compos mentis thought: Buy lots of South African titles this Silly Season. Dish books out as an investment in the future of South Africa. I’m on the soapbox again. Give from the bottom of your heart, but more usefully, buy books from the top of your purse. And the bonus is you’ll earn extra points at Exclusives. On fiction, or non-fiction. As my beloved mother used to say in defence of her offspring reading comics: “I don’t mind what they read, as long as they read.” And here’s another wise sentiment well loved by mothers the world over: always wear a clean panty. In fact, don’t underestimate the importance of wearing a panty in the first place. You never know when you might get arrested.

Family portrait: The “readers”

Leave the dishes unwashed, leave the TV off, get out the books, the junk, the classics, the good and the bad, read, read, read, and grow your imagination and your intellect and your tolerance and your patience and your sense of humour and your capacity for original thought. Then write!

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