A peculiar way to kick-start a novel.
Maudie is four-something. Precarious, she balances on the passenger seat of a battered 1930s pickup truck. There are no seat belts. Her mother drives. Doreen is twenty eight years old.
Ahead, the dirt road stretches in a haze of heat. A clump of blue-gums shimmers in the African sun. Clusters of flat-topped thorn trees line the verge. Their shade camouflages an Afrikaner bull.
Barrelling toward the pickup is a motorcycle, an old Royal Enfield thumper. Doreen’s elder brother Stanley straddles the bike. RAF goggles protect his eyes, but nothing safeguards his head as crash helmets are almost unknown and have not yet come into use.
The engine stutters and misfires, prompting Stanley to fiddle with the spark advance and retard lever on the handlebar.
He doesn’t get it right and the motor backfires. The startled bull
charges onto the road, intent on doing battle with the Enfield.
The bike goes down in an uncontrolled broadside into the path of the
Doreen swings the steering wheel way too much. The pickup begins to roll. Her door flies open and she pitches into the dirt as the vehicle
rolls on top of her.
The bike tumbles, and with Stanley half-on and half-off, slews under the bonnet of the inverted pickup into the windscreen. Hot engine oil and radiator water pour onto Doreen’s brother but he doesn’t know it. The impact has broken his neck.
There is no breeze to stir the blue-gums. The bull ambles back to the shade of the thorn trees. A pall of dust lingers over the wreckage. The
front wheels of the pickup spin lazily.
Maudie is screaming.
- 0 -
Our father brought Momma home and buried her. Or at least the funeral parlour did. Maudie and I were not allowed to attend the service or the burial. We were too young. I was a little chap just turning six and Maudie was still under sedation.
Frog went. His real name is Victor. He is Maudie’s and my elder brother. He was ten at the time and accompanied our father in our ancient Chev.
I’m not sure where they buried Stanley. He left behind his wife Phoenie and our twin cousins Graham and Louis who were a bit older than Maudie and me. Phoenie struggled on to eke out a living from their smallholding.
Graham and Louis, with no paternal control, grew up to become very bad and at the age of thirteen burnt down the school hostel.
Maudie didn’t speak for two years.
(From the manuscript, The Little Girl in the Fig Tree, published as
Saturdays Are Gold.)
Ha, ha, my UK publisher didn’t approve, in spite of the fact that the
above opening had already received 530 approval ratings on the
international site Authonomy.
They softened my abrupt presentation, moved the accident to the end of the book as an afterword, rewrote the opening page, gave the novel a different title and sent me proofs two days before publishing the work. I was not amused.
Fortunately, Jacana noticed the work being nominated for the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize and bought the Southern African publishing rights. Thank you Jacana. I owe you.
Accolades to Jacana who take a lot of trouble with their covers. I fell in love with this one. Still trying to work out what product is associated with the sunny face on the L of Gold.
Three thousand hours and five rewrites went into this work, originally The Little Girl in the Fig Tree. It sure kept me out of mischief. My goal was to compete with Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Paper Moon. Not sure how successful my attempt will be.