There’s a bit of an odd story attached to The Namaqualand Book of the Dead’s origin. During my husband’s wilder days, he shacked up with one of Cape Town’s more colourful personalities, a chap by the name of Lucien, and they lived in a succession of apartments in the city. Lucien was full of stories and we could never truly believe any of the tales he shared, but I remember clearly one night, me and Lucien were up talking (this is after I’d met and married my husband, and he’d moved out from beneath Lucien’s roof) and we’d discussed me writing a character for him for one of my novels.
Nothing ever came of this until much later, when a certain disreputable chap by the name of Vivienne started pitching up in my novels, but Lucien passed away a few years ago before he ever heard that I’d put Vivienne into my stories, and that is where the matter would have ended.
That was until I was walking down the street one winter, and I bumped into a man who looked just like Lucien. We stood and stared at each other for a good few heartbeats. I just couldn’t be sure it was him. He was supposed to be dead, after all. But he was also the type who would fake his own death, so I couldn’t be sure. The man turned his back on me and I carried on walking. It was just one of those weird situations.
But it got me thinking, one of those “what if” scenarios, and slowly but surely the seeds of the story started taking shape until I was ready to outline my novella.
To this day, I wouldn’t put it past Lucien to have faked his own death, though his reasons for doing so would not be nearly as dramatic as the kinds of scenarios I end up writing about.
A small South African West Coast village features prominently in The Namaqualand Book of the Dead. Lambert’s Bay is really almost in the middle of nowhere. It’s about three-and-a-half hours’ drive from Cape Town along the N7, driving north toward the Orange River and the South African/Namibian border. You could almost say it’s our version of the Wild West. There really isn’t much going on up there, besides a number of scattered small towns that survive largely on agriculture (where there is water) or mining. About the biggest annual event is the spring floral display. If I were to hide anywhere, Lambert’s Bay would be pretty high up on my list of places where no one would think to look for me.
Many years ago, when I was convalescing from some pretty serious abdominal surgery, my parents took me there for a four-night breakaway, and the place thrilled me on so many levels. I just knew, even back then, that I wanted to put this little fishing village in my novels one day.
Part of my day-job involves travel writing, so it was only a natural conclusion that I’d like to share an almost travelogue-like experience with my readers, taking them on a journey through some of the most beautiful and dramatic scenery in the Western Cape.
My protagonist, Chloë, meets a number of people along her way, but the one who stands out the most is Gladys, a middle-aged woman who’s a young soul trapped in an older woman’s body. To be perfectly honest, I’m not quite sure where Gladys springs from, except that she has a penchant for filching other people’s cigarettes, has purple hair and drives a 1970s Ford Fairlane that matches her hair colour.
I think she’s born out of an idea, a dream of mine, that if I were to drive the N7 in any car, it must be a muscle car. I haven’t quite worked my way there but I’ve a great love for classic vehicles and, after having a spin in a friend of mine’s Fairlane, it was another case of having an element on hand that was absolutely begging to be included in a story.
The Namaqualand Book of the Dead is a story about love, and the lengths one would go to for someone you love. It’s also a cautionary tale about giving up too much of one’s self in the name of love, or having too many attachments to a person, object or place. Although there is a creepy supernatural element to the story, I don’t want to delve too deeply into this for fear of spoilers. I will say this much: I wrote The Namaqualand Book of the Dead during a time when Twilight-fever was at a pitch, as a reaction to a particular way of perceiving relationships.
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