Books and film scripts

Trilogy: The Ordeal, the Scattering and Persephone

The responses of agents and publishers to the final draft of “The Ordeal”, the first of a trilogy in a classic science fiction tradition, was encouraging enough to continue with the next two novels. I have since finished a first draft of the second volume, “The Scattering”, and a rough first draft of the third, “Persephone.” The trilogy involves women of a special kind and more detail will be revealed soon. Have a look at the articles on Femen (Articles and opinion pieces) for  clues.

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Film script: Rubundi Safari

Rubundi Safari is an African comedy, which turns canned lion hunting, using old circus lions, into a “conservation and community development farce” (no lions hunted or otherwise hurt in the writing of the script).

I wrote Rubundi Safari with a friend and sold it to New Constantine Film in 1987. Constantine are the makers of among others “The Name of the Rose”, “The Cement Garden”, “The Constant Gardener” and “Downfall”. We first sent the script to the director of “U-boat” (Das Bot), Wolfgang Petersen, who wrote us a positive little note full of praise. Strategically, we then affixed the note to the script and sent it to New Constantine Film, who bought the rights in perpetuity. This was unfortunate. However, a penniless political exile at the time, it was impossible to reject the advance payment cheque pushed across the table towards us.

About a year later we had dinner with the director, a pleasant young German, that they had chosen for the film. However, he ultimately opted for another project and we wrote a second draft of the script after a hiatus of some eight years in about 1995. The film, unfortunately, was never made.

Rubundi Safari is a great story. Under slightly different circumstances it would have made an equally great film.

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Novel: Thomas en die gat in die heelal Thomas voorblad smiley

(Thomas and the hole in the universe)

My first novel, “Thomas en die gat in die heelal,” 1994, won the Ernst van Heerden Creative Writing Award administered by the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

Wrote the adjudicators:

“The universe of Thomas displays a remarkable confluence of language, imagery and characterisation – a satirical perspective on Afrikaans society, characterised by strict hierarchies and a persistent fear to enter the world of the ‘other’.”

Thomas was my contribution to the “deconstruction” of Afrikanerdom and could be described as marginal literature, falling in between the genres (science fiction, fantasy, political satire). Its cover portrayed a dark androgenous figure, which the CNA, at the time the main bookstore in the country, refused to carry.

The book is probably not translatable. It will be made available in Afrikaans in electronic format somewhere in the distant future.

***

Review by Beeld Books, P.C. van der Westhuizen, 1994/08/15

Thomas and the hole in the universe. Hond Publishers, 1994. 

(Original Afrikaans further below)

New and raw and earthy

Afrikaans literature first lauded the esoteric texts of Etienne Leroux, Breyten Breytenbach and Anna M. Louw without reserve: anybody could join the Pronk book club if they wanted stories. The charismatic era arrived as publishers started experiencing financial difficulties, and we spent all our money on accessible stories with which all could identify. In the meantime, anybody that wanted to could express their stupidities to approving audiences within the “smart” confines of post-modernism.

It is rather disconcerting that a book like “Thomas and the hole in the universe” appeared in Afrikaans only now. What kind of a book is it? Not just any book, dear reader, not just any book. And the book itself is only the beginning… Consider the book as the gift-wrapping of Conrad Steenkamp’s unusual dream about Thomas, the main character, a story that plays out on so many levels of the existential crisis of the ordinary person in the street. This story does not distinguish between dream and reality, it rejects the hindrances of literary rules and conventions. In this case, the literary bigwigs with the outdated visors will aim at the wrong things. Only a stone cast into the bush stands a chance of hitting anything.

In short: the raw earthiness of this story deceives. The suspension of the boundaries between dreams and life generate a space that makes this story, above all, unusual. The universe is a messy place, a dark maze where moss flourishes against the walls. Clever use of language transforms the fallus itself into a maze within a subterranean world of slime and mud and pigs and frogs, where light and darkness coexist uneasily.

The excellently formulated cover text describes Thomas’ universe as a “satirical perspective on an Afrikaans society characterised by strict hierarchies and a persistent fear to enter the world of the ‘other’.” The story aims for the roots of that fear. However, this quest becomes as startling as that which it uncovers.

Revolting characters with prolapsed teeth and deformed (sexual) organs live in an alternative perspective on reality. They suffer, in a manner of speaking, of a form of human rabies. Thus the most intense emotions and fears of some people are presented in rare perspective relying on conventional clues. All too easily, too much darkness transforms faithless citizens into just another pig, which has to watch as insensitive  citizens consume their little ones faster than they can conceive them.

But the universe is also the world of Our-lord, in which the Judge and his godfellows protect citizens against the Red Faro and his black henchmen. Putrid Koos (Vooskoos), Old Foot (Ouvoet), Brisky Feens (Flink Feens) and Klaas Stone (Klaasklip) patrol the maze and guard the day-rooms. But the godfellows cannot mislead Thomas. Even though he is a very good citizen, they will not allow him to talk directly to the Judge – just in case he notices how clever Thomas is and appoints him as a godfellow.

But, things go badly wrong when Thomas unexpectedly manages to be promoted within the hierarchy of the godfellows, and Thomas fails to outwit the Judge.  The presence of the Judge is simultaneously so overwhelming and so reassuring, that Thomas’ big questions about the universe get little ones. Obviously the godfellows enjoy this failure, laughing raucously.

The universe has a slimy skin through which even a big boar could not bite.  “But the universe would have been drowned in water because the citizens cannot possibly drink as fast as Our-lord can cry.  And what they drink they also have to piss out again. The citizens would have been fighting with the pigs for space. Surely the water must leave the universe somewhere!”

Technological progress and regression of the total human condition go hand in hand. Retrospection involves a search for the self and hierarchical structures in society. Perhaps our hope for the future depends on the unavoidable return to the primitive, but then expressly through the loss of old postulations about (a) new language, an “Afferkaans” linguistic salad. “Yes,” says the Judge “We go look whe air coms in de universe wid dis liddel-one hea. Cos he see evil, he play in de dark annit eat’im like a liddel pig, my poah liddel-one…”

One cannot but congratulate Hond Publishers with “Thomas and the hole in the universe”. It is an innovative work in Afrikaans that will hopefully get the attention that it deserves.

These days the different roles of readers worked out by the literary theorists, reminds one of the many advertisements, in Sunday papers, about anything between sixteen and sixty positions described in sex manuals – statistically, diagramattically and photographically. Each position (and role) promises excellent results. The question, however, is what role readers with their special (reading) preferences will play in the feather light existence of Thomas. Buy the book and decide for yourself.

***

Afrikaanse teks

RUBRIEK: Boeke-Beeld

Nuut en rou en aards, P.C. van der Westhuizen, 1994/08/15

THOMAS EN DIE GAT IN DIE HEELAL deur Conrad Steenkamp. Hond.

EERS het die Afrikaanse letterkunde die esoteriese tekste van Etienne Leroux, Breyten Breytenbach en Anna M. Louw onvoorwaardelik besing: Jan Rap kon by Pronk-boekklub aansluit as hy stories wou hê. Toe die uitgewers se beursies al moeiliker begin ooprits, breek die charismatiese era aan en ons gee ál ons geld uit op toeganklike stories, waarmee almal hulself ryklik kan vereenselwig. Ondertussen kon almal wat wou, ten minste fatsoenlikheid aan hul dommigheid binne die slimmighede van die postmodernisme gee.

Dit is nogtans onthutsend dat ‘n boek soos Thomas en die gat in die heelal nóú eers in Afrikaans verskyn. Hóé ‘n boek is dit? Nie sommer só ‘n boek nie, liewe leser, nie sommer só ‘n boek nie. En die boek self is maar net die begin . . . Beskou die boek as die toedraaipapier vir Conrad Steenkamp se buitengewone droom oor Thomas, die hoofkarakter, se verhaal wat homself op soveel vlakke in Jan Rap se eksistensiële krisis afspeel. Dis ‘n verhaal wat nie tussen droom en werklikheid onderskei nie, wat weier om deur literêre reëls en voorwaardes belemmer te word en, boonop, die literêre kanonne met verouderde visiere sal laat miskorrel. Slegs ‘n klip in die bos het hier enige kans om die kol te tref.

Kortom: die verhaal se bedrieglikheid lê júis in die rou aardsheid daarvan opgesluit. Die opheffing van die grense tussen droom en lewe verskaf die ruimte wat hierdie verhaal, bowe-al, ongewoon maak. Die heelal is ‘n morsige plek met ‘n donker dool vol afdraaigange waar die mos welig teen die mure groei. Deur ‘n slim spel met die taal word die fallus egter ook ‘n dool in ‘n onderwêreld van slym en modder en varke en paddas, waar lig en duisternis in ‘n eienaardige verhouding saambestaan.

Die goed geformuleerde flapteks, en ‘n mens kry tog sulke kostelikes, beskou Thomas se heelal as ‘n ”satiriese blik op ‘n Afrikaanse samelewing gekenmerk deur streng hiërargieë en ‘n hardnekkige vrees om die wêreld van die ‘ander’ te betree”. Daarom moet die oorsprong van die vrees nagegaan word, selfs al is die soektog dikwels net so ontstellend as die ontdekking self. Weersinswekkende karakters met uitpeultande en misvormde (geslags)organe leef in ‘n alternatiewe beskouing van die werklikheid en ly, by wyse van spreke, aan ‘n tipe mensdolheid. Só word sommige van die mens se mees intense emosies en vrese, op die basis van konvensionele leidrade, in ‘n seldsame perspektief gestel. Van te véél donker transformeer ‘n afvallige burger sommer maklik in net nog ‘n vark en moet dan toekyk hoe die ongevoelige burgers sy kleintjies vinniger opvreet as wat hy hulle kan verwek.

Maar die heelal is ook Onse-here se wêreld. Hier moet die Rigter se godskêrels die goeie burgers teen rooi farao en sy swarte taters beskerm. Vooskoos, Ouvoet, Flink Feens, Vaal Ferdie en Kaasklip patrolleer die dool en pas die dagkamers op, maar dié godskêrels kan Thomas nie mislei nie. Selfs al is hy ‘n baie goeie burger, sal hulle hom nie sommer toelaat om self met die Rigter te praat nie! Net- nou kom hy agter hoe slim Thomas is en stop hom ook ‘n koevoet in die hand om die heelal te beskerm.

Maar dinge loop skeef wanneer Thomas wél onverwags die kans kry om tot die hiërargie van heiligskenners bevorder te word. Selfs Thomas se beste Afrikaans lei die Rigter nie om die mos nie. Die Rigter se teenwoordigheid is tegelyk so oorweldigend en gerusstellend dat Thomas se groot vrae oor die heelal kleintjies begin kry. Die godskêrels kry natuurlik lekker en wil hulself kisboude lag. Die heelal het ‘n slymvel waardeur selfs ‘n groot varkbeer nie kan byt nie. ”Die heelal sou heeltemal vol water geword het omdat die burgers by besten willens nie so vinnig kan drink as wat Onse-here huil nie. Dit wat hulle drink, moet hulle ook weer uitpis. Die burgers sou woes met die varke moes baklei vir plek. Die water moet iewers uit!”

Tegnologiese vooruitgang en agteruitgang van die totale menslike kondisie loop hand aan hand. Die gevolg is dat retrospeksie ook ondersoek na die self en hiërargiese strukture binne die samelewing behels. Miskien lê ons hoop op die toekoms júis in die onafwendbare terugkeer na die primitiewe opgesluit, maar dan uitdruklik deur die verlies aan die ou postulering van ( ‘n) nuwe taal, Afferkaanse spraakslaai of nie: ” ‘Ja-nee,’ sê die Rigter, ‘Os ga ky wari lug inni hêlal kô saam metti klynki hi. Wan y gsie di boos, inni donka gspeel ennit gvreet om sossa klei varki, my arma klynki . . .’ ”

‘n Mens kan nie nalaat nie om Hond met Thomas en die gat in die heelal geluk te wens. Dit is vernuwende werk in Afrikaans wat hopelik die aandag sal kry wat dit verdien. In hierdie tye herinner die verskillende lesersrolle wat die teoretici uitgewerk het, ‘n mens aan die tientalle advertensies in Sondagkoerante oor die enigiets tussen sestien en sestig posisies wat statisties, diagrammaties en fotografies in topverkoper- sekshandleidings beskryf word. Elke posisie (én rol!) beloof uitmuntende resultate. Die vraag is nou watter rol lesers met hul besondere (lees) voorkeure in Thomas se veerligte bestaan kan speel. Koop die boek en besluit self.

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