All posts by jenny@jennyhobbs.co.za

A Quotionary

A Quotionary, my online e-book, is an updated version of Paper Prophets with over 5000 entertaining, sometimes ribald quotations for writers and readers. Download it for fascinating anecdotes by and about writers, and essential advice on writing, storytelling, literature, novels and novelists, how to start a book and keep going, how to end and sell it, and how to deal with pesky critics.

All Quotionary royalties go to the Franschhoek Literary Festival’s Library Fund, which encourages reading by establishing and staffing libraries in local primary schools, and aims soon to assist in the building of a much-needed community library.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Quotionary-Writers-Readers-Jenny-Hobbs-ebook/dp/B00S1835F0/

 

A Quotionary

The ultimate collection of quotations about writing and writers compiled by Jenny hobbs, one of South Africa’s most passionate and knowledgeable literary figures. In this updated edition of a previous collection Hobbs gathers together more than 5000 quotes about writers and writing, storytelling, fiction, literature, novels and novelists. All royalties will go to the Franschhoek Literary Festival’s Library Fund.

ISbN (ePub) 978-1-928216-52-0 ISbN (mobi) 978-1-928216-53-7 Category: Reference | RRP: R100 | Publication date: 12 January 2015

Buy it on Amazon

Publishing

the franschhoek press is an imprint under which I have published a limited family edition of The Moor Diaries 1890 – 1916, and assisted the University of the Western Cape to publish This Is My Land, writing from the UWC CREATES Programme.

Dr Jean Branford, Rhodes University (letter to Darling)

My colleagues and I regard Blossom as a most acute linguistic observer and draw heavily upon her work for source material for A Dictionary of South African English, and for illustrative material for dialectology of first year and more senior levels.  I understand her work is also used by students of speech and drama. She is a first class exponent of the South African idiom and only those whom her cap fits uncomfortably tightly could carp at her humour. Blossom’s inventiveness, expertise and mastery of the dialect she portrays command my very real admiration and are a source of endless pleasure.

Prof Lucy Wagstaff, Wits University (letter)

As you know I have been a keen supporter and admirer of your very useful book.  I have recently gone through it again with a view to recommending it to the Wits students in the Early Childhood Enrichment Development course being run by the Department of Specialised Education. These are pre-school educators whose field of activity will be particularly with disadvantaged communities. Your book will of course be of great assistance to them…  Again I would congratulate and thank you for this very excellent publication.

Dr Andrew Truscott (letter)

Many thanks for the excellent book!  I like the pictures and the writing, which is simple and clear and accurate and technically correct.  I think the subjects you covered are relevant especially to the Black community, e.g. the aspects of teargas and bullet wounds, and feel that you have produced a book which achieves the aims you mentioned.

James Clark in The Star

I have before me a hilarious book … written by two very respectable authors. They are Tim Couzens, a Wits professor of literary history, and Jenny Hobbs, a bestselling novelist who lives in Bryanston. Pees & Queues is, I am sure, the world’s first anthology of lavatorial literature. It is filled with fun and fascination – and party-stoppers. 

Bindeshwar Patak, Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, India (Letter)

It was wonderful to receive your delightful book, which I propose to put in our library. The anecdotes – so liberally sprinkled throughout the book – make it even more interesting. I am certain your work will turn out to be a must-read for all those doing research… We have so much to learn and practice in our efforts to make our world a healthier place to live in.

Etienne van Heerden, Die Volksblad

Van alle vakmanne skoenmakers, chirurge, prokureurs of werktuigkundiges is skrywers diegene wat die meeste te kwyt het oor praktyk. Die skryfbedryf is klaarblyklik besonder aanskoulik skrywers voer hul lering op, en kam dit weer af; bieg en lieg; gee raad en sug. En daar’s mense wat wil luister. Daarom is Jenny Hobbs se Paper Prophets: A treasury of quotations about writers and writing so ‘n oulike geskenkboek. Wanneer jy dié boek met sy honderde aanhalings lees, staan jy verwonderd oor die sêvermoë van diegene wat die pen en dikwels áán die pen ry.

Shaun de Waal, Mail & Guardian

Author Jenny Hobbs has collected a vast hoard of quotations from writers on every aspect of writing, from deep questions about the roots of creativity to practicalities such as doing it by hand versus typing, or stratagems to get started. The range of opinions expressed is as wide as the spread of those quoted. The emphasis is on information, providing glimpses into the writing process, and there are many gems.

Heather Mackie, Business Day

Jenny Hobbs’s commonplace book is a phenomenon of modern English which dates back to the 17th century. It is also a glorious indulgence… Hobbs has collected favourite quotes from favourite authors on the subject of writing and arranged them in broad categories. They range from the gnomic to the superficial, which are generally more fun. This will be as invaluable as Roget’s Thesaurus for after-dinner speakers, or bedside reading, or even writer stuck in a cul-de-sac and looking for a quote. Anyone who scribbles a little – whether for love, for a friends, or for money – should reserve shelf space for both these companions.

Dr Cecile Cilliers, Beeld

Jenny Hobbs, romanskrywer, is die samesteller van hierdie aanhalingsboek wat te make het met skrywers en skryfwerk. Dis ‘n moei boek om op te neem, die aanbieding is interessant, die lettertipe goed leesbaar… Die onderafdelings is so slim gekies, die enorm hoeveelheid stof so goed onder beheer, en daar word so ‘n weelde van interessanthede aangebied, dat enige geesdriftige leser plesier aan die boek sal hê.

Hennie Aucamp, Die Burger

Aanhalingsboeke oor die kunste is vry algemeen in die buiteland, maar selfs dáár is ‘n aanhalingsboek gewy net aan skrywers en die skryfkuns ‘n rariteit. Dis merkwaardig dat juis só ‘n boek hier verskyn – op die koop toe so uitgebreid en versorg dat dit onmiddelik pleit om internasionale verspreiding. Jenny Hobbs, skryfster, is die samesteller, en te oordeel na 328 bladsye aanhalings, is die totale omvang van die skryfbedryf by haar ‘n “magnificent obsession”. Hobbs rubriseer die inhoud van haar bloemlesing; ‘n groot lesergerief.

Jonathan Amid, Litnet

Jenny Hobbs has a knack for telling stories that are both stylistically impressive and eminently enjoyable. Her latest work, Napoleon Bones, a biting and clever crime thriller, manages to entertain as well as subvert expectations. For starters, our narrator and crime-fighter-in-chief is no ordinary man. He’s no man at all, but a protective, faithful, affectionate police dog, part of the Western Cape K9 Unit, one half of Team A-R. Napoleon Bones is the trusty partner in crime to Inspector Rusty Gordon. While Bones has great game with the ladies and instincts sharper than a Toledo dagger, he cannot say the same for the tongue-tied attempts at flirtation of his master, whom he desperately wants to see happy with a partner. Gordon, however, is every bit the kind of SAPS member you want to have your back: resourceful, fit and tough, and the pair make a mean team on the beat.

The chief thorn in their sides is a mysterious group known as the Blackjacks, thieves armed with knives and wearing balaclavas… Gordon and Bones must crack the case, with help mainly from Gordon’s close friend and colleague, Spike Davids. Apart from consistent references to the ways and plays of the crime novel itself … this self-reflexive novel is comparable to more humorous crime fare. While Rusty Gordon is the novel’s centre of gravity, Hobbs has a ball with Bones, imbuing his character with wit, charm, and some decidedly tongue-in-cheek animal magnetism. As he relates his prowess as both gourmet and gritty law enforcer, it is impossible not to sit back and bask in the sheer exuberance and enthusiasm of the writing. In reference to Bones and his olfactory capabilities, some parts of the novel come across as a localised play on Patrick Suskind’s Perfume, set in France, without the sinister thematic arc…

Napoleon Bones is commendable for its willingness to balance its light with just enough shade. Darker, more dramatic elements, such as corruption, xenophobia, stereotyping, the abuse of women and animals and patriarchy, blend seamlessly into the narrative, giving the text weight it would not have had as all-out farce… Hobbs genuinely seems to like her main characters, which goes a long way to making them accessible. 

I am willing to venture that readers with a taste for offbeat, hearty local fare will find much to savour here, and will want to read more from a prolific author with unmistakeable verve and vision.

Jennifer Crocker, Cape Times

Hobbs is the author of one of SA’s seminal novels of the apartheid era, and the force behind the Franschhoek Literary Festival. In Napoleon Bones, she takes her skills in a different direction with a delightfully funny and touching story told through the eyes of police dog Napoleon Bones. Bones and his handler, Inspector Rusty Gordon, start out together in the K9 Unit. They have to crack a number of cases, and out in some real drudge work at the same time.

Hobbs has pulled together a story that is both delightful and insightful. By using the voice of Napoleon Bones she manages to address some of the big crime issues facing Cape Town. Well plotted and fantastically readable, this one will melt your heart a little at times, and chill your bones at others.

Jonathan Amid, Litnet

The vicissitudes of living in South Africa are fertile ground for novelists to excavate and examine particular aspects of our society. Replete with the hyperbole, exaggeration and embellishment, satire is one such form, a Janus-faced animal animated by the impulse to contort and distort, ever ready also to illuminate truth and understanding.

Contingently, The Miracle of Crocodile Flats by local author Jenny Hobbs hits the shelves marketed as “an affectionate satire”. With the sighting of a brown-skinned Virgin Mary in a small South African village as its starting point, Hobbs offers readers some cascading, character-driven impressions. It is a vision of ourselves in a post-apartheid moment, both lovely and laced with bite, casting its focus on two main areas: religion and race. The fault lines between these two focal points in the novel emerge slowly and organically after Hobbs observes the pathos, disillusionment and entrenched suffering of a small village. The people of Crocodile Flats are in dire need of something to lift their spirits – and a vision of pious purity and pure piety by a young girl is just the ticket.

A miracle is generally accepted, particularly in the religious sense of the word, to denote a wonder or marvel, a vision or sensation of that deemed impossible. The “miracle” here is the sighting of Ma-Jesu – the Virgin Mary, African, benevolent, smiling and smelling of peach blossom and vanilla cupcakes – by the fourteen-year-old Sweetness Moloi. Soon after the sighting, a multitude of attention-seeking, money-grubbing and self-serving characters from all over the world envelopes the poverty-stricken rural community of Crocodile Flats. Chief among these shady specimens are the entrepreneurial prophet Hallelujah of the Correct Baptised God Come Down in Africa Church. And is he not amusing!

It is one thing to peddle ready-made, hand-me-down stereotypes of small town life and to pass it off as “satire”, something else entirely to dig deeper, to draw from the well of the familiar to present a portrait of characters in motion, responding to their surroundings in ways that are true and exact. As such, Hobbs is adept at drawing out the more ridiculous, facile and hypocritical behaviour of the various “pilgrims”: she lands more than a few telling blows when examining the underbelly of formalised religion. Here the satire is superficially playful, but emphatic, forceful.

Additionally, Hobbs includes just about every type and manner of particularly South African identities here. It is through her expertly rendered, imminently poignant characterisation of the local inhabitants that the “affectionate satire” comes most strongly to the fore. Come the conclusion, the end result of the vision Sweetness has is largely predictable: readers will be well prepared for the resolutely exultant end section of the novel, in which every little loose end is tied up and gift-wrapped, and everyone gets their moment in the sun… While this well-written portrait is an unashamedly feel-good read, making satire “affectionate” is no mean feat, and The Miracle of Crocodile Flats delivers on its promise.

Betty Govinden, Sunday Independent

As you can guess, Jenny Hobbs’s The Miracle of Crocodile Flats is a riot of a tale – a comic, down-to-earth, light-hearted, yet serious look at SA oddities and foibles in particular, and at ideological and institutional anomalies and inconsistencies in general. Her new offering avoids some of the staples of SA writing. As she notes, “The many and diverse characters in the book are ordinary S Africans: no anguished lefties, no tortured cops, no irritating geeks, no earth mothers, no exiles yearning from afar, no bling divas, and only a brief mention of hijackers.”

Jenny de Klerk, The Star

This is a hoot of a book, warm, witty with a gentle chuckle of recognition and humour on just about every page. It’s a feel-good tale with an ending you only wish could be true. At first sight there is not much room for laughter in Crocodile Flats. It’s the town that everyone, including the government, forgot. Then Sweetness Moloi saw a vision on her way home from school… The news spread, the world erupted, the world descended, the world changed – and so did Crocodile Flats and all its wry funny characters. Again and again you stop to laugh as the contradictions and contrasts of this crazy, mixed-up, glorious country of ours are held up in a few well-chosen words… As the foreword says, “The rainbow nation was back in the world news, wearing a halo.”  I laughed my way through this book. It’s an absolute gem.

Michael Shafto, Port Elizabeth Express

This is a remarkable book from a remarkable writer. Jenny Hobbs is our Anne Tyler, though with a cutting edge somewhat more jagged, less forgiving. She’s our Dickens, too – think Pickwick Papers, its vast cast of characters… Hobbs, who with this offering has written six novels almost without putting a foot wrong, takes an actual event – an alleged sighting several years ago of the Virgin Mary in rural S Africa by a young black girl – and builds her tale around it. Tatty Crocodile Flats is populated by a poor rural community subject to all the ingredients that make S African dorps so unique. The village is coming apart at the seams. It is peopled by the poor, blacks and whites living by their wits… Novelist Hobbs manages somehow to orchestrate many disparate strands, smoothly moulding them into a satisfying melodious whole. The beautify of it is the way she serves it up – so utterly, unapologetically S’African.

Ruth Browne, Cape Times

A flat, thirsty plain, a worn old road and the fungi of huddled shacks: this is Jenny Hobbs’s Crocodile Flats, a town gone septic in its failing years. Traditional chieftains and barricaded Voortrekker families eye each other over contested land and the two thriving institutions are the church and the bottle store… Through the shebeens, shops and taxi ranks wind a succession of characters united in a despair that is communal and personal… Filtered through so many lives, the story takes on a Dickensian depth…  a speaking, breathing rural town full of real people. The theme, a community shaken to rediscover its soul, is joyfully ubiquitous… Proclaiming itself “an affectionate satire”, Crocodile Flats accretes like an elaborate shell around the secret warmth of a vision…  Perhaps S Africa needs stories like these that train us to realise what real reconciliation could look like… Hobbs’s deft hand with SA preoccupations and dialects makes this a good and satisfying read.

Charlotte van Zyl, Franschhoek Tatler

One of the outstanding qualities of this book is the pitch-perfect ear that Jenny Hobbs has for Seffrican English, especially that of generations ago…  Another quality is the way she has re-created, possibly even rescued, memories of a way of life that has been overtaken by the winds of change since 1945… A third wonderful feature of the book is the Pat Barker-like sympathy that she feels for men who went to war as boys and came back as broken men. These men were a race apart. “The men who did not – or could not – join up would never understand the current that sparked between those who had gone to war, even among the captured who had sat in POW camps out of the action.” But the price of glory was high, maybe too high… This is a thoughtful, beautifully written book.

Di Paice, Femina

This is a gentle story about love across the colour bar, where the bitter young ANC revolutionary learns that it is permissible to love a beautiful blonde girl, and her parents learn that it is essential to compromise. The author maintains a degree of tension with a clever stylistic exercise that has the past and the present alternating, building up to the symbolic climax of a funeral paralleling a wedding.

Jane Rosenthal, Mail & Guardian

In choosing the wryly un-PC title Kitchen Boy for her latest novel, Jenny Hobbs is clearly aware of the resonances of colonial terminology and the shades of war in a name so similar to Kitchener, and though it has an ironic side it is also a neat encapsulation of the themes of her story. Her protagonist is JJ Kitching, whose name has been affectionately mangled by adoring rugby fans shouting him on as a Springbok wing; so, far from being a male house servant, he was one of the (extremely) privileged for whom the highlights were war and rugby. Hobbs explores all this at JJ’s funeral through the many eulogies delivered and the memories of his friends and family…

Most S African families have been touched by war, often having to grapple not only with its intrinsic horrors but also the tough differences of opinion that arise within and between generations regarding such notions as duty, service to the nation and “a just war”… Hobbs touches on these issues, but presents a largely sympathetic portrait of a man who did all the expected things – he joined up in World War II, flew bombers, survived as a prisoner of war and came home to play rugby for this country. But at heart a bitter sense of guilt left over from an incident in a POW camp made him irascible and difficult…

The strength of this book lies in its varied and rich characterisation… Hobbs creates three black women characters with great insight and warmth, nicely counterbalancing the soldiers and reflecting how previously invisible people are now so often the stable pillars of our society…. In this unpretentious and warm-hearted book full of rugby, war and family secrets, it is entirely appropriate that the hymn sung at JJ’s funeral should be “He who would valiant be…’ and one wonders whether Hobbs may also be one of those whose sense of fairness may be mistaken for nostalgia.

Margaret Williamson in The Argus

If the title Thoughts in a Makeshift Mortuary puts you off, join the club. But if you soldier on through the opening scene, fascinated by horror, curiosity, or by the quality of the writing itself, you’ll reap a rich reward. Part of it is close identification with characters black, white and brown, who are caught up in a swirling vortex that’s sucking them down to their destiny. You feel you’re meeting yourself, and people you know, on every page.

Margaret von Klemperer, Witness

This novel opens with the death of the main character, and ends with his burial, by which time Jenny Hobbs has created a believable man. The story of his life is told mainly through the thoughts of those who attend his funeral at the cathedral in Durban, the city where he has lived most of his life. The reader comes to see him as a boy, a war hero, a Springbok rugby player and a family man. And also to see and understand the guilty secret that has informed his life, post-1945 … This is not an anti-war novel, though it never glamorises war.

Ken Barris, Cape Times

Kitchen Boy is an unusual literary take on the life of a former rugby Springbok and war hero. The novel opens with the death of the old hero and moves to his funeral service, the first of several braided narratives… Dipping into the recollections of his gathered friends, family and incidental figures, she builds up a compound picture of J J Kitching that spans his youth, war service and life afterwards. She also uses the service to orchestrate a variety of effects that feed into the rich structure and scope of the novel.

There is broad comedy in figures such as the pompous bishop and the lugubrious undertaker . There are tensions that unfold within the Kitching family … There is the pathos of the aging MOTHs who have come to honour their old comrade-in-arms… The recollections of the ancient warriors present a moving picture of Kitching’s war and the effects of trauma on his POW companions’  life choices after the war… I was impressed by the broad sweep of the novel, and by its clever marshalling of numerous perspectives to create the portrait of a compromised hero. In fact, I was moved by the dignified pain of the old soldiers and the way they move to resolve their differences. Kitchen Boy is a novel with heart.

Sue Grant-Marshall, Business Day

The catchment readership for SA author Jenny Hobbs’s latest novel is a wide one, for it includes rugby players, religion and wars. The title comes from the chief protagonist’s name, John  Joseph Kitching, a war hero and former Springbok rugby player who has died at a rich old age, taking a shameful war secret with him. His friends, and an enemy, gather to laud him and damn the war that killed many… The story is rooted in Kwa-Zulu Natal, where Hobbs grew up.  It’s also set in European POW camps where Kitchen Boy and his comrades battle the cold, the lice and German brutality… An uncle of Hobbs was taken prisoner and she sets out to keep the memory of him and others like him alive for her nine grandchildren to whom she dedicates the book: “May they live in peace and never experience war.”

Anna Christenson, Financial Mail

In her latest book Jenny Hobbs has taken on the clubby SA business community and added an extra dimension to a call made regularly in the FM for stricter regulation of business practices. In Quain, Hobbs has created a deeply flawed individual. He is an opaque, multifaceted character, lovable but nefarious, ruthless but soft, leaving hefty bequests to his down-and-out friends and helping establish a Johannesburg renaissance… The opacity of Quain’s life is a metaphor for the lack of transparency in SA businesses. None of his circles converges, everyone is kept in the dark. Only as his life fades does he shine a light on it and find it wanting. Dobermann represents morality, and her absolution is as necessary to Quain as his acceptance of her socialist conscience is to her. Hobbs is a powerful storyteller. She secured her credentials with The Sweet-Smelling Jasmine, another novel based on headlines, but one that will live on in my mind.

Jen Crocker, Cape Times

What happens when a wealthy, powerful businessman is faced with his own mortality? What truths will be revealed as he opens his life to the scrutiny of an old friend, and what does that mean for both the teller of the tale and the listener? These are the major themes of Jenny Hobbs’ novel. Angus Quain is dying and in his death throes he chooses to allow a friend, Faith Dobermann, to see tantalising glimpses of the secret facets of his life. Hobbs has created a skilful tale of the shifting of the balance of power between two people involved in what is essentially a deathbed conversation over a longish period of time. While the novel explores on the one hand the murky underside of big business and a city that draws its meaning from transactions, it also examines the landscape of friendship and the manner in which personal circumstances informs it. Hobbs has written a finely structured novel. She constructs a hall of mirrors and then allows her characters to be revealed in an unflinching manner. This is an important novel about modern life and Hobbs remains one of South Africa’s better observers of life and the meaning, or the lack, of it.

Michael Shafto, The Star

Jenny Hobbs is a true professional. In three novels now she has shown remarkable consistency with subjects as diverse as apartheid atrocities, childhood memories of a small Natal South Coast community and this exposé of Joburg big-business scandals. The plot concerns a divorced lady historian who has a friendship of 15 years with accounting tycoon Angus Quain. But all this changes when Angus announces he has stomach cancer. The whole basis of the relationship undergoes a subtle switch. Just as important is the very human story of Quain’s decline and the historian narrator’s faithful watch over her friend’s hopelessly brave fight against encroaching death.

Michele Magwood, Sunday Independent

Angus Quain is an eminent businessman and philanthropist, a man who hoisted himself from the wrong side of the tracks to become one of the most powerful men in the financial area. Long-divorced, he befriends Faith Dobermann and on every Saturday for 15 years the two meet for lunch at his club, until the day Angus announces that he has cancer. It is only then, in what will be the last year of his life, that Faith uncovers the many facets of Angus Quain. She begins to unpick the fabric of his life, revealing strands of silken brilliance but also slubs of corruption and fraud. She reveals a seam of corporate malfeasance, but also learns of Angus’s secret generosity. She is hurt to discover that she occupies only one compartment of many in his carefully designed life and sets out to uncover the others. Out of these compartments dance a marvellous array of characters: illegitimate children, dusky strippers, gay avocado farmers and a government minister who is also a traditional healer. Looming large are the denizens of big business and their questionable deals, an element of the story that culminates in Angus Quain finally clearing his conscience – and in so doing, fingering some of his fellow sharks. The Telling of Angus Quain is a contemporary story about contemporary Johannesburg. It is mercifully about people, not politics – and those people are real, rounded and believable.

Heather Mackie, Business Day

The energy, drive and ruthlessness that built Johannesburg from a mining camp and frontier town into a sophisticated metropolis and financial centre form the background to Jenny Hobbs’ latest novel. Hobbs is one of our more accomplished authors … her novels are a good read with strong plots, credible characters, familiar backgrounds, easy dialogue and a human morality that is not mawkish… The central character, Angus Quain, is a self-made businessman in Johannesburg, a rough diamond who has wheeled and dealed his way to fortune from humble beginnings in Cape Town. When we meet him, he is dying of cancer. His story is told through Faith Dobermann, a writer cum historian. The world she describes is one of power and position, but also exposes the culture of greed, the corporate underworld and a prestigious man’s club which is both misogynistic and anachronistic. Much of it echoes recent scandals, both here and abroad, and is wonderful material for a juicy soap. And there may be a few pink faces around the Stock Exchange wondering whether they have been her role models.

Darryl Accone in the Mail & Guardian

Twenty-five years after it heralded the arrival of a significant South African novelist, Thoughts in a Makeshift Mortuary has been reissued. To me it has always seemed an offence that Jenny Hobbs’s novel, one of the great South African works of the 1980s, has been allowed to go out of print. Thanks to Umuzi, then, for making this South African classic available to generations of new readers.

Those coming to the book anew will find that there is much in it to chime with the famously wise opening line of LP Hartley’s beloved novel The Go-Between (1953): “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” In the Hobbs, the past is 1983 and the foreign countries are Lesotho – and South Africa. Rose, a teacher, and Jake, a poet and activist, fled the latter for the former. They cannot live and love together because of South Africa’s odious pass laws. What happens to them in a Lesotho village sets off the thoughts and hopes that animate this novel and make it not only a poignant reminder of terrible times, but also a call for hope and renewal in the strange days of South Africa 2014.

Thoughts in a Makeshift Mortuary (New edition, 2014)

Thoughts in a Makeshift Mortuary (Michael Joseph London, 1989; Grafton, 1990, Umuzi 2014) deals with the tragic effects of apartheid violence and hatred on young South Africans, and is also a double love story spanning thirty years. Thoughts was a finalist for the 1989 CNA Literary Award, and was published by Econ Verlag in Germany under the title Tief im Süden.

What the back cover says:

“The date is December 1985; the place a village in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, the independent black country surrounded by white South Africa.  Hooded gunmen have come in the night and shot dead a young couple: Rose, a South African teacher, and her coloured husband Jake, a poet turned ANC activist with whom she had been living in exile.  Her mother grieves over the torn bodies while her father rages round the village in a fury of loss. In a series of flashbacks, Rose’s life and her parents’ stormy marriage unfold against the background of the turmoil and agony of recent events in South Africa, dominated by the urgent need to identify with those set apart for their colour.  But, as the local people prepare for the funeral, a ray of hope shines through the darkness.  The white girl and her husband did not die in vain.  There was a survivor of the shooting…  A pulsating first novel from South Africa, Thoughts in a Makeshift Mortuary is the tragic account of a forbidden love between two people of different races and a lament for the young lives being laid waste in an unhappy country.  Above all, it is a praise song to the South Africans of all races who are trying to build bridges rather than blow them up.”  

The background to Thoughts in a Makeshift Mortuary

The profoundly tragic photograph which propelled me into writing this first novel appeared on the front page of the Sunday Times on 22 December 1985: Jacqui Quin and her husband Leon Meyer lying dead on a floor, side by side under a bloody sheet.

Tens of thousands of young people were being caught up in our country’s raging turmoil. At that time our older daughters were university students and the youngest had spent her first high school year in one of South Africa’s only two non-segregated schools. I was so appalled by the vision of a young woman like them assassinated in her home, that I kept the cutting and subsequent articles about the funeral in Lesotho. Two weeks later I sat down one evening and started writing this fiction.

My characters are imagined, not based on the people involved, and this is a fictional village. It was the horror of the cross-border raids being planned and executed by shadowy men sent by the Nationalist government, and the terrible toll that monstrous policy was taking on innocent people, that drove me on.

The ANC was still banned and newspapers were censored, though if you read them carefully you could pick up information that slipped through. As a freelance journalist, I knew journalists and writers who told me things they couldn’t write about; I also had friends with connections to the struggle. Nobody at that time could say for certain who was involved in the raids.

As I wrote, the stories of the fictional young couple, Rose and Jake, and Rose’s parents, Sarah and Gordon, became intertwined over the decades between the 50s and the 80s in South Africa. I could not have written them without my experiences as a journalist, particularly working and writing for Thandi, then part of Bona magazine, during the years 1978 to 1982, which took me into the lives and traumas of many black women.

The book took nearly two years to write between other assignments. Michael Joseph published it in 1989, followed by Grafton with the paperback edition in 1990 and translated in Germany in two 1995 editions.

What shook me most about readers’ reactions was the almost universal, ‘But I didn’t know all this was happening in our country!’ It was too easy during those decades not to know, to blind oneself to the realities and not to listen to the voices being raised against injustices.

But we know now. Information about the cross-border raids began to emerge during the 1990s. Here are the details of the killing which inspired Thoughts in a Makeshift Mortuary as they appeared in newspaper reports, and I give them for two reasons: to tell the story of what really happened, and because atrocities like this must never, never happen again.

The man who led the squad of assassins was Eugene de Kock. A cutting about his trial in the Pretoria Supreme Court dated 17 September 1996 reads:

‘De Kock yesterday gave … vital new evidence about the planning and execution of the raid, launched after then president PW Botha became convinced that Lesotho was harbouring ANC terrorists…

‘Six members of the Vlakplaas unit, led by De Kock, were chosen to attack houses occupied by members of an ANC cell believed to have been involved in the murder of  a policeman in Cape Town… While he and a Warrant-Officer … were attacking one house, two other operatives hit the house in which Jacqui Quin and Leon Meyer lived… When the operative knocked on the front door, Quin opened it and grabbed the barrel of his gun. “He fired the weapon, killing Quin,” De Kock said. They then entered the house and shot Meyer.’

They claimed to have locked the child in a room with a child-minder. De Kock said that on returning to base he phoned the Maseru police to tell them about her. Later news reports are conflicting: one that neighbours found her safe in her cot, and another that, ‘They left the child, still being breastfed, unharmed to crawl in the blood of her parents before she was rescued four hours later.’

Seven people were murdered in the first house: Lulamile Dantile, Nomkhosi Mini, Vivian Mathee, Joseph Mayoli, Makaelane Mohatle, Boemo Tau and Amelia Lesenyeho.

Jacqui Quin’s mother is quoted in a cutting dated 9 May 1996 as asking the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for a memorial “so that their story is not forgotten. I want people to remember why they died.”

I hope this book dedicated to Jacqui, while fiction, reminds readers of the sacrifices she and many others made, and of their bravery. Remember.

> Podcast

Reading Matters: 10 Apr 2014: @SueGrantMarshal with Jenny Hobbs @FranLitFest @RandomStruik @JonathanBallPub
Posted to facebook and twitter

Sue Grant-Marshall interviewed author Jenny Hobbs about her first book, Thoughts in a Makeshift Mortuary, which has just been re-published by Umuzi.
They also discussed the Franchhoek Literary Festival, www.flf.co.za which takes place from 16 to 18 May 2014.

Download this podcast

Thoughts in a Makeshift Mortuary (1989)

(Shortlisted for the 1990 CNA Award)

Thoughts in a Makeshift Mortuary (Michael Joseph London, 1989; Grafton, 1990, Umuzi 2014) deals with the tragic effects of apartheid violence and hatred on young South Africans, and is also a double love story spanning thirty years. Thoughts was a finalist for the 1989 CNA Literary Award, and was published by Econ Verlag in Germany under the title Tief im Süden.

What the back cover says:

“The date is December 1985; the place a village in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho, the independent black country surrounded by white South Africa.  Hooded gunmen have come in the night and shot dead a young couple: Rose, a South African teacher, and her coloured husband Jake, a poet turned ANC activist with whom she had been living in exile.  Her mother grieves over the torn bodies while her father rages round the village in a fury of loss. In a series of flashbacks, Rose’s life and her parents’ stormy marriage unfold against the background of the turmoil and agony of recent events in South Africa, dominated by the urgent need to identify with those set apart for their colour.  But, as the local people prepare for the funeral, a ray of hope shines through the darkness.  The white girl and her husband did not die in vain.  There was a survivor of the shooting…  A pulsating first novel from South Africa, Thoughts in a Makeshift Mortuary is the tragic account of a forbidden love between two people of different races and a lament for the young lives being laid waste in an unhappy country.  Above all, it is a praise song to the South Africans of all races who are trying to build bridges rather than blow them up.”  

The Sweet Smelling Jasmine

The Sweet-Smelling Jasmine (Michael Joseph, London, 1993; Penguin, London, 1994) moves between the early 50’s and the present.  It centres on an unhappy wife whose new lover encourages her to delve back into the dramatic events of a year in their shared past in a racially mixed town on Natal’s South Coast, when community unrest culminated in rioting and the destruction of a Hindu temple.  Jasmine was submitted by South African librarians for the Irish Impac Award, and published by Econ Verlag in Germany under the title Zeit des Jasmin.

> Longlisted for the 1996 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

What the back cover says:

The Sweet-Smelling Jasmine is a rich and multi-layered novel, set in present-day and 1950s South Africa.  It opens with Isabel in the arms of her unnamed lover, a man from the brief exciting year in her youth when she discovered a whole new world in the Natal sugar-mill town of Two Rivers.  A world which became a powder keg of racial tension and religious fervour, and finally blew up when a Hindu temple stood in the way of progress.  What happened to the gutsy, inquisitive young Isabel, who is now an unconfident woman straining against the shackles of a moribund marriage and much-loved but demanding grown-up children?  Who were Finn and Stella, Mr Reddy and Opal, Kesaval and Asha, and the frenzied Sister Kathleen?  And which of the four boys from Two Rivers has she met again and fallen in love with? At her lover’s urging, Isabel resolves to untangle the threads of her life – and perhaps gain enough self-respect to free herself from her carping husband – by writing about the events she experienced as a teenager and about the people she shared them with.  As she remembers the series of incidents that led up to the fatal explosion of violence on a Good Friday evening, Isabel comes to terms with a part of herself that for years has been repressed, and in doing so, she finds the key that will change her life.”

The Telling of Angus Quain

The Telling of Angus Quain (Jonathan Ball, Johannesburg, 1997) is the account of an unusual friendship between a Johannesburg business tycoon and a woman historian, set largely in the men’s club where he lives.  When he is diagnosed as having terminal cancer, he begins to tell her about his less-than-savoury past and her life takes a very different turn. Quain was shortlisted for the 1998 M-Net Book Prize and was also chosen for submission for the Irish Impac Award. It was published by Econ Verlag in Germany under the title Der Stern von Johannesburg.

(Shortlisted for the 1998 M-Net Book Prize, English; Longlisted for the 1999 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award)

What the back cover says:

The Telling of Angus Quain is a sharply observed novel of contemporary Johannesburg, featuring Angus Quain’s rise from railwayman’s son to executive glory and his unusual friendship with Faith Dobermann, a lonely writer/historian who begins to realise that he is not who he seems…  In the corporate world where power equals money, ‘King’ Quain reigns supreme until he is sabotaged by cancer and his carefully constructed secret lives begin to unravel.  Faith’s curiosity about him grows into a quest for the truth that takes her from a Jeppe striptease joint along the devious byways of financial corruption to a startling confrontation between the dying man and his rivals in fraud, witnessed by the people he has spent a paradoxical lifetime helping. This is the compelling story of a brilliant but flawed man and his last, redeeming relationship with an independent younger woman: a story of our time, cast with people whose voices are all too familiar and set against the minefield of modern city living.”

Kitchen Boy

Kitchen Boy (Umuzi, 2011) is a novel about a young war hero and rugby Springbok who makes a mistake that dogs him all his life, and about the long-term effects of war on his family, war comrades, friends and associates, mostly set in Natal (as it then was) and POW camps.

What the back cover says:

“Luck matters. Life is chancy. An oval ball can bounce any way. Springbok legend, celebrated war hero, thriving businessman – that was JJ Kitching, known to all as Kitchen Boy. His was a life as large as a sports stadium, as thrilling as baling out of a burning war plane. Now he lies dead in his coffin in a Durban cathedral and his life is relived as funeral goers remember a glowing Natal childhood, the thunder of the rugby field, the joys and sorrows of family. But at the core of the man remained, to the end, the memory of WWII and how it could reduce even the bravest of men.”

> Podcast

Reading Matters – 24 March 2011 with Sue Grant-Marshall – Guest – Jenny Hobbs -author and co-founder of the Franschhoek Literary Festival (FLF)
Sue Grant-Marshall -chatted to Jenny Hobbs author about her latest book “Kitchen Boy” and the fifth Franschhoek Literary Festival which will take place from 13 to 15 May 2011.

> To access the podcast.

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The Miracle of Crocodile Flats

The Miracle of Crocodile Flats (Umuzi, 2012) is an affectionate satire set in a platteland village. When Ma-Jesu appears to a young schoolgirl, the sighting gives rise to an onslaught of curious pilgrims, mercenary journalists and even a representative of the Vatican, and inspires varying reactions from the townsfolk, with any taking advantage of the business opportunity presented. What makes the apparition significant is that this Mary is “brown like us”. With wry humour, the author exposes the hypocrisy, corruption and absurdity inherent in formalised religion, balancing this with flashes of its more benign side, such as its ability to unite and bring solace.

What the back covers says:

Godforsaken Crocodile Flats is the last place on earth where you’d expect any marvel, so when Sweetness Moloi believes she saw the Virgin Mary there – all nice and brown like real people – who’s going to believe her? But lo, the good news spreads like wildfire, and soon all hell breaks loose. Every sect and faction want in on the action, there is fierce competition for the elusive glory, and hordes of journalists, pilgrims, and the just plain curious flock the troublesome village. In this small corner of the Rainbow Nation, so desperately in need of a miracle, jealousy tumbles over hyprocisy to end up – miraculously – in a state of grace.

> Podcast

Reading Matters – 22 March 2012 – Sue Grant-Marshall (Host): Guest, Jenny Hobbs about her new book The Miracle of Crocodile Flats.
Sue Grant-Marshall chatted to Jenny Hobbs about her new book The Miracle of Crocodile Flats and about the Franschhoek Literary festival.

  1. Go to Radio Today’s website at www.1485.org.za
  2. Enter the website
  3. Select the Podcast button (Top Row -fourth from the left)
  4. Scroll down (alphabetically) to required podcast

Napoleon Bones

Napoleon Bones (Umuzi, March 2013) Inspector Rusty Gordon partners police dog Napoleon Bones in Team One A-R (All-Rescues), and this crime-thriller spoof set in Cape Town details their early career, told from the feisty Bones’s point of view. It is satire packed with local flavour, humour and skilfully drawn characters and landscapes.

> Podcast

Reading Matters – 2 May 2013 – Sue Grant-Marshall with Jenny Hobbs on #NapoleonBones; @RandomStruik; #CapeTown has been podcast.

> Download this podcast

Tienie Botes in The Citizen

Isabel is a middle-aged housewife who wants to be an author. Her secret lover puts the challenge to her: ‘Write about Two Rivers. That special place at a special time in your life – our lives.’

After her father’s death and her mother’s nervous breakdown, Isabel was left in the care of her older sister Stella and her husband Finn, the pharmacist at Two Rivers. This beautiful small town on the Natal coast becomes the scene of religious fervour and racial tension when a Hindu temple stands in the way of progress…

The conclusion of this charismatic novel is a spray of sweet-smelling jasmine on the coffin of an era, pray never to be repeated again.

Paper Prophets

Paper Prophets: A Treasury of Quotations About Writers and Writing (Zebra Press, Johannesburg, 1998) is a collection of quotes about writers and writing.

What the blurb says:

Paper Prophets is a book of quotations for readers, writers and would-be writers…an entertaining romp in the pastures of the written word.  Here are writers both literary and popular expounding on their views, disclosing their secrets, dropping hints, sounding warnings, taking digs at their peers and shouting the praises of their craft. Give Paper Prophets to someone who loves reading or aspires to write, or better still, take it home and hog it yourself.  Who knows, you may end up following in the steps of Athol Fugard, who once said, `When I start writing, it’s like going on a journey, on a great adventure; I set sail again on the great mythic voyage of discovery’.

Erika de Beer in Beeld

The Sweet-Smelling Jasmine is meer as net die naam van die roman of ‘n lendelam bus – dit simboliseer ‘n atmosfeer waarin jy met al jou sintuie kan verdrink. As dit nie reeds op jou leeslys is nie, maak ‘n plan.

Die roman is ‘n vlegsel van verhaallyne, dié van die middeljarige aspirant-skrywer, Isabel, en dié van ‘n deel van haar jeug wat sy op ‘n Natalse dorpie met die naam Two Rivers deurgebring het. Die twee wissel mekaar af en tussenin is daar ook uittreksels van ‘n verslag oor ‘n opstand wat op die dorpie plaasgevind het…

In dié verhaal word die leser na ‘n heel ander wêreld verplaas – ‘n vergeelde foto-atmosfeer van 1952.

Hobbs se skryfstyl vloei so gemaklik soos die Two Rivers waaroor sy skryf. ‘n Mens kan nie help om deur die stroom meergesleur te word nie…

Hoewel dit ‘n mens onwillekeurig aan Harper Lee se To Kill a Mockingbird laat dink, is The Sweet-Smelling Jasmine heerlik Suid-Afrikaans. Apartheid is ‘n belangrike tema, maar sonder die gewetensbagasie wat so dikwels daarmee gepaard gaan. Lees dit sonder voorbehoud of versuim.

Sister Wendy Beckett

It’s an enthralling book, not a dull line and not a thing that isn’t integrated into the whole. So, technically superb but also, so potent spiritually. Isabel’s maturing is very moving, seemingly uncontrived. It’s a book about maturing … a mature book in every sense, and a good one in every sense, too… You have given me real delight in this book, even better than your fine first novel.

Barry Smit in The Star

Hobbs’s second novel is a good read… Set mainly in the fictional sugar town of Two Rivers in the early 1950s, when the Nationalists’ apartheid laws were just starting to have impact, it explores through the eyes of an intelligent, sensitive 14-year-old girl the life and conflicts of the town’s black, white and Indian communities.

The girl, Isabel, comes to the town from a Transvaal mining dorp for a brief stay with her elder sister and brother-in-law – the local pharmacist, a remarkable sympathetic and well-drawn character – after her father’s death and her mother’s subsequent nervous breakdown.

During her sojourn there, events that will have a lasting effect on her adult existence take place, including a devastating race riot during a Hindu religious festival that is indelibly stamped on her memory. But the book is far from overtly political, although, in dealing mainly with the concerns of ordinary people, it expresses well how social realities surround and impact on them, both personally and as a community…

Her account of the dissolution of Isabel’s marriage and the emotions this invokes, shows remarkable insight into the very nature of relationships …  She is also adept at describing the pleasures of sex in middle age.

Carol Lazar in the Sunday Star

South African writer Jenny Hobbs’s newest book … set in Natal, traverses different time spans – the 50s and today.

The story, about Isabel, a housewife in the arms of her foreign correspondent lover, is beautifully told. There are two distinct threads. The young Isabel of the 50s who goes to live with her sister and brother-in-law in Two Rivers, and the older, mature Isabel, with grown-up daughters and a dull husband.

Natal in the 50s was a place of turmoil (as it is now) and Hobbs grippingly describes the events of the time that lead to a catastrophe which will change Isabel’s life forever.

Her writing is sensitive, her descriptions evocative and her sense of timing impeccable. For those who love the richly embroidered stories of South American writer Isabel Allende, Jenny Hobbs will be a find. She has a similar style of writing at times and her readers will get lost in her story. And what finer tribute could there be for a writer.

Video Dreams

Video Dreams (Penguin, Johannesburg, 1995) is a novel  for teenagers, the story of a girl who slides into a life of drugs and crime but is redeemed when she is nursed back to health after an accident by a group of powerful black women who have established their own village in the Drakensberg.  It was published by Econ Verlag in Germany under the title Roter Horizont.

What the back cover says:

“I roared into the next action-packed episode of my life without a cent to my name … clutching a complete stranger in black leathers.”  What is Sylvie leaving behind?  A father who scorns her, school that means nothing to her and drugs that have nearly killed her.  She’s taking along her video dreams, though; the wonderful world in her imagination that’s so much richer than real life. Ahead of her lies an amazing cross-country journey with an armed robber on a motor bike.  Then – maybe – salvation at the end of the road.”

Pees and Queues

Pees & Queues, co-authored with Tim Couzens (Spearhead, Johannesburg, 1999)

What the blurb says:

“Following in the tradition of The Specialist and Temples of Convenience & Chambers of Delight, Pees & Queues is a delightful book about the lore of the loo. While international, it is primarily a view from a South African loo which includes facts, figures, news items, book extracts and anecdotes about conveniences and inconveniences, long-drops and PKs, chamber pots and bidets and a whole range of usage and customs. Co-written by Professor Tim Couzens, a literary historian with a plumbing background who divides his time between Johannesburg and Pofadder, and novelist Jenny Hobbs, who seldom has enough time to divide, it will keep you glued to your seat.”

First Aid for the Family

(Southern Book Publishers, in association with the South African Red Cross, 1987)

“Every day people get hurt in accidents, fighting and dangerous conditions like fires, storms, floods and extreme cold. Members of your own family may suffer heart attacks, strokes, broken bones, fits, fevers, serious bleeding or sudden bad illnesses like gastro-enteritis, which can lead to death in a small baby within hours. First Aid for the Family tells you exactly what to do when someone is hurt or gets very sick. It tells you when to call for help, what to do while you wait for help to come, and what to do if you cannot get help… In trouble times like ours especially, everyone needs access to knowledge that can help people who are suffering and save lives.”

Darling Blossom

(Don Nelson, 1978)

What the back cover says:

“Fresh from the pages of  Darling magazine comes South Africa’s own sweetheart, Blossom. For five years this Joeys chick has been delighting readers with unexpurgated accounts of life in Bez Valley: who could ever forget Auntie Vilma and Ouma, the ole man and my boet, Lorna and Charmaine or Bok-Bok, the perennial boyfriend? To cheers of ‘Vrystaat!’ from all the fans, here they are at last together in one book.”