Friday, June 27, 2014

The Sharpest FIFA World Cup tweet yet!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Confessions of a failed author #3.


Musings on 'Opportunism', Laziness and Creativity

At roughly 20 seconds into the above video, the Kyknet presenter asks the question: "If a journalist writes a book, isn't it opportunistic? This is the second book...aren't they just trying to make money out of this tragedy?"

It's true, I would hate to be asked that live and in camera. Recently I told someone I was one of South Africa's most diverse freelancers and she asked me to name some of the publications I've written for. I won't say I struck a blank, but I had that feeling you get when you go, "Shucks, where do I start?"

I suppose somewhere is the answer. I like the way Charne Kemp answers the question. She says, "That [making money] was never the goal. The goal was to write a book about a story that has everyone riveted." Let's be honest, writers - myself included - expect to be paid for our efforts. We don't expect to get rich for our efforts, or even to be paid what our efforts perhaps deserve. But like it or not, in the same way a petrol attendant, or a waitress or a Member of Parliament expect to be given money for time on the job, a writer has the same expectation.

What I find downright odd, is when you get people who devote their lives to the arts (painting, writing, sculpture, making movies etc) people are very quick to question their motives when they (think) they disagree with them. But if anyone's motives can be questioned it is the cubicle slave or office jockey who (secretly) despises his job, and only does it for the (gasp) money. That's an entire life, an entire vocation, dedicated to smiling for the $ sign.

Intellectual and Spiritual Laziness

Some people are happy to do that, and I guess sometimes a lot of moolah can help with the happiness part. Poor people are seldom happy. Right? Well, actually there are very few people who hate their jobs who are happy. They tend to feel trapped and miserably depressed. What could be more demeaning than giving large fractions of your life force to something you despise doing, for the reward of a salary cheque, and a squidget of certainty?

 On the other question, are poor people miserable and the super rich blissful?

I think the poor on the edges of the middle class, those fringes fraught with desperate attempts to compete (or live in the same neighborhood) as the 'Joneses' or otherwise become 'upwardly mobile' are certainly not the happiest. Failure to keep up with the Joneses means you begin to compare yourself unfavorably to others, which is a recipe for unhappiness. (The opposite is also true, happiness is knowing you are better than your neigbours, but - unless you're Warren Buffett - it only lasts so long). Trying to break into a clique, trying to emerge is always traumatic. It's no different for a writer slaving away in the hopes 'a book' will emerge from the sound and fury coming off their battered keyboards. The poor accept their shitty circumstances, have low expectations, but they still make a jol of it. They have a great community spirit, and they do take joy in the simple things. Until the next Act of God blows their house down, at any rate.

But whether we're rich or poor, our idea of happiness is not work...it's something like this.


Not necessarily breasts.  We think of soft sands and warm seas, and sunshine. And doing bugger-all.  That's our idea of happiness, isn't it?  Or is the secret to a good life our enjoyment of work just as much as it is about how well we love and are loved in return (something I touched on via Donna Tartt in my #1 Confession.) Think about it.  Surfers are having a much wilder ride than fishermen, and fishermen are getting a bigger kick than the suntanner.  Why?  Because it's in the experience - in the doing - that we feel alive. Yes, there is salvation in love and work, and for the writer, this is especially true, especially in our work.


I have written plenty of unpublished novels.

HOLIDAY


And have I happened to mentioned this itsy bitsy little thingamajiggy I'm pottering on...

Bloodline - Ring of Ice


Have I adequately addressed the fact that most people who write for a living aren't motivated by greed?  Good, then let's move on to -

Rough notes on Creativity

Creative people are unlucky.  We're almost certainly doomed to failure (especially financial failure), certainly most of the time, yet in spite of that it's what we choose to do.I like these words n the topic by Ernest Becker. Referring to the 'Creative Solution' he writes:

It takes strength and courage the average man doesn't have  and couldn't even understand...The most terrifying burden of the creature is to be isolated...this move exposes the person to the sense of being completely crushed and annihilated because he sticks out so much, [and] has to carry to much in himself...The Key to the creative type is that he is separated out of the common pool of shared feelings. There is something in his life experience that makes him take in the world as a problem; as a result he has to make personal sense of it. This holds true for all creative people to a greater or lesser extent, but it is especially obvious with the artist. Exstence becomes a problem that needs an ideal answer; but when you no longer accept the collective solution to the problem of existence, then you must fashion your own. The work of art (or piece of writing) is, then, the ideal answer of the creative type to the problem of existence as he takes it in - not only the existence of the external world, but also his own...

[Note: if you've enjoyed this passage you should read this book.]

Now...have I completely addressed the fact that most people who write for a living aren't motivated by greed?

 They're more motivated by a love for what they do. I am. And I'd argue that's mostly true of the rest of reasonably happy working folk. Of course there is nothing like the announcement of a bonus, and we all look forward to receiving our financial dues, but we're far more motivated by an ecosystem of things besides - it may be colleagues, or rivalry, or a narrative that is developing around a project (and of which we are an integral part). And in this last sentence lies part of the answer to the second part of the question. When you write about things like the Oscar Trial (as I am, I'm currently working on a third Book in a series of 5)or Griekwastad,contemporary and popular tragedies, are you doing so with...ulterior motives? Are you profiting out of loss? And should the public endorse this? Should the public be complicit in this cynical parasitism and profit taking?

Well, let me use myself as an example. I'm not like most regular journalists, in fact I don't even consider myself a 'journalist'. I'm a writer thank you, and a photographer, but if the word 'photojournalist' work for you, let's run with that. I write a lot about climate change. I'll tell you this for nothing. No one wants to read about it, so it is a hard story to sell. But I write about it anyway, and I fight (contrary to my 'vested' interests with media houses) when editors try to dodge the use of these submissions. It's an important issue for me and I'm something of an activist on the topic.

Let's be absolutely clear about this: if I wanted to make as much money as I possibly could, I wouldn't write about climate change. Ever. A lot of people reading this paragraph are inwardly shaking their heads and going [so Van der Leek is into that stuff is he...one of those hysterical...unsophisticates...thinks the Earth is fragile and hugs bunnies...] I digress, but the point is, I write about it because I care about it. That's it. You'd have to be idiot to accuse me of trying to profit out of the loss the world has experienced from 'alleged' climate change. Because here's the kicker. I'm also experiencing that loss. In terms of the Oscar Trial, yes, I too am also expeiencing that loss.  In terms of Griekwastad, yes, I too also feel anger towards that boy.  They're unresolved feelings I the writer shares with you the potential reader.  And it's exactly because they're unresolved that we form this contract - I write and you read and hopefully, in this place and time, maybe together, we can fashion some sort of satisfactory answer to this...problem.

I care so much that I feel compelled to write the stories no one else writes. I am essentially writing the kind of stories I wish were out there so I could read them. Is that opportunism, or is it something more akin to...Conscientiousness? A sense of Mission. A Passion for living and encouraging others to live an authentic life.

Right now I am busy with a few projects, one of them is Resurrection, Book 3 in a series of 5 on the Oscar Trial.

The only thing opportunistic about these stories is that I hope to get them out before the freights of 'official' accounts arrive by the truckload.  At last count I heard there were seven books being written by various journalists and authors.  But I have my own story to tell.

Two questions I want to ask myself (and thus the reader) are:

What is a model? 
What is a hero?

My intuition tells me both our contemporary notions of these are wrong. My intuition tells me our attitude to money is wrong. Does having a lot of money hold off death? Does fame hold off death? What does? I'll tell you. Living a happy, and well lived life. Celebrity pretends to do that. When we watch movies, actors pretend to be having the good life. But what is the good life? It's something only you know, because it's different for each of us.

 Here's the thing. When there is a murder, and someone dies, we want to know why. When they are successful and beautiful we want to know how and why an ostensibly good life must come to an end. It's important that we ask these questions. It's important that we reflect. Because that is the first step towards healing, or - to use the Latin terminology - restitutio ad integrum. It means restoring to the original condition, and what is that for us? A condition before we were hurt? Or is it who we were destined to be? Who are you destined to be? Is your work taking you there? Mine is. If that's opportunistic then I embrace it. If you criticise me for it, it's because you're not embracing yours.

Friday, June 20, 2014

"we cannot get to their insides and cannot reveal our insides to them"

“We have become victims of our own art. We touch people on the outsides of their bodies, and they us, but we cannot get to their insides and cannot reveal our insides to them. This is one of the great tragedies of our interiority-it is utterly personal and unrevealable. Often we want to say something unusually intimate to a spouse, a parent, a friend, communicate something of how we are really feeling about a sunset, who we really feel we are-only to fall strangely and miserably flat. Once in a great while we succeed, sometimes more with one person, less or never with others. But the occasional break-through only proves the rule. You reach out with a disclosure, fail, and fall back bitterly into yourself.” 

― Ernest BeckerThe Birth and Death of Meaning: An Interdisciplinary Perspective on the Problem of Man

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Dior Addict Fragrance - Director's cut of DIE ANTWOORD

Olympic hero Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend -- was it an accident or is he a cold-blooded murderer? His closest family friend speaks out to "48 Hours" [CBS News]

O.J. and Oscar Trials - A Combination of Celebrity, Wealth and Murder [npr AUDIO]


The Slow Speed Bronco Chase - from StatementAnalysis.com

On June 17, 1994, five days after Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were murdered, O.J. Simpson was to be arrested via voluntary surrender. Instead of surrendering, Simpson and his friend, Al Cowlings, got into Cowling's Ford Bronco and, according to Simpson, headed for the cemetery to visit Nicole's grave. Because of a police presence at the cemetery they were unable to visit her grave site. Simpson then claims Cowlings noticed that Simpson had a gun. Fearing Simpson might shoot himself Cowlings called the police on his cell phone and told them he had Simpson and he was taking him back to his house. What followed was the infamous slow speed Bronco chase which was televised to millions of viewers. During the chase detective Tom Lange spoke with Simpson on a cell phone. Simpson was huddled in the back seat of the Bronco with a gun in his hand. Lang spends the entire conversation trying to convince Simpson to throw away the gun. At this point in time, Simpson is suicidal. Here are some excerpts from this taped conversation.

Simpson: I just need to get to my house. I can't live with (unintelligible).

Lange: We're going to do that. Just throw the gun out the window.

Simpson: I can't do that.

Lange: We're not going to bother you. We're going to let you go up there. Just throw it out the window. Please. You're scaring everybody. O.J., you there?

Simpson: ---for me. This is not to keep you guys away from me. This is for me.

Lange: Okay. It's for you, I know that. But do it for.....

Simpson: This is for me, for me. That's all.

There is no doubt Simpson is contemplating suicide. He tells us the gun is not to keep the police away but it is for him. We see further evidence of his suicidal state when later in the conversation he makes the statements, "Ah, just tell them I'm sorry." "I've said goodbye to my kids." What follows is Simpson's confession that he murdered Nicole Brown Simpson.

Lange: Don't do this. They love you. Don't do it, O.J. It's going to work itself out. It's going to work. Its going to work. You're listening to me, I know you are, and you're thinking about your kids right now, aren't you? Aren't you?

Simpson: Ah --

Lange: They're thinking about you. They're thinking about you.

Simpson: Ah --

Lange: So is your mother. Your mother loves you. Everybody loves you. Don't do this.

Simpson: Ooh --

Lange: I know you're thinking.

Simpson: Oh --

Lange: Man, just throw it out the window.

Simpson: Ah --

Lange: And nobody's going to get hurt.

Simpson: I'm the only one that deserves it.

Lange: No, you don't deserve that.

Simpson: I'm going to get hurt.

Lange: You do not deserve to get hurt.

Simpson: Ah --

Lange: Don't do this.

Simpson: All I did was love Nicole. That's all I did was love her.

Lange: I understand.

Did you see the confession? It occurs right after Lang tells Simpson, "nobody's going to get hurt." Simpson responds by saying, "I'm the only one that deserves it." The murder of his ex-wife has placed Simpson in this suicidal situation. It is in this setting he tells us he is the only who deserves to die. If these murders were committed by someone else, wouldn't that person be worthy of death?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Super Goal by Robin van Persie - Spain vs Netherlands [FIFA 2014]

Griekwastad Book Wars: Steenkamp VS Kemp

When I wrote my review of Jacques Steenkamp's Griekwastad Murders, I googled "Griekwastad" and "In Cold Blood" just to make sure no one else had used the same premise.  I was alarmed when this article, written by the Afrikaans freelancer, Jan Taljaard, came up, published by Rapport.

But I needn't have been alarmed because if anything, Taljaard was slagging off both writers, saying Nie een van die skrywers is ’n Truman Capote nie en nie een van die boeke is naastenby ’n In Cold Blood nie.

I wonder if Taljaard has read In Cold Blood? Because this was the exact opposite contention in my review, which is titled: 'Griekwastad' is SA's 'In Cold Blood'.

And I went even further than that.  The Griekwastad murders, I wrote, comparing them to the 1959 Kansas murder Capote so famously documented by Capote (and kick-starting a new genre), are at another order of magnitude...

But then I provided this disclaimer:

If Griekwastad resembles In Cold Blood it is not as much in the style of the writing, but the content.  Jacques Steenkamp allows the story to reveal itself, and it is absolutely riveting. Steenkamp does well to balance facts with observation, and washes all this with some – just enough – personal commentary that really resonates with the reader. It is a satisfying read, down to the last page, if for no better reason than because our common outrage is acknowledged.

Taljaard then makes the opposite claim, saying Steenkamp's version is self-indulgent, and biased, and littered with inappropriate personal commentary.  Odd.  I found it restrained.  And when it was warranted, for example when Marthella's injuries were discussed in detail, I thought Steenkamp was justified in saying, as he does on page 162 of Chapter 13: 

I looked at those photos on the screen, and then I looked at the accused, who still appeared completely unaffected by the sight.  It made me very, very angry.  

Taljaard complains: Dit pla egter dat Steenkamp homself deurentyd op die voorgrond skuif in die boek en soms bloot net wilde aannames maak. 

Wilde aannames?

Now Taljaard is accusing Steenkamp who first broke the story (and let's face it, Steenkamp fields over 13 000 followers on twitter) of unprofessional reporting.  Really, Jan?  A lot of the folks - possibly many suffering from OCD - would have hauled a writer over the coals for inaccuracies.  Twitter offers the public a chance to do their own research and analysis, and so a journalist who is not up to speed on the trial can literally have his reporting cross-referenced with the live twitter feeds coming out of court.  All this is in the public domain, there's no cloak and dagger involved.  Which makes Taljaard's allegation spurious.And while Taljaard appears to basically shoot down both books (Steenkamp's and Kemp's), he clearly bats for Kemp's side in the end.  Look at this:

Terwyl Steenkamp groot dele aan verbatim verslae van die hofverrigtinge afstaan, som Kemp die gebeure bondiger op...Dit is moeilik om een boek bo die ander aan te beveel...Wil jy egter meer weet oor die slagoffers en hul familie en watter soort mense hulle was, is Kemp se Moord op Griekwastad dalk die antwoord. Laasgenoemde boek sal die leser ook net so bietjie nader laat kom aan ’n antwoord op die allerbelangrike vraag oor wie en wat die jong moordenaar eintlik is.

Strangely, I didn't have the same problem as Taljaard. It wasn't the two-horse race I expected.  I thought it would be.  Neck and neck.  For some reason I thought Kemp would go into more detail, find more on-the-ground gossip, and insight, perhaps uncover details of the boy's experience at Grey College, or add some depth and colour via the Steenkamp family. But Kemp got her 'inside' information via the Steenkamp family, the granny if I have my facts right - which creates an immediate bias (and reason for 'restrained reporting'.) If anyone is going anything 'verbatim', it's Kemp, who quote a few entire newspaper articles straight of Die Volksblad.  Also, I didn't realise Kemp is based in Kimberley, not Bloemfontein, and so I was disappointed that both Steenkamp and Kemp glossed over the Grey College details, although Steenkamp - in my view - provided a lot more detail on the thoughts of the then principal, Johan Volsteedt, and the arrest in his office. 

While Kemp's book is more descriptive, I also found it more disconnected, since it was written in the third person.  What bugged me the most about her book was the extent of her professional distance. There seemed very little comment or observation of the boy, on his reactions, and on her assessment of the whole debacle. Almost as though she was protecting the integrity of the Steenkamp family, or trying to stay within some self imposed journalistic agenda.  (Interestingly the accused's name is not referred to in either book, other than as 'the boy').  I think Kemp's caution is misplaced though.  Sometimes an Omerta is important, but not when your perpetrator is clearly guilty, as in this case.

On page 141 Steenkamp addresses this question, to my mind, succinctly: 

What concerned me was that those people who believed him to be innocent didn't form their opinion based on a lack of evidence; they were influenced by the fact that he was so young.  They simply could not comprehend how a child could pick up a gun and execute three people like animals.  People who think like that scare me. 

They scare me too. 

I thought I could dismiss Taljaard's odd (and mostly off) assessment as a one-off goof, until I came across this, which was published in Beeld and Die Voldsblad.  I've copied select extracts below:

Moord op Griekwastad deur Charné Kemp

Dié boek oor die gru-moorde op die Steenkamp-gesin van Griekwastad laat ’n mens se nekhare meer as een keer rys. Dit is van die begin af boeiend. Die skrywer, ’n joernalis by Volksblad, neem die leser deur deeglike beskrywings op die plaas Naauwhoek buite Griekwastad.Die gruwelike moordtoneel word in fyn besonderhede beskryf.
Die boek is ’n moet-lees vir mense wat deur die treurspel aangegryp is en van ware menslike dramas hou.


Steenkamp Boek


Sommige sal dink dit is interessant om te lees hoe die betrokke joernalis te werk gegaan het, maar die afleidings en menings pla.
Die boek sou waarskynlik meer geslaag gewees het as die skrywer se persoonlike aannames afwesig was. Die woord “ek” word te veel gebruik.
Dis ook jammer dat die skrywer nie oral in sy boek erkenning aan eksterne bronne gee nie. Op bl. 58 en bl. 59 gebruik Steenkamp dele van ’n onderhoud met die forensiese patoloog dr. Leon Wagner wat in Mei 2012 in Volksblad geplaas is sonder dat hy aan dié koerant erkenning gee.
Dit is nie al wat pla nie.
Op bl. 44 sê die skrywer hy sou baie naby daaraan kom om die Griekwastad-moorde op te los. Steenkamp was wel saam met Charné Kemp (wat die ander boek oor die Griekwastad-moorde geskryf het) aan die voorpunt rakende verslaggewing oor die sage, maar geen joernalis het die moorde opgelos nie.
In die geheel kon die boek beter gewees het.


Here you get very specific nitpicking on Steenkamp's book, including a direct snub asking why Steenkamp doesn't credit Kemp.  Steenkamp actually mentions Kemp a few times in his book, and I found his journey, through the eye of an investigative journalist, provided far more excitement and tension than Kemp's 3rd person disconnect.  In contrast I don't recall Kemp mentioning Steenkamp, but I may have skipped the chapter where she does. 

I also think the accusation that Steenkamp 'solved the crime' is a little misplaced.  If memory serves, he pieced together some of the circumstantial evidence and claimed the young girl was raped, before rape had actually been fully established.  He broke this story as well (or scooped it) and was very nervous that facts or evidence might call his, somewhat premature analysis, into question.  As it turned out, Steenkamp was right on the money.  The rape lies at the very centre of this case, the motive hinges on it.  So I think, again, the criticism of Steenkamp is strange given that he was ultimately proved right. 

In my opinion - and that's all it is - Kemp errs on the side of too little analysis.  On page 273, her Chapter So het dit waarskynlik gebeur starts halfway through the page, and it ends not quite at the end of the very next page.  Barely a page to describe the crime that she dedicates an additional 290 pages to discussing.  I'm being honest here, I skipped through sections in the body - especially the middle part of her book - because it simply didn't interest me.  One entire chapter was dedicated to the tourist highlights between Upington and Kimberley.  I can see what she was trying to do; create an atmosphere.  Unfortunately you can't have too much atmosphere and too little analysis. It's simply too tedious to read.

What is good about Kemp's book is she seems to have a slightly better handle on Christel Steenkamp, and even quotes from some of Christel's own writings.  (Christel sometimes wrote on Gymkana and other travel news for the Volksblad and Landbouweekblad).  And at times Kemp's use of Afrikaans is quite beautiful. E.g. die bakkies moet hul kou ken...Griekwastad is ru en draaierig..die krieke neem oor die sang by die voels...ysblou lug...die yuk van lee politieke beloftes  And little insights, such as Deon's habit of calling Marthella 'Sussie', sometimes 'Sussieeee' and the petite daughter calling her big Afrikaans dad 'Pappatjie.'  It adds a nice, familiar touch.  

I'm afraid I found Steenkamp's book a clear winner in a bunch of departments.  It's longer, more firsthand experiences and observations of the boy, more analysis, more personal investment, and as I mentioned earlier, you can sense the tension of a hungry writer, far from home, trying to scoop his rivals, but he's also a man whose world is turned upside down by his obsession.  So much so that he ultimately leaves his job at Rapport.  And herein lies, I think, something to think about.  I don't think either article, both published by Media24 (Steenkamp's ex-employer) is fair to Steenkamp's book.  Clearly both articles put these books head to head, and an experienced writer like me can see that - under the guise of equanimity - Kemp's work cracks the nod, but Steenkamp's doesn't. I think someone is trying to score a few points against an ex-employee.  Because in this battle of the books, Kemp's isn't the winner.  It's the other way round.

Is that an opinion or a reasonable assessment?  Let's test that. Kemp, an attractive brunette, and not a bad writer by any stretch of the imagination, only has half Steenkamp's twitter following, and her timeline has far less action than does Steenkamp's in terms of marketing her own book. Steenkamp's is also a bigger book - not only is the cover taller and broader, his text spans about 80 more pages (making it about a third longer).  In some of the national book ratings, Steenkamp's book is also up there, whereas I'm not sure where Kemp's is.  I read Steenkamp's book literally in 3 sittings, Kemp's book I struggled through.  I skipped parts in the middle.  It took me weeks to get through it.  A case could be made that reading the same narrative twice is going to prejudice whichever narrative you read second, but I don't buy that.   That didn't happen the last time I experienced Book Wars, almost 10 years ago.  

Remember Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air?  That book had to be rebutted by Weston DeWalt's The Climb.  I read both books, was rivetted by both and subsequently - almosty ten years later - my blog posts on the subject are in the lifetime top five most popular posts on this blog.

Have a look at these for reference:
Krakauer vs Boukreev
Boukreev's Letter
Krakauer's Letter
Krakauer's Response To Broukeev Letter
Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa Criticism Of Krakauer
Krakauer's response to Lopsang
Pitons Are Served
Messner on the Jon Krakauer/Anitoli Boukreev Everest Controversy
Mountain Madness


Was I biased?  I don't think so.  One of the authors went to far as to congratulate me on my summary of a debate which is still simmering almost a decade later.
DeWalt (author of The Climb), having come across some of my musings, responded as follows:

This afternoon, in a break from some ongoing research, I took a dive into the Internet to look again at some of the things that have been said about Anatoli. I wandered across your Blog and your description of the Krakauer-Boukreev controversy. It is the clearest exposition of the debate that I have ever seen. Thanks for remembering a consummate climber and one of the finest men whose company I have ever had the opportunity to share. Best wishes for the Holidays and the New Year
- Weston deWalt (author of The Climb, the story of Anatoli Boukreev)

I digress. Let's get back to Griekwastad. In the concluding paragraph of my GQ review (of Steenkamp's book) I say:

 It is good to see this sort of writing because it means people in this country want answers, and will work hard to get them... In my view outrage and accountability are both good and healthy for society. And yes, we should pay attention to these from time to time. 

My view is that it is great that both writers went to an effort to write books, and I think they are both important books.  Amazon clearly shows more interest in Steenkamp's narrative (28 reviews) compared to Kemp (1 review).  Interestingly, Steenkamp also has an Afrikaans translation to his book, and on Amazon's Afrikaans bestseller list, Steenkamp's book trails Kemp by about two places Steenkamp's book is ranked #4, and Kemp's #30.   Steenkamp's English book is rated 4 and something stars, while his Afrikaans book has only three and a half, and 4 reviews. The only review for Kemp's book is a two sentence review. Just like the two reviews published by Media 24, it specifically compares Kemp's book to Steenkamp's, saying hers is better.  Talk is cheap. Sorry, the proof of the pudding is in the reading, and the reviewing, and fact is, Kemp's ain't better than Steenkamp's. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Untold Story Surrounding Reeva Steenkamp



I've written numerous times about the fact that Reeva didn't want to associate her brand too closely with Oscar's. Yet there is a persistent public perception that this was the reason Reeva was with Oscar in the first place.  To leverage her brand. Some time has passed since I wrote on that subject.  For example, this and this.

That content - contained in the second link - predates the first (published in Destiny Man on March 5 2014) by about 9 months.  Put another way, I wrote Reeva in her own Words about a year ago.  Early June 2013.

Why did I write it?  Simple.  I was curious.  There were a lot of people asking the same questions.  That was half of it.  Her family had basically shut down, they'd already forgiven Oscar and weren't even going to attend the trial (so there was no chance of finding answers there).  Also, Reeva's friends didn't want to talk about her.  I spoke to Tim Hulme, a fellow photographer who did Reeva's last shoot (and her very last facebook post is to thank him for her photos - she's dressed like an angel).  On Facebook we sent a few messages back and forth but he also seemed reluctant to talk about her.  There seemed to be a feeling that it was distasteful.  That finding out who she was was disturbing her already injured form.  A lot of people were announcing - just like Reeva's family - that they were going to ignore the trial.

But I wanted answers.

A lot of the story was about Oscar.  It was pretty intense.  95% was just wall to wall coverage. Oscar-Oscar-Oscar. But who was Reeva?  Just Oscar's girlfriend?  Oh, is that who she was?  I didn't think so. I wanted to know who the real Reeva was.  What kind of person was she? So, because we were friends on Facebook, and because her twitter timeline is in the public domain, I thought I would find out for myself.

It was quite a journey.  Following her story.  Here was a driven meisie clearly articulating her dreams and goals, and going for it.  It is difficult not to be impressed by her courage, and at the same time not also feel sympathetic to - what turned out to be - Reeva's battle to emerge.  Not just over one or two years but several. There's trauma, there are setbacks, there are problems. But like any decent hero (or heroine) she keeps her chin up, and so it's hard not to want to root for her. And soon you see how she finally transforms and matures.  Yet all along, through thick and thin, there is a wonderful grace about her, a wonderful self deprecating humor, and a wonderful depth and honesty.  I didn't expect it.  I'm a photographer and it's rare to come across people of real substance in this industry.  It's a shallow business, or it can be, and on average it doesn't always attract the cream of the crop.  Except that's exactly what Reeva turns out to be.

And so as the knowledge of how exceptional she is, she was, creeps up on, so does the dismay that this special life was so cruelly stolen from her.  And from us.

The more I found out about her the more I was charmed by her good manners, and her high standards.  Clearly Reeva liked to have fun, but she maintained class throughout.  There are very few people who can have their social media analysed and come out of it shiny clean the way she does.

And then I started seeing something else.  I noticed the underlying strategy.  I saw a lot of thought had gone into her personal branding, especially in the last few months of her life.  If you consider that she wasn't just with Ice Models, but had someone managing her brand, you realise how serious she was about her career.  And in early footage of her (see above video) even as a young student you can see behind the smile and fun is a seriously hard-working girl.  She's committed!

And yet I've recently found myself wondering...this business about Oscar's brand and her brand...has it ever been discussed in the media?  Not to my knowledge.  I don't know whether google's latest algorithms throw your own stuff right back at you, but when I google 'Reeva brand' and 'Oscar brand' all it comes back with is my own content!  So where did this idea come from?  And gasp, did I make an assumption, and repeat it so often it has become gospel?  Surely not!  Yet as I backtracked this week, all I could find were links to my own allegations, like this one.
[Scroll down a dozen or so posts and you'll find a link to this website].

I started scratching my head. Where on Earth did I see Sarit Tomlinson - from Capacity Relations - talking about Reeva's brand?  Why do I have such a clear memory of it? Because it was on TV.  Either the Oscar Trial Channel or eNCA.
And so this evening I tracked it down to the above clip.  Have a listen at 17:17:
Sarit Tomlinson: ...we had created a very solid plan around her brand. And how we were going to get her out, and relevant. And make that currency to generate the revenue and get the castings. It was important that we follow that path...

Reeva herself says as much in her interview with Heat magazine (a week before her death).  Playing the diplomat, she defers to Oscar, saying she doesn't want a 'public relationship' because she wants to protect him, and his brand.  She doesn't say anything about her brand, except that she is trying to transform herself into a 'classic model', something beyond the FHM stigma.

So why was I the only one talking about it?  I have already speculated that since Reeva had a meeting with Capacity Relations prior to driving to Oscar's on February 13, 2013, the discussions of that day - the day before Valentine's Day - probably came up over dinner.

And Oscar has admitted being involved in drawing up and fine-tuning Reeva's contracts, so he would have known exactly what was going on.
Reeva also cancelled an engagement (an event with a jewelry sponsor) that evening, in order to spend the evening with Oscar.  Did she break the news to him then that she felt she had to choose between her career and her relationship with him?  Or was it simply a case that she emphasised to him what she'd decided with Capacity Relations, that they wanted to keep their brands separate, and perhaps take the relationship down a notch, even put it on the backburner for a while?
Perhaps Reeva consulted with them specifically since the next day was Valentine's Day.  How to handle that on social media?
If Reeva had discussed this with her management team and made up her mind on the afternoon of the 13th, it could have meant that after an early dinner she planned to return home. Her card said 'I love you', but it was also an adieu for the time being.  If so Oscar would have felt a real sting of rejection, hours before Valentine's Day proper.  No wonder he didn't even open her gift.

Oscar, conscious of his public image, he may have begged her to simply stay the night, and when she relented, simmering resentments came out.  There was a lot of potential fuel for a fire.  Reeva's ex (and Hougaard), Oscar's exes, who is using who, how much he had helped her etc etc.  The most hurtful thing of all to him would be one of the world's biggest and most famous brands 'not looking good' or 'not being good enough' for her brand.  "You'll never get anywhere without me!"  "Do you know who I am?"

Personally I find the match somewhat odd.  Take away Oscar's money and brand...strip him naked...what sort of boyfriend was he warts and all?  But if you look at Reeva's previous boyfriend, Warren Lahoud, there's the same type...dark, Italian, wealthy.  Boyish.  Youthful. But not a conventional hunk either.  Reeva seemed to be struggling with her love life exactly because she was struggling not only to define her own identity, but the identity of the Other.  The partner.

The sad part of this is Reeva had her own disability.  It was the financial poverty of her parents.  In the glamorous world of modelling, one holds up a veneer of success, and shimmering glamour.  Which means those real insecurities have to be hidden away.  And then it is easy to become lost, and unsure what one wants.  I mean personally.  Besides the success and brand accessories.  And sadly, both Reeva and Oscar got caught up in a very dangerous game, in which both were playing to an audience.  A lot of money was on the line, and both their lives were on the line.  In Reeva's case, also her parents lives (whom she was supporting).

Simphiwe Majola: We did not want her to be 'seen' or rather labelled as 'Oscar's girlfriend. [17:43 in the above video]

You can't get any clearer than that. Here's the motive, clear as day, for both Reeva and Oscar.  Reeva's motive for holding Oscar at bay and Oscar's (possible) rage and disgust at being rejected by someone playing the same game he was...

If you'd like to learn more about her story, you can order Reeva in her own Words here. 
It's 57 pages and costs between $1 and $3.50.
You don't need a Kindle to read it.  You can download a free eReader here.  

Monday, June 09, 2014

Confessions of a failed author #2



At 1:58 in the above video, Rowling says, "It's impossible to live without failing at something. Unless you live so cautiously, that you might as well not have lived at all. In which case, you fail by default."

If you look at social media, you seldom - or never - come across people celebrating their failures. You don't see it in friends or family either, because all we want is success, and we want to be around success-stories. But we don't learn from our success. We don't grow from our success. We learn and we grow by learning how to avoid failure, how to build on its vast and impenetrable basements.

Nowhere is failure more personal, I believe, than in the life of a writer. Why? Because a decent writer puts his heart and soul in his work, he exposes it to the world. The rejection of that amounts to (by implication) a rejection by the world of YOU. If a writer dedicated a sizable portion of his life to his craft, and fails, there is the very real imputation that MY LIFE IS A FAILURE.

It's debilitating. It's depressing. But is it any more true than a jilted lover or a rich businessman who base their identities on the romantic other, or on money, as a measure of who and what they are?

I used to have an inner fear that writing was in some ways pathetic, a cop out, a way to avoid living. Yes, it can be that. But it can also be an opportunity to re-frame a narrative. Not only your own narrative, or your nation's narrative, but a narrative of time and place. A narrative of an entire species, of a whole civilized world.

So you think words aren't important? Consider that at the end of everyone's life, from the greatest president, to the lowliest beggar, all that remains of us are words. Often the words of others.  Do they do these lives justice?  Sometimes.
I hope I have with my book on the late Reeva Steenkamp. Right now #88  #87 #54 on Amazon's bestseller list. More often than not, they don't.  When someone dies we dismissively say, "Well, X died doing what he loved." "Or Y is in a better place."  "Or Z passed..."  If X,Y and Z were present to speak for themselves they'd probably say, "You know what - I wish I was still alive, and not dead!  Am I in a better place now that I'm dead?  Really?  Well, do you want to swap?")

The true power of words hit me when I interview people who have achieved big things.  Published a book. Broken a world record.  All that effort - even if it was lived in the world - is still reduced to a narrative.  And if it isn't, it's lost.

So do I still think words aren't important? Are the opening sentences of the bible, a book that has shaped the entirety of human history, and continues to shape peoples lives, unimportant?  Are they even true? Here is something with the humble constitution of paper and intricate type...but it's the stuff that brings people together, others are put to death because of what's in it. Children come into the world because of beliefs that brought these children into being. Children are aborted, because of the shame associated with defying those beliefs. These sentences define our views of the world, and ourselves. That things are created into being. There are no mistakes. They appear immaculate, and perfect. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

I struggle with beginnings in my writing. Because I feel they have to be perfect. I struggle with endings in my life, because they are so imperfect, so unshaped, so unintentioned. It's easy to begin training for an Ironman, to start a novel, or a relationship. Endings are tougher. Because you have to see it all through, the mess, the magic. The meaninglessness. How does one find sense in there, where it seems to far removed from this theory we carry around...of Immaculate Conception... How about Immaculate Closure? Or Immaculate Resolution?
I love this cartoon.  But it's also true, which is why the sting of humor is so deep, and so effective.  Personally I think writers seek an outlet for their voice because they don't feel listened to.  And I think that starts at home.  Some parents don't know they are raising writers, and if they did, I don't doubt they would do something about it.  A failed writer is a difficult thing to do deal with, not only for the parents.  But writing itself is not a act of failure or resignation after all.  It is taking the problem of existence, and using one's own life force, one's own inner spirit, and creatively making it into something else.  That's big.  Sportsmen do it with their bodies, and we admire them for it.  Creative people do it with their minds, and their juices, and when it works it can inspire a generation.  It can change the culture of a species.  And all this comes out of a creative rendering of a private sense of failure, or discontent.  But it is a painstaking process.
It's a lonely craft.  It's slow.  If a Facebook update takes seconds (and often thoughtless seconds), a book can take years, sometimes decades, sometimes an entire life.  Bloodline - which I am busy with now - is already more than 25 years in the making.  I know that because it's my 25 year High School reunion this year.  Do I dare go to that?  My High School years were a low point for me.  My parents started arguing, my mother died at the end of it, and 25 years later my family remains fragmented from the war that was set into motion 25 years ago.  I started writing then and I am still writing.  Bloodline was in hibernation for about 20 of those 25 years.  Last year I found the wherewithal to dig it out.  Of my psyche.  It's been a rewarding journey, but it won't mean anything if it isn't wildly successful.  Because that is what the narrative deserves.  Except that is not how the world works.  If only it worked the way the books do, like this one.  I used to read this as a child.  A beautiful, immaculate world.  Where boys and girls and nature were friends with each other, and it was one grand adventure worth exploring in all its vividness.
In the end the writer has to live two lives.  The life of the narratives he breathes life into.  I have just published two books in a series on the Oscar Pistorius trial.  The Book on Reeva means a lot to me, perhaps because my mother was also a model and actress, and her life was also cruelly stolen from her.  Whether one can blame a 'perpetrator' in her case in another story.  But even in Oscar I see reflections of myself.  I remember my English teacher - bright-eyed - tripping over her own revelation, declaring to me, in front of the class: "You use writing like a ventriloquist uses a puppet.  You're quiet and meek, and your writing is strong and assertive, it has a much deeper, more authoritative voice than you do."

She was saying my writing was my prosthesis.  Making me taller.  And bolder.  Allowing me to pull my own strings and become more of a mensch.  Except I'm not sure if that was true, or the real me, even if that is how it seemed. The real prosthesis I was wearing was an external neck brace, which yes - had rendered me relatively mute.  Like that thing you put on a dog.  A muzzle, to prevent it from barking.  I'd been muzzled.  Not necessarily by the brace or even voluntarily, but by my classmates, who through the ridiculous apparatus attached to my face, had fun turning me into their Piñata.

How often do we do that, though?  Hit things with sticks and hope we'll get sweets?  Is writing (hitting keys with fingers) the writer's attempt to get sweets?  Or is it something deeper.  Giving a voice to the unvoiced.  A voice to the need to survive.  To overcome the attrition of life, and living.  The most that a writer can ask is to succeed at living and at writing.  The least is to succeed at one, or the other.  The tragedy, is to fail at both.  I haven't, but if I have, there's still work to do.  For me, and for you. 





Thursday, June 05, 2014

Confessions of a failed author #1




I've never heard of Donna Tartt - in fact I have to check whether there are one or two 'n's in her name, that's how much I don't know her (or good English). Maybe the 'n' thing has got something to do with the way her surname is spelt. Two 't's instead of one, because that would make her a 'Tart'. Of course a Tart is the last thing a writer is. A writer must be as far from a Tart that it's possible to be because...I don't think writers get laid much. Which is possibly why they became writers. And if they did, then they'd stop writing...

So how does that extra 't' make the difference? How do I put that 't' into my writing? After all, Tartt is a Pulitzer prize winner. Her book, The Goldfinch, was just voted Amazon's Best Book of the Year. I've listened to the audiobook - the first 10 minutes before I fell asleep - in order to learn. I already have. I already feel inspired. Perhaps inspired enough to slay the furious monster, the frustrated writer who demands to speak but doesn't know how, and so mewls like a baby (except silently, inwardly).

For the record, I slept because of exhaustion, not because the writing was bad.

But here's what I want to talk about.

Have a listen to the above video. The part that gets me is from 3:42. What questions, the interviewer asks, are you grappling with? Let me tell you, this is a very personal question to ask a writer. And it's a difficult question to verbalise. Tartt does impressively well here. She says the real question she is asking is this, 'what is the good life?' Ask yourself that question for a moment. Is the good life wealth, or celebrity, or family? Is it holidays and parties? It's an important exercise even if only to contrast your hypothesis with Tartt's. Because guess what she says? She says we all have to work this out on our own. And then the interviewer asks - what is it for you?

The question seems to catch her off guard. Because hell, it's an incredibly personal question. Tartt says happiness for her are the 'two great salvations, love and work'. These are the main ways our life force expands, isn't it? We grow in love, our hearts build new rooms, and plant new gardens, and make new boundaries. In work, we learn to become masters (hopefully) at our craft. Whatever it is.

The interview then skips to a scene of the writer waking downstairs and suddenly it hits me. The immense wealth. Wow, with so much wealth it is easier to shut out the world and concentrate on one's thoughts. Or is it harder? Is there a temptation to take airplane trips, and holidays, and date?

Here's the thing that impresses me most of all. One of the things that I struggle with as a failed writer is the extraordinary loneliness of it. It's the reason I abandoned it when I went to varsity. And I failed at that too. Loneliness is the reason I think behind the failure-in-the-real-world of writers I respect and admire, like Ayn Rand, Virginia Woolf and Enid Blyton. And Hemingway. And F. Scott Fitzgerald. I don't want to end up like them. Drunk. Suicidal. Poor. I want a well-lived life. Balanced. Mentally fit and well.

And I think the interesting part is the loneliness tends to suggest failure. Which is why I love the way Tartt re-phrases it. She calls it something more dignified, and even beautiful. Solitude. It's true. A writer needs that. I need that whether I am writing or not. But to write well, I absolutely need Solitude. And emotional quietude - at least from the outside world. My own internal chemical ooze is enough. Adding the poisonous broth of a breakup or the pride swallowing siege of the corporate cubicle slave makes my work erratic, and unbalanced.  But I've been a freelancer since 2010.  That's 4 years.  What's my excuse for not being published?  Not enough time?  Too much time?  Not enough solitude?  Too much?

At 4:43 the interviewer asks the pertinent question, but disguises it in a euphemism. Do you like the mystery about you? He's referring to her very infrequent interviews. Why become a writer, but shy away from one's own success. What is the point? Tartt says it's not about reclusiveness as 'a need to be alone when I work'. I get that. It's interesting though to be on the other side, seeing how the successful writer must push back the world, in order to function. The failed writer think his loneliness is a symptom of his failure, but actually he needs to be more alone to truly succeed. And once he does, he must resist the attentions and distractions and stickiness that comes with success, or risk failing once more.

At 5:09 I get the reassurance I really need. Can you be happy as a writer? Is writing living one's one wildest dreams? Really? Is it?

The writer's life, Tartt says, it to be able to daydream all day. 'As much fun as it is to read a book, writing a book is one level deeper. It's fun. It's hard at times. But when it's good, and it's going well, there's nothing like it.'

Tartt is 49. I'm 42. She brings out a book once a decade, and says she can't speed up the process. She's tried but doesn't enjoy it. When Alex Garland published The Beach as a 26 year old, I remember the urgency to publish hitting me. I think I was in my thirties then. Now I'm in my fourties. How long is this going to take? What is it going to take?

Here's a recent piece of writing, from Bloodline: Sharpened pencils. Scribbles on paper. These are my arrows. How far will they travel through time?  Which targets will hey hit?  Or will they sail, and drop and drift rudderless through the soils and seas of oblivion (and drown me in it).

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules Of Good Writing

Leonard’s secret to being both popular and respectable? Perhaps you’ll find some clues in his 10 tricks for good writing:   * 
  1.  Never open a book with weather.
  2.  Avoid prologues.
  3.  Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
  4.  Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely.
  5.  Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. 
  6.  Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
  7.  Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8.  Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9.  Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
  10.  Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
 My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
 If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.