Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Wednesday thoughts

I feel... more hopeful about things
I believe... everything happens as it should, and the universe has a plan
I love... my amazing boyfriend <3 
I want... summer, freedom and sleep
I am... very lucky and grateful for everything I have in my life


Monday, July 26, 2010

The inside story

As the editor of a property magazine, something I am passionate about conveying to our readers is the importance of investing in the interior of your property. 

Whether it your home or an investment that you rent out, investing in its interior can dramatically increase the value of your property. 

Interior designers say that a property with finishes, renovation or interior design returns at least 20% more in rentals that one that doesn't have these finishes.

One affordable way to add to the interior of your property is by investing in blinds and shutters. These will make your home or investment property look smart, chic and complete, adding a European, modern feel to any room.

 Taylor Window Blinds offers a range of options for blinds and shutters, and I recommend them as a source for beautiful and affordable blinds that are great quality.  

I think the wooden Venetian blinds are particularly lovely - they add a warmth to your home, which we definitely need in these cold winter months. In summer they will add to the glow of the room, are lighter than heavy curtains, and will protect your furnishings from the sun. 

So if you are looking to invest in the interior of your property, I highly recommend getting blinds or shutters as a first step towards adding value, warmth and quality to your home.  

Visit for more on how to get the best in blinds! 

A million miles from mediocre

The “chick-lit” genre is a small industry in South Africa, and certainly has room to grow. However, with the plethora of Marianne Keyes books filling the shelves of Exclusives, it would be easy for SA authors to follow her formula down to every pun and plot. Instead, Paige Nick has written a fresh, nuanced novel that could pioneer the way for “chick-lit” in South Africa - and beyond

This is not to say that Marianne Keyes should not be an inspiration for an author writing in the genre. However, I feel that Nick has taken the best of what Keyes has to offer, and makes a clear distinction to leave out the rest.

For example, Keyes is known for her playful puns and frothy phrases, which have become a hallmark of chick-lit. Nick definitely uses these, and her humour is equally enjoyable and entertaining. However, she keeps the puns in check and never takes them to the extreme that Keyes does. This means that they pepper the story with entertaining and clever exclamations, but they do not become the body of the text, as they tend to in Keyes’ books. Most importantly, this strategy allows for Nicks’ writing to shine through and flow easily - which simply takes the book to another level.

Further, by avoiding the extreme level of word tricks and puns in Keyes’ books means that the narrative of A Million Miles from Normal is able to develop into a much stronger storyline, and that the plot is able to emerge more clearly. On this note, the plot is much more engaging and in-depth than I expected from a chick-lit novel (perhaps my prejudices stand to be corrected!).

A Million Miles from Normal tells the story of Rachel Marcus, a nice Jewish girl and copywriter from Johannesburg, who escapes a humiliating retrenchment and broken engagement by going to New York City. There, she meets a range of quirky characters and fabulous friends, experiences dating disasters, kills cockroaches and searches endlessly for Five Roses Tea.

The tale goes much deeper than this – the plot is intricate and the characters are intriguing. Something I also found enjoyable was that Nick delves into the copywriting and advertising industry, which adds even more interest to the story. Finally, one of the best aspects of the novel is that we are kept in suspense literally until the very last word - a rare feat in any book, never mind chick-lit. Nick must be commended for weaving a plot that it keeps the reader in suspense until the very end.

The only criticism I have of the book is that I would have liked more of it to be set in South Africa. Maybe this is simply my own preference - one of the things I enjoy most about SA literature is that I can identify with it more than a novel set anywhere else. However, on the flip side of that coin is that Nick did an excellent job of writing about New York City - and this shows that South African authors can indeed extend into the global arena.

Ultimately, I would recommend A Million Miles from Normal to anyone who loves the chick-lit genre and anyone who doesn’t - both sets of readers will be equally surprised by the standard this novel sets!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Quote of the day

"I would like to live as a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding"
 -John O'Donohue

Gritty in the city: Redemption, refugees and a re-imagined Joburg

South Africa and science fiction aren’t usually words that go together, but one SA author is changing that, bringing sparkling, slick fantasy writing to the forefront of South African literature, and having a lot of fun doing it. Tali Barnett chats to Lauren Beukes about her spectacular new novel, Zoo City

Zinzi December has a sloth on her back, a dirty 419 scam habit and a talent for finding lost things. But when an old lady turns up dead, she’s forced to take on her least favourite kind of job – missing persons. This could be her ticket out of Zoo City, the festering slum where the criminal underclass, marked by their animals, live in the shadow of the undertow. Instead, it catapults Zinzi deeper into the underbelly of a city twisted by crime and magic.

If I told you all of the above happens in Johannesburg, would you believe me? In Lauren Beukes’ world, Jozi’s urban sprawl is “an unfamiliar land full of familiars”, filled with broken places and equally broken people. Zoo City follows on from the critically-acclaimed Moxyland, and is a science-fictioned fantasy that will take you on an SA trip like you’ve never experienced before.

“Everything is fucking political”
From Beukes’ perspective, “it’s a novel about crime, magic and music, refugees and redemption. Zinzi, a girl with a sloth on her back and the magical ability to find lost things, is dragged into Johannesburg’s seedy underbelly when she takes on the job of locating a missing pop star. It’s wildly inventive fiction, set in a re-imagined Joburg – I guess it’s a bit China Mieville meets Phillip Pullman with a dose of District 9, without the aliens.”

Not your usual SA fiction by any means. When I ask Beukes about Zoo City relating to South Africa’s apartheid past, she retorts “eugh, I’m so over labels. I think South African fiction is in a very good place right now, where writers can write about anything.”

She elaborates: “Art doesn’t have to be a servant to political activism as it did during the struggle days, but then as Skunk Anansie said, ‘everything is fucking political’. You can’t divorce our present from our past. Apartheid’s legacy is going to be tripping us up for years to come. If you’re writing about South Africa, even if it’s a frothy chic lit or a boy’s boarding school romp, it’s there in the background. It has to be – it’s part of who we are.”

Sci-fi in South Africa
But how established is science fiction in South Africa? “It’s hard to publish science fiction or fantasy in South Africa because the publishers are generally not interested in a straight elves-and-dragons tale or space opera,” she explains.

“Those speculative stories that have worked tend to be grittier works with a social edge, like JM Coetzee’s political dystopia Waiting for the Barbarians or the smart, scathing action-satire that was District 9. It’s more about telling great stories that are recognisably us, which is different to the usual fictional locales such as London, Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo.”

She adds: “Didn’t Neill Blomkamp call Johannesburg the real city of the future? It’s that mash of cultures and economics, the third and first world crammed into one space that makes it exciting, new, different, and eminently accessible to international audiences if you do it right.”

Beukes is a journalist and columnist who deals with South African reality on a daily basis, yet in her novels she manages to effortlessly blend fantasy and reality together so that they appear perfectly in sync.

“That element of the fantastic – technology in Moxyland, magic in Zoo City – allows me to play with reality, to shift the perspective on issues that we take for granted, whether it’s economic apartheid or the rise of xenophobia, manufactured pop music, strange art or finding a way back from having committed terrible atrocities,” she says.

Monkeys and Bares
Animals play a key role in Zoo City, which is “about the idea of familiars: scapegoats and the monkey on your back or the Jiminy Cricket on your shoulder,” she says. “It’s inspired by a Shona belief in mashavi – that lost spirits of the ancestors might come back as animals and attach themselves to someone.”

In Zoo City, having an animal on your back is “a blessing and a curse; you get some small magical abilities, but you’re also immediately marked as a criminal outcast. It’s about segregation and the artificially imposed differences between people, but also guilt, accountability and the possibility of redemption.”

But Beukes’ novels go beyond the pages, and both Moxyland and Zoo City have official “merchandise”, which are “cool creative collaborations I did with ridiculously talented people,” she says. Both books have “kick-ass official soundtracks put together by African Dope’s HoneyB and me.”

For Zoo City, Beukes commissioned a range of toys called Bares. “I approached Am I Collective, who donated five of their blank vinyl Bares that were customised by amazing local illustrators, all inspired by Zoo City.”

Stranger than fiction
Finally, Beukes’ writing is as slick as it is sensual – reading Zoo City means being both pummeled and wrapped up in words, letting them explode as they hit you, and at the same time allowing them to weave themselves around you. If you were traumatized by reading Hermann Charles Bosman as English setwork books in high school, now is the time to start reading SA fiction again. Beukes’ writing will take your breath away.

If you want to write great fiction, “write what you know,” Beukes advises. “But if you don’t know, research the crap out of it.” Wherever you are, “experience makes your writing richer and more vivid. I’m very grateful for the interesting places and people journalism has exposed me to. Real life is often more surprising and inventive than even really, really weird fiction.”

The Zoo City Bares will be auctioned on from 27 July – 10 August. All proceeds will go to The Suitcase Project to provide ongoing education for refugee kids in Hillbrow.
Moxyland and Zoo City soundtracks are available at

Attend these London events next week to get your hands on Zoo City:

BSFA meeting with reading, Q&A and interview, 28 July, 7pm onwards.
Venue: The Antelope Tavern

Forbidden Planet signing, 29 July, 6 - 7pm
Venue: London Megastore

BFS Open Night, 31 July, 1 - 5pm
Venue: The George pub on The Strand.
Beukes will also be the guest at the first BFS Open Night of the year.

This article was originally published here and here on page 15

The Bares

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tarot cards

I have always been fascinated by Tarot cards, and bought a pack a few years ago, along with instructions on how to use them. Tarot cards have a long and fascinating history- for example, despite Jewish law banning the use of imagery, Tarot has a strong connection to Kabbalah. Another thing I love about the cards is that the illustrations on various packs are simply beautiful. Despite their mystical connections, Tarot cards are straightforward to use, and I find them to be an extremely useful way to reflect on the state of my life or to resolve a problem. The cards are like a mirror- reflecting back at you ideas you may not have considered before, or confirming how you feel about things. I also find that they are usually incredibly "right" about where I am at that point, matching up to my situation exactly.

I highly recommend getting a pack of Tarot cards if you are looking for a new, creative way to reflect on your life, and to feel connected to the universe around you. There are many different packs to choose from, so choose one you feel connected with. I have the Medicine Woman pack (see picture above) - I love the imagery and the healing theme of the cards. I also recommend a Tarot Card book- one that includes it's fascinating history and instructions on how to use the cards.

What do you think about Tarot cards?

Friday, July 16, 2010

For the love of books (67 minutes)

Walking through Cavendish Square after work today, I looked down to see the entire ground floor of the centre covered in books. I rushed downstairs, and spent the next half hour immersed in one of life's simplest but most precious pleasures- browsing through hundreds of second hand books. There is nothing I love more than this. Books are my first love, and there is something about second-hand books that allow the soul of a book to shine through. To know that these pages have passed hands, touched the lives of others, that they have educated and given joy and comfort - these are just some of the things that make books the treasures that they are.

The book sale was for Nelson Mandela Day, and I can think of no better way to honour his legacy than to share with others the gift of books. International Nelson Mandela Day is on Sunday, Madiba's birthday, and people around the world are asked to dedicate 67 minutes of the time to making a difference (a minute for every year that Mandela gave of his life for freedom and human rights.) One way to share the gift of books is to donate them to Equal Education's 1 School, 1 Library, 1 Librarian campaign. Find out more about it here:

Here is more about the book sale:

Summer fashion

I really can't wait for summer! This is what I'm looking forward to for summer fashion:

Just beautiful! I especially love Ode to Nature and Southern Folk. Which ones do you like? x

Monday, July 12, 2010

Home Away: "At home in the world"

What does it mean to be a South African traveller in today’s globalised world? A new book asks this question in 24 stories and 24 times zones by 24 South African writers, weaving together a magical and moving journey of travel and time. Home Away is an anthology that will make you question, treasure and reflect on your place in the world

 “You wonder what it means to live the life of a legal alien, with the dust of one country in your nostrils and the dreams of another in your head. You wonder whether the freedom to cross borders is tempered by the loneliness of exile, or whether the anxiety of driving on the wrong side of the road is inevitably offset by the thrill of driving on the right side of opportunity,” writes author Vikas Swarup as he contemplates the journey that Home Away will take you on in his foreword to the book.

A rollercoaster ride awaits you as you cross six continents and twenty-four time zones in an exploration of what it means to be a South African expat in today’s world. Editor Louis Greenberg has weaved together a unique concept- a compilation of 24 short stories by 24 South African writers in 24 hours and 24 cities. The tales make up one global day, following from each other in chronological order. The result is a dizzying dance of voices, places and spaces that reflect the experience of the South African traveller.

Home, Away
Greenberg gave this group of established South African authors and new writers a task that is more nuanced than other travel writing: the stories were to reflect not only the experience of travel, but also what it means to call South Africa home. Thus, each story is a multi-dimension moment that encapsulates being both home and away.

As the description of the book says, “being South African isn’t as black and white as it used to be. People from all over the world make this country their home, while South Africans have more geographical freedom than ever before.” From a distance, home can sometimes been seen through smoke and mirrors, and yet we need to continually look into that mirror to reflect on where we are, where we come from and where we want to go. Home Away constantly asks these questions, despite the stories being so varied.

At the same time, the book is a collection of snapshots recording the intensity and thrill of travel. A story set in steamy Havana describes this: “Aboriginal people believe that friends leave footprints, but enemies leave your life without a trace. Imagine if the same rule applied to travelling... to forget the details of places with painful memories, while allowing locations where one experienced transformation and happiness to build a house in the heart and stay with you forever.”

And what of the stories themselves? Compelling, powerful, sexy and strange, they will take you to places in the world and in your head that are equally real and fantastical. The opening act has the author trying to poison a politician in Nairobi at midnight; later, you travel with a set of suitcases; further you are plunged into a zombie-zone in Botswana and in another moment you are contemplating the institution of the British tea break in Oxford.

As you catch your breath between continents and time zones, you pause to reflect on your place in all this. As boundaries and borders blur both in the book and around you, you realize that, as Swarup says, “You are not a world away from home. You are at home in the world.”

This article was originally published on 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

World Cup 2010- endings and beginnings

This little vuvuzela boy symbolizes everything that the World Cup has meant for South Africa. Today, it all comes to a close. So much has been said in the past month about the tournament- what it has meant for SA and the world.

For me, the World Cup has reminded me why I am South African and why I want to live here. I am living in a place in transition, a place with so much potential and passion and power. I feel that the boy in the picture can be part of that- that this country will take him to the places and spaces that his grandparents dreamed of, that it can help him achieve what he deserves, and in turn he will help South Africa blossom. 

I'm glad I live in a country where the headlines touch on the triumphs and tragedies of real people, navigating the turmoil of this place, and how despite the daily grind and pain and poverty, the World Cup has crystallized what it means to be South African- how far we have come, where we are going and what we are aiming for. 

The World Cup has been a mirror, reflecting to us and the world what we are capable of, even if we think we have lost sight of it. With this vision we will carry forward all the little boys like the one in the picture, achieving what we have only glimpsed during this World Cup. And like the little boy in the picture, we'll make a whole lot of noise doing it!

Image from weheartit

Winter love

Cape Town is in the middle of winter at the moment, and although it hasn't been a really bad one, I've really been resenting it this year. I guess early mornings, running and winter don't really combine together very well.

But in the spirit of being positive, here are some things I am loving about winter:

That despite it being cold, we don't have anything close to snow
Some winter days have been sparkling and sunny
The World Cup has definitely brightened everyone's winter, and made it go faster
I can paint my nails in gorgeous dark colours
Boots are beautiful
The fresh air is great to run in
I have the most amazing boyfriend in the world to cuddle with and who keeps me warm :)


image from