It all began in Cape Town. I was at the Book Fair and I was set to meet up with my friend Bronwyn. She’s an editor and she’d agreed to take a look at my latest manuscript which I’d already sent her and now she wanted to tell me what she thought of it. We both also wanted to listen to a panel discussion featuring the author, Sarah Lotz, so we agreed to meet a bit earlier at the back of the Convention Centre where the panel discussion would take place. We got coffee and huge pieces of cake, and sat down to talk about my book, Hierarchy of the Hyenas.
The book is a story grown from an urban myth around a terrible accident in the Okavango Delta where a boy was mysteriously killed by a hyena. With that bit of grit from the rumour mill, my novel grew. The first part of the book was slightly experimental. I have this wild idea that I can actually do that sort of writing, despite the fact that it has been proven time and again that I cannot. Still one has hope.
The second part of the book starts after the accident and is a more traditional detective novel with my crime solving duo: troubled police detective, Dambuza Chakalisa, and safari company owner, Delly Woods, trying to solve the crime.
Bronwyn thought the first part of the book didn’t work (as expected), but she liked the duo of the hard-drinking, hard-living Dambuza and the tough, old, bush-woman, Delly. She felt that it was better I changed the entire book to be more like the second half, to be more of a traditional detective novel with these two as the stars. It sounded like a plan to me; I’d get on it as soon as I got home.
We were done discussing my manuscript just in time to listen to the always enjoyable Sarah Lotz.
Sarah was going to talk about her new book at the time, Tooth and Nailed. I knew nothing about the book, but as I sat there, and as Sarah talked, my spirits dropped. I discover that Tooth and Nailed was the story of a 12 year old boy who is attacked by a hyena in Botswana. And if that was not enough, before the Fair was over I would have sat through yet another discussion about a book which featured hyenas going after folks in Botswana- Michael Stanley’s A Carrion Death. I mean -give me a break! What were the odds? I’d been writing that book for nearly two years. To say I went back to Botswana demoralised would be an understatement.
If anything I am an efficient writer. I hate nothing worse than having to throw writing away. So I decided- okay fine- at the moment it seems that hyenas are on a vicious attacking spree in Botswana, at least in the world of Southern African literature. Let it all calm down. I’ll let my hyena book sit and instead write the book before the hyena book- the book about how Dambuza Chakalisa and Delly Woods meet, the case that brings them together. Then, later, when everyone has forgotten about the blood lust of Botswana’s hyenas, I’ll go back to my first manuscript, sort it out, (meaning slash all of my experimental stuff) and it will be book two in a new detective series set in the tourist town of Maun. So that’s were the novel The Vanishings came to be.
And that's how Delly and Dambuza were born too. If the story of the characters is to be sequential , it starts with The Vanishings, then it continues with Hierarchy of the Hyenas, although they were not written in that order.
But it doesn't actually stop there. At the end of last year I had an idea for a short story, but I needed some folks to solve a murder mystery. Who did I turn to? Delly and Dambuza, of course! So set after the Hierarchy of the Hyenas, is the short story, Playing Games in the Delta , which can be read at the Ugandan based litmag, Lawino. Is it normal for characters to pop around from novels to short stories and back to novels- no, not really- but like most things, I like to do what I want. So if you want a bit more of Dambuza and Delly pop over to Lawino and let me know what you think.