Last week, Joy Watson, Cathy Park Kelly and Melissa A. Volker spoke to Karina M. Szczurek about love and relationships in their lives and writing at the beautiful Stonehaven, the home of the Union of Jewish Women (UJW). Thank you to the UJW for hosting, thank you to the authors for their insights and laughter, and to everyone who attended with such generosity of spirit. A beautiful evening!
Thank you, Bernie Shelly, for being there and for sharing a few photographs with us!
… Volker’s tales are carefully spun, a weave of gossamer thread of the finest ilk. Her books take a while to write and she has an uncanny ability to transpose the reader into time and place.
In A Fractured Land, we are able to visualise the arid landscape, the sweat of hot nights is tangible, and we can smell the lingering scent of wisteria on dry, balmy days. Volker is adept at breathing life into the South African landscape, making it jump off the page to embed itself in the reader’s mind.
“Quite a lot of work goes into my books,” says Volker. “I have been working on my current novel for about three years. I’m quite fussy. I try hard to layer the characters, to make the dialogue work. I feel like each novel is taking longer – maybe I’ve become a harsher critic of my own work, or maybe I am learning the craft of writing more.”
The time that Volker invests in her writing is evident in her other books, Shadow Flicker (released in 2019) and The Pool Guy, a novella published in 2021. Attention to detail sets her work aside from other books in the genre, where some writers have managed to push out many books in a short time.
Volker’s writing stands out in its meticulous effort to cobble together a love story that is complex, exquisitely told and of a high calibre.
What also sets Volker apart is that both A Fractured Land and Shadow Flicker skillfully incorporate an attempt to pluck at the strings of environmental consciousness.
“I write about the environment because it’s an issue of concern to me. When writing the books, I thought about some of the social circles that I am in where these issues don’t even touch ground. I realised that one way of getting people to think about it is through fiction.
“Sometimes people are just so fatigued about bad news and watching it on TV. So I wanted to package it in a way that was palatable… in a way that raises awareness.”
In 2019, when the first two Karavan Press titles – Melissa A. Volker’s A Fractured Land and Shadow Flicker – went to print, I was travelling in Turkey and Austria and asked Penny Haw to assist with checking the printer’s proofs that arrived while I was away. Melissa and Penny worked together to make sure that all was in order. For me, it was terrifying not to be able to oversea everything myself as I was completely new to this side of things as a publisher, but I also knew that our books were in excellent care.
This year, when Penny’s novels, Nicko and The Wilderness Between Us, were looking for a distributor in South Africa, being a fan of her work, I did not hesitate to offer entering an agreement with her and Karavan Press’s distributor, Protea Distribution. In this way, the books and their amazing author belong to the Karavan Press family and I am delighted to be working with Penny.
And so it was wonderful to see that, when I could not attend Penny’s book signing at Exclusive Books Constantia (I was interviewing Nancy Richards at her Greyton launch of The Skipper’s Daughter), Melissa was there.
This is what I meant when I wrote on our submissions page: “We want to establish strong bonds between our authors and readers, so please join the community of writers, creatives and readers that is Karavan Press” – the literary friendships between us.
Melissa A. Volker is a reader, writer, beauty therapist and water woman. She blogs about surfing and stand up paddle boarding; writes eco-fiction, romance and short stories. She lives in Cape Town with her husband, two daughters and a cat. Her first eco-romantic thriller, A Fractured Land, was published in the US in 2018 and was republished along with her second novel, Shadow Flicker, by Karavan Press in South Africa in 2019. Shadow Flicker won the Romance Writers Organisation of South Africa’s Strelitzia prize for the most promising manuscript in 2017. Melissa’s short story, ‘Spa Ritual’, was published in the South African anthology: Hair – Weaving and Unpicking Stories of Identity. Her new novelette, The Pool Guy, is coming soon.
My mother’s garments
never seemed to grow old.
Slack suits and twin sets
from the seventies,
woven from some synthetic
substance that did not wear
or tear, unlike the natural fibre
of her skin. My aged mother’s
delicate covering bled
every time she stumbled.
Worn out; worn to shreds.
— "Going home", Disturbance, Dawn Garisch
It has just gone six a.m. I walk my son down the road to the corner where we wait for his lift. The sun is rising, the light streaking the horizon gold. I comment on the morning buzz, the company we keep, power-walkers, the dog walkers, workers and school kids heading for the train. ‘The day carries on.’
Without you, the day must carry on.
Al says, ‘Of course, but let me remind you that you’re wearing pyjamas.’
— Death and the After Parties, Joanne Hichens
They fled with nothing, never stopping. Not even when his mother tripped, his sister, tied to her back, knocking her head so hard that a bump rose immediately. She had been crying, now she screamed. Yet still they ran, amid their own blood and spittle, as the black cloud of the burning valley hunted them, chasing them forward, forward, towards the blue sky.
— An Island, Karen Jennings
Now Shirley, you know, became a mother quite young – sixteen or something like that. She ran away from home with newborn Jason; his naeltjie at his belly hadn’t even fallen off yet. Came to Cape Town where she thought no one would find her. The Northern Cape was far.
— "Homeful", Let It Fall Where It Will, Lester Walbrugh
Lexi shrugged off her coat. She heard the rustle of beads as her mother, Sandra, came through the hippie curtain from the kitchen at the end of the long hallway. Like the town was bisected by a highway, so was their house by the passage.
‘I thought you would be asleep by now.’ Lexi feigned surprise.
‘I waited up. You’re my responsibility now.’ Her mother was in a kaftan, her hair long and loose. She looked like she’d escaped from the Mamas and the Papas.
‘Yay.’ The joys of being dumped and fleeced by her husband never ceased.
— A Fractured Land, Melissa A. Volker
I still remember my mother’s words when we got in the car to go to mass. ‘It’s Christmas, Mary, not a funeral.’ But I’ve always worn black. I would have said she was tempting providence, if that wasn’t exactly the sort of thing she would say. I should have, though. When we got home, a bunch of armed response cars were blocking the gates to the complex. The police were there. Men in bulletproof vests. Guns.
— A Hibiscus Coast, Nick Mulgrew
Not a word was exchanged between us as my mother and I made our way home. She must have seen how disappointed I was for, as soon as we walked into the house, she turned to me, demanding – ‘Where is the form?’
Puzzled, I looked at her. What use was that form now? What would she do with it? Only my father could sign it; and he had flatly refused, hadn’t he?
‘Give me the form, Thembi.’
My mother forged Baba’s signature.
I applied for a passport, astounded by my mother’s actions. She had shown me a side of her I didn’t suspect existed.
— Theatre Road, Sindiwe Magona
The lagoon has
like a son
forgets his father
but never his mother
— "Port is red and starboard green", For Everything That Is Pointless and Perfect, Stephen Symons
But tell me this: where is his irrepressible, eternal soul? Because that is what interests me more. Where is his spirit, free of the gritty, grey residue of his body, which I have felt with my own hands? Because I, with the five senses of a woman, and undeniable sixth one 16 of a mother, cannot fathom the dimension within which my child now exists.
— "Lost", Earth to Mom, Sue Brown
Earlier this year, Karavan Press authors, Dawn Garisch and Melissa A. Volker participated in the Salonfestival Cape Town.
Here is a link to the brand new Salonfestival magazine of 2020. The Cape Town festival features in it. The magazine is only available in German but the photographs tell their own story of times when we could still gather freely and celebrate these cultural encounters: Salonfestival. Happy memories!
I think I met Missy Volker, author of Shadow Flicker, on Twitter (quelle surprise) through author and publisher, Karina Szczurek where we bonded over our love of books and cats. I then met her IRL at Karina’s house and subsequently at the launch of my first novel Ms Conception at the Book Lounge where Missy was kind enough to paint my nails (yes, at the book shop) and mend a bra strap that decided to give up the ghost just before we began (it was an eventful launch). Missy has supported me on my writing journey right from the get-go and it gives me great pleasure now to return the favour – and not only because she is a friend – but because I really LOVE her writing. Her books could be categorised as up-lit – literature that uplifts and they are EXACTLY what people need to read right now.
Tell us about your day job and how it’s been affected during #lockdown. Also, any grooming tips for us like how to paint our own damn nails??
I’m a beauty therapist. I work from home, but we were closed in lockdown. The sector reopened on Friday but I decided not to open just yet as I work from home and have family members with comorbidities. Also the husband has set up his WFH office in my salon. Maybe it’s time to finish that pesky first draft? Grooming tips? Always wear sunscreen and, if you decide to wax yourself, remember once it’s on there’s only one way to get it off. And it is not 123NOPE.