… 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.”
WOMEN IN A FRACTURED WORLD with Melissa A. Volker and Dawn Garisch is one of the highlights of the Salonfestival Cape Town 2020:
Melissa and Dawn will talk to John Maytham of CapeTalk about the divisions and connections between humans, animals and the environment in the Rosebank home of writer, editor and publisher Karina M. Szczurek, on Thursday, February 27 at 6pm.
To read more about the Salonfestival, please click here: Sneak Preview of the Salonfestival 2020
Please join Karavan Press authors, Dawn Garisch and Melissa A. Volker, for an event at this year’s Prince Albert Leesfees:
SEE THINGS DIFFERENTLY
SATURDAY, 2 November | 14:00 – 14:45
Melissa A. Volker, A Fractured Land and Shadow Flicker (“Expect eco-fireworks and literary Happy Ever Afters!”), and Dawn Garisch, Breaking Milk, (“an evocative exploration of the divisions and connections between humans, animals and the environment”) discuss their novels with writer, editor, literary critic and publisher, Karina M. Szczurek
Venue: Jans Rautenbach Schouwburg
Ticket price: R40pp
To buy tickets, click here: Prince Albert Leesfees
Local eco-romance novel will blow you away
There are no blurred lines between the good and bad guys who all get their just desserts – cynical readers must bear in mind that Volker’s genre is romance rather than noir
By Barbara Erasmus
Many South Africans will identify with the heroine of Melissa Volker’s debut novel Shadow Flicker – she experiences panic attacks.
But unlike the gender-based violence currently grabbing the headlines, hers aren’t triggered by rape or murder – they date back to a grisly shark encounter.
This is not the only unexpected aspect in this absorbing debut novel, the first release by Karavan Press, the publishing house recently established in Cape Town by Karina M Szczurek, editor, writer and critic.
Publishing books is a brave venture in an industry struggling internationally in the face of the digital onslaught but Szczurek is well-known in local literary circles, not only through her marriage to André Brink. She is determined to nurture writers who may have been overlooked by mainstream publishers.
Shadow Flicker, the novel selected to kick-start this new venture, is classified as an eco-romance, a deserving winner of the Strelitzia Award in 2017, given to the most promising manuscript by ROSA – the local Romance Writers organisation.
Volker explains that the difference between a love story and romance is that the latter has a happy ending – a refreshing change in the current gloom. Her novel has the obligatory romantic ingredients – a good-looking, sexy hero and heroine ranged against a cast of suitably corrupt predators, out to enrich themselves by any means possible. Evocative descriptions lift the story above the commonplace, as well as the well-researched environmental issues it explores. Volker also writes a regular blog about surfing and skilfully incorporates her knowledge of the sport into the novel…
Continue reading review: Sunday Times
Breaking Milk concerns a day in the life of Kate, a cheese maker.
Don’t come, she is told by her only child. Jess is keeping her mother at a distance on the day that her own children, conjoined twins, are to be separated during high-risk surgery in London.
Kate wakes on her farm in the Eastern Cape, torn between respecting Jess’s wishes and a longing to rush to her estranged daughter’s side.
A former geneticist disillusioned by the pressing ethical questions posed by her job, Kate is now an award-winning maker of organic cheese. She relies on the farm’s routine and the people and animals in her life to hold steady as her day teeters on a knife’s edge.
Meanwhile, her employee Nosisi’s son is undergoing initiation. Forbidden to have contact with him during this traditional passage into the world of manhood, his mother anxiously awaits his return…
The sky is clotted with cloud, but the background blue is clear, rinsed by the night’s rain. The farmer’s need to know the weather blurs with Kate’s artistic appreciation of cloudscapes – the infinite variety of forms: misty wisps and erupted whites above the underlining of the land.
Kate’s small farm appears over the rise, nestled in beside the dam – an oasis of fynbos and indigenous trees that stand out in a vast green desert of pastures and fields. It does feel like home, she thinks…
In the Acknowledgments of Breaking Milk, Dawn writes: Thanks to Alje van Deemter who allowed me to job shadow him on his farm Fynboshoek in the Eastern Cape so that I could detail his cheese-making process and restaurant business – his produce is as delicious as the book portrays.
Stay tuned for details about a launch of Breaking Milk on Fynboshoek in November. Until then, enjoy the novel, learn more about the art of organic cheese making and have some delicious artisan cheese.
Photographs: Fynboshoek Instagram
I had been hoping to interview Melissa A. Volker at a literary event for years. I had no idea that when it finally happened, I would be speaking to her about her life and writing as her publisher, but that made the occasion even more special.
Set in the Great Karoo, in Graaff-Reinet, A Fractured Land looked at home in the Little Karoo and received a very warm welcome.
Melissa and I first heard the term “Up Lit” from Kate Mallinder and, immediately, we both felt that it applied exceptionally well to Melissa’s novels. They are books which focus on kindness, empathy and a sense of community without shying away from difficult topics such as divorce, debt, grief, addiction or mental illness. They are stories of “redemption” and “second chances”. Above all, they are romances. In both novels, Melissa tackles vital environmental topics (fracking and wind energy respectively). Her protagonists find love while at the same time having to find some form of common ground when they end up on opposing sides of these environmental issues, as Melissa explained during our event. We also spoke about the innocence of falling in love, surfing, strong female characters, music, and perseverance. We had great fun talking to each other and engaging with the readers who came to listen to our conversation.
We want to thank the Montagu Book Festival for hosting us, the Montagu Bookshop for selling our books, and all who attended our session for your infectious enthusiasm and for sharing the love of reading with us. May there be many more such joyous and inspiring occasions!
Hope to see you all in Montagu next year!
It is our great pleasure to announce that our author, Melissa A. Volker, will be participating in this year’s Montagu Book Festival, which is taking place on the last weekend in July. She will be speaking about romantic environmental fiction and her two novels, A Fractured Land and Shadow Flicker, on Friday afternoon (26 July).
Between 25 and 28 July, Montagu’s KWV Building Complex and the Old Mission Church in Long Street will host a variety of authors and panelists as part of the annual Festival.
The Festival kicks off on Thursday evening, 25 July, with an official opening address by Prof Jonathan Jansen. Other authors participating include Anne Dreyer Erasmus, Colin Johnson, Patricia Schonstein, Jacques le Roux, Theo Kemp, Don Pinnock, Karina M. Szczurek, Irma Joubert, Finuala Dowling, Tania Smit, David Grier, Wilhelm Verwoerd, Duncan Brown, Jopie Coetzee and Shirmoney Shamia Rhode.
Analysts, commentators and activists like Jan-Jan Joubert, Leon Schreiber, Christi van der Westhuizen, Carel Anthonissen, André Bartlett, Spiwo Xapile and Michelle Newhoudt Boonzaaier will participate in panel discussions about the political landscape after the general elections, challenges for the agriculture sector, and the future role of religious institutions in an increasingly secularised world.
A food-and-wine pairing with a cabaret-style show dedicated to the writings of Adam Small will cater for the discerning cultural palate.
Ticket prices: R150 for the whole weekend; R100 for a single day; R50 for a single session (individual author’s talk or panel discussion). These tickets prices exclude the food-and-wine pairing and Adam Small show, which will be priced separately.
Tickets are available from the Montagu-Ashton Tourism Association office at 24 Bath Street, Montagu. Tel.: +27 (0)23 614 2471
‘You have to be present, mindful and in tune with the possibilities that lie before you on the page.’
– Melissa A. Volker
How and when did creative writing begin for you?
I’ve always loved reading, books and stories, but the first time I tried to write one of my own, it didn’t turn out to be the kind of writing I enjoyed reading. I was mortified and gave up immediately. But when I took a break from my career in beauty therapy, I decided to give it another try, this time with help. I took a creative writing course and it taught me that I still had a long way to go. I signed up for another one, and then another and things improved, but I still had no book. Finally, I signed up for a year-long supervised course, and the mere thought of the amount of money it cost forced me to write consistently until I completed the first draft of a full-length novel.
You write romance with a strong awareness of environmental themes. Please share with readers how important this aspect of your writing is for you.
I think we are all busy and get carried away in our day to day life and don’t realise the consequences of our lifestyle habits, like the use of single-use plastics. Maybe we don’t understand the complexities of some issues, like renewable energy, fracking or shark/human interaction. Even the seemingly innocuous things we take for granted with young children, like balloons and glitter, are not environmentally sound choices. While I don’t claim to have an in-depth knowledge of all these issues, I am acutely aware of them and try to make environmentally conscious decisions in my own life. I like to include these environmental themes in my stories to increase awareness in a way that the average person can digest and have a think about, without feeling disheartened. Maybe they will be moved to alter their thinking and habits? Maybe they will have a broader understanding of the issues from another point of view?
What is the greatest appeal of the romance genre for you as a reader and a writer?
I like happy ever afters. There is enough sadness in real life. And the one requirement of a romance is a happy ever after or a happy for now. (A love story, on the other hand, like The English Patient or The Notebook, does not, apparently, require a happy ever after.) I really love to feel the emotion with the character as a reader, and when I can feel my characters’ emotions as I write, I am equally delighted. I try to evoke positive emotion and feeling in a way that the reader can join in and become invested in the characters and the story.
How do you feel about the relatively new term ‘Up Lit’? Do you think it applies to your work?
I love the idea of Up Lit, of stories of kindness and of compassion. I am drawn to intelligent stories of people who have to get through quite serious issues, like emotional disorders or community problems, but they come out on the other side with hope. I think, because the world is so overtly divisive and fractured, regular people yearn for positive human stories to escape into. I do think my work is Up Lit, as my protagonists, although often flawed, ultimately treat one another with kindness and compassion, despite their differences.
In your stories, you create fascinating and independent women characters who overcome adversity with integrity and hope. Who are the women who inspire you and your writing?
My mother is a smart, organised, incredibly brave and positive person. She is a great reader and thinker, and has always just got on with the necessary business of life, despite adversity that might come her way. For the past fifteen years she has been doing that in the face of an incurable auto-immune disease. She presses on with such courage, love, faith, dignity and hope.
My maternal grandmother grew up in the United States, but in a notebook she gave me, she wrote that the happiest times of her childhood were when they had enough food. That stayed with me and after her death I found a lengthier memoir she had written. I was humbled and inspired to read a more in-depth account of the adversities she overcame to break with the cycle of rural poverty into which she was born.
Is surfing a sport? Haha, I suspect it’s more of an obsession, a compulsion, much like writing, but possibly less plagued by self-doubt? I’ve been married to a surfer for more than twenty years, and initially I acquired a good beachside understanding of things. But four years ago, I stepped off the beach and learned to surf a stand-up paddle board. I have not looked back; I now plan my week around the surf report. Surfing is a most empowering experience; it has taught me that I am stronger and braver than I ever thought. I am grateful to have the opportunity to be in the water whenever it presents itself.
Significantly, the first editor who did NOT reject my writing was Calvin Bradley, of Zigzag Surfing Magazine. I entered a competition called Write To Surf, and wrote a story about my life as a surf widow called ‘The Thinking Girls Guide to Life with a Surfer‘. I didn’t win the competition, but they published the story online. It was my first ever published story and when it got over 1000 likes on Facebook I was beyond stoked. It’s been epic to subsequently write pieces for The Inertia, Zigzag and Wavescape, especially when I have had the opportunity to write about women’s interests in surfing. We have a bunch of smart and funny surf writers in South Africa and I enjoy reading their work and learning from them as well.
In some ways surfing is like writing. It’s almost impossible to impress your will upon a wave, instead you have to be in tune with it and adapt your movement to the possibilities the wave is revealing to you. Much like a story. Sometimes you can’t impress your will upon it or force it in a certain direction. You have to be present, mindful and in tune with the possibilities that lie before you on the page.
What other hobbies/interests are part of your everyday?
I’m a beauty therapist and operate a home-based salon. I am host to a cat who rules my life, and am raising two beautiful children who have quite busy schedules. They beat me consistently in Bananagrams and keep me up to date with new music trends. We are a spiritual family, so I try to take time to focus on that every day as well.
What did winning the Strelizia Award mean to you?
I think most writers experience a bit of Imposter Syndrome, and I found that without an academic background I had little confidence in myself as a writer. When I first competed a version of Shadow Flicker, it was rejected by multiple publishers which was quite disheartening. But I pressed on, picking myself up after each rejection, getting advice and tweaking and rewriting the manuscript on multiple occasions. There was something inside me that kept telling me to keep going, not to give up. I really love the story and the characters and I knew if I could polish it properly, it would touch readers’ hearts. Winning the Strelitzia Award validated that. The very shiny, polished version of Shadow Flicker touched the judges’ hearts.
“The Romance is thoroughly believable and satisfying. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year!”
“I especially enjoyed the very real South African setting and characters, the unique surfing background, and also that the hero and heroine and their conflicts were not clichéd.”
“It was fresh, well written.”
— ROSA’s Strelitzia Award Judges, 2017
What would you like your readers to take away from reading your novels?
Life is complicated but kindness and love are the bomb. I would like readers to feel good and happy after reading my novels and be open to making a positive difference in their corner of the world.
A dream comes true.
Karavan Press wants to thank all the people who have made the publication of these titles possible, especially Melissa A. Volker who entrusted her beautiful books to our care. We are proud to publish her work in South Africa.
For further information, please explore karavanpress.com or contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org.