“The Hero’s Journey” by Sue Brown

Sue Brown and Cathy Park Kelly at the Karavan Press Literary Festival

I am looking through my notes from a ‘how to write’ course. They speak of ‘dramatic imperative’, and stories only as strong as their antagonists. And of that crisis near the end of the book when yet another cruel hurdle leaves us agonising over whether the protagonist, our exhausted hero, will be thwarted – or not – so close to the end of her long, hard journey.

It strikes me that Friday’s shock travel ban would make a perfect illustration of this. All those thousands of heroes who were feeling pretty wrecked after almost two years of the pandemic, but cautiously optimistic about being with family and friends for Christmas. Or of going on that adventure. Getting to that job. Having the holiday they have dreamt of and saved up for.

Antagonists can come in many guises, my notes teach. Oh boy! Here we have no shortage of examples of those. A lethal virus and its mutations. Trigger finger journalists. Powerful, prejudiced countries with fearful constituents and bunker mentality politicians. And last but not least our hero’s internal antagonist, who thought she could bear no more disappointment, injustice and loss. Who could not even cry as she stood with her packed suitcase this past weekend, negative Covid test in hand, staring in numb disbelief at a departures board.

What my writing course notes did not say was how to rescue my hero, to give her journey a happy ending. I want to write relief, an eleventh-hour rescue, and tears of joy and reunion into this tale, but even this writer’s inner protagonist is finding believable words of consolation hard to come by.

The notes did mention that what a hero wants and what she really needs may be in conflict. That what a hero usually needs, according to the great moralists, is to not get what she wants.

In Cathy Park Kelly’s inspiring memoir Boiling a Frog Slowly, she describes how reading the self-help gurus reinforced her self-doubt. Her belief that her abuser was right, his anger her fault, that it was she who needed changing. And that when she eventually left her partner, Eckhart Tolle and his ilk were summarily boxed and dropped off at a charity shop.

I think this new travel ban story is one in which our hopeful, seeking heroes should not be pushed any further, or encouraged to seek ever more transcendent states of self-actualisation.

Can’t they, please, just be allowed to get what they want for a change?

On New Year’s Eve of 2010, Sue Brown’s twelve-year-old son, Craig, was diagnosed with a rare brain tumour. In the turmoil of the time, Sue instinctively turned her hand to writing. In 2017, six years after Craig had lost his battle with cancer, she published a memoir, The Twinkling of an Eye: A Mother’s Journey. She lives with her husband and their daughter in Cape Town. The family spends as much time as they can at Craig’s Cabin in Betty’s Bay. Sue continues to find hope and solace in the written word. Her new book, Earth to Mom: Personal Essays on Loss & Love, is a tribute to her son and the indelible mark he left on his family and friends.

Karavan Press title: Boiling a Frog Slowly by Cathy Park Kelly

The perfect match. Or so she thinks.

Her warmth and empathy. His charisma and ambition.

Yet, Cathy feels safer teaching battle-scarred gangsters in a prison classroom than at home with her own partner.

By day she walks on eggshells. At night she sleeps on the backseat of her car. Her safe place is an all-night roadhouse; her best friend, her journal.

The slow boil intensifies until, one day, Cathy finds her grandmother’s armoire smashed to pieces in her bedroom, a hammer on the floor, her life in splinters beside it.

Part memoir, part inspiration, Boiling a Frog Slowly is unflinching in its confrontation of abuse and utterly courageous in its portrayal of redemption.

 A story of loving, hurting, and healing – a gripping reminder that courage comes from within. Always.

– Tracy Going

A tale of insidious abuse told with heart-breaking honesty and humility. The triumphant ending is truly uplifting.

– Sue Nyathi

Publication date: November 2021

ISBN: 978-0-620-96482-1

Kindle edition: Boiling a Frog Slowly by Cathy Park Kelly

CATHY PARK KELLY is a writer who lives with her husband and son in a sunny valley in Cape Town.

She has a BA (Hons) in Applied Linguistics and has had non-fiction essays and short stories published in several South African magazines and anthologies. Her first book, Inside Outside, a memoir of teaching juvenile offenders awaiting trial, was quoted extensively by the (then) South African Minister of Correctional Services in a speech. This is the closest she has come to Parliament.

She loves how stories can crack open doors and offer seams of light in the dark.

Forthcoming from Karavan Press: CONJECTURES by JAMES LEATT

Conjectures, when the book still went by a different working title, was one of the first manuscripts to arrive on Karavan Press’s doorstep. “Lovely to be entrusted with an author’s intellectual and creative work. A great honour and responsibility. Looking forward to the read…” I commented about it on Instagram at the time.

The manuscript and the author came highly recommended by a writer who has been running creative writing classes for a long time and who knew that this book was special and needed a home with an independent publisher. They thought we would be a good fit. And so it is.

Reading James’s reflections about his life and work, I felt as if someone had written about my own intellectual and spiritual journey, but with the deeply grounded theoretical and practical insights that I had lacked at the time when I was travelling this path. He writes with care, integrity and joy, and an unmistakable gratitude for the treasures he had discovered along the way – a journey marked by many difficult questions and challenges, but also rewards and achievements.

Beautifully written, Conjectures will appeal to readers who have questions of their own and are willing to open their hearts and minds to them, no matter how complex and arduous the attempt may be. Some of us might arrive at a different destination, but the journey itself is quite a thrill.

The book’s cover and content have been designed by Stephen Symons. We are in the final stages of production and I can’t wait to share this intellectual and creative literary gem with our Readers.

Karavan Press title: The Skipper’s Daughter by Nancy and Nancy Richards

On the long stretch down to Australia, I really became quite the proficient sailor. I had to steer the ship at some stage during the day. The first time I was taken to see the white wavy wake following the ship at the initial attempt, but eventually I became adept at keeping a straight course. My father was somewhat appalled at my mathematics though. He taught me the rudiments of trigonometry and how to use a sextant. Each noon, I had to ‘take the sights’ of the sun and work out the ship’s position.

Nancy Brooks was sixteen when she went to sea with her father. Despite a gypsy fortune-teller’s warning to her mother, on 2 July 1938, she signed up as Captain’s Clerk for a shilling a week on the SS Nailsea Manor. Leaving from Birkenhead in Liverpool, the ship was to circumnavigate the world. The log Nancy Fancy Pants, as she became known, types during the voyage tells tales of exotic ports, fascinating people and places, and the rope-and-grease routine of a sailor. On board, she masters navigation, the Morse code as well as all the sea knots, and she flies high on the swing the crew rig up for her. On land, she learns even more, but when a squall takes its toll one stormy night in Australia, she is unprepared for the lessons death brings. Between the neatly typed lines of her extraordinary record, she captures her own journey, of self-discovery, and love. The Skipper’s Daughter interweaves the log with Nancy’s recollections and is lovingly shared with us by her daughter, Nancy Richards.

ISBN: 978-0-620-93588-3

Publication date: July 2021

A percentage of the proceeds from sales of this book will be donated to the National Sea Rescue Institute.

About the authors:

NANCY RICHARDS JUNIOR is an independent journalist and podcaster based in Cape Town, founder of Woman Zone and The Women’s Library.

NANCY RICHARDS SENIOR was a fashion consultant based in London. She died on 5 April 2008.

Last night at Exclusive Books Cavendish

Readers gathered last night at Exclusive Books Cavendish for a live literary event: a discussion of Death and the After Parties by Joanne Hichens. I (Karina) had the great privilege of interviewing Joanne and the occasion gave us a wonderful opportunity to talk about the path our friendship has taken through first encounters at launches and festivals, reading of each other’s stories, grieving the sudden deaths of our husbands, drinking many bottles of pink bubbly and working on several literary projects together – Short.Sharp.Stories and the HAIR anthology among them – before most recently publishing this exquisite memoir at Karavan Press.

Our gratitude to Linda and the wonderful team of booksellers at EB Cavendish – your support for local authors is exemplary. Thank you also for making us all feel safe during these difficult times. And thank you to everyone who attended the event, especially readers who had loved the book and came to listen to Joanne talk about it. Last but not least, thank you to all readers who bought the book and had it signed – your support is what keeps us going.

DIANE AWERBUCK reviews DEATH AND THE AFTER PARTIES by JOANNE HICHENS for the Sunday Times

THE KISS OF DEATH

The aptly titled Death and the After Parties is Joanne Hichens’s long-awaited memoir following four sudden horrifying deaths in her family. Blisteringly accurate, humorous and lyrical, the book follows her investigations into how we mourn, and how she nearly lost herself in that process. Hichens initially began a scholarly dissertation on grieving soon after her mother’s death, titled “Loss and the City”, which examined Cape Town’s tortured past and present – the losses of land and identity. Then her husband died, and her theory was proven in hard and personal practice.

The passing of seven years since his death has given Hichens a clarity of thought even in the ongoing chaos and fever of grief. The memoir is divided into five parts, a kind of guide to grieving.

Continue reading: Sunday Times