|Lisa de Nikolits|
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
The Witchdoctor's Bones - I
Guest Post by Lisa de Nikolits
This, The Witchdoctor’s Bones, is my fourth novel, and, without doubt, it is my most ambitious book to date – and by that I mean that I wanted to do so much with it, and achieve so much.
A recipe for disaster you might think and for the longest time, you’d be absolutely right. Let me backtrack a little.
That I am, and always will be an African, is an indisputable fact. How deeply do I love the country of my birth, how I revere her forthright bold colours, her vibrant, charismatic people and the power and force of her warrior spirit.
But while it was the land of my birth, it was never my land and I knew it instinctively, long before I needed anyone to tell me. I grew up in White apartheid South Africa and even as a very young child, I knew that our beloved country was borrowed, stolen, from those who should have had rightful dominion over it, and I knew that one day, they would own it again.
But knowing that a terrible injustice had a hold on our land was not enough, and I always felt, as a teenager and young adult, that I should do so much more to help the cause – but, do what? March more? Protest more? I know I did what I could but I always wanted to do more.
And that is what this book is, for me. It is my voice in helping spotlight the injustice that White rule brought to Africa, primarily with regard to the Bushmen.
It was while walking through the veld grass in the valley of the Underberg mountains, with the steep Sani Pass behind me, and Lesotho to the north east, that it came to me that I needed to write about the people who had walked this land before me.
No, not the Zulus, or the Xhosas but a quieter hero – the Bushman.
I had just returned from a trip to Namibia and I had learned much about the Bushmen there, but I had no idea that the San had in fact also lived in the very place that my father had a forty-hectare farm; in the wild foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains, and you can imagine my astonishment when research revealed this to me. It was one of those gifts from the writing gods and I knew that I simply had to write this book, and that it would be my tribute to the Bushmen, my homage to them.
Now, one cannot say that modern-day Africa is perfect – it is flawed for a whole bunch of reasons and I also wanted to bring those atrocities to the readers’ attention; the horrors of child abduction, the unspeakable crime of muti murders and the barbaric practices of modern day witchcraft that are still very much in evidence today.
To say that I wanted to ‘document’ all this would be erroneous because this is not a history book; it is a psychological thriller and it is also a story of bold adventure, camaraderie, friendship, romance and travel.
I also wanted this book to be a gripping read in the tradition of an Agatha Christie, with murder and suspense and characters vile and headstrong, coming head to head with ones that were heroic and brave.
So you understand what I mean when I say that I wanted to achieve a great deal with this book and you can also understand why it took six years of rewrites and edits for it to finally see the light of day in print!
I admit, yes, I put too much into it; I put my heart and soul and too many characters and endless descriptions and then I took out the wrong things and had to put them back in again. I had to walk away for a bit, and I admit I even nearly gave up; such was the immensity of getting this book right. What started out at 220 000 words had to be halved and I thought, more than once that it might be impossible to achieve my dream.
But in the end, I simply couldn’t give up. I had too much faith in it, and too much hope for it, and with the excellent and patient guidance of my publisher, the book has now been published.
On a final note, I have often wondered what the common denominator is, if indeed there is one, in my writing and I have realized that for the most part I have a fascination with morality. I am fascinated by the question of our innate versus our learned or controlled, if you will, morality, do we have an innate morality at all?
And what happens to our morals when they are challenged? And for me, this is largely what this book is about, morality. In this book, a holiday becomes a true test of moral fortitude but equally, the book is a psychological thriller and I very much hope that readers will enjoy taking this journey alongside some of my most unusual characters to date.
I’d like to conclude this rather long blog post (and I thank you for your patience!) with a piece that wasn’t included in the final edits but which I found fascinating, and I hope you will too.
Continued in the post below