Nerine Dorman: Karoo myth and magic

Hello my Freaky Darlings,

Halloween 2012Nerine Dorman is no stranger to my blog and if you haven’t read at least one of her books, you really should go get one right now … okay wait until you’ve read what she has to say about her new book – Camdeboo Nights and then go get one or two of her books.

Nerine is also going to give away an ecopy of Camdeboo Nights to one lucky reader who can tell me what sort of car Trystan drives? Leave your answer in the comments section and Nerine will email it to the winner!


Trystan peering through the broken slat in the window blinds was the very first kernel of an idea I had when I started writing Camdeboo Nights. I had this vision of a young man of perhaps seventeen or eighteen caught forever on the cusp of adulthood. Like his home which was slowly falling down around his ears, he was dusty and tattered at the edges. His only pride and joy was the 1948 Hudson Commodore called Rose he’d kept in pristine condition for all these years.

But the novel started life as a piece of flash fiction I sold to a now-defunct online zine, and ties in with the story of the Uniondale phantom hitchhiker. Here’s the bit that I love the most from that encounter…

And here’s an excerpt:

His passenger started laughing as well, but it was not the pleasant sort of sound he’d expect from a young woman. That tone conveyed a more than healthy current of disdain.

He glanced in her direction the instant the passenger door swung open. The woman was gone. Shock washed through him even as he slammed his foot down hard on the brake. Rose slewed across the road. He did not pause to consider how lucky he was that there had been no oncoming car or truck. He’d worry about the loud banging of rocks beneath the car later.

Stopping was more important.

A scream ripped from his lips, jagged fear locking him in position. Trystan could not remember having felt this way for a very long time.

Rose cut out with a shudder. Silence reigned, so heavy he could hear the ringing in his ears punctuated by the soft tick-ticking of Rose’s cooling engine. Moonlight cast everything in a bluish hue. The stink of hot rubber made him gag.

He wasn’t dead. He wasn’t alive, either. Camdeboo Nights

He sat still. Some long-buried reflex caused him to draw breath he didn’t need before he expelled a sigh. Far, in the distance, an owl hooted a lonely call, and the distinct scent of apple blossoms filled the car’s interior.

Trystan got out and walked back to the first skid marks where the car had over-steered, checking for blood, for a body, at the very least. Nothing. With shivers rippling through his flesh, he drove home hungry, reflecting on the irony of his not believing in ghosts, until now.

* * * *

South Africa is full of myths and legends. From stories of the watermeid (Karoo mermaid), a type of spirit associated with water holes to the tokoloshe (a Puck-like imp) or legends such as Antjie Somers or Van Hunks and the Devil to the Flying Dutchman, there’s plenty of grist for storytellers’ mills. Phantom hitchhikers, check. Grey or white ladies wandering the halls of historical buildings, check. There is so much inspiration, and I drew upon our country’s rich heritage while writing Camdeboo Nights, where contemporary culture meets an older, ancient Africa.

Central to the novel is the location of Nieu Bethesda. I’ve long had a fascination with this small Eastern Cape hamlet that’s exactly in the middle of nowhere on the map of South Africa. The place itself offers a tantalising glimpse into the region’s past, as you can walk along the Gat River and see the fossils of ancient therapsid dinosaurs that used to roam here before humanity was even whispered of. The Owl House – a work of art by outsider artist Helen Martins – is another reason to visit, and also directly inspires events in the story.

I chose a different tack when writing the novel. Normally I write from one character’s point of view throughout, usually in first person. This time I tried multiple points of view a la George RR Martin (but just not so wordy!), with my two primary characters, Trystan and Helen, and secondary characters Etienne and Arwen. With the first two there’s a whiff of a romance between the vampire and the budding mage, and with the latter pair, a bit of comic relief between the little person (he hates being called a dwarf) and his witchy friend. Add a classic car that might be haunted, and you’ve got a high-spirited romp across the South African landscape, with many mysteries, twists and turns thrown in.

Curious much? Go check out the novel here…

Or stalk me on Twitter @nerinedorman.


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