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Magwood on Books

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The Magwood on Books Podcast: Kenneth de Kok chats about his new memoir, Going Back to Say Goodbye

Going Back to Say GoodbyeKenneth de Kok visited the studio to chat about Going Back to Say Goodbye: A Boyhood on the Mine, his finely observed memoir of growing up in Stilfontein in the 1950s.

“I hoped that any emotional impact would be subtle,” he says, “that it wouldn’t be a sad or overly happy story, that it would just be.”

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The Magwood on Books Podcast: Sam Cowen talks about her new book From Whiskey to Water

From Whiskey to WaterSam Cowen has written a wry, clear-eyed account of her alcoholism and recovery called From Whiskey to Water.

Here she talks about the night it all came crashing down.

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The Magwood On Books Podcast: Carnie Matisonn discusses his book Degas’ Dust

Degas' DustYears ago a Johannesburg man set out to recover the art stolen from his family by the Nazis.

Degas’ Dust: Joburg Maverick’s Quest to Regain Nazi War Booty is the story of Carnie Matisson’s quest: a vivid tale that veers wildly from his rough childhood to the glamour of 1970s Hillbrow and the worlds of art and classical music, a story peopled with strippers and art dealers, sanctions-busting pilots and Mossad agents.

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The Magwood on Books Podcast: Don Pinnock discusses his book Gang Town

Gang TownVeteran journalist and criminologist Don Pinnock has written a landmark new book about the gangs of Cape Town, titled Gang Town.

The manuscript for the book won the prestigious City Press Non-fiction Award in 2013, and was published this year.

Here Pinnock talks about the making of a gangster, and sets out the steps to be taken to turn the problem around.

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Notes from Lyon: Observations on the Quais du Polar festival

Quais du Polar


First published in the Sunday Times

She had henna in her hair and, it seemed, on her lower incisors. Her husband had on a leather jacket and what appeared to be a snatch of a sheepskin car seat cover on his head. He looked like a woolly butcher. They had travelled to Lyon from Nice, they said, as part of an “association”, a fan club, for James Lee Burke. There was to be a video link-up with him in the States and the association didn’t miss any opportunity to hear their hero. They’d even travelled to Louisiana once to visit the sites of his Dave Robicheaux novels.

Such are the fans who stream into the city for the annual Quais du Polar festival – just on 80 000 this year. “Polar” is the French idiom for crime writing and the genre is huge there. Dozens of panel discussions, exhibitions and film screenings are spread out across the town centre between the Saône and Rhône rivers. At the famous police academy, French CSI officers mocked up a crime scene and invited the public to watch them “work” it. On the Saturday, scores of fans spent the morning criss-crossing the city following clues to solve a murder mystery.

The venues for the events are splendid. The Opéra, the city hall, the 17th-century Chapelle de la Trinité are buildings of ravishing beauty, filled with luminous paintings and blazing chandeliers. The heart of the festival is the vast marble hall of the Chambre de Commerce, where independent booksellers set up their stands. The featured writers are divided up between the stands for all-day signings, and this is what people love most about QdP: the access to authors.

Quais du Polar
Quais du Polar

The Paris book festival, I was told, is bigger but expensive and snobby. Here authors endlessly sign, chat and pose for selfies. Here’s Jo Nesbo, slight and goateed; Anthony Horowitz; a mad-haired Sophie Hannah and, over there, under an ornate statue, Deon Meyer is being genteelly mobbed. Franck Thilliez, who slipped quietly into the Franschhoek festival last year, is a rock star at home, surrounded everywhere he walks by beaming fans. There are lesser-known gems to be found, too. Nigerian author Leye Adenle was sharp on panel discussions, as was Gabonese author Janis Otsiemi and South African writer Michéle Rowe who was dubbed, naturally, “the new Deon Meyer”.

With simultaneous translation at every event, there were no barriers. Publishers talked about finding new talent: “We publish authors, not books . Find a writer and gradually build their career.” Translators described their difficulties: “Get a word wrong and it is like a grain of sand in an engine. It will ruin the narrative.”

One of the panel discussions turned to the depressingly universal problem of the Youth and Reading and the encouragement thereof. A teacher took her pupils on a river rafting trip with an author, said one panellist. Another suggested slam sessions of classic works. In front of me a young woman was bent over her cellphone, intent on taking notes on the session. I looked closer and saw, instead, that she was on Tinder. Plus ça change, as they say.

Follow Michele Magwood on Twitter @michelemagwood

Magwood was a guest of the French Institute of South Africa and the Quais du Polar Festival

The Magwood on Books Podcast: Yann Martel talks about his new novel, The High Mountains of Portugal

The High Mountains of Portugal“People who have no stories, either religious or artful, are deeply miserable people.” – Yann Martel

In this podcast, Yann Martel talks about his new novel The High Mountains of Portugal, a story about solace, grace and the divinity of animals.

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The Magwood on Books Podcast: Sally Andrew chats about her runaway hit Recipes for Love and Murder

Recipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria Mystery“I like cosy murder mysteries. I struggle with the sex and violence of current crime books.” – Sally Andrew

In this Magwood on Books Podcast, this debut author talks about her delightful Karoo novel Recipes For Love And Murder.

Read: Comfort reading: Michele Magwood reviews Sally Andrew’s debut novel, Recipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria Mystery

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The Magwood On Books Podcast: Sebastian Faulks Talks About His New Novel, Where My Heart Used to Beat

Where my Heart Used to Beat“The human genome is unstable – we’re prone to going mad.” – Sebastian Faulks

In the podcast, Faulks talks about the themes of his new novel Where my Heart Used to Beat, and about his process of writing: “I wrote the first few pages 30 or 40 times to get it right.”


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The Magwood On Books Podcast: Salman Rushdie Talks About New Threats to Freedom of Expression

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights“There is a moment at which the human race moves beyond God.” – Salman Rushdie

Rushdie talks about the uses and abuses of religion, his fascination with folklore, and new threats to freedom of expression: “We shouldn’t have to be defending this, it should just be the air that we breathe.”

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The Magwood On Books Podcast: Justin Cartwright Talks About Up Against the Night and Finding Piet Retief

Up Against the Night“As a serious writer you’ve got to describe everything in a way that’s new.” – Justin Cartwright

In this in-depth interview, Cartwright discusses his new novel, Up Against The Night.

Up Against the Night, Cartwright’s 15th novel, investigates what happened to Piet Retief and asks questions about his involvement in the start of apartheid.

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