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Jassy Mackenzie

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Heathrow Airport Terminal 3 – it’s a Zoo out there!

Great to see SA author Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City so well displayed at WH Smith in Heathrow Terminal 3.

New York Times book review – Random Violence

I’m thrilled and delighted that Random Violence has received a glowing write-up in this week’s New York Times Sunday Book Review. My heroine Jade is described as a “remarkable new sleuth, whose future exploits should be well worth watching.” Here is the link:

Jassy is reading The Death of Bunny Monro by Nick Cave

and thinks that Nick Cave should have stuck to songwriting.

Word Clouds (or: how to have fun and waste time on a Friday afternoon)


Reading agent Nathan Bransford’s blog, I have just learned about an extremely useful publishing function – word clouds. This nifty site is at Paste in the text of your novel, short story, nasty letter to Telkom, or whatever… and it creates a word cloud. The most commonly used words will appear biggest. This is also a good way of seeing what words appear most frequently in your novel – I guess if “interjected” is the largest one, you have some editing to do!

Featured above is the word cloud for Stolen Lives, the next Jade de Jong novel.

Why all writers need friends like Annexe

Let me explain upfront, Annexe is a pseudonym. I’ve used it to protect the privacy of the person I’m referring to in this story. You’ll all be wanting his real name and phone number when you’ve read this so I am willing to sell the information for the right price. (I chose the name Annexe because he’s An Ex of mine!)

Picture the scene… a relaxed afternoon at Exclusive Books Sandton. Customers are quietly browsing among the colourful shelves, soft background music is playing. Annexe is turning away from the book display with a brand new copy of My Brother’s Keeper in his hand. As he heads towards the tills, he notices an Indian lady picking up a copy of MBK, scanning the front cover, reading the back blurb.

And then – horror of horrors – she replaces the book on the pile and moves on. If anybody else had been watching, that would have been the end of the story. But Annexe is different. He is a man of action and passion. He rushes straight back to the display, grabs the copy of MBK that the unsuspecting Indian woman has just put down, and thrusts it into her hands.

“You really do want to buy this!” he shouts. Other customers glance round nervously at the sound of his raised voice. What’s going on? The Indian woman flinches away from him in terror. Is this a new method of crime? Is he going to pull a knife out now and demand her wallet?

“Look!” Annexe waves his own copy of MBK in the air. “I’m buying a copy myself. This is an extremely good book. An excellent read. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. The author is a friend of mine – a very good friend. My only friend. In fact, she’s my sister.”

With a hand on the small of her back, he shepherds the Indian woman over to the till. In shock, she allows him to guide her there. He watches closely as she places the book on the counter and the assistant rings it up. He waits, ready to pursue her in case she decides to break and run before she’s paid.

But she doesn’t. She produces a credit card, signs the slip, the assistant puts the book into a bag, and she walks out of the shop. Satisfied, Annexe steps up to the counter and buys his own copy, glancing at the entrance from time to time in case the Indian woman tries to bring the book back for a refund.

She doesn’t. She walks slowly out of the mall, the way somebody in a dream might do. From time to time she shakes her head and glances down disbelievingly at the new book in her bag. When she gets home, she will tell her friends and family about the mad white man who accosted her in Exclusive Books Sandton and forced her to buy it.

Friends and family will gaze with interest at the author’s photo on the back cover. “She’s got a lunatic brother,” they will say to each other knowingly. “A violent schizophrenic, probably. No wonder she turned to writing. Poor girl.”

The book will have a story behind it. And whether she enjoys the read or not, the Indian lady will always remember what happened the day she bought it.

Thank you, Annexe!

Random Violins?

A friend sent me a link to a very funny article that Jeremy Clarkson wrote in the UK Sunday Times. It’s called “I dare you to visit Johannesburg, the city for softies”, and the tagline reads “It’s the least frightening place on earth, yet everyone speaks of how many times they’ve been killed that day.”

Well, having this upbeat piece of writing hit the high streets a year before the Fifa 2010 World Cup is great news for the South African tourism industry, because Clarkson describes the food, the weather, the game farms and the exchange rate in glowing terms. But it’s terrible news for crime fiction writers, because if any of these UK visitors happen to glance at my book while out shopping, they simply won’t believe the premise could be plausible.

“Random Violence?” they’ll say. “A woman murdered on a dark winter’s night outside her gate? Hang on a minute, Edith dear, didn’t Clarkson’s column say crime in Johannesburg was all a load of bollocks? Yes, look, I brought the cutting with me, and he did. Read here. And here – he also said the weather’s lovely, so that Mackenzie girl didn’t get her facts straight about the winter part either. Well, I’m not wasting a tenner on that rubbish. Let’s buy a copy of the AA road atlas and find out where this tourist attraction called Hillbrow is.”

So what I’ve decided to do is to ask the publisher if they would consider reprinting an entirely new version of the book in time for 2010. I’d like to keep a similar title for the purposes of continuity, although the plot will have to change completely. I’ve come up with four ideas below and I’d love some feedback on which, if any, is likely to catch on the quickest. Please let me know – and I’ll gladly accept alternative suggestions, too.

1. Random Violins – a literary work about an orphan who travels the world playing string instruments whenever the mood takes him.

2. Rand in Violence – a short economic analysis of our currency.

3. Randy Violet – an erotic novel featuring a highly-sexed heroine with a silly name.

4. Brandied Vineleaves – a cookery book specialising in alcoholic Greek recipes.

Finding Random Violence – A Reader’s Guide

After having searched vainly for my own book in two different bookshops before finally locating it in the South African section (behind the cash desk, round the corner, under the tarpaulin, down the flight of stairs, past the cooldrink machine), I have added this advice for potential readers, to my website:

“Finding Random Violence

Random Violence can be hard to find in bookshops, so if you’re like me, and you’d rather walk out of a shop without a book than ask a bookseller where it is… then read on!

Sadly, apartheid isn’t over in South African literature. Most bookstores (not all, but most) have a separate section for South African writing and this is NOT with all the glamorous new arrivals at the front of the bookstore, but tucked away somewhere at the back. It may be called “South African Literature” or even “African Literature”. Random Violence may be proudly displayed next to other South African fiction. Or it may be concealed behind “The Road Atlas of Southern Nigeria”. Who knows?

I’m very grateful to every reader who ventures into the bowels of the bookshops to find my work. Thank you. I’ll be even more grateful to every reader who throws a temper tantrum of Charlize Theron-esque proportions when they can’t find Random Violence in its rightful place, with all the international works of fiction. If you do this in a bookshop, let me know and I’ll send you a free signed copy of my next book! Your contribution will have helped to put South African fiction back where it deserves to be – proudly displayed along with the rest of the world!”

Surviving without the X

I’m lying in bed this morning, typing away on my laptop, 20,000 words into the first draft of book number three when – just like that – my X key stops working.

Horrors! Perhaps I can force it into action.

I press down on it hard. Nothing happens. I press harder still, shoving it with all my weight. My computer makes an ominous cracking noise. Then my finger slips and I type a row of Cs.

I snatch my hand away. Don’t panic. Keep thinking. What to do?

I scroll back through my narrative until I find the elusive letter, innocently sitting inside the word “next”. I copy it and paste it. Then I paste it again and again until I have a supply of ten X’s. I feel uneasy. They may not be enough. So I start making changes to my narrative.

Xavier, my creepy villain, obviously has to go. I rename him Malcolm Snodgrass. And he can no longer use an axe as his murder weapon. Rather than brutally hacking people to death, he will now stab them with a stiletto dagger.

My once-sexy heroine becomes curvaceously attractive. She doesn’t have sex any longer either; she shags. Or sleeps with men.

But what to do about the tense scene at the emergency exit of the aeroplane, when Xavier executes Xuli, his Xhosa henchman, with a box of explosives, as an example to the other six existing gang members?

Aaaaargh. It can’t be done!

I phone my loving partner Dion, who’s working on his building site down the road.

“Come quickly, my darling. I need you. I have a problem with my X.”

A minute later, I hear the squeal of brakes and he bursts into the house. “Which one?” he cries. “Is it that filthy Italian? What’s he done to you?” He strides over to me and leans close. “Builder’s Warehouse has just delivered a ton of cement,” he tells me, gazing adoringly into my eyes. “We can make him sleep with the fishes, my love.”

“No, no, my angel.” I point to the offending key. “This is the problem.”

A minute later, after some dextrous manipulation with a pin, he has fixed it.

“My princess,” he tells me, “there was grit under your X. In future, you must keep the laptop closed when you are not working on it.”

“But the cat loves to sleep on the keyboard, my angel,” I tell him.

“I know, my precious,” he replies. “But you must be strong, and tell the cat no.”

He sprints out of the house. With a squeal of rubber, he is gone.

I return to my novel.

Two hundred and fifty words later, the S stops working…