Amanda Prowse: Life Imitating Art

Amanda Prowse: Life Imitating Art

“Amanda Prowse writes contemporary fiction.” This could, quite possibly, be the understatement of the century. Amanda, who started her professional writing career in 2011, has released no less than 11 full-length novels and 5 novellas in the five years since. Not only does she write books faster than most people take to read them, but she does it magnificently! Her books have made her a household name and a bestselling author.

Amanda’s author journey, however, was certainly not without heartache. Her debut novel, Poppy Day, was rejected by every publisher she submitted it to, but this bubbly blonde was nothing if not determined. Amanda had faith in the story she had written and so she opted to self-publish. Poppy Day went on to sell over 25,000 copies, earning itself bestseller status, and Amanda was soon approached by a literary agent. She signed a traditional publishing contract with Head of Zeus and her second release, the number one bestseller What Have I Done, went on to sell 250,000 copies in a few short months.

As well as her enormous talent, her dogged determination and her prolific output, Amanda also attributes her success to hard work, a whole lot of luck and a positive outlook. This Bristol mother of two doesn’t take life too seriously and has been known to suffer fits of giggles at the most inappropriate times. Melissa Delport was nothing short of ecstatic to interview this delightful, down-to-earth author:

Often, in the creative sphere, life imitates art. Your first novel, Poppy Day tells the story of an army wife whose unwavering love for her husband gives her the courage to rescue him from being held hostage in Afghanistan. You yourself are married to a soldier. How much of your own personal experience did you draw upon in writing this book?

I think in hindsight this book was me playing out my worst fears on paper. It was certainly a lot cheaper than therapy! In all seriousness, as an army wife, fear of that ‘knock on the door’ is very real and it certainly helped in creating a character who was believable. I wrote it while my husband was away on tour and so it wasn’t hard to imagine the gut-churning heartache of separation. I think that certainly made it easier to write. Thankfully my man continues to come home unscathed, and for that I am thankful each and every day.

All of your books in the No Greater Love series share a common theme in that the main characters are ordinary women, just like you and I, who find themselves in extraordinary situations for love. What inspired this theme, and what message do you want readers to take away from the series?

I am passionate about women supporting women and the themes of my novels echo this. I want to empower women through my stories by saying, you are strong! You are amazing! You are not alone! No matter how dark ahead the road might seem, how lonely, how tough, you don’t know what is around the next corner, so hang in there!

What were you doing before you started writing?

I was working in data analytics… Zzzzzzzzzzz. I cannot make this sound interesting, believe me I have tried (laughs).

Haha, I will take your word for it! Did you study anything or attain any qualification that assists you in your writing?

I have a degree in English Literature, but I think it’s my study of human nature while doing cleaning and waitressing jobs that taught me the most. You learn a lot about someone’s nature when you are on your hands and knees in front of them with a scrubbing brush!

So you studied literature, and you have admitted that you obsessively crafted short stories and scribbled notes for potential books for most of your life, yet it wasn’t until you were forty that you began to write full time. Why do you think it was only then that you started your career in earnest?

I think those lightning bolt moments of awakening happen to us all at different times and for very different reasons. Mine came when I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. It made me sit up and think, hang on a minute, this is my one life, what do I REALLY want to do? The answer was sit in my pyjamas and write stories and so I did! Cancer was the best and worst thing that has happened to me. It made me re-evaluate EVERYTHING and I now live a life without fear and that has been the greatest gift.

Take me through your writing process. Do you have a set time or place that you stick to, or are your hours erratic? What does your average work day consist of?

I wake early, in my opinion the very best part of the day, and start writing before I have showered or even had my first coffee. I like to empty out my head of all the words that have backed up overnight. Real life irritatingly interrupts my writing, so I stop to give interviews, travel, do a spot of TV or radio, and also to cook the supper, strip the beds etc. You get the idea! But my ideal is twelve hours in my pyjamas, with a never-ending pot of coffee. I like being left in peace to create. It occurs to me sometimes that I might not have spoken to a human (other than the ones in my head!) for a long time, so I then call up my mum or my best friend for a bit of a natter, but inevitably before that conversation is even finished, I am longing to get back to my keyboard. Yes… I am obsessed.

I know this is a tough question, given how much work goes into a book, but do you have a personal favourite of your own books, and why?

I love Clover’s Child, a story of a mixed race relationship in 1960’s London. I adored the main character Dot and felt her loss very keenly. The book is also set in my grandparent’s house in Limehouse East London and my granddad worked in the docks, which is also featured, so I think I saw my family in every setting which is maybe why I love it so.

What advice would you give aspiring authors?

Write. Just do it. Whether it’s a paragraph, a list, a letter, a thought. Just get it down on paper, as practising is what hones your craft. Rejection is part of writing, but listen to the feedback, act on it and never, ever give up. You never know when your ‘YES’ will come, it might be tomorrow, or the day after that… If I can do it, anyone can.

What does 2017 hold in store for you?

More lovely stories, some real goodies in fact, more TV and radio, and perhaps the odd drama written for the screen…

Keeping us in suspense, I see! I won’t press you for more, but I will personally be following your every move! Before we wrap up, I have to ask: is there anything you can’t do?

Yes! I am the world’s worst cook and I really, really try! I sometimes spend hours buying for and then following a recipe, only for my family to prod the offending offering and reach for the phone, where the pizza man lurks on the other end in readiness.

Amanda currently resides in Bristol, the United Kingdom, with her husband and two sons, Josh and Ben. To find out more, please visit her website

Mark Pilgrim: Beyond the Baldness

Mark Pilgrim: Beyond the Baldness

With his distinctive bald head, warm personality and easy-going demeanor, Mark Pilgrim is one of South Africa’s best-known radio and TV personalities. This multi-award winning presenter has spent over 20 years entertaining millions of listeners and viewers. When not on-air, Mark spends a lot of his time in studio, recording voice-overs for commercials, AV presentations and IVR lines. He is also one of South Africa’s most experienced Master of Ceremonies and has hosted hundreds of corporate events over the past two decades.

Despite all of the above, Mark still found time to pen his first book, Beyond the Baldness, which released in December. Published by Tracey McDonald Publishers, Beyond the Baldness is an inspirational autobiographical book, telling the exceptional story of how surviving not one, but two, life-threatening illnesses inspires Mark to chase his dreams.

Mark is a cancer survivor. At the age of 18 he was diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer, which spread to his lungs and kidneys. Then, on the 14th July 2008, Mark suffered a sudden and severe heart attack. Despite these near-fatal events, Mark lived to tell the tale. And what a tale it is! Melissa Delport caught up with this father of two to find out more.

Mark, first and foremost, I have to ask. The baldness… is it voluntary, the result of treatment, or a simple luck-out in the genetics lottery?

I initially lost my hair when I was undergoing chemotherapy. When it grew back, instead of my thick bushy locks, it landed up being quite wispy. So I decided to keep it off and it’s become my daily reminder of what I went through many years ago. A friend saw a picture of me with hair from when I was still at school and joked that it looked like I was wearing a helmet. I have been bald for more than half my life now. I couldn’t imagine having hair again, or buying shampoo.

You were born and raised in Kent, England, until the age of 9, and your father and brother still reside in the United Kingdom. How did you come to first set foot on South African Soil?

My mum was South African (grew up in Muizenberg) and met my dad while he was part of the Royal Navy, docked in SA. She followed him back to the UK and that’s how I came about being a pommie. My mum always wanted to come back to SA.

You were diagnosed at the age of 18 with stage 3 testicular cancer. At that age, most teens are worrying about girls and sneaking beers out of their parents’ fridge. How alienated were you from your peers and how did you cope with the weight of your diagnosis?

It was the very fear of something being wrong with my nether region that stopped me from telling anyone for weeks, as I was too embarrassed to have to show my mum I had a nut the size of an avocado pear. During that time of denial I didn’t realise the cancer was being left alone to spread through to other parts of my body, eventually landing up in my lungs and kidneys as well. I’ve always been a bit of a loner, and only having been in Johannesburg for just over a year while at WITS, I never had a big social circle at the time of diagnosis. It was a tough period in my life. I was living in the lounge of my mum’s one bedroomed flat in Hillbrow thinking I was dying. It really sucked.

You graduated from Wits with a B.Com in Industrial Psychology and Business Economics before going on to become a consumer researcher. The science of psychology deals with all aspects of the human experience, but specifically that of the mind. How large a role do you think the mind plays over the body in surviving a disease such as cancer?

On the wall of the oncology ward (Ward 495 at Joburg Gen) they had a framed quote which read “In believing you’ll be cured is in itself a step towards recovery”. Your head has to be in the right space in order to endure chemotherapy.

During your eight-year-stint in research, you became the Johannesburg Chairman of the SA Marketing Research Association. No doubt you were exceptionally good at your job! What prompted the career change?

I was always good at the left brain stuff. Accounting and mathematics came naturally to me, but I always wanted to be a radio deejay. After eight years of auditioning I landed up on 5FM and held down both careers for two years before moving into entertainment full time.

In 2008, you suffered a sudden and severe heart attack. I believe you were in your doctor’s rooms at the time. Do you think the availability of immediate medical attention saved your life?

Without a doubt, receiving immediate medical attention saved my life. Even with the doctors administering meds while waiting for the ambulance I still suffered permanent damage to the heart muscle and now take chronic meds to keep it beating correctly.

You are, without a doubt, one of SA’s most beloved deejays. You have hosted no less than 10 radio shows. In 2012 you won the MTN Radio Award for Best Commercial Music Show in South Africa, and in 2015 the MTN Radio Award for Best Community Weekend Radio Show in South Africa. Why do you think you have been so successful in this industry?

First of all, I love the purity of radio and I think it comes across on air. I don’t do radio to get publicity in a magazine, I do it because I love the intimacy of chatting to someone even though I’m not really there. Also, I think that listeners pick up the integrity of my personality. I don’t go by a fake name and “stage persona”. I’m just me.

You have hosted numerous prime time television shows over the years, including Big Brother South Africa on MNET, new moves on eTV and Face2Face on SABC2. In 2008 you hosted the country’s biggest ever television game show, the Power of 10 on MNET. Do you have a favourite and why?

Big Brother will always be my favourite. When we started the show we had no idea how huge it would become. It landed up being the show that everyone watched and talked about. From a production point of view it was massive. I had seven cameras on me that were always moving around (and I had to know which one to talk to at different times in the show). The crowds were so energetic I had to have two earpieces in my ears just to hear the cues from my director.

You are well-known not only for your many achievements but also for your motivational speaking. What is the single most important message you want to impart on your audience?

Early detection can save your life. If you pick up a lump or other kind of anomaly, go have it checked as you may stop something from becoming worse.

You have survived two life-threatening illnesses. How has this changed the way you think about life and death?

It’s all about family. I love my job(s), but the only things really important to me are my wife and two daughters. When I depart from this earth I simply want to be remembered as the best dad ever.

You married Nicole, the self-confessed love of your life in July 2007, on a tropical beach in Mauritius, but you met when you were doing a voice over for the company that she was working at. Apparently overachieving runs in the Pilgrim household, as Nicole now runs the company! Do you still do voice-overs for her and does she ever give you a hard time?

Yep, I still do a lot of voice overs for the company. Technology has changed the way we do things now though and all the voice work I do is from my home studio so I never go to the office and see Nicole in “work mode”!

In 2010 you welcomed your first daughter, Tayla-Jean into the world. Your second daughter, Alyssa, was born in June 2012. How has becoming a father changed your perception of life and your priorities?

My girls are everything to me. I thought I would be a “best friend” kind of dad, but have turned out to be the disciplinarian. Sometimes the way my girls squabble I am less of a Dad and more of a referee. Parenting is the most rewarding and also most difficult job!

From 2013 to early 2016 you were a columnist for South Africa’s Living and Loving magazine, writing a monthly column about parenting from a dads’ perspective. Was this your first introduction to creative writing and do you think it prepared you for writing Beyond the Baldness?

It probably started about two years before the column when I began my online blog. I would just waffle about whatever was on my mind. My style was very informal and I think that’s how the autobiography landed up being so personal in its delivery as well. It was simply me chatting away… on paper (okay, computer screen).

Writing an autobiographical book is an emotional journey for any author, but can also be cathartic. How did you feel, writing about such difficult experiences, and did it take a lot out of you?

In life you often have general flashbacks to significant events, but writing the book meant I was reliving intimate details of what happened. The hardest part to write about was when my mum passed away and I had to tell my 8-year-old brother that she was gone. It felt like it had just happened all over again and more than once I had to stop writing to compose myself.

Ultimately, what message do you want readers to take away from this book?

Don’t just follow your dreams in life … chase them. Whether it be in the work place or personal life, you need to embrace your goals. Benjamin Franklin once said “Some people die at 25 and are only buried at 75.” Make sure this does not apply to you.


Beyond the Baldness is published by Tracey McDonald Publishers and is available at all leading book stores and as an eBook on Amazon now.

Lauren Beukes: The Shining Girl

Lauren Beukes: The Shining Girl

Her work has been praised by Stephen King. George RR Martin dubs her a “major, major talent.” Leonardo Di Caprio’s production company sends her Christmas cards. South Africa’s hottest speculative-fiction writing export, Lauren Beukes, who is regularly seen sporting a Wonder Woman t-shirt, is a superhero in her own right.

Lauren is an award-winning, internationally best-selling novelist who also writes comics, screenplays, TV shows and journalism. Her books have been translated into 26 languages and have been optioned for film and TV. Her accolades include winning the Arthur C Clarke Award, the prestigious University of Johannesburg prize, the August Derleth Award for Best Horror, the Strand Critics Choice Award for Best Mystery Novel, the RT Thriller of the Year, the Kitschies Red Tentacle for best novel, the Exclusive Books’ Bookseller’s Choice Award and her work has also been included in best of the year round-ups by NPR, Amazon and the LA Times.

Lauren’s involvement in film and television work is legendary in its own right and includes directing Glitterboys & Ganglands, a documentary about Cape Town’s biggest female impersonation beauty pageant. The film won best LGBT film at the San Diego Black Film Festival.

Lauren was also the showrunner on South Africa’s first full length animated TV series, URBO: The Adventures of Pax Afrika which ran for 104 half hour episodes from 2006-2009 on SABC3. She’s also written for the Disney shows Mouk and Florrie’s Dragons and on the satirical political puppet show, ZANews and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s South African Story.

I had a look at your schedule for 2016 and I’m surprised you find even 5 minutes to spare! I know you’re preparing for the FanCon Cape Town Comic Con and the Franschoek Literary Festival this month, but you just returned from the Persian Gulf, where you attended the Art Dubai event. Last year your USA and Euro tours included eight different countries. How do you cope with all of it and still find time to get any writing done?

I steal time whenever I can, but you have to remember that for all the travel I do (and it is exhausting and demanding and I spend half my life jetlagged), I am in the incredibly lucky position that this IS my day job. I’m not trying to write at night while balancing another full time career as I was before The Shining Girls.

You have a young daughter. Does she travel with you and, if not, how do you both cope with the intensity of your manic schedule?

She stays with her dad. She’s seven and finds book launches incredibly boring. But she does get frustrated. Last year she said to me: “But why do you have to travel? Why can’t you have a normal job, like normal people?” And then she thought about it for a second and said, “Oh yeah, cos then you wouldn’t get to write Wonder Woman comics.”

Does she share your love for reading and writing? Do you encourage her or is it in the genes?

She came out loving stories. As a nine month old baby, we’d take her to story time at the Book Lounge and she’d sit on my lap right at the front, riveted to the rhythm of the words even if she had no clue what they meant. There’s a power in storytelling, particularly when it’s communal. But story time is sacred time in our house – if we get home late, we might skip TV or playtime, but we’ll never skip stories. She’s starting to read more on her own, but it’s still a very special time for the both of us, especially reading comics like Nimona by Noelle Stevens or The My Little Pony comics. She tells me off if I get the voices wrong.

The highlight of my SABF experience was speaking on this panel, hosted by Louis Greenberg, with Lauren and Fred Strydom!

In many ways you are considered to be a pioneer, paving the way for other South African speculative fiction writers. How did you start writing? And did you ever expect to become such an international sensation?

I wanted to be an author from the time I was five years old and I discovered that was a job you could have, that you could get paid money to make up stories. I don’t know how to say this without sounding horribly immodest, but I knew, deep in my gut, I knew that I was going to do this and I shaped my whole life, from five, towards that ambition.

Your advice to would-be authors is to follow a career in journalism. How do you think your years as a journalist equipped you to write books?

Well, my advice to writers is to write. Journalism is a great way to train on the job, to be forced to meet a deadline and a word count, to write in different styles, to find different ways into a story and it exposes you to the world. Journalism gave me a way to explore other perspectives, like a backstage pass into other people’s heads.

Let’s talk about Broken Monsters. The plot deals with a serial killer trying to remake the world in his image and quite honestly scared me half to death. Even Stephen King, considered by most to be the greatest horror writer of all time, hailed it “Scary as hell and hypnotic.” The book has been racking up great reviews from The New York Times to The Guardian and NPR and won best suspense novel in the ALA’s 2015 Reading List. What inspired this particular story?

Um. Truthfully? A failed comics pitch. I had the image of a female detective finding a body that was half human, half deer and started thinking about what that meant, who created it. As someone on Twitter ingeniously observed, “So you basically killed Mr Tumnus from Narnia?” Yep. It’s about creativity and thwarted ambition, about art and masculinity, how the Internet shapes who we are and being a teenage girl in this strange new world we live in.

The Shining Girls is arguably your most well-known title. It certainly isn’t short of awards – including the prestigious Strand Critics Choice Award and the University of Johannesburg Prize. The book has been optioned by Leonardo diCaprio’s production company, Appian Way to be turned into a movie. Can you share any information about the film?

It’s in development, which means they are working on a script, hunting down the right director, shopping it around to talent. It might take anywhere from 4-10 years to get made and, sorry to disappoint you, but 99% of books that get optioned to be turned into movies never make it to the big screen at all. It’s that whole having to raise $30 million thing.

Which of your books are you most proud of and why?

Zoo City is my favourite, Broken Monsters is my best.

Moving on to comics and graphic novels. How is the writing different, apart from the actual word count?

It’s much more collaborative, working with an artist and a colorist and the letterer who all help unfold the story and make it their own. On Survivors Club, I’m co-writing it with Dale Halvorsen (better known as Joey Hi-Fi, award-winning cover designer who does all my South African covers). I love the surprise of working with other minds, when they come up with things you wouldn’t possibly have on your own.

Your graphic novel with artist Inaki Miranda, Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom is a dark Tokyo twist on the legend of Rapunzel set in Bill Willingham’s Fables universe, and a New York Times bestseller. I adore the Fables world. How did you get invited to write in this magical universe?

I met Bill at the bar of a convention and he came along to a reading I was doing because he saw how nervous I was and felt sorry for me. But then he insisted on introducing me to his editor at Vertigo, Shelly Bond (now the head of the imprint) and set up the meeting. I’ve never felt like such a fraud in my life, even though I’ve always, always wanted to write comics, and hey, it’s turned out okay.

You recently began collaborating with Joey Hi-Fi, the alter ego of award-winning illustrator and designer, Dale Halvorsen, who designed the amazing artwork for your book covers. How does a typical “meeting” between the two of you go?

Dale describes our writing sessions on our limited run horror comic, Survivors’ Club as “creepy playtime”. We sit and talk through the plot and the character’s motivations and often act it out. (Those improv classes really came in handy). Most recently, we sat with Dale’s action figures and worked out the choreography of a very big and very complicated fight scene. It doesn’t really feel like work, even when it’s brain breaking. It’s very important to both of us that the story has a pay off, that we have the answers to all the mysteries, that the characters are acting in their interests or are consistent with who they are, and, this is the really hard part, that we subvert the horror tropes and take the reader somewhere unexpected.

You are a fierce supporter of local talent. You advocate many South African (and African) fiction writers in your talks, and you urge readers to support local writers, particularly in the speculative fiction genres. You also run ‘The Spark’ on your website,, whereby you invite SA authors to blog about their own books and the inspiration behind them. What prompted this initiative and what message do you ultimately hope to convey to readers out there?

That SA fiction is not just heavy politics or apartheid stories or farm murders (although it might include some of those things) – that the talent here is up there with the international bestsellers clogging our shelves front-of-store.

You are fairly pro traditional publishing. What are your feelings about independent or self-publishing?

I would not want to do it myself. I like having a boss who sets a deadline and pays me an advance before the book ever hits the shelves, so I have the financial freedom and space to write, who manages the editing and copy editing and production and layout and commissioning a cover artist based on careful market research and does the distribution and marketing and publicity because that means I have more time to write. If those are things you’re happy to do yourself, power to you. I suck at that stuff and I’d rather leave it to the professionals who pay me.

The one and only time we ever met you were wearing a pair of Doc Marten knee-high boots, fishnet stockings and a Wonder Woman t-shirt. What influences your style and what is your favourite personal item of clothing?

Interesting, surprising things, same as the influences on my writing. My favourite item is my 18 hole Docs that I bought in Camden in 1996 for 70 pounds, which was the most I’d ever spent on anything in my life up until that point. They’ve taken a beating and I recently had them re-soled, but they’re still good.

You don’t sound at all South African, which probably makes it easier for your international audience to connect with (and understand!) you. Your accent is hard to place, but my first thought was American. Have you always had the accent, or has it developed over time and through the course of your travels?

I am really, really, really, for real-life, South African. I was born here, grew up here, live here now. I did live in the USA for two years but Americans don’t think I sound American. My accent is more of a mid-Atlantic mongrel melange of English variations. Ashraf Jamal recently described me as an “international bastard”. That shoe fits and I’m wearing it.

What can we expect next from you?

We’re wrapping up the final issue of Survivors’ Club, which will be collected in a trade paperback (aka graphic novel) in September from Vertigo.

I have a book of short stories and essays, Slipping coming out in October from Tachyon Press.

And a new novel, Motherland, out 2017 from Penguin in the UK and Mulholland Books in the USA.

Lauren currently resides in Cape Town, South Africa. For more information, please visit her website at


Jen Su: From Z-A Lister

Jen Su: From Z-A Lister

Jen Su is one of South Africa’s most unique TV and radio personalities. She is a news presenter on Business Day TV and Sky News ‘The African Business Report’, a radio presenter on CliffCentral for the Gareth Cliff Morning Show, a contributor to SABC3 Expresso, and entertainment reporter for People Magazine’s ‘Out and About with Jen Su’. Jen has also been an actress on the hugely popular drama series Isibaya (Season 1) and on Jacob’s Cross (Seasons 5 and 6).

Jen is a top Corporate Emcee and has been the Master of Ceremonies for galas and launches for major corporations such as HSBC, Mercedes-Benz, Coca-Cola, Qatar Airways, Telkom, Transnet, G4S, Heineken, DHL, and many more. She is fluent in English, Mandarin Chinese and Thai, and has also emceed a number of bilingual events for the Thai Embassy and Chinese corporations in South Africa.

Jen is well-known on the social scene, as one of South Africa’s most prominent socialites and A-List celebrities.

She is an avid traveler, hat collector, and red carpet reporter – from the Cannes Film Festival in France, to the MTV Europe Music Awards in Scotland, to New York Fashion Week, to the BET Awards in LA – Jen has been at the forefront of entertainment reporting.

Jen has been in the field of news presenting with over a decade of experience – in addition to BDTV and the financial report on Sky, Jen has been a prime time anchor for Star News Asia in Hong Kong, a senior anchor for Thai TV Channel 11 Newsline, and an anchor for Good Morning China on China TV in Taiwan.



When Jen Su came to our offices for an interview eight years ago I knew immediately that this petite Chinese-American dynamo was going to make a huge impact on the South African social scene. Jen arrived, not knowing anyone in South Africa, impeccably dressed, with portfolio and show-reel in hand. She was confident, talented, experienced, and prepared.

When we launched over a year ago, Jen moved over with us, and to this day is still a part of our CliffCentral family. She is a master at networking, a loyal friend, and brilliant at building her reputation in a natural, effortless way. She also loves to take photos of everything – and we can count on Jen to document everything that’s been going on.

On the surface Jen might seem to be just a hat-loving socialite, but if you’ve ever seen Jen anchor the financial news on Sky, emcee a corporate gala, or sing solo with the Soweto Gospel Choir you will be impressed by the depth of her intellect and talent.

And now, in her book, Jen gives a fresh, unique perspective and shares her secrets to success.

Enjoy and be inspired! – Gareth Cliff, President and Founder,

Your relationship with your father was very close. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you now that he is no longer with you, to share in your success. If you could tell him anything today, what would it be?

I believe that my Dad has always followed my journey, even in death. In the book ‘Journey of Souls’ they talk about the afterlife and I believe that my Dad knows everything that has happened thus far in my life. But if I could tell him anything today, I would say that I miss him so much and I wish more than anything that he could be here with me. I wish I could take him on a tour of beautiful South Africa, and take him on safari!

Tell us about your love of hats.

I am meticulous in crafting each aspect of my appearance and one example of my signature looks are my hats – all 300+ of them. It’s not an Imelda Marcos obsession, but a thought-through element of my style that has added to my distinction and character in endless ways. It all started in my days in Taiwan as a singer, when I found that hats had a way of covering my forehead and making my face look a bit smaller. I stood out, I looked cute, and people noticed me. Over time, however, I realised that hats also had a powerful way of changing one’s character to fit the mood or occasion, without having to change every article of clothing.

I could wear hats to reflect my stylish side, my ‘fun in the sun’ side, and even my crazy side. Over time, hats became my calling card and my trademark. I became the ‘Mad Hatter’ from Thailand to Hong Kong to South Africa. Fans sent me hats and fascinators as gifts on my birthday. And now I’m still asked to judge ‘Best Hat’ for major equestrian events such as the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate or the J&B Met.

What does it feel like moving countries six times, and having to start all over again in each new land?

It has been absolutely agonising to the point of suicide and depression. I have no words, I have experienced the very depths of humiliation and embarrassment, and I have also experienced the gratitude of meeting some absolutely incredible people that have crossed my path in my life journey.

Do you ever get nervous on the red carpet?

Yes. I’m not nervous if I’m the one walking the red carpet, but I’m nervous when I’m the one who has to interview Hollywood celebrities on the red carpet overseas at a huge event. When an A-List celeb walks down the red carpet, you have a split second to grasp their attention and get that interview, or you miss it entirely.  Fortunately, with my American accent, I often grasp the attention of many a Hollywood A-Lister, who usually do a double-take and stop to listen to what I’ve asked!

What does the ‘day in the life of Jen Su’ look like?

It’s very hectic, and it changes from day to day. It almost always starts early, usually before 6am, and consists of photo shoots, on-air broadcasting for my radio show, TV, press conferences, and evening events which range from small product launches to huge corporate galas.

What many people don’t realise is that you are an accomplished pianist – when did you learn and what are your most memorable performing experiences?

I started to play classical piano from the age of five and I performed in national piano competitions from the age of eight. By the time I was ten years old, I was practising piano five hours a day, on my own with no supervision. Neither of my parents nor my brothers were musicians and they did not have to push me to practise. I just had this sense of discipline and desire for accomplishment and perfection that drove me to play those scales over and over again till my fingertips were sore and bleeding. It never felt burdensome, though at times the sound of my friends laughing and playing in the yard outside did pull me off my bench and into a friend’s house or pool. Still, day after day, I found my way back to that piano bench. It was just something I felt compelled to do, and the satisfaction of advancement, of nailing a difficult piece, or performing impeccably at a recital, or winning a national piano competition was the fuel that would drive me further.

One of my favourite playing experiences was with the Philadelphia Orchestra and trumpetist Frank Kaderabek, when I performed the Shostakovitch Piano Concerto No. 1. Another occasion was the U.S. popular morning show ‘The Today Show’. We were selected as a Chinese traditional ribbon dance troupe, which performed all over the nation.

Another thing that many people don’t know about you is that you can sing. Please tell us about your collaboration with Loyiso, JR, and RJ Benjamin, and also your winning a TV singing contest similar to ‘Taiwan Idols’.

Thank you – yes, I’ve been fortunate to have released five albums in Asia and my collaboration with Loyiso, JR, and RJ Benjamin was a theme song called ‘Rise Up South Africa’, which was part of a national compilation of the top World-Cup inspired songs.

Who have you met in South Africa who has inspired you the most, and why?

Nelson Mandela (who I had the honour of meeting at a press conference in Thailand many years ago), Bryan Habana (his family ‘adopted’ me as their adopted South African goddaughter), Gareth Cliff (he’s been an amazing mentor and friend), and of course my ‘pinkies’ – my close girlfriends Danielle Franco, Peta Eggierth-Symes, and Jill Grogor. I have learned so much from their success. And for the book, the late Reeva Steenkamp was the person who inspired me to finally get my courage together and write From Z to A-Lister: How To Build Your Personal Brand.

What advice can you give aspiring authors on the process of writing a book?

You must be extremely patient and always think in detail. Don’t be afraid of failure!

What is one message you would like to give the youth of South Africa today?

Follow your dreams and passions!

You are the mom of two boys – how do you manage juggling parenthood with the line of work that you are in?

It is so difficult and you are always feeling guilty. It is truly impossible! Being a mom has had its fair share of trials. From giving birth, to nappies, to burp cloths (I’ve had spit on my suit many a time!), their first steps, to travelling abroad, and now their coming of age, I’m proud to say that I’ve been there for just about all of their birthdays and milestones. It has been extremely challenging, though, and when you’re a mom who’s also a public figure, and moving from country to country at a moment’s notice, you often feel torn because you can’t be there all the time for your kids.

If someone has to attend an event / gala / launch and their clothing budget is non-existent, what tricks can they use to make themselves look like a catwalk model?

Go through your closet and mix and match existing pieces.

But let’s say you really don’t have anything and need to buy a few basic items – then buy simple (not expensive) classic pieces that can be worn again and again. For the ladies, look at a simple LBD (little black dress without sequins or embellishments), heels, and an accessory or two. The LBD can be worn over and over, while changing accessories. Try to make sure your heels are as comfortable and easy to wear as possible. And practice walking in them! They don’t have to be sky high – just be sure that your heels look and feel fabulous. Guys should invest in one really good suit in black, grey, or vertical pinstripe, changing the look with different shirts and belts.

The important thing to remember is that people are too busy worrying about themselves and their own looks to worry about you and what you’re wearing. Wear your LBD or suit with confidence and don’t worry if you wore the same dress or suit last week. Change your accessories, wear a hat, put on a scarf, change your jewellery, change your belt, put on sunglasses.

Many people never like what they look like in photos. Are there some tricks that you can share?

Look at that camera as if it is your best friend. When the camera is right in front of you, look at the top rim of the camera lens when you are being photographed. It will make your eyes look bigger and more energetic. Looking at the bottom rim or below the camera lens will make your eyes smaller and less interesting.

When the photographer is kneeling down and shooting upwards at you standing, it’s important to slightly tilt your chin down so that your face looks slimmer.

The best kind of smile is a bit of a smile, either showing or not showing teeth, not too wide (think Cheshire cat!) and not a ‘half-smile’ either. You need to practise and take a number of photos to find out which is your best side and your best kind of smile.

You are everywhere on social media. How can writers make themselves discoverable in this medium?

Blogging, vlogging, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – you name it, there are so many excellent ways to build a profile for yourself on social media. As an author your first job is to write something brilliant. And your second job is to connect with the masses and the media. In a nutshell, you need to make yourself, and your writing, discoverable.

What one piece of advice has Gareth Cliff given you that you refer back to often?

When people criticize you is when you’ve actually made it!

When you emcee for an event what kind of preparation do you need to do?

I’m meticulous about preparing and memorising my emcee script. Nine times out of ten, I will memorise an entire script outright. I am fortunate to possess a photographic memory, but memorising a five to ten page script is no easy task for anyone, particularly when you consider the fact that most scripts require the flawless pronunciation of people’s names in a language that is not my own.

There is no ‘last minute’ with me. Each job is treated with the same rigour and discipline. I’ll pace up and down my room committing the script to memory, thinking about how to make it sound natural and practicing my delivery.

At the event I may seem calm and collected, and this is achieved not simply by controlling my nerves, but by my confidence that my prep work has paid off. An accomplished emcee or presenter always looks comfortable in his or her shoes. I will never let my confidence in myself overwhelm the need for one hundred per cent focus and preparation.

In between television links, you’ll always find me in a quiet corner going over my lines, thinking carefully about how I’m going to interpret the next lines I will need to say. I’m so deep in thought that people sometimes think I am an unusually quiet person. Actually, I’m just conserving my energy and focusing on the task at hand.

After everything you have achieved already, it seems there is nothing you cannot do, but what inspired you to write From Z to A-Lister: How To Build Your Personal Brand?

Being able to help others in their quest to build their personal brand through detailing the ‘how’ of how I did it, what were my methods, tricks of the trade, and tried and tested tips for success.

What do you hope others can take from your book after reading it?

I hope that I will be able to inspire others to build up their personal brand to the best of their ability, for their own set of personal A-List aspirations. To anyone who is pursuing their dreams, carving a name for themselves in the social scene, starting over, building their personal brand and social network – this is for you.

I hope that through my personal tale of hardship and challenges, and by sharing my secrets to the way I built my personal brand, I can help inspire you to make it happen for yourself in your own unique way.

In each country I lived in, I was approached to write on this topic, but I was always too insecure or scared of failure to do so. It was in South Africa where I had the immense support of so many of you, that I have finally gathered the courage to make this book come to life.

Always remember that you are not alone in your quest for making yourself into the most amazing brand you can be, and I thank each and every one of you who has crossed my path and helped me in my challenging journey to making it happen.

Jen’s book, From Z to A-Lister: How To Build Your Personal Brand is published by Tracey McDonald Publishers and is available at all leading bookstores as well as on Amazon Kindle.

Rachel Morgan: Letting her Imagination take flight…

Rachel Morgan: Letting her Imagination take flight…

Rachel Morgan is not just a pretty face. The thirty-year-old author of the bestselling Creepy Hollow series and the contemporary romance Trouble series holds a degree in genetics and is flying her flag high in the indie revolution.

The traditional publishing world has lost a lot of clout over recent years, with many authors selecting the indie or hybrid model of publishing. The benefits of the digital age and independent publishing platforms such as Amazon’s Kindle and CreateSpace mean that a traditional rejection letter is no longer the knoll marking the end of an author’s career. While it is relatively easy to publish a book, marketing and building a brand is not quite as simple. In the world of author marketing, however, Rachel Morgan is at the top of her game.

Rachel, you started writing at a young age. What sparked your creative mind and your passion for writing?

This isn’t the most exciting answer, but I think I was born with that creative spark and passion! I’ve loved telling stories for as long as I can remember. Even before I was old enough to write, I dictated a story to my mother so she could write it down for me. I entertained my younger brother and sister with Barbie-enacted stories, and then wrote short stories during high school for my two best friends. But I do have several authors I can thank for their part in influencing my growth as a storyteller. Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books were the first I remember reading, and they instilled in me a love of adventure stories. Philip Pullman’s The Northern Lights introduced me to fantasy, a genre I have adored ever since. I also read my first cliffhanger ending in that book, which was both a shock and an inspiration (as anyone who has read my Creepy Hollow series will tell you! Sorry about all those cliffhangers, guys …). J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series taught me a lot about creativity and foreshadowing (a concept that was new to me when I began that series as a young teen). And then there’s Twilight. Love it or hate it, that was the book I was reading when I decided to take the leap, leave my master’s in Biochemistry, and pursue writing as a career. So I’ll always be grateful to Stephenie Meyer for that.

I adore your author branding – the bird and your tagline work very well together and are instantly recognisable. How did you come up with the tagline “Let Your Imagination Take Flight”?

For me, stories are all about escaping the stresses and responsibilities of the real world for a little while. When you’re reading a good book, it’s as if your imagination transports you to another realm. That’s what I strive to do with my stories. And hopefully, if I have succeeded, readers’ imaginations really do take flight when they’re immersed in one of my books!

You hold a BSc Agric in Genetics from UKZN and have jokingly claimed that shortly after completing it you discovered you weren’t ‘grown-up’ enough for a real job, and returned to your passion for writing. Do you have any regrets about the course that you studied or the fact that you haven’t used the degree you attained?

No regrets at all! I may not have used the majority of what I learnt at university, but my degree did allow me to teach high school Mathematics for several years (which I greatly enjoyed), and my experience at UCT (which I attended before UKZN) partly inspired two of the Trouble series books. Besides, I wouldn’t have met my husband if I’d done a different degree, and that would have been terribly sad!

Let’s talk about the Creepy Hollow Series. The world building is incredible! How did you come up with the idea and how much time did you spend plotting this incredible setting before putting pen to paper – or fingers to keys?

Thank you! The initial idea came from the name itself, Creepy Hollow, which just sort of appeared in my head one day. I knew it would be fantasy. It kinda sounded like a forest, the sort filled with magical creatures that were probably dangerous. And that meant I’d have to have characters that could fight the dangerous creatures. Those characters turned out to be faeries—the human-sized, kick-ass kind, not the miniature kind with wings. All the rest of the details slowly filled themselves in over the course of several months.

You opted to release nine books in the series, following the antics of three exceptional characters. Why this structure?

I originally planned the series to be a trilogy, but while I was writing the first one, I began to think of how the series might continue beyond the third book. I didn’t decide for certain back then that I would continue, and when the third book released, I called it the last in the series, but at the back of my mind, I planned for the possibility of more. A year later, I was ready to return to Creepy Hollow! And not just for one more trilogy, but for two. I had known for a long time who the main character of books four, five and six would be, but by that point, I also had a plan for a potential main character of books seven, eight and nine. Apparently I’m a fan of the trilogy structure 😉

You have also published and planned for a few Creepy Hollow novellas. Novellas have become hugely popular in recent years, particularly in the fantasy genre. Why do you think that is, and how many novellas will you be releasing?

The pace of life is faster now than it used to be. It seems as though we’re always trying to fit more and more into the same amount of time! I think that might be one reason why novellas have increased in popularity. You can read a full story in less time, leaving more time for other activities (or other books!). From the marketing and promotion side of things, the more often an author publishes, the easier it is to maintain visibility amongst the millions of books being produced every year. This is no doubt another reason we’ve seen an increase in shorter works over the past few years: they can be written and published faster than novels.

I think novellas and short stories are great tools to further flesh out a detailed fantasy world. The backbone of my series is made up of novels, but if I want to explore the stories of some of the secondary characters, I use novellas. So far I’ve published one, I’m releasing a second one this month and I have a third planned for some time in the future. But it’s entirely possible there might be more than three!

The Trouble series is a contemporary romance series, with four books already published. How do you shift your genre gear so effortlessly, and do you find it easier or more difficult to write romantic novels?

I’m glad I appear to shift genres so effortlessly, since it certainly doesn’t feel effortless! There’s a reason I took an entire year off from fantasy and wrote three romance novels before returning to fantasy for a year and a half, and then going back to romance. I think I’d find it very difficult to shift back and forth one novel at a time! Writing is such an immersive process. I have to be completely in the zone, which means once I’m ‘living’ in the Creepy Hollow world, it’s difficult to extract myself from it and dive into a contemporary romance setting. I find that reading in the same genre helps a lot. When I’m writing fantasy, I read fantasy (or other speculative fiction). When I’m writing romance, I read romance.

Is it easier or more difficult to write romantic novels?

Funny you should ask 😉 I thought it would be easier to write contemporary romance. I mean, it’s the real world. You can use existing settings and terminology. And it’s ‘just romance,’ right? Ha! Wrong. I discovered soon enough that for me, the thrill of action scenes, life and death situations, magical made-up settings, and complicated end-of-the-world plots keeps my fingers flying across the keyboard much faster than contemporary romance.

You recently decided to re-brand your author identity for your romance novels, and are now using the pseudonym Rochelle Morgan for the Trouble Series. What prompted this decision and how do you ultimately hope it will affect your career?

My Trouble series has never sold as well as my Creepy Hollow series, and I eventually realised that in order to give the romance books a real chance, I needed to put a little more distance between them and my fantasy books. The way the online retailer algorithms work means that because of the success of my fantasy books, my romance books are being shown to fantasy fans, a lot of whom may not be interested in romance. I needed to get the Trouble books in front of the right audience, and the best way to do that was to move them to a different name. Ultimately, I hope this will help me to better serve my readers, giving fantasy fans what they want and romance fans what they want (instead of promoting everything to everyone).

Let’s talk about your decision to independently publish. You have mentioned that you wouldn’t sign your rights over to a publisher, even if you were offered a traditional contract. Why is this?

Never say never 😉 If the right contract came along, I would certainly consider it, but it would have to be very good. A print-only deal, for example, which is what plenty of indie authors dream of! But there’s just so much about the independent publishing route that appeals to me. Not just the higher royalty rates, but the control and flexibility. I am completely in charge of what I want to publish and when I want to publish it. There are plenty of authors who only want to write, and that’s totally fine. I, however, actually like doing all the other tasks that are required of an indie author. I enjoy figuring out how ebook formatting software works, or putting together a marketing plan, or tweaking the design of my book covers until they’re exactly the way I want them to be. I’m a bit of a control freak, so the indie route works well for me 😉

Can you give us a run-through of your average working day? Do you have a set routine, or do you dedicate different days to writing, marketing and such?

I wish I had a set routine! I’ve been planning to have a set routine for years, and somehow it never happens. Somehow it’s almost midday and I’m still in my pajamas and I’m filling in a form that I found in a new Facebook group for a marketing opportunity that’s so great it just can’t wait until later for me to attend to. And then, of course, there are those promo graphics that I must do right now, and the twenty emails I need to go through, and the post office receipts I need to file, and the sales data I need to add to my spreadsheet. And then it’s 2 a.m. and I’m still writing because, let’s be honest, I probably didn’t start until after dinner!

Okay, so it isn’t always that bad, but I definitely don’t have a set routine I follow every day. I generally go through cycles. The closer I get to a deadline, the more hours I spend writing, until I get to the point where I’m writing every moment of the day. But then after I’ve published a new book, I’ll spend a week or two catching up on admin and marketing, and I won’t write at all. Somehow, this up-and-down, non-structured process seems to work.

You are married, but have no children yet. Do you use your favourite baby names in your books?

Ha ha! I don’t think I have favourite baby names yet. And if I did, I wouldn’t use them in books because then I wouldn’t be able to use them for the actual babies when they eventually come along!

You are an incredibly prolific writer and in the not too distant future you will release the last of the Creepy Hollow books. Do you have anything in the pipeline that you will be working on when that time comes?

To be honest, I’m a little bit scared of reaching that point. For so long, I’ve known exactly what I’m going to write next. But once Creepy Hollow is finished, endless possibilities lie ahead! It’s both exciting and terrifying, but I’m looking forward to choosing one of the many ideas buzzing around at the back of my mind.

Your marketing strategy is remarkable and you create all of your own promotional material, which is no easy feat! Many authors who opt to create their own graphics and covers are left wanting, because it is an art form in itself. Did you study any design courses or are you self-taught?

I am self-taught. YouTube tutorials are quite useful (and Photoshop is a great source of procrastination for me!).

You are very active on social media. How important do you think it is for authors to connect with their readers on these platforms?

While a social media presence is important, it’s actually less important than a lot of authors think. The reason I say this is because there are authors whose books are very successful who don’t have a particularly active social media presence. They keep on producing great books, and readers keep on buying them. However, it’s something that is greatly appreciated by readers, and it’s something that I enjoy, so I’ll keep on doing it. (I work alone at home with just my doggies for company, so I need some social media interaction in my life!)

What advice do you have for other indies out there, struggling to get themselves noticed?

I know this has been said before, and it isn’t what a lot of people want to hear, but you really do just need to keep writing. There’s no point in going all out with marketing when you’ve only got one book published (unless that’s the only book you ever plan to write. Then by all means, put everything you’ve got into promoting that baby!). My series only took off after the release of the third book, and it’s the same today for new authors. Readers are more likely to give an author a chance if they can see they’ll get more than just one book from that author. So my advice is to write a series (not just stand-alone books) and to write in a popular genre that you also happen to enjoy (no point in writing something you can’t stand!). Other than that, it’s a great idea to reach out to other authors in your genre and get involved in group promotional activities.

Rachel lives with her husband and three miniature dachshunds in Cape Town. You can find out more by visiting her website at

Gareth Crocker: best-selling author, international filmmaker … and yet he can’t keep his swimming pool blue.

Gareth Crocker: best-selling author, international filmmaker … and yet he can’t keep his swimming pool blue.

Gareth Crocker – best-selling author, international filmmaker … and yet he can’t keep his swimming pool blue…

When I first started researching Gareth Crocker for this interview, it struck me that I might need a little extra space to encompass everything this man has achieved. To that end, I offer my sincere apologies to all who were rudely snubbed in favour of my fifteen minutes of fame in interviewing the legend that is Gareth Crocker.

Let’s start at the very beginning… Gareth’s career took off in 2008 when his debut novel, Leaving Jack was published in London. After selling out in the UK, it was later published in New York and renamed, Finding Jack, where it went on to achieve international acclaim. That same day, it snowed in Johannesburg for the first time in 20 years. Gareth Crocker takes no responsibility for that fact. Despite the blizzard, Finding Jack went on to sell over a million copies. It was translated into several languages and featured in nine volumes of Reader’s Digest Select Editions. It was recorded into an audio book and film rights were sold on no fewer than three occasions. Following this international success, Gareth was then offered a four-book deal by Penguin Random House. Finding Jack was followed by Journey from Darkness (2012), Never Let Go (2013), King (2014), and The Last Road Trip (2015).

Gareth’s latest novel, Ka-boom!  is his first foray into writing non-fiction. Set for release this month, Ka-boom! is a comedy-based “communal” biography, based on Gareth’s own experiences. It’s a story for men and boys about never coming of age, and for the women who want to know why. That’s pretty much all of us… women, that is.

South Africa is also waiting for the highly anticipated ‘Jongo’ – Africa’s first super-hero television series, written and co-directed by none other than Mr Crocker himself.

Let’s start with the man behind it all. Who is Gareth Crocker when he’s not writing books, making movies or generally over-achieving in every sphere of his professional life?

Oh you are far too kind. I’m nothing special. I have a list of failures as long as a giraffe’s neck. I’m just a regular bloke whose swimming pool has been green for the past 11 years. Sell a best-selling book? Sure. Make a superhero TV show? Pfff … no problemo muchacho. Get my pool blue? Forget it. So what do I do when I’m not writing or filming? I’m spending time with my wife and two beautiful daughters, playing football … and tossing a witch’s brew of chemicals into my pool.

Rumour has it that you were a professional footballer for a time? True?

Very, very briefly. I turned out a couple times for a few pro clubs, but was never quite good enough to crack it full-time. I discovered I had the heart of Ronaldo, but the feet of Gareth Crocker. However, I now turn out for the mighty Rhodes Old Boys football club. Our league’s a mish-mash of accountants, journalists, authors, marketers, CEOs and dentists. Although some sides clearly seem to have a superior recruitment strategy to us. One team in particular boasts two former Springboks who have both won the World Cup. Not that this affords them any special favours. They get kicked to pieces just like the rest of us. Quite recently I fulfilled a lifelong ambition by scoring a bicycle kick. It only took me 30 years to get it right.

There’s another rumour that you once ran 100 kilometres?

True. South African readers will know at once what race this is: the mighty Comrades Marathon. It’s normally ‘only’ 90 kilometres, but my wife added another 10 kilometres on top of that when she contrived to forget where she parked our rental car and I had to walk around a cricket stadium for two hours on bleeding feet. Damn that Devil woman.

You started your writing career as a journalist, but left to join a top PR and publishing firm, before becoming a spokesperson for a major company. What brought you back to writing?

I never stopped writing. This is what my daily schedule used to look like:

  • Wake up at 04h30.
  • Go for a wobble around the suburbs.
  • Get the rats to school.
  • Drive to day job. Talk to media about how fantastic my employer is.
  • Come home. Spend three hours goofing around with rats.
  • At 10pm, settle down to begin writing.
  • Cry a lot. Delete what you wrote the previous night.
  • Go to bed at around 02h00. Or don’t go to bed at all.

Fortunately these days I’m now able to divide my time between filming and writing. Which, I know, is a wonderful privilege.

Finding Jack was your breakout novel. Was it the first book you ever wrote?

Hell no. I wrote three horror novels: Malevolence, In the Eyes of a Child and The Midnight Hour. I can’t begin to tell you how appalling they were. Basically, I just vomited up every b-grade horror film I had ever seen and cobbled them into three novels. I found one of the old manuscripts the other day and could barely make it through a single page. Death by clichés!

Your publishing story is legendary – fuel for the fire of aspiring South African authors who follow your success and dream of international acclaim. How did your international publishing deal come about?

Well, I may fall short in many departments, but the one thing I’m pretty good at is to keep going when most people would turn away. Those first three books must have been rejected by more than 500 publishers and agents. Each time I received a rejection note, I would take on board the criticism and try to improve. Eventually – and I’m talking years here – the rejection notes became less scathing. And then, by the time I had written Leaving Jack I decided that I should climb on a plane and try to physically connect with a British agent. After walking London flat and dropping off my manuscript with dozens of agents, I was met with a glorious stroke of good fortune. I dropped my manuscript into one particular agent’s ‘manuscript bin’ which she kept on the patio outside her office (with strict instructions for writers not to knock on the door!). She was out at the time, but when she returned from a meeting later that day she discovered that she had lost her keys and had no choice but to wait for a locksmith. And while she waited, she dipped her hand into the manuscript bin and fished out Leaving Jack. She called me that night and the following day we met and she became my agent. The funny thing is that it would normally have taken her about 3 months just to get to my book (top agents can receive a thousand manuscripts a month). My first international publishing deal was signed a year later.

Your book, Never Let Go, is currently doing the rounds in Hollywood. Is it true that Morgan Freeman read the script? Any possibility of a movie in the near future?

Um … I’m not supposed to say anything, but … yes. He’s considering potential involvement in the film. I’m a massive fan of his. There’s a fair chance that Never Let Go will hit the big screen. But don’t believe a thing until you see it playing in a cinema. Hollyweird is a fickle, fickle place.

They say that life imitates art, but I think in our creative field the reverse is often true. Do you draw on your own personal experiences as material for your fictional works?

Oh absolutely. Particularly when it comes to the dark art of creating characters.

Let’s talk about the new book, Kaboom!. Why the shift towards non-fiction?

Firstly – and just to be clear – I’ll be returning to fiction shortly, but I wanted to have a go at non-fiction for a couple reasons. One, I love writing comedic essays and columns. And two, I wanted to write a book that is just pure fun for men and boys (and women!) and that will appeal to both readers and non-readers alike. I’ve always felt that we need to have more ‘simple’ books in the market. Basic and straight-forward storytelling that appeals to people who either don’t read books at all or maybe only manage to get through one or two books a year. In other words, the sort of guy who’ll read a car or fitness magazine but baulk at a book. So many people try to read books, but give up because the material is too slow, boring or complex. We could grow our reader base substantially if we offered books that are simple to absorb. It’s something James Patterson realised to his advantage years ago.

Which of your books is your personal favourite, and why?

Oh go away.

Ha ha! Okay, moving swiftly forward! Let’s talk about film-making. From what I’ve read, Jongo isn’t your first ‘rodeo’. You’ve made a film before… can you tell us about it?

Several years ago, I made a horror film with a few friends. It was called Taken and told the story of a young couple who are abducted in their sleep and thrust into a basement and series of underground tunnels. It was terrific fun. My two partners and I financed the film and did virtually everything ourselves. I wrote the script, co-produced and co-directed the film. If you’re unlucky enough, you can still catch it on television these days. The film has a remarkably realistic feel to it, but that’s probably because we actually abducted two people in their sleep and thrust them into a basement and series of underground tunnels. There is an outside chance it’s not the worst film ever made. Though I wouldn’t bet on it.

Not that I would ever bet against you, but I have to ask. After making one movie, what possessed you to take on such an ambitious project as Jongo?

It’s a great question. But in truth, we haven’t only made one film. I’ve been working with an existing production company for years and we’ve produced a number of projects together. Having said that, putting a show like Jongo together is massively ambitious. Time will tell if we fall on our faces, but for now things are looking good. We’ve sold the show to primetime television in South Africa and should have it running throughout Africa and abroad by the middle of 2016. We hope viewers are going to love it as much as we do. It’s a gruelling writing, shooting and editing schedule but we’re giving it everything we’ve got and are spending millions on the production. In terms of our company’s resources, we’re pretty much ‘all in’. If this fails, I’m coming to live in your garden, MD. I have a tent.

Jongo is Africa’s first Superhero television show. Personally, I’m super excited about it, given that I’m a huge fan of superhero shows. Arrow and The Flash are two of my favourites! What sets Jongo apart?

A few things. One, it’s an African superhero show set largely in South Africa. So you’re going to see the likes of Joburg the way you’ve never seen it before. Also – and unlike so many South African productions – Jongo is not a patronising show for its local audience and will hopefully inspire young people to lead better lives. Our cameras and filming equipment is world-class and we shoot on a number of spectacular locations. We also want to the show to promote Africa – and to not kick it in its teeth (which so many shows do). Also, while it’s certainly a superhero show, Jongo is largely a comedy-drama at heart and will have something in it for everyone in the family. We’ve unearthed some real stars.

When can we expect it to hit our screens here in SA?

Between April and August, 2016 on etv. It will also appear on some of the DStv pay channels. But our priority was on creating a show that would be freely accessible to viewers across the continent.

Your professional achievements are nothing short of incredible. What is your greatest personal achievement?

My daughters. We had to fight like hell to get both of them. Our eldest is adopted and our youngest only came into our lives because my wife’s a mad ninja warrior who refused to let several miscarriages get the best of her. Family is everything. As you well know!

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Be born to a parent who owns a publishing conglomerate. Failing that, try and find out from neutral sources (not your family and friends) if you have any talent. If you do, push like hell and don’t give up. Persistence is everything in this game. Also, stay humble and be willing to learn from others who know better than you. There is no ‘finish line’ in this game. Write. Sacrifice. Never give up. Stay humble. Try not to cry too much. Develop alligator skin.

I have to ask… is there anything you CAN’T do?

Er … I’m pretty terrible at just about everything. Pools, DIY, accounting, I got an H for maths in Matric, etc, etc, etc.

Gareth currently resides in Johannesburg, South Africa, with his wife and two daughters. You can find more information about Gareth and his books at, or look him up on Facebook or Twitter.