Saturday, July 28, 2007

If you buy that, I'll sign it...

I spend a lot of time in bookshops.

I love them. I loiter, browsing and reading snippets and... OK, I admit it... I check out my own books on the shelves.

I've always wondered what I'd do if I actually saw someone pick up one of my books in a shop. That's not quite true. I've had a plan for many years, and this week I put it into action.

I went into a certain big-name bookshop in Sydney on my lunchbreak, to browse and check if my new book, SAFARI (rrp $32.95), was on the shelves yet. It was, and to my pleasant surprise a very friendly looking grey-haired lady was standing at the new release shelves with a copy in her hand!

My heart raced, Legion of Fans. She was rocking her head slightly from side to side, the book dangling unconvincingly. She clearly needed convincing. I drew a deep breath and moved in.

"If you buy that book, I'll sign it for you," I said to her.

She looked at me like I was a (well-read) serial killer, and took a pace back.

"It's OK, I wrote it," I added, holding my hands up to show I meant her no harm.

I was mindful at the time of a Wilbur Smith story I heard the great man recount a while ago. Spying someone at an airport who was reading a copy of his first novel, When the Lion Feeds, Smith approached and informed the lady in question that she was reading his book. "Sorry, I just found it sitting on the seat - you can have it back," she replied dismissively.

My lady in question relaxed a little, and I directed her to the inside cover, which clearly showed I was telling the truth (I had to explain I had more hair when that picture - posted here - was taken, but the resemblance was close enough). "Yes!" I thought to myself, mentally punching the air, and feeling not a little proud, Legion of Fans.

The two of us turned and started heading to the cash register. I was already reaching into my pocket for a pen when a young shop assistant walked up to my soon-to-be-royalty-contributor. "I've found these for you," the girl brightly said to the customer.

Oh dear. I realised what was going on. The elderly lady had clearly asked for some help in choosing a book, and the girl had returned with three possibilities in her hand. "This one's great," she said, holding up a copy of SHANTARAM, a book about an Australian ex bank-robber and gun runner who sets up a free clinic for people in Bombay.

"Oh, I think I'm fine," said my lady, sparing me the embarrassment of intervening.

"No," the shop assistant persisted, "this one (Shantaram) is much better than that (Safari)."

"But this man's the author, and he's going to sign it for me," said the customer, turning and gesturing to me, who was hovering with pen, gripped dagger-like in hand.

Poor shop assistant. Her eyes widened and jaw gaped. I started laughing.

"Um, perhaps you'd like to sign some more of your books for us...?" said the saleswoman.

Nice save.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Tony Park nude

All live, all nude. Now that I am learning to customize (customise?) my blog, I have been madly resizing pictures. The one at the top left of this page shows me indulging in one of my favourite pasttimes, drinking, in one of my favourite places - the outdoor bathtub at Nantwich Camp in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe.

Nantwich consists of three two-bedroom national parks lodges, set side by side on a ridge overlooking a waterhole. The view (I will try and find a pic to do it justice) is incredible. Miles and miles of Africa, open plains, some bush, and even a big African flat-topped tree (my knowledge of African flora is, as you can tell Legion of Fans, extensive).

The lodges date back to the 50s, I think. They're a little tatty in some respects, but the camp attendants keep them in spotless condition. It's like stepping into an olde-world colonial time warp when you open the door. There are no fences around the lodges or camp, so animals come and go at will. We've had elephants and hyena wandering past in the night, close to the accommodation, and the guest book in one of the lodges tells of lions killing a Kudu on the lawn outside.

From one of those houses I've watched seven lion take down a buffalo in the middle of the day, and seen four of the big five (lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo, but no Rhino in that part of the park). Mrs B and I awoke one morning to the sight of 24 engdangered African wild dogs trotting about the plain.

I've written parts of all of my books at Nantwich. I love it. If I could pick anywhere to live in Africa it would probably be there. To top it all off, it's only about 100km from the majestic Victoria Falls.

Of course, the best thing about this bestest place is the outdoor bathtub. Each lodge has one. It's nestled against the old fashioned 'donkey' (or Rhodesian) boiler, a bricked fireplance and chimney which heats a drum of water for the house over an englosed wood fire. When you sit in the bath the hot (boiling, in fact!) water comes straight from the drum, and the warmth from the fire inside the bricks washes around you while you soak, so you never feel a chill.

I've watched lion stalking across the pan from that bathtub, while sipping an ice cold Zambezi Lager.

During hot summer days Mrs B and I sometimes fill the tub with cold water and use it as a mini swimming pool.

Mrs B doesn't mind the odd outdoor bath either, and was famously sprung a few years ago when members of the Wildlife Society of Zimbabwe buzzed our camp while doing a recce of waterholes. Clutching her towel she waved to the Cessna and it waggled its wings in salute of her fine form and attitude.

(And now, for some non-too-subtle plugging...) The outdoor bathtub actually gets a mention in my latest book, SAFARI ($32.95 RRP at all good bookshops, out now in Australia). Our heroine, wildlife researcher Michelle Parker, makes use of one of the tubs and, gentle reader, she is not, ahem, alone...

At the top of the hill, behind the lodges, is the grave of a Rhodesian white pioneer, Percy Durban Crew. I don't really know who he is, or what he did, or what the significance of his impressive marble tombstone or the wall that surrounds his grave is. All I know is that when I stand on that hill, with 180 degrees of Africa around me, the sun warm on my back, is that Percy and I have one thing in common.

We both know that this is the sort of place where you'd want to spend eternity.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

We apologise for Melbourne

Lots of interstate and inter-city rivalry here in Sydney, legion of fans, as all three of you locals will know. I was telling occasional-visitor-to-this-site, and literary erotica critic Muriel (she's very critical of my rude bits, though she is, in fact, a very nice person), who lives in South Africa, my thoughts on Brisbane the other day, and may have sounded less than charitable.

I won't go into details, as I have a number of friends living in Brisbane and the nether regions of the state of Queensland. I'd like to maintain those friendships. What's odd about Australia's other cities (other than Sydney, that is) is that their inhabitants say things like "it's more like a country town", or "it's like Sydney was 20 years ago" as though these are good things.

My recollections of Sydney 20 years ago, when I was a young man, are of chaotic nights of drunken lalwessness in The Rocks district where thousands of young people engaged in drinking, drug taking, fighting, vomitting, and other lewd acts which I won't mention here. Come to think of it, this reminds me of my last Friday night out in Brisbane, on a work trip. So, QED - just like Sydney 20 years ago.

I'll say nothing about Perth here except that it has a very nice river and the quokkas on Rottnest Island are charming (I don't wish to alienate 50 per cent of the people who post on this blog). Lovely city. I like it.

Anyway, zee target for today is zat Moscow of zee Antipodes, Melbourne. Cold, grey, cluttered with a peculiar mix of Dahli-esque (bec is that how you spell Salvadore's surname?) modern art monstrosities and office blocks that remind me of the old KGB headquarters, and inhabited by people who only wear black, Melbourne has caused me problems today.

July 21st is, legion of fans, my birthday. My 43rd to be precise. Jane, 22 ("I'm nearly 23") could not understand why I wasn't getting excited about it. Mrs Blog just rolled her eyes as Jane forced the 15th glass of wine on her. I told Jane that in 23 years, when I am 66 and she is 45 ("almost 46") that I would ask her how she feels about birthdays, and we would discuss her response.

Anyway, it's also the wedding day of my long lost cousin (she wasn't actually lost, just living in Brisbane, which is kind of the same thing) Samantha. Mrs B and I roused ourselves from our hungover snoring ("Just one drink, I promise," lied Jane) and stumbled, reeking of alcohol, across the highway to catch a cab. We rushed to the Qantas Club to check in and were told our plane had been delayed three hours because of fog in Melbourne.

Curious, Australian fans, is it not, that fog in a city 1000 kilometres to the south of Sydney could cause a three-hour delay to a flight heading to a city 1000 kilometres to the north of Sydney.

So, a decision had to be made. To catch a cab home, sleep for an hour, then catch a cab back, or to roam the Qantas club, in search of diversions. We chose the latter option.

There are worse places, it turns out, to be stuck for three hours than an aiport lounge. Free food, appalling coffee, computers (where I am right now), a bookshop selling novels by Tony Park (African Sky, A Format, $20.00 rrp), and showers. Mrs B and I do everything together for six months of the year when we live in each other's pockets in Africa. Being stuck in the airport lounge was, dare I say it, almost like being on holiday. So we ate free food, drank appalling coffee, used the computer and inspected the shower room.

All in all, a good birthday.

Bureaucracy inaction

Good news, legion of fans. I know all four of you have been on the edge of your computer chairs waiting for news of Tonka the Land Rover's gearbox.
Last night, while foolishly in the company of our 22-year-old ("I'm nearly 23") friend Jane (whose epitaph will one day read "only one drink, I promise"), Mrs Blog and I received the news we'd been waiting for... the gearbox had finally cleared customs in South Africa and arrived at the mechanic's garage in White River.
To recap... Mr and Mrs Blog live in Australia. Land Rover lives in Zimbabwe (usually). Series III Land Rover gearboxes live in the UK. Land Rover mechanic (at least one who knows how to tighten a nut beyond hand-tight) lives in White River, South Africa. Aussies buy gearbox sight-unseen with credit card in UK, fly to Zimbabwe, drive Land Rover to South Africa and, supposedly, gear box is delivered to mechanic and fitted.

It looks even more ridiculous writing it down. Counting travel costs, accommodation, and alcohol to drown sorrows at every turn, this must be the most expensive gearbox in the history of automotive madness.

Anyway, it was, at one stage looking too good to be true. We survived our nightmarish trip from Zimbabwe to South Africa in low-range 4x4 and the gearbox arrived at Johannesburg airport the day before we crossed the border.

However... and there is alwys an however in Africa... we arrived in the midst of a public service strike, and to news that the mechanic would have to apply for an import permit to import a gearbox. Of course, he couldn't apply for a permit or get it processed because of the public service strike.

Patience and money solve most problems in Africa. A customs clearance agent was duly paid (I won't got into details), but then the international air freight company, whose name has three letters (and it's not DHL) reckoned that we had not paid for freight from Johannesburg to White River and wanted to charge us R4000 (about AUD$700) for a three-hour drive. This was, gentle reader, f*ing bullshit.

"Pig's diddle," I said to the mechanic. Or words to that effect. They came back with another plan (I still love the whole 'making a plan' thing) and found a courier who would ship the gearbox for R300. Reluctantly, we paid.

So, 33 days after it arrived at Oliver R Tambo International Airport (the airport formerly known as Jan Smuts), we received the text while talking in Swahili with Jane. "Gearbox has arrived".

The other people in the pub would have thought we'd just won the lottery.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Did I show you this?

Can't remember. Old man's disease. If not, here it is, the cover for the Italian edition of Far Horizon. I like it, and so does a nice man named Fabio who emailed me yesterday asking if there would be more to come, in Italian. Si.

The New Blogger

Looks very much like the old blogger, doesn't it? But my friend Bec, who is as good on the keyboard as she is in the chocolate tart department, has helped me with a minor upgrade of the blog.

For a simpleton like me, the main advantage is being able to add that impressive list of links on the left to my very good friends around the world. If you'd like to be listed there, simply send me a post telling me I've forgotten to add you (and an unmarked 20 in a plain envelope).

Shameless cross promotion is, of course, the name of the game. Bec has also helped me install a site meter, so I will know when all four of you are snooping about. "Vee know vot u are doink here in zee cyberspace... Tell you friends to buy zeese books or zere vill be sirty days in zee cooler vor u all."

Mrs Blog has also started taking an interest in the blog here and at Getaway Magazine where you can find something much more interesting than these ramblings.

In late breaking news, the launch party for Safari (book 4) will be held on August 2, in Sydney. I will try and organise for someone not too drunk to take photos.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Getaway to Africa

Here, legion of fans, is yet another shameless attempt to divert traffic to the Getaway Magazine website, where my other blog resides.

If you'd like to read it, you'll just have to go here.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

And now we resume regular programming

Back to business. The following post will (hopefully) appear soon on my other blog, on the Getaway Magazine website.

“There’s no game left in Zimbabwe.”

I wish I had a greenback for every time I’ve heard that one. Fortunately, it’s not true, though as with the human population, it’s a monumental understatement to say things could be better for wildlife in Zimbabwe.

Wildlife has been hard hit in parts of the country close to population centres, and on private conservancies which suffered during the farm invasions. In the more remote parts of the country, however, such as Mana Pools and Hwange national parks, there is a glimmer of hope for the country’s environmental and tourism future.

Each year Mrs Blog and I take part in a game census in Hwange National Park. It’s a bit of a ritual for us, and we’re looking forward to the next one, which will be in September. It’s co-ordinated by Wildlife and Environment Zimbabwe (WEZ) – formerly the Wildlife Society of Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe’s parks have suffered in recent years from shortages of diesel (not just for Parks vehicles, but also for diesel-powered water pumps), and the vagaries of the weather. We’ve taken part in every census since 1999, and have seen the tragic sight of elephants dying, due to fuel and water shortages.

However – and it’s a big however – mother nature is a pretty resilient old bird. In the years when the drought hit hardest we noticed a commensurate spike in the number of predators. You couldn’t stop at a pan without seeing a pride of lion, lying full-bellied, under a tree. In those lean years, we saw packs of up to 15 hyena cruising waterholes in search of orphaned pachyderm babies.

I’m not here to argue the merits of elephant culling, but I can tell you that too many elephants and not enough water equals a lot of death. But, if you’re a lion, every day without a cloud can have a silver lining.

The water situation has improved a little in Hwange, thanks to support from Getaway readers and concerned people around the world, who’ve donated money to help the dedicated bank of volunteers who are repairing several pumps and pans.

Zimbabwe has some wonderful hidden wildlife treasures which have (so far) escaped the country’s ravages. On the last game count I saw herds of 30 to 40 sable, and similar numbers of Roan antelope in Hwange. There are still Black and White Rhino in Hwange, and we’ve seen herds of up to a 1000 buffalo.

The game census is conducted over a 24-hour period, from midday to midday over the last full moon of the dry season. Last year we had a pride of lion charge past our Land Rover in the middle of the night in pursuit of a baby elephant – the year before we watched a leopard stalking an impala.

So what? I’ll tell you what – the leopard was using an adult Roan – who obviously didn’t see the cat as a threat – as cover while he snuck up on the smaller antelope, creeping in its shadow towards the pan, not two metres from the Roan.

Yes, there is still game in Zimbabwe. I’ll let you know in September if that’s still the case.

A break from our regular programming

Sorry, legion of fans, but today's news in Australia compels me to drift into the thorny, controversial (and mundane) world of Australian politics.

1989. Paul Keating. 17.5 per cent interest rates. Mrs Blog's entire wage spent on the repayments for a one bedroom flat.

Enough said.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Getaway to another blog

I'm pleased (and, shucks, honoured) to report, legion of fans - all four of you - that I've been asked to contribute a blog to Getaway Magazine's website. Here it is, the new blog

All you South Africans out there (both of you) will know what Getaway is. For the non-Africans among us, Getaway is THE premier travel magazine in South Africa. I've often recommended it to people because I believe (and I'm not just saying this to suck up to them because I'm going to be doing a blog for them) it contains some of the best travel writing I've ever seen.

It's a high-quality glossy mag devoted to travel around Africa. Mrs Blog and I are keen readers whenever we're on the continent.

I won't be giving up this blog, and I'll try to vary the content between the two. So, if you're minded, take a peek and feel free to leave a comment!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Sneak Preview - of book and wife

Here it is, hot off the presses, "Safari", hitherto known in our house as 'Book 4'.

I received my advance copies yesterday and the lovely Mrs B and I had a little celebration last night which left us both feeling quite unwell today.

I also went to lunch yesterday with my very attractive, very intelligent, very stylish, very single female publisher yesterday, to our regular haunt, the Pier 26 Bar at Cockle Bay in Sydney, so all in all it was a good day.

(Enough compliments, C? Please let me know. I'm quite preared to over do it).

Anyway, it's a nice feeling when your new book arrives. I suppose it's a bit like childbirth, but without the pain and mess. Come to think of it, I suppose it's very much like childbirth in a traditional, 1950s father sort of way - lots of drinking and no recollection of any discomfort at all.
My other good news (it was a very good day all round yesterday) was that my well-read, fit (she's a superb tennis player), well-travelled, financially independent, single publisher, C, accepted my manuscript for Book 5. So, legion of fans, we're still in business, all four of us.

To celebrate this avalanche of good news I'm going to cave into the immense pressure I've had (I'm talling about you, now, Hann) to post a picture of Mrs B. Here she is, above, holding a copy of Book 4, Safari, available in all good book stores in Australia from July 24, rrp $32.95.