“The Strange” is published!

And it’s live! The Strange, the final book in the now completed “Linked Worlds” series is published and available on Amazon.  If you’ve not read the first two book yet, don’t despair 🙂 They are on sale right now: The Babylon Eye and The Real are both available for 99c each.

It’s taken me more than two years to write this book and there were times when it seemed like an impossible task. It was a challenge to create a whole new world for my heroine to explore, a world that is both strange and believable. As usual, the characters grabbed hold of their own story and got themselves into such difficult situations that at times I despaired of getting to anything resembling a resolution. But now that it’s finally done, I’m proud of this story.


Biopunk SciFi in alternate-world South Africa where cyber-beings and

biomechanical hybrids blur the borders between technology and nature.




Book Launch: “The Strange”

It’s book launch time!
I’ve finished my new novel, The Strange, the final book in my science fiction “Linked Worlds” series. The Babylon Eye was the first, followed by The Real, and I’m really pleased to have completed the trilogy with The Strange.

I have readers on both sides of the mountain now, so I’ve arranged two events:

  • 22 November at the Field Office coffee shop, 34 Salisbury Road, Woodstock
    – Wine and snacks 6:30 for 7pm
  • 29 November at Rolling Wood, 4 York Road, Muizenberg
    – 6:30 for 7pm.
    If you want an early dinner we’ll be serving a special “The Strange” veggie ravioli.
    Book your plate at at http://bit.ly/strange_pasta The pasta is R100 per person.

Print copies of The Strange will be for sale, as well as all of my other books.

Please come!

Cover Reveal: “The Strange”

Here it is! The cover of The Strange. 

And the print version:

The hand belongs to Kiran Ghatak, a new character who makes her first appearance in this book. Things happen to her hands, arms and wrists, so it seemed like a good motif to use for the cover. The actual hand is, of course, mine. I started with a picture of my hand:


Then I had to match the colours, fonts, and layout with the other books in the series.  Here is an early version. Far too dark overall! The image just didn’t “read” well.

Diseases and infections feature prominently in the story so it seemed appropriate to layer in images of infected lungs and viruses. These were some of the source images I used. Not so pleasant in their raw state, right?

The ebook of The Strange will be published on the 20th of November – watch this space, I’ll post a link. It’s the third in the series, but if you’ve not read the first two, don’t despair! Both The Babylon Eye and The Real  are for sale right now, 99c  each, so you can get up to speed before the launch 🙂


Silvermine Morning

For the first time in ages, we went for a morning walk at Silvermine. Windy! But beautiful. I think the walk was a little long for Pippin (he’s twelve, so not quite the hiker he used to be) but he didn’t complain one word, and seemed to be loving every moment. The picture below of his nose happened while I was trying to take a picture of a tiny plant, and he promptly butted in and ate the plant. 🙂

Garden in Progress :)

Tiny garden progress:

All of that used to be just grass! My water-wise garden 🙂
We moved here a year and a half ago, during a severe drought.  It was a challenge, finding plants that can survive here. This patch  faces north, which in the southern hemisphere means direct sun all day long. Harsh!

This front area used to be the only bit of garden I had. Now, the backyard is becoming more plant friendly, since I had all the concrete removed from it. It’s the domain of Pippin the Plant Squasher though, so we’ll see how that goes.


“The Strange” is complete!

One year later than planned, but I’m finally turning my book The Strange into an ebook. :: happy sigh :: I enjoy formatting. And it’s such a good feeling that this book is finished at last. I hope to publish it in the second half of November. Watch this space! 🙂

“The Real” is shortlisted!

I’ve just heard that my book “The Real” has been shortlisted for the Ilube Nommo Award for best speculative novel by an African. How about that!
Other people on the short list:

Deon Meyer FEVER
Nnedi Okorafor AKATA WARRIOR

That’s quite a list.

In the next three months, apparently all of these books will be made available to Nommo members so they can vote for a winner.  You can read all about this competition at the Nommo site:

Writing progress “The Strange”: First Draft Complete!

The first draft of The Strange is complete!

This is the most difficult, complex book I’ve ever written and the longest, too. I had moments when I doubted that I would make it this far.  This draft is nearly 140 000 words. The first two books in the series are about 70 000 each 🙂 It’s such a great feeling. There’s a lot of work to do still as it’s a very rough draft, BUT IT EXISTS!
* happy dance *

Mosaic progress

Since we are no longer renting but own our own house I can DO STUFF. Current project is to turn the concrete backyard into something a bit more lively. Mosaic in progress. Just applied grout. Tomorrow, I’ll polish it off.

Writing progress: The Strange is on the go again :)

At last, I have news on the writing front.  After months in the planning-mines, hacking away, I have started writing again on The Strange,  third book in the Babylon Eye series. I have deleted more than 16 000 words, and written more than 20 000 new ones. Things are looking much better. New things that have appeared in the story: a locomotive-beast, and a viral lathe.  Things that haven’t changed: Isabeau is just as prone to getting into trouble, although she thinks she’s much more sensible now. Meisje the cyber dog has a much more active role now too, she’s no longer just following orders. After all, Elke is in deadly danger!

(On another note, my next book will contain only characters who can speak. Writing non-speaking dog characters has been interesting but frustrating)

Day Zero Diary: Rite of spring

Today I became one of the thousands of Capetonians who queue at a spring for water.

This one is not very popular, as it’s very slow. You have to wait for ages while your bottle fills. Also, I didn’t realise that you need a hose to siphon the water down from the little pool where it gathers. Luckily a kind man let me use his.

It’s hot. Cicadas sizzling. Waiting your turn, watching wasps and butterflies enjoying the spilled bits of water.

Day Zero diary: Waterwise living in Cape Town

There’s one topic on everyone’s mind in Cape Town at the moment: the fact that we’re running out of water. I started changing my water habits  more than a year ago, since the second half of 2016, so I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned so far.

I’m middle class and can afford to do things like install a rainwater tank. I live in a house and I have my own car, so I’m fortunate to be able to do many of the things listed below. I don’t have children and I work from home, which makes saving water much easier. On the other hand, I do have a limited income. Boreholes and RO filter systems are out of my reach. My plans won’t suit everybody, but hopefully something in this post will help somebody else out there who’s in the same position.

Warning: bodily fluids and  bodily functions get discussed, so if that’s not your thing, maybe don’t read this post 🙂

What are your priorities?

The big lesson I’ve learned is that I had to change how I thought about water. Without clear priorities it’s hard to make decisions, and I go into a mental tailspin. The drought is outside of my control and I had to learn to accept the things that I can’t change, and focus on the things I can control.

My priorities, in order of importance, are:

1) Don’t get sick, or put other people’s health at risk.

2) Don’t damage the environment (really part of number one, if you think about it).

3) To be sensible about money.

4) Find ways to keep myself happy, ward off fear, depression and anxiety.

Reducing the amount of water you use can be profoundly challenging. It means you have to face deeply seated fears and prejudices. For example, hygiene is important, right? But hygiene doesn’t mean keeping clean and fresh and smelling like a rose. It means preventing the spread of bacteria, viruses, molds, things that can make people sick.

Smelling sweaty doesn’t make you sick. Neither does having greasy hair. Having a bathroom that smells a bit of urine also doesn’t make you sick.

On the other hand, being sweaty, greasy, and dealing with stinks does impact on my number 4 priority, which is staying happy. Because of this I find ways to stay as clean as I can and keep my environment as pleasant as I can, using the absolute minimum of water.

Getting water

We use three sources of water. Municipal water, grey water, and rainwater. Since we use the absolute bare minimum of municipal water, we have very little grey water as a result. For this reason rainwater is an important part of our plan. We are fortunate to live in a house with a roof and gutters. When it does rain (not often these days!) we can harvest and store the water. I spend a lot of time looking at the weather forecasts 🙂

This little rainy cloud icon is now my favourite image.

 Water tanks are expensive and they are hard to get hold of as the high demand has created waiting lists. Apart from our 1000 litre Nell tank, which is what we have space for and could afford, we have also installed 120 l bins on each of our gutter down pipes.

This was the cheapest way we could find to catch the most water. B installed a tap in each bin, made of irrigation components. The bins are raised on concrete blocks so that it’s easy to put a bucket under the tap.

There’s a hole in the lid so that the pipe can go right down into the bin.


Challenges for the future: cleaning the rain water. We have a first flush diverter on our 1000 liter tank so that the dust, bird poop and pollution that has settled on our roof doesn’t go directly into the tank, but the water is still not very clean.  When it rains after a long break, the water is murky and yellow. At the moment the plan is to use this water for flushing the toilet, washing clothes, etc. But we might need to find a way to filter it for drinking.

Storing and carrying water

I bought a couple more of the 120 l bins pictured below and use those for storing water that overflows out of the gutter bins. That means a certain amount of running around with buckets. We plan to connect these together with overflow pipes so that won’t be necessary any longer. These aren’t the best value for money-per-liter storage, but at the time the bigger barrels were either not available, or too expensive.

Our plastic jerry cans can be a pain to pour with, as they only have one handle and no air hole. One handle makes it awkward to hold a heavy can full of water as you’re pouring it, and you can easily hurt your back. The absence of an airhole means it’s hard to pour without splashing and spilling.  Air flows into the container to replace the water that is pouring out of it, and if the only opening for the air is the one the water is flowing out of, this creates turbulence. The water gurgles and gouts rather than pouring smoothly.

The solution is to make a small hole or two, no bigger than about 2 mm wide. This is enough to allow air into the container while water is pouring out of it. Work carefully and slowly when making the hole so as not to crack the plastic.

For the handle, tie some strapping around the container and secure with gaffer tape. It doesn’t look pretty, but it’s lasted surprisingly well, and makes it much easier to handle the can.

We also found that this “blue chem” pool sand extractor pump works great to get the last little bit of water out of the bath and bucket. Scooping gets old quickly, and it scratches the bath too.  This pump works like a big syringe, drawing about 2 liters of water into its body, and then letting you squirt it out into a bucket. It saves your back, although it gives a good arm and shoulder workout, accompanied by a jolly farting sound as you push the water out.

Toilet: yellow, brown and red.

Up to now we’ve been flushing the toilet with grey water from washing ourselves, our clothes and our dishes,  as well as rainwater. Of these, dish and clothes water is by far the stinkiest and dirtiest. You can’t really store it, especially in warm weather. More on that later.

Everybody knows the mantra of “if it’s yellow, let it mellow, and if it’s brown, flush it down”. Flushing less means using less water. But it’s really not ideal to have your pee sit in the toilet bowl for hours. While various enzyme products and vinegar certainly help, you do end up with a stinky bathroom. Not the worst thing in the world, but it impacts on my priority number 4, happiness!  And what about when you get your period? What are you supposed to do “when it’s red” ?

These days, we pee in containers and pour our pee down the drain outside. When we have a bit of excess greywater we use it to dilute some pee and pour it on our plants: excellent fertiliser. I wish I could use neat pee on the plants, but apparently that will eventually kill them. Sometimes I’ll pour a little bit of vinegar or Pro Bio septic tank stuff down the drain to keep it from stinking.

What do I pee into, you ask? Men can use bottles, but what about women? Squatting over a bucket is not ideal. Well, I use a oval one liter yogurt container of the Pick & Pay brand. It’s the perfect shape (narrow to fit between the thighs) and has a tight fitting lid. Every now and then I flush the container out with a touch of diluted Pro Bio septic tank liquid or vinegar. This also makes having my period much easier, since most of the blood ends up in this neat little plastic container which can be poured separately down the drain.

Another mostly female issue is toilet paper. Women wipe more than men do because of the way we pee, and if you put all that paper in the toilet, without flushing every time, it will soon block up.  Solution: small bin with a lid next to the toilet. All the pee paper goes in there, and gets emptied into a bin outside. Some people apparently burn this paper but I don’t have anywhere I can easily burn things 🙂

I thought this  pee paper bin would stink, but it doesn’t. Empty it frequently, and wipe it out with a bit of vinegar every now and then. We are planning to build a composting toilet, but it’s a challenge when you don’t have a garden.

Washing yourself

One of the great ironies of this drought is that middle class people like me have had to learn how to wash ourselves in the way that is perfectly normal for the majority of South Africans. It’s surprisingly easy to stay clean without using lots of water.  You don’t need to wash yourself every day, just sponge armpits and crotch as needed.

I know that not many people will want to do this, but one of the best ways I’ve found to save water is to buzz-cut my hair very short. I feel cleaner, look neater, and don’t need to use liters of water keeping my hair clean.

Once every 3 or 4 days, I  wash myself and my hair thoroughly in about 5 liters of water. I use a small plastic tub with clean water to start with, and stand in a large plastic tub to catch the water that runs off me as I wash. A sponge works well to soak up clean water and squeeze it out over myself.  Another pro-tip: I use body lotion instead of soap. It works the same as soap as far as cleaning goes. In fact, people who are allergic to soap wash themselves like this all the time. The reason this saves water is that, unlike soap, it’s not harsh on your skin. It’s not absolutely crucial to rinse of every speck of body lotion, although I find that it rinses off easily in any case.

When I’m clean I apply my mixture of  scented cream, a scoop of aqueous cream with a tiny, tiny smidge of clove oil and a drop of essential oil. An oil that smells nice, like rose geranium or mandarin. The practical reason for this is that the clove oil kills bacteria, and works well as a deodorant. The other reason is that it smells good and makes me happy.  Clove oil by itself is nasty stuff and can burn you, so make sure it’s well diluted.

I also indulged and bought myself plastic bowls and sponges in attractive colours. It was a cheap way to lift my mood. A little bowl in every wash basin helps catch all those little trickles of water as you rinse your toothbrush, or your hands.

Washing clothes

We only wash our clothes when they are truly dirty. This means hanging them out to air and wearing things more than once. Another trick is to freeze sweaty garments for at least 24 hours in a ziplock bag. This kills the smell-causing bacteria and means you can wear it at least once more. Freezing B’s t shirts has means that we now do our laundry only once every 2 weeks, instead of once a week.  This is a big saving of water, as our machine uses about 60 liters for a wash.

Using the right detergent is important too. For some reason our front loader machine produces very dirty water that gets stinky very quickly, if you’re catching it in a bucket and intend to use it to flush the toilet, like we do. Washing our clothes in Pro Bac detergent (pictured above) helps, as it has the necessary enzymes and probiotics to deal with the stink-causing bacteria, and it means the water can stand for a bit longer before it smells like the thing from the black lagoon. Pro Bac is also not harmful to the environment, so I’m fulfilling my first two priorities, health and environmental sustainability.

I’ve experimented with using rain and grey water in our front loading washing machine. Perfectly possible. I just pour it into the soap dispenser until the pump stops going and the washing cycle starts. It does mean hanging around to fill the machine again between rinses, but I have a plan about that too…watch this space 🙂

Washing dishes.

Washing dishes only once a day means piles of dirty things attracting flies. To prevent that, I pile everything into a container with a lid.  This container doesn’t only stop the flies, but it is also such a pretty colour that gives me shock of colour-happiness every time I see it.

We also have a furry pre-dishwashing machine called Pippin.

It’s a hard job, but he’s up for the challenge! Once he’s cleaned out all the juices and bits, it means I can give the dishes a thorough wash with soap and water without the water getting quite so dirty quite so quickly.

Dishes get washed in a plastic bowl that fits inside the sink so that none of the water goes down the drain, and we can use it to flush the toilet. Remember to check the murky water for lurking teaspoons. There’s something profoundly disturbing about having to fish cutlery out of your toilet.

Dishes get rinsed in another plastic bowl. These bowls get greasy and dirty, and that can be a health hazard. I pop the bowls, along with the washing up sponge, into the microwave and zap them for a minute or so to kill any bacteria. I also wipe the bowls out with…wait for it…vinegar. This also keeps the flies away.  Also notice the Pro Bac dishwashing liquid.  Using this means that I can use the greywater from washing dishes to water my plants.

Dish water can be very dirty. You can’t really keep it for more than a few hours before it becomes a stinky, oily, bacterial soup. Water that’s too dirty for the toilet (it does happen!) goes onto our plants.

Once we no longer have municipal water, we’ll have to find other ways to deal with dirty dishes. Eating straight out of the pot, maybe? I don’t want to use paper plates if I can avoid it. I don’t have a place I can burn them, and I don’t like the idea of adding to the pollution level.  I’ve already started thinking about what food to buy and cook. It’s ironic that the very foods that are easy to store in bulk, like rice, pasta, and oats, are also the ones that need the most water to cook.

So that’s the most important lessons I’ve learned so far. I hope somebody finds this useful.

Now, all we can do is wait to see what happens and try not to get too worried about this situation. Best thing: I found a beautiful place nearby our house where I can walk Pippin, surrounded with water 🙂


Just a note: I moderate comments here very closely. This is not a free-speech zone. I will delete any comment that isn’t kind, helpful, or positive.



Update: writing progress

Some of you have read my books The Babylon Eye and The Real and are waiting for the third in the series, which I’m planning to call The Strange. But things are not going so well. Usually by this time of year, I’m finished with the first draft and deep into re-writing. This time, not so much.
I’ve never had so much trouble with a book before and I think I’ve finally figured out why. I don’t think this is one book. I can’t seem to compress the story into a single volume. There’s just too much going on. I’ve been frustrating myself in trying to find a way to bring the story to a conclusion, when it actually needs to play itself out.

What’s probably going to happens is that either The Strange is going to be much longer than the first two, or its going to be two books (“Strange” and “Stranger”?). Either way, my dreams of launching early next year have evaporated.

For those of you who have read the first two books, I can let you know that Meisje the cyber-dog gets her own point of view again like she does in the first book, Elke gets a whole new love interest who might actually be a nice person for a change, and of course, we see quite a lot more of the Strange world.

Launching soon: “The Real”

If you are in Cape Town on the 16th of February, come to the launch of The Real, the sequel to The Babylon Eye. We’ll be at The Field Office coffee shop, 34 Salisbury Road, on Thursday 16 February at 6pm.  My other novels will be available, including The Babylon Eye (in print for the first time) and a discount will be given to anyone who has purchased either The Real or The Babylon Eye in e-book.

Book description:

The Muara. A ruined sea-side resort, shattered by the weather, buried in sand. Three children scavenge a living on the abandoned beaches and in the sand-swamped houses. This is their home and its desolation is their security…but their safety is an illusion. 
Under the sands of the Muara, in an underground room, is a secret that could destroy them and everything they know.




The layers of language in The Babylon Eye

Several people who’ve read The Babylon Eye have asked about the languages used in the book. I put quite a lot of thought and research into that aspect of the world building. This explanation of my process will probably make more sense if you’ve read the book!

I wonder how many readers picked up on the fact that while the book is written in English it is really, as it were, translated from whatever language the characters in this alternate world actually speak. They never refer to their own language as English. One clue is that every now and then one of them will consider another character to be rather “anglo”, suggesting that they don’t think of themselves as anglophone. This is my own private joke, as I have an allergy to people who think of English as the default language, and consider all other languages to be foreign, no matter the country or context.

I decided early on in the planning process that the world I was creating would be very similar to ours but that its history would have some significant differences. These differences don’t have a direct impact on the plot but they do shape the world and especially the names and words used.

For example in the world of the book, Germany  won the First World War and the United States doesn’t exist, being a collection of smaller countries. The Second World War never happened and  at the time the story is set in, Prussia is still one of the dominant powers although some of the American countries have been gaining influence over the last decades.

Closer to home, South Africa (called Nieu Batavia in this world) was never a British colony but stayed Dutch until it gained its independence. This had an impact on the names of places and people.  The character names tend to be Dutch or Germanic rather than British, for example the main character Elke is diminutive of Adelheid which is a German name and her surname is Dutch. Some of the place names are Malay (this is more apparent in the second book, The Real). Dutch titles like mejuffrou (which means miss) and meinheer (the equivalent of mister) are used for ordinary people, while the high status Prussian characters retain their German “Frau” and “Herr”.

The names for the different castes of Strangers, (the people from the other world), are all words that mean “ghost”. Geist is Germanic, glim is middle English and eidolon is Greek.  This suggests that these terms were chosen by people from our own world rather than being official strangeworld titles, probably chosen to match some the unpronounceable strangeworld equivalents.

The first Strangers who contacted people from our world used a form of Latin. This is a clue that there must have been contact between the worlds before, and that the Strangers’ culture is not utterly alien to our own. Of course, Latin wasn’t necessarily their mother tongue, but a bridging language they knew we would be able to understand. Many of the names of things in the Eye itself are influenced by Latin, for example the dexter and sinister states of the Eye, and the soluster, the chandelier-like light that lights up the main levels of the Babylon Eye. Even the cubbies, the tiny living quarters of most of the population of the Eye, is rooted in the Latin word cubile.

On the other hand, the slang and the swearwords used by the working people in the Eye is a little different. For that I mixed in a lot of Polish, Zulu, Afrikaans, Russian and Spanish, based on the idea that the mechanics, cleaners, drivers and other workers would have come from all over the world.  Since the Eye has quite a communal culture and was, originally at least, to have a open and non-hierarchical structure, the working people had a say in the running of the Eye and its customs. This is reflected in the official terminology. For example the court, the body that is responsible for hearing legal cases, is called a “stolik” which is the Polish world for “table”.

The names people call themselves differ from what other people call them and reflect their status. The lowest of the Stranger castes, the untattoed ones, are called “weeds” and “blanks” and other rude names by those who shun them, but they refer to themselves as Fugado, the fugitives. Using “blanks” (in this context, referring to somebody without tattoos to signal their status) as a insult was another in-joke, a play on “blanke”, a term which has a completely different meaning in Afrikaans, being a term for a white person and which is not usually considered and insult.

I could go on! There is so much more. I’m busy with the third book in the series now and have a whole new universe of titles, place-names and slang to figure out. I’ve been digging around in Somalian, Arabic, Assyrian, Yiddish, and some of the other ancient languages for inspiration. Only a small part of this shows in the finished book, of course, but I hope that it helps to make the world feel richer and more real.

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