I formulated the terrain of the story and sketched the central characters while travelling through Namibian wilderness with my husband and Ian & Sharon McCallum.
We spent a month in a dramatic landscape transformed by particularly good rains. Golden grasses had turned to green and the rivers were full and joyous. The whole journey was one of simplicity, depth, reflection, poetry and star-spangled nights where even the Magelenic Clouds were visible to the naked eye. Without cell-phone coverage, the outer world grew diminished and irrelevant.
Following my usual method of composition, I wrote the opening and closing chapters, in order to ‘secure’ the boundaries of the story, but then I put my notebook aside, deciding not to write the novel at all. It was to be a dark work, a Tragedy, and I presumed it would not find much response from publishers or agents.
Since then, over the years, the story has ‘lent with force’ against me and the characters have hovered at my door with quiet insistence. Latterly they entered my office, my creative hours and my dreams, requesting that I be gracious enough to grant them life.
So intense was their presence that I realised, obviously, that only I could give them life, could give their story life, because I had created the template of their existence in the first place. Whether or not the work ‘went anywhere’; whether or not it would be accepted for publication, I was duty bound to give life to what I had seeded.
So, beginning in July this year, and over a period of 40 days, I woke up each morning before dawn and wrote the daily 1 000 words that have led to the core manuscript of The Inn at Hellsvlakte.
I’ve never worked with such characters before – strong, purposeful people who wanted to exist, who wanted their story told and who are all still here in my room while I polish and embellish and work with the extreme and absolute colours of their world and relationships.
The lesson? Authorship is not just about getting published. It’s about being responsible to the craft. If you’re going to start telling a story, you’d better finish it.
Here is the cast of characters. Theirs is a love story. A tragedy. A tale of war and of the crafty engineers behind all war. I have given them life and am exhausted now.
The Captain: Ulysses Malan
The Inn Keeper: Jon Jonker
The Inn Keeper’s Wife: Katinka ‘Kitty’ Cloete
The Inn Keeper’s Lover: Tana Jonkertjie
The Great-Aunt: Eugenie Cloete
The Young Man: Regal van der Stel
The Army Chaplain: Gabriel Grobler
The Archivist: Ariel Liebowitz
The Procurer: William Blythe Morris
The Transporter: Boaz Apelbaum
The Housekeeper: Iaga Klaasen
The Chief of Defence: General Quintus Winter
The Inn Staff: Klas, Kapi & Meita Jonkertjie
The Three Military Commissioners
The Military Artist
Various members of the Janse, Cloete and Van der Stel households
Various minor players
The Inn at Hellsvlakte
Unpublished manuscript 2014
Image: Albrecht Durer. Four riders of the Apocalypse