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Short Sharp Stories

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Die Laughing Teaser: Q&A with Lester Walbrugh

Screen Shot 2016-10-17 at 9.10.38 AMLester Walbrugh is from the town of Grabouw in the Western Cape, where he was raised and schooled. He has inherited his father’s zeal for karaoke but none of his talent; he is a wannabe cook who has all his mother’s recipes but little of her innate sense; he is a brother who keeps reminding his two siblings that no matter what, he is still the eldest and will always know better. An aimless wanderer who has worn more discordant hats than is proper, he has recently, after a couple of false starts, taken to writing again. He hopes that ‘Homeful’ is the first of many published stories.

Apart from teaching English, and writing short stories to keep sane, he is also plotting a move back home. He lives in Tokyo.

 

What is your take on humour SA-style?

SA humour stems from probably the best place comedy could – from the often hopeless and dire circumstances all of us, at any one time, have found ourselves in. We’re at our best when we can poke fun and laugh at each other, and at ourselves. And, I’m not sure if this is a South African sensibility – I’m pretty sure it’s universal – but there’s nothing like the feeling of delight you get after being taken down a long, dark tunnel and finding the familiar, in a witty turn of phrase, waiting at the other end.

 

Your DIE LAUGHING story, ‘Homeful’ is a madcap adventure of three homeless people. The ‘Three Musketeers’ — Lappies, Shirley and Charles — agree to do a favour for a German businessman and end up having an experience which changes them all.

 

Were you a street person (asked in jest!) before you left for Japan where you now have a home?

Isn’t there some kind of advice given to writers just starting out: ‘Write what you know’? In this case, I didn’t heed it. I lean more to the other camp. Write what you have no clue about — that way you might learn something.

I’ve lived in Japan for eight years. It’s home as much as South Africa is. Quite nice, that.

 

This is a delightful story with a serious thread. The unlikely trio move in to a luxury mansion in the absence of the owner and have a ball using the facilities. But this world of wealth, of the elite, does not provide comfort… How did you go about creating this set up?

I thought it would be interesting to place the characters in this house and see what comes out of it. Their story was never meant to create a comment on our social make-up. I cared about the dignity of the characters. That was foremost in my mind when writing this story.

It was important to me that the characters kept this, their humanity, and not deteriorate to become cardboard cut-outs. Sometimes dignity is the only thing they have left. They entered the house thinking, like all of us, that the grass is greener on the other side, but like all of us, they learnt better.

 

The narrative also reveals the ‘race’ issue, as Lappies accuses Charles of being a ‘white’ bergie, and thus not the real deal. That said, the characters regard one another with genuine affection. Why did you tackle this loaded issue?

I wanted to address the racism and the consequential frustration that exists within the coloured community. “You can’t jazz, so you can’t be coloured.” And “You don’t know the best place to get a Gatsby, are you sure you’re a coloured?” There is a lot of pressure out there to conform. At school I would have a lily-white girl with straight hair and blue eyes sitting on my left, and a dark-as-the-night boy on my right. They’d both be ‘coloured’ under Apartheid. We’d call them names at which you would now cringe but at the end the affection grew from the culture and similar lifestyle. Same with Lappies and Charles.

 

The playful language, the banter, is hilarious. References to, for example, die sedooskak gedagtesdie Hereen die naai pepper the prose. Would you agree that Afrikaans enables a certain kind of straight-forward expression?

A friend once mentioned how eavesdropping on the drunken banter of the bergies on the town plain on Saturday afternoons got her hooked on language and its possibilities. She described how these homeless would bend and stretch the Afrikaans language to its limits so it would fit their torrid lives, often with hilarious results. I wanted to bring some of that inventiveness and vitality to this story.

Afrikaans does allow you to be direct. It’s the culture. Our language is connected to that. The Japanese people would frown upon the bluntness. It’s considered crude. After an hour long conversation you could still be in the dark as to what your partner’s views actually are, but there are hints if you know what to look for. Again, their language is reflected in their culture. It serves it. I’m Afrikaans. I usually say it like it is. Or like I think it is, anyway.

 

Why did you decide on ‘Homeful’ as a title?  Does ‘Homeful’ imply the opposite of homeless?

The abovementioned friend is brilliant. She suggested it and held me hostage until I caved. But, no, seriously, there was no other title, really. It’s short. It’s sharp. (No, I didn’t just do that!)

 

The Short.Sharp.Stories are drawing entries from an international pool of South Africans. How did you hear about the competition?

I live on the internet so I have known about the competition for some time. I’ve not read the first two editions. However, when I visited SA last year I bought the previous anthology, INCREDIBLE JOURNEY, and took it with me. I enjoyed it and decided to try my luck.

 

Does this competition offer something appealing? 

The money, of course. That would’ve been nice. But after being long-listed, then short-listed followed by the editing process, I didn’t care about the money anymore. The experience itself is worth so much more. Then there’s the exposure. This is a great initiative for anyone who writes and wants to get a foot in the door.

 

On a personal note, your twitter account is @ KreefKerrie. On Facebook you interact as Lester Hashimoto. How does living in Tokyo affect that identity? Where does the Walbrugh fit in?

I’ve always been guarded about the extent to which my online profiles match my real identity. Tokyo heightened that sense. People there rarely, if ever, use their real names online. Facebook changed that a little but the general wariness to share any personal details still persists. Then there’s that ever-present fear of failure. If I bomb then I can say, cowardly, “It wasn’t me.” I’ve used my real name for this story, of course!

 

As a kid from Grabouw, a small South African town, how did you spread your wings? And how did you become interested in writing fiction? 

I’ve been a reader from a young age. I got it from my mother, who reads everything. She’s also given me the freedom to do whatever I wanted. I’ve been very fortunate. After school there was university, which opened up a whole new world, then a love for travel and new challenges followed.

I started writing because my stories weren’t being told. A few write about the coloured experience from a female perspective, an area which seems well represented. I did a search for coloured writers, specifically male, who had written fictional pieces about the coloured experience in South Africa, and came up with these names, titans, but all dead: Adam Small; Richard Rive; Alex La Guma; Chris van Wyk. I’ve only recently become aware of poets like Athol Williams.

It needs to change. I might not be the one to do it, it is quite a lofty ideal, but I can try. There are kids in SA who need their own stories, stories they can relate to. Then there is the slim possibility of money, of course. I hope to make a lot of it.

 

What is next for you in the writing arena? 

I hope to get a few books published. Then write again, until the day I die. (Laughing)
Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 9.00.45 AMBook Details:
Editor Joanne Hichens
Foreword Evita Bezuidenhout
ISBN / EAN 9780994680518
Publication date July 2016
Buy the book here!

 

 

 

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