The Lord Milner School magazine featured my first poem; the following epic:
Oh great thing, what are you?
Where do you come from and what do you do?
I come from Australia, and hop without failure!
And if that’s not enough of a clue, then I have to say I’m a kangaroo.
That must have been when I was about nine. Just before that, I completed my first novel. I lost it in my many moves, years later. It was twelve pages long; two pages per chapter, and these were headed before I started writing. I don’t remember what it was about except that some kids were ‘napped by two baddy brothers named Ted and Edward Beakenbone. Well, I didn’t know, did I? Bills and Williams, Richards and Dicks and all that stuff…
There followed a steady output thereafter, very little of which I have kept. However, the other day I found four stories, one of which was entirely unreadable as it had got wet at some stage. One wrote with soluble ink, in those days…
Reading the others, I was struck by a couple of things.
Firstly, that I could remember nothing of the plots, but I knew most of the characters. What a sneaky coward! The main character in all of them rode into the sunset with girls that were recognisably girls that I had adored from a distance and been too shy or gauche to attract in life!
Secondly, and we are talking about 1962-1964 here, as a white lad of 15 to 17, in Apartheid South Africa, that although the antagonists in the adventures were ‘terrorists’ and black, they were painted as being duped by the real enemy, who were the Russian instructors, agents provocateurs. Do you understand where I am coming from? It was not a black/white issue, even then, despite the indoctrination.
André Joubert, a gentle soul whom I got to know in recent years, a long-time, pre-1994 member of the currently ruling ANC, was a teacher at the local school here in Haarlem, South Africa. I asked him to review my manuscript of ‘The Barros Pawns’, a novel about South African mercenaries in an emerging Mozambique in the ‘70s, in which the protagonists were discussing their black/white childhood memories. André expressed disbelief that we had been as sympathetic, albeit ignorant, of the frustration of black South Africans in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Reading my early, clumsy, stories, I am relieved to see that there was very little malice, at least from English-speaking whites that I knew well. Remember, too, that the Government of the time was not of our choice. That said, I do think that we mostly believed that the black majority was not ready to govern the country. The model displayed in Neville Shute’s ‘In the Wet’ of a multiple vote system seemed to me to be a hugely sensible idea.
I still think so. All over the world.