“The first thing I notice is that the Tipuana tree is gone. I remember the vast reach of its strong curvy limbs, the perfect thumb-print rows of leaves, whirling helicopter seed pods, and the exuberant yellow, crumpled-tissue-paper flowers that used to litter the ground beneath it.”
Now considered an invasive plant in South Africa, this import from Brazil and Bolivia was once commonly grown in suburban gardens. Its large size and thirsty root system mean that it often competes with indigenous species, especially along river banks, where it can cause considerable lessening in water-flow.
The canopies of these trees are the favoured home of ‘spitting bugs’ (more romantically called ‘rain-tree nymphs) which consume large amounts of tree sap, and subsequently secrete the excess fluid which they froth up with their butts (this just keep getting better, doesn’t it?) and then use to cover themselves to prevent water loss and keep their temperatures stable. Quite a bit of this ‘spittle’ drips down on unsuspecting shade-seekers.
I wrote sitting up in bed with my laptop balanced on my duvet. Morning birdsong, sleepy breathing and purring cats were the soundtrack, very at odds with the story I was trying to tell.
Tragically, the whilst writing the last chapters of BLACK DOG SUMMER, a friend’s father was murdered in a botched robbery. It gave painfully fresh insight into the fallout experienced by a family after such a violent loss.
IF I’D KNOWN WHAT I WAS EMBARKING ON BEFORE BEGINNING THIS BOOK, I’D HAVE BEEN TOO TERRIFIED TO WRITE IT…
What did I know of how it feels to die? How could I speak of watching those you’ve left behind battle a shadowed entity spawned by your violent murder, hungry for chaos? How could I even begin to touch on Africa’s ancient and intricate mysticism?
I couldn’t. I still can’t. But now I know what it means to have tried, to have journeyed further into imagining than I thought possible and emerge, altered, on the other side. It has been an extraordinary adventure, and perhaps I am a little less cowardly now that it is done.
WHEN I WAS LITTLE, THERE WAS A MASSACRE ON A RURAL FARM THAT RESULTED IN THE DEATH OF SOMEONE I KNEW…
It was the first time my life was touched by violence and it affected me deeply.
BLACK DOG SUMMER was born from the fears and questions that had been plaguing me since. The fact that farm murders still happen in Southern Africa today made my need to tell the story both more pressing, and more daunting.