archive - issue 14

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  • /

    By Ruth Barker
    On the QWERTY layout of my computer keyboard, the symbol / appears beside the questioning symbol ?. They are represented together on the same key, and
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  • Apartment / Containers

    By Vincent Bezuidenhout
    These diptychs are the start of a series of images I have been working on regarding the visual landscape we choose to surround ourselves
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  • I returned home after my first year in college to discover my younger sister had turned gorgeous. This was a disappointment, but not an
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  • Butterfly

    By Adriana de Barros
    The pupa, a silk wrap of emotionsIsolated, within breathing, wanting to bethe intense pronoun of selfIt is silly to be one's own pronounShe giggles
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  • Collage

    By Claudio Parentela
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  • Drag and Snap

    By Leigh-Anne Niehaus
    This series is inspired by the childhood game of "snapdragon", which allows for simplistic and delightful decision-making through random selections of colour and number.
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  • Evidence of Life

    By Tamlyn Martin
    Below is an extract from a series of 11 poems created in parallel with visual artworks. 5. Memories laced with visceral realityFlooding herThe gentle
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  • Forward! Slash!

    By Travis Lyle
    You think you're a forward-thinking kinda person, do you? Lemme be the one to break it to you, sunshine – you're as lame as the
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  • Human/Nature

    By Lydia Anne McCarthy
    This series explores moments between nature and human beings that are at once idealistic and unsettling. Each picture is an independent narrative, but placed
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  • Immigrants

    By Stanley Onjezani Kenani
    you want to livenothing leaveto liveyou swimor like fresh sardinesyou are packedin boatsyou leaveto live.  you leavegold in the belly of Africaoil in
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  • In Between

    By Tania van Schalkwyk
    Raised in an Arabian land of heat, fire and temper,sometimes the calm of England clamps downlike damp in a bathroom with no windowand a
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  • Letter to the Editor

    By Elan Gamaker
    Dear Sir/Madam I should like strenuously to object to the subject matter ("/") of your current issue. It must first be mentioned, however, that it
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  • Or: a line drawing

    By Gabeba Baderoon
    Pencil and nothing. Her face turned almost entirely away. Forehead, cheekbone,jaw,the bun low in her neck,shoulderand down,the long linejust enoughthen left alone.
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  • p u n c t u a t i o n

    By Ula Einstein
    Einstein works with a diverse range of media, including drawings and installation with fire, thread, and blades. The series of drawings and installations with
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    By Sean Hampton-Cole
    Keys. John speaking. 'Lo?Good morning. May I speak to Bob Mitchell please?Bob in Bonds?I'm not really sure. I'm trying to...You want extension 125. This
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  • Pretty Babies

    By Peregrine Honig
    With the premise that "/ " presents what is IN and what is OUT, the "Pretty Babies" series explores the fashion industry's well-published and syndicated DOs
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  • River Bank

    By Mario Sughi
    The symbol / is intended initially as a symbol of division. A real or unreal line divides the girl from the water, the girl from
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  • Scissor

    By Charlotte Gait
    There was a time when you and I were connected by iron, acid, vitamin and blood. Where every mouthful I took was with the
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  • Seasaw

    By Sol Kjøk
    Here, the motif is conceived of as a seesaw (the typo in the title is intended, as this drawing is part of a series
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  • Series Seven Up

    By Noel Fignier
    Text by João Branco Kyron, HipnóticaThe collision is imminent and in the fraction of time left, the eyes shut and the vision is superbly
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  • A battle over samoosas between the snobbish Cinderella and a homeless electrician is mediated by Cinderella's boyfriend JJ. The samoosa battle is conflated with
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  • Wayne Porter, freelance journalist, donned his anthropologist's birthday suit and hit the bowling alley. Bar the bowlers hat tipped gently off centre, the man
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  • The Incised Wound

    By Joanne Hichens
    "Please, for me, Dave," I placed my hand on his, and really, no begging, just asked him nicely, "Lay off the booze tonight." Whether
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  • He had been driving for hours through that unstable, somnambulist night when he fell asleep at the wheel. He awoke with a start and
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  • The space between.

    By Mehita Iqani
    It's a handy little line, the one that we use to make our options known. Either/Or. Paper and ink or binary code? Its clichéd,
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  • Un Hombre Fuerte

    By Tamo Vonarim Written these words are, at times of a subconscious flow – whether they are mine, I don't know. All I know is that I
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  • Unbroken Awareness

    My life is now a floating shellI am a vessel on that river.The storm, the ship, the sea,Whose shores we lost in crossing.  I
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  • Untitled

    By Wilhelm Saayman
    This series of images, made using pen and ink, photographs and Photoshop, explore alternate/dream realities.
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  • Untitled

    By Aryan Kaganof
    /At R550 rand I thought I'd rather die/ My mother: can I trust this woman?/ I thought the Romans were coming, dinkum/ …and always
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Monday, 30 April 2012 02:00

Divine Justice

By  Moira Richards
"We are all alike, on the inside." (Mark Twain, 1835-1910)

Moira Richards in conversation with author, Joanne Hichens, about her zinger of a new crime novel, Divine Justice

Rae Valentine, at the wrong end of a broken relationship, is making sense of her life and of her new career as a private investigator based in Cape Town. She's a tough woman and pretty ruthless about wrenching her personal life back on track but the day job brings her up close against a cross-section of the creepiest and deadliest of South Africa's low-life

Rae must learn to shoot fast and to think even faster and the best help she can get is from reading detective novels and modelling herself on Kinsey Millhone - the trouble-busting PI in Sue Grafton's long-running 'Alphabet Series'. I love reading fiction with feisty protagonists and there's certainly no room for wimpy women in this krimi!

moi: Hi Joanne, after reading Divine Justice, I'd hate to think Twain is right - your baddies are really nasty characters. You've managed to dilute their creepy, skin-crawling-ness by playing them slightly over the top in a way that strips them of some of their gravitas/dignity. This also helps distance us from them to some extent. We can't ignore the threats of such evil in our society, but you do give the reader chance to dismiss its affect - to help us not get sucked down by the weight of ugliness. A krimi is, after all, entertainment and not a sociological treatise I guess ☺

Joanne: I wanted to show baddies JP, Christoff, and Alex for what they are - despicable racists - and because of that, I couldn't be squeamish about their racist sentiment. I found though, as I wrote, that I got bogged down by their inherent evilness, by the callousness of their words and actions. I had to diminish them in some way, so introduced an element of humour, albeit black humour, to alleviate the tension. Christoff is always sneaking the brandewyn, and JP is in love with his BlackBerry, revelling in 'intellectual conversations' on hate sites: 'no ways im in 2 the lartay cupachino nutmeg story or any kind of brown...'

I prodded and teased them so they show themselves up as out-of-control bigots. These extremist-types exist in every race group and culture, although here I've shown up the white supremacist. Yes, crime-fiction is entertainment, but it also definitely makes comment on society, no two ways about it. And reality oftentimes leaves us squirming.

moi: It's quite a balancing act to convey bigoted characters, and have them say such hateful things, and keep it clear their perspectives are the perspectives of the characters and not, uncomfortably for the reader, as that of the narrative 'norm' to which the reader kind of has to subscribe to.

Joanne: I'm not surprised some readers may find bits of the in-your-face language difficult to swallow. Sure, it can be uncomfortable to read racist dialogue. We're so attuned to fighting racism, to condemning hate speech in no uncertain terms, that to have the crass and crude blatantly dished up could be considered an affront by sensitive readers. Then again hard-hitting crime fiction ain't for quivering ninnies. Thing to remember is that, as author, my intention was to create the worst of the baddies.

To my mind these are scum who cause havoc and kill for no other reason than their complete contempt for the 'other'. Their fear of race groups or religions different to their own, adding to their warped insistence that they are 'more equal', leads to utterly reprehensible behaviour. The Boyz spew hate, wanting to 'rid the world of Rabinowitzes, Khumalos and Abdullahs of every kind.'

Writing authentically from their perspective doesn't mean that I, as author, agree with their views - it means I'm attempting to be consistent in developing character. I jumped into the heads of evil men to connect with their beliefs. I allowed myself to conduit their racist rubbish in order to show these nihilistic, ridiculous excuses for men at their worst and most destructive.

And the Boyz operate against a backdrop of xenophobia, 'homeboys driving out the makwerekwere', so they become in a sense, a microcosm of what actually goes on in society.

moi: You seemed to have a lot of fun with Trudie (maybe a whole lot more fun than she got to have) and I felt a little sorry for her...

Joanne: Oh yeah, I had fun with her. Trudie 'sweetcakes', Arno's pomp, is one of those buxom, blousy, over-the-top women with a little theatre to them. On one hand she's a respected business woman, but reveals her 'secret' personality on farcebook, as many users unwittingly do. She exposes herself as a bit of a vamp. She is manipulated, suffers in a sick game of greed and poor thing, she gets caught up in her warped fantasies.

I know I've pushed some sexual boundaries. The baddies for instance, true to form, make ignorant and sexist statements such as 'One thing the Slaams have got right, at least women know their fucking place.' This exposes their general attitude of disdain towards women. They see women as not only second class citizens, but objectify and use and abuse them. And of course my women aren't innocent of playing sexual games either.

It was Camille Paglia who postulated sex is power and all power is inherently aggressive. She wrote: 'Rape is the sexual expression of the will-to-power, which nature plants in all of us and which civilisation rose to maintain...' She goes on to say that rape is a crime of violence and of sex, that rape is not merely power masquerading as sex. In my opinion, as I subtly explore feminist issues, I begin to agree with her. Sex and violence are closely linked. Sex is as powerful a motivator as hate.

Now, I hate to admit it, but in the final analysis I really did have fun with the baddies. I wonder what that says about me... perhaps I have criminal genes in my heritage. It's true I find it more difficult to write the rounded, deeper, more believable characters, like Rae. One has to probe further into heart-felt characterisation, whereas with the baddies one can poke fun, which is what I did with Trudie: a 'pushover for bubbly' then hot sex.

moi: I love Rae, and following the 'pulling herself up by the armpits' journey she shares during the novel.

Joanne: Rae is sassy and sexy, and as 'coloured, an amputee, and female' she fits every government spec for equal opportunity. Writing Rae gives me the scope to explore this very question of equality as on all fronts she is challenged by society's perceptions and beliefs. I've brought into the mix the 'coloured' as previously disadvantaged, plus physical disability which too often renders people invisible, and of course I explore the limitations that seem to be part of a woman's lot.

As Rae is one-legged, she does sometimes literally have to pull herself up by the armpits. Yeah, without her prosthesis, she is pretty much stuck when it comes to getting about, pretty much unequal. Pretty much having to struggle and drag herself around!

It was fun to develop an alternative and whacky girlfriend-type for her soon-to-be ex - she's had it with Mullet Mendes' commitment phobia. The physical disability, a consequence of drug abuse, renders her vulnerable and strong at the same time. She's vulnerable in the sense that as an ex-addict she has to constantly guard against the lure of addiction, be conscious of the part of her that wants, needs, oblivion. In her own words: 'You alienate everyone who ever loved you. It's a bloody hard road back.' Especially as she obsesses about an attack that happened in the past: '...the bastard running his tongue up her cheek, his sour breath coming at her, a flick-knife slashed...' She gains strength through the process of recovery, and love.

I realised that in making this choice, I'd have to get into Rae's skin, fill her shoe, so to speak, and really get a better understanding of how the peg-leg disability affects her functioning. I read Natalie Du Toit's biography and the Leslie Swarts memoir Able-bodied, and have generally been more aware of disability. I will never park in a spot for the disabled (not that I ever have) but I find myself a sort of advocate for the disabled as I become aware of the difficulties of getting around and the lack of facilities available.

But disabled isn't unable. Disability does not equate with inability.

I really had to come to grips with how Rae might she be treated differently, how she'd feel about herself. At one stage I tried hopping for half an hour (in private on a non slip surface) and found it exhausting and dehumanising, a huge effort. I did it again in public, on the beach in soft sand - no mean feat - and endured stares and a certain humiliation.

In consultation with a rehab therapist specialising in helping amputees cope with the loss of a limb, I learned about the physical issues - phantom limb pain, needing to keep the stump clean and free of infection. The kinds of strains that are placed on hip joints. Rae has to eat right and exercise. I want her to. She's a good woman, she's gotta to take care of herself.

My take is every one of us has a vulnerability. Alcoholism, drug addiction, whatever flaw is part of our make-up simply points to the same thing - human frailty. So we can all relate to Rae on this level.

moi: I love too, that you have your fictional Rae, turning to another fictional character (Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone) as role model. V.I. Warshawski alludes to Millhone too, in one of Sarah Paretsky's whodunnits, but just fleetingly - you've developed the device to produce a wonderful sense of krimi intertextuality.

Joanne: Rae Valentine is really a pretty hopeless PI. Not only does she struggle with her skill set, though she's a crack shot - takes after me, might I add! - I realised that as author, I knew precious little about private investigation, even after reading plenty crime novels! It was either do a PI course, or turn to what I do know, which is crime fiction. So that's what I did, making reference to smart and savvy Kinsey, and other fictional sleuths including one of my fave Elmore Leonard characters, self-assured bounty hunter Karen Cisco.

Acknowledging upfront that Rae is not your typical PI let me off the hook too. I hope I won't have readers breathing down my neck saying, 'You know nothing about the investigation business!' Rae learns to rely on instinct and wit. She'll have to keep reading the great crime authors if she wants to get anywhere in this biz though!

moi: I'm often amazed, but never surprised by what I learn about the police in krimi books. You got me in Divine Justice though - some of the police people in your novel really surprised me. I'm not sure I want to think too closely about the intersection of concepts such as 'ethical' and 'good' but it was nice to find myself caught out when all became clear at the end.

Joanne: Ethical, referring to principles, moral conduct; ethics, the rules of an organisation which keep it operating, as in the case of the Police service, for the greater good. As far as police men and women go, each operates on a different level underscored by whatever moral values have been entrenched. Although one hopes that the underlying set of moral values is consistent in police, some police are more intrinsically 'good' than others, some follow an ethical code more precisely.

I show my police men and women as beings with foibles. And let's be realistic - SAPS has plenty of weakness! In reality some police are as corrupt, even as hate-filled as my baddies. Whether police actually behave in the way they do in Divine Justice or not, is moot, as these are fiction people after all. My job is to suspend disbelief. As long as the reader believes the characters are authentic - that police could actually behave this way - then my job is done.

moi: My husband got to the review copy of Divine Justice before me, and as I've noted before his taste in fiction is often very different to mine. He loved your book but said he was disappointed with the ending. I loved the ending although I found some parts in the book very difficult to read.

Joanne: With a brutal in-your-face take, I show hate for the destructive emotion it is.

And sure, women might prefer the just-desserts ending more than men. Women - and this is a generalisation - like a clean house. Perhaps it has something to do with the maternal instinct. Wanting to protect. I know increasingly I want a 'happier' ending. After embarking on this story, falling deeper into it, I felt compelled to work towards justice. Though before justice is meted out, there's all sorts of controversy and unpleasantness to face.

Andrew Marjoribanks of Wordsworth Books commented recently on what he regards as the 'masculinity' of the novel, that he was surprised a woman had written it. I write hard-boiled crime fiction, strong on story. Hard-hitting, following through on every level from style to dialogue. His comment brings up the age-old notion that men and women write differently. I prefer to think that my writing is based on a long tradition of crime writing. My style reflects the kind of writing which most interests me most. Direct. Taut. With an element of Noir. Women may well have different sensibilities, and explore different ground, but there are female writers out there, Vicki Hendricks, Kathy Acker, who write like a punch in the gut.

This is the power of crime fiction - to show crime as catalytically catastrophic not only in the individual life, but in society. As sentient beings we're equal, needing love, care, to be treated with dignity. We feel hate and rage, but it's what we do with these emotions that elevates the good from the bad.  

Divine Justice by Joanne Hichens
Burnet Media, 2011
ISBN: 9-780987-005809

Joanne Hichens is crime-thriller author of Divine Justice, the first in the Rae Valentine series. She is also opinion writer, memoirist, mother, lover, sister, daughter, wife, not necessarily in that order. Her first novel was Out To Score (co-authored) was followed by Stained, a Young Adult novel short-listed for the Sanlam Literature Award. She compiled and edited Bad Company, a collection of South African crime-thriller fiction short stories, and The Bed Book of Short Stories, a collection of fiction stories by African women. As journalist she's written for various publications including Oprah magazine, Real Simple, Itch, Wordsetc, The Sunday Independent and the Cape Times daily newspaper. She currently lives in Cape Town, where as part of her multi-tasking, she is busy writing her next Rae Valentine novel. Find her on facebook or at her website
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