My life so far in nine paragraphs
I was born the eldest son of a church minister, a gentle man with many talents and a healthy passion for life. He once said he'd never grow tired of living because he was too curious to see what would happen next. During the apartheid era he chose to fight from within the church, believing he could change the hearts and minds of his segregated congregations through his work and actions. My parents didn't have to teach us about the wrongs of our unjust society: thanks to their example we considered all people equal and worthy of respect and compassion.
We were brought up on a strict cultural diet of Encyclopaedia Britannica for fact-finding, my classically trained mother singing at the piano or playing the organ in church, Handel and Bach on the hi-fi on Sundays and excursions from the small towns where we lived to see opera and plays in the nearest cities. Before TV arrived at last in the mid-seventies, my father would also rent silent movies from the public library, introducing us to the flickering magic of anything from Laurel & Hardy shorts to the melodrama of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
In my teens I once peeked through the open back door of a concert hall and saw Rick Wakeman on the stage, tuning his stacks of synths for that evening's show. We couldn't afford tickets, but just watching him and listening to the wild, wonderful sounds blasting from the massive speakers was enough to get me hooked on electronic music. I used part of my first student loan to buy a tiny keyboard and started writing songs.
Just after I got my first degree, a local author told me I was illiterate. I was stunned and decided to read as many classics as I could. The Nobel laureates seemed to make a good reading list and even now I try out every new winner. I discovered that two of the key ingredients in great writing were craftsmanship and showing instead of telling. It was a realisation that paid off when I became a full-time journalist.
In the '80s I wrote poetry and short stories while getting fired up by the growing sense that change was finally coming. I recorded one of my own songs and it was picked as the title track for a compilation of alternative Afrikaans music. Voëlvry (“outlawed”) the album and tour added to the air of excitement among young South Africans as the date of a monumental, peaceful transition to democracy drew close.
Working for a family magazine from the mid-90s I learnt even more about telling a compelling story and making tough or dry topics palatable. I also took to heart the gentle reminder from Italo Calvino that a writer should never underestimate his readers.
Living in a just, democratic society today, my idea of a trip abroad is a mental energy shot — discovering and exploring the culture, history and beauty of other places and people. The people of Rome, the musical riches of New Orleans and the architecture of Barcelona all made a lasting impression.
Going freelance has been liberating. These are tough times for print media and even for online writers, but becoming successful and making a living are challenges that have forced me to push boundaries and rediscover what I can and can't do. I'm constantly exploring new art and treading unfamiliar ground. In my writing I try to introduce readers to artists and works that will excite and inspire them.
Strength and tenderness can be an unbeatable combination, wrote the poet Maya Angelou, and that's what I found in my wife. Our son, named Joshua Arthur after his late grandfathers, was born on 14 May 2011 and is both the highlight and greatest challenge of our time together. He seems to have inherited my father's curiosity and creativity, along with my father-in-law's irrepressible spirit and resilience. We hope these are solid cornerstones on which he can build a happy, fulfilling life.