Complementing my interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the three hundred and thirteenth, is of thriller novelist, non-fiction author, journalist and interviewee Wilf Nussey. If you would like to take part in an author spotlight, take a look at author-spotlights.
A keen writer from his schooldays, Wilf Nussey went straight into journalism after World War Two, in South Africa where the National Party government had just come to power. He joined the Pretoria News and three years later moved to Kenya to the East African Standard during the Mau Mau uprising then became a freelance correspondent there for UK newspapers, among them the News Chronicle, Kemsleys and Sunday Dispatch.
Among his experiences in East Africa were trekking into the depths of Uganda to the remote Mountains of the Moon, to the blistering Northern Frontier District of Kenya to ride with the camel corps, and flying with the Royal Air Force when they strafed and bombed Mau Mau camps.
After trying in London for a job in Fleet Street, he moved to Canada where he became associate editor of a large mid-west newspaper before returning to South Africa two years later.
There he rejoined the Argus Company, the country’s largest newspaper group and a steadfast opponent of apartheid, and was assigned, among other duties, to cover South West Africa, now Namibia, when its stewardship was being hotly disputed between South Africa and the UN. From that he moved to the group’s specialist service covering all of Africa. Within two years he was its editor, directing a select team of journalists in bureaux in Central, East, West and Southern Africa.
Among colleagues he became known as “the newspaperman’s newspaperman”.
His assignments in the next 20 years took him into more situations than can be recounted here. Some were:
- Revelationary coverage of the intricacies of the struggle for the mandated territory of South West Africa right up to its independence in 1990.
- In-depth coverage of the Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau from 1964 through their wars up to independence in 1975.
- Exposure of the murder of two Canadian girls at the Victoria Falls by drunken Zambian soldiers in 1973.
- Interviews with many leading figures on the African stage, some of whom became good friends.
- Intimate personal knowledge of and continuous reportage on a number of African countries at a time when South Africans were barred by almost all of black Africa.
- Special coverage in Europe, Israel and New Zealand.
He was promoted to senior assistant editorship of The Star in Johannesburg, the company’s flagship, a step he regretted it because he was not a desk man. Several years later he was made editor of a small paper and lasted another five years before he retired early to live in a nature reserve and write books.
They are two successful documentaries on the Kruger and Kalahari national parks, two coffee-table-style books about South Africa, a collection of short stories, contributions to a number of other books, and two e-novels – “The Machiavellian Affair” (first published as “Darts of Deceit”) and “The Hidden Third”.
Both the latter are about revolution and are set in South Africa and Mozambique. A book of photographs with his text on the collapse of Angola and Mozambique is due out next year.
And now from the author himself:
As a reporter I never thought I would write a book … far too much work, all those words, days and days of research, mental strain, bashing a typewriter (we used them in those days). Much better to be just a reporter: write up your assigned story, see it in print within hours, all dusted and done, go celebrate with the others and start afresh next day.
Journalism was fun. Have pen, will travel. Work anywhere, any time. Except of course it paid peanuts.
It did, however, grant me a lifestyle I could never have bought even if I’d had the money. I travelled to every continent and many countries, visited exotic places far off the beaten tourist tracks and lived through situations nobody could have planned or paid for. Many were not pleasant, like wars and starvation and other forms of human misery. Most were wonderful experiences which introduced me to marvellous people doing extraordinary things in beautiful places. I lived all levels of life from sleeping under desert stars with nomads to relishing a suite in the best hotel in Paris, from communing with wild Bushmen to supping with presidents. It taught me profound lessons about humanity and nature which no university could ever have instilled. It made me, I hope, a better person.
And all this at somebody else’s expense in return for bringing back news and feature articles and often photos.
But there is always an end to such a lifestyle and it comes with the creaks of age and the fatigue of repetition. I quit newspapers before I got too old to start a new life and took up the challenge of books when a friend asked me to write one to carry his great collection of striking wild animal photos. So was born “Kruger: Portrait of a National Park”, which became a South African best seller as the first comprehensive documentary on that famous game reserve.
I was hooked. Far from being a tedious bore, the research was fascinating. Putting words together unshackled by the constraints of newspaper space was a new and sweet freedom. I was able to freely play with words and phrases, paint semantic pictures, use adjectives and adverbs without the strict journalistic limits of objectivity.
I wrote a second book. This too was a fascinating experience, matching my peaks of reporting as I spent weeks in another national park, in the Kalahari desert, living and working with rangers and trackers in corners never seen by the tourists. It brought me close to these people, whose lifestyle is the only one I could enjoy outside journalism, and close to many wild creatures – birds, snakes, antelope, lions, reptiles, insects.
The product was “The Crowded Desert” with astounding pictures by many photographers from the archives of the Anthony Bannister library. It was a damn good book and sold well, initially.
Now I had my first plunge into a pitfall of publishing: an incompetent publisher. He made little effort to promote and sell it after the first flush, no launches, no signings, nothing. And then, after a year, he “remaindered” it.
“Remainder”. A euphemism for dumping a workload and making a quick income at the same time. Like all publishing contracts, it gave him the right after a fixed period had elapsed to sell off the “remainder” of his stock at a price he set.
His price too high for me to buy up the stock so I could do nought but watch as he sold the lot to a bulk buyer, pocketed the sizeable lump of cash and put his business into liquidation. He avoided me thereafter, which is just as well.
Two quick books on the glories of South African scenery for a UK publisher restored some of my enthusiasm. They paid spot cash and kept the copyright. Suited me fine. Now it was time for fiction.
This is where the storehouse of one’s life comes into play. It is an archive of almost everything a writer wants – personalities, characters, looks, places, activities, behaviour, legends, fears, beliefs, you name it. I doubt there is anyone who cannot delve into their own memories without finding enough such material to fill out a book once the storyline or plot has been planned. And I have plenty in stock after my forty years of reporting.
All I need now is the story to tell. The first was easy: a collection of cameos from life in the rural community where I spent much of my youth, a piece of South African wilderness filled with pioneer farmers, indigenous folk and wildlife and their reactions to each other.
That, too, is a good book. And that, too, fell foul of an incompetent publisher, a dilletante who did absolutely zero to market it. This time I was able to buy up his “remainders” after a brief legal battle and the book continues to be in demand, albeit slow, by people who like the mix of legend, fact and humour.
The game changed after that. I wrote two novels and battled for ten years to sell them, accumulating enough rejection slips and bits of gratuitous advice to wallpaper my loo. The struggle ended when I encountered, for the first time, an e-book publisher, Rebel ePublishers, begun in South Africa and now based in the USA.
With the help of an excellent editor whose patience is as monumental as the Giza pyramid, Jayne Southern, both are on the market today, “The Machiavellian Affair” which was first issued under the somewhat uninspiring title “Darts of Deceit”, and then “The Hidden Third”.
Both are set in Southern Africa. Tne Affair exploits the sudden collapse of the Soviet Empire to create a potential nuclear incident engineered by frustrated Russian hard-core communists. In it hundreds of thousands of Africans would die to give the Reds a chance to retrieve their former glory. The story spreads wide from Africa to London and Washington DC. Okay, it’s not Dickens or even James Bond but it’s a good entertaining read.
The Third is set in the brand new democratic South Africa of Nelson Mandela. It is about an underground fifth column of determined white supremacists who want to break off a chunk of the country for their own state. It involves deep and convoluted intrigue, assassinations, considerable public violence and some vividly described conflict.
I have no idea how the two are selling. In this new age of Amazon and Ebay the author is a lost soul thrashing about in the dark. I know I have made about $25 so far, not enough to cover the bank fees for transferring the money to my account.
So now I am thinking up new plots. Something that will seize the public mind. A Harry Potter of the African bush maybe. Maybe a serial killer who preys on publishers. After all, I have plenty of that in my archives too.
A great idea! (sorry, any publishers reading this). You can find more about Wilf and his writing via…
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