Photo by Linda Brownlee

Welcome to my stories set in South Africa, the land of my birth…and in England, the country that became my home in exile. Since then my stories have roamed like the leopards in the mountains of my youth…  

Imagining change

I was born and brought up a ‘Jo’burg girl’ in the days when South Africa was one of the world’s most openly racist countries. I was sent to a whites-only school. It was like being brought up to be a horse with blinkers. Luckily when I left school, I met people who challenged me… and I took off the blinkers. I became very angry about the terrible things that I could now see. You can read more in FAQs.

I started writing later – in exile in England. When my first novel Journey to Jo’burg was banned in South Africa, I was spurred on to write more!  Thousands of children were reading the book around the world but the apartheid government refused to let South African children read it until 1991, the year after Nelson Mandela was released from jail. Today, it’s not just a story from the past.  It’s a universal story where two children, faced with great injustice, do something very brave as they try to save their little sister.  

The Other Side of Truth illustration by Jordi Fuster (Editorial Cruïlla)

Each novel is a new journey.  I throw huge challenges across the paths of my characters. Imagine if your father, a journalist, wrote the truth about a bullying dictator. Imagine gunmen are sent to silence him and your mother is shot instead.  What if you have to be smuggled out of your country for safety? You’ve been brought up to tell the truth and now it’s dangerous… When The Other Side of Truth won the Carnegie Medal, I was stunned. This was the first time in 64 years that a book with African characters had taken the prize!

The Other Side of Truth illustration by Victory Chen (Eastern Publishing Co)

Being a novelist is a bit like being a long distance runner. It’s tough and tiring, so in between my novels, I may write short stories or maybe I’ll work on a picture book where I have the fun of collaborating with an illustrator… or maybe it will be a play. I’ve also discovered the pleasure in retelling ‘my way’ some of the tales and fables that I’ve known since childhood.

I’ve always loved stories. They are windows to other worlds. A good story doesn’t tell you what to think.  But if I can hook you in, maybe you’ll find yourself compelled to think, feel, imagine… and to begin a new journey of your own. 

Journey to Jo’Burg character image by Laura Freeman, courtesy HarperCollins US