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Exclusive Preview of Vera Castleman’s Darkest Before Dawn PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 18 August 2014 13:56

Vera Castleman is the latest author to be featured on our site. She is in the process of releasing her novel, Darkest Before Dawn. According to Castleman, it is about a young, innocent woman who comes from a sheltered family in a tiny sea side town on the south coast of KZN. She is a refined girl who has studied art. She gets a job as an illustrator in a Johannesburg company and meets up with a charming “lout”. Darkest Before Dawn is due to be released in late August on Amazon with a possible release on Smashworks. Here is an extract from the novel:

The evening at the art show had been very interesting. When they arrived at "The Bovine's Nook" she was startled to see the huge cow's head framing the doorway. It was eerie to enter through the cow's gaping mouth which led into a dimly lit entrance hall and reception desk. The girl taking the entrance fee sat behind the desk. She wore a headdress in the shape of a cow's head. Her clothes were white with huge speckles of black. After paying their entrance they were steered towards the entrance hall.

As Sharon's eyes skimmed across the dimly lit room she saw several large statues of cows seated upright around the black walls of the entrance hall. There were glitter balls on the ceiling casting speckles of light around the room. Sharon blinked and focused on the nearest statue. It had huge red lips forming the silliest smile on its face. Its front legs were wrapped around its enormous, shocking pink flattened udder – cloven hooves peeping out from under the udder provided foot rests. The udder formed a table for glasses of champagne. A dairy maid in a sexy little skirt and apron and silly hat stood next to each cow handing drinks to people as they passed. Sharon and Julia could barely suppress their giggles. They walked as quickly as they could towards another cows head framing a doorway and passed through the mouth into the first of a labyrinth of partitions. Subtle lighting focused on the art pieces. There were two or three sculptures in each room as well a display of paintings on the wall. Several of the paintings already sported a sold sticker.

Sharon found herself enjoying the surreal experience and found quite a few pieces that she wouldn't mind owning.

More by chance than by good management they found themselves at the bar in the middle of the maze. The plush seats were upholstered in mock speckled cow hide. The padding around the bar was in matching fabric.

"Euw!" exclaimed Sharon crinkling her nose.

"What's wrong?" asked Julia.

"Look at that monstrous bull's head above the bar. I was just imagining what damage those massive horns could do. Also those eyes! They are spooky. I can't stand the thought of that magnificent beast being killed and mounted on a wall."

"Oh, A sensitive soul I see," Paul's voice echoed behind them. "Don't worry darling – it's not real."

"It looks real," said Sharon.

"Papier Mâché my dear, I assure you," He bent over to brush his lips on Sharon's hand.

"Hello Paul" said Julia.

"Aah, The delightful Julia," He bent to kiss her hand as well.

"Well girls. We are over there," said Paul indicating with the drink in his hand as he ushered them over.

"The SPCA would be up in arms if it was real," responded Simon's voice. "Sharon, I have been keeping this seat warm for you." He stood up and extended his hand towards Sharon.

Sharon was aware of hooded glances from the twins Kayli and Donna as she took Simon's hand and allowed him to lead her to the seat that he had indicated. She also caught Debbie looking her up and down as a condescending near sneer drifted quickly across her lips - quickly but slow enough so that Sharon could receive the full brunt of it.

"So girls – which paintings are you buying?" asked Paul.

Julia imitated his bored drawl, "Oh I haven't found anything to fit in with my new colour scheme yet."

"Julia, you are such a peasant when the finer things in life are at stake." Paul pulled his handkerchief out of his top pocket and waved it around as if to clear the air of the 'low class' influence.

"Oh Paul," laughed Julia. "You are such a snob! Come on Sharon, let's continue with our tour."

Simon held out his hand to help Sharon out of the chair and gave a small bow as the girls left.

When they were out of earshot Sharon said, "Simon seems to be such a gentleman."

"Watch it with that one," said Julia. "First impressions can be deceiving."

Vera Castleman PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 18 August 2014 13:16

Vera Castleman is a Durban-based writer. She has had an illustrious career in education; she taught Maths and Computer Studies at Brettonwood High School for twelve years, coached the External Computer Studies classes under the education departments banner (eight years), lectured Computer Studies at Edgewood College of education (eight years) and taught at New Forest High School for eight years. Although she wrote IT and Computer Application Technology textbooks, she had an unrealised desire to write fictional pieces. Castleman’s inspiration came in the form of her granddaughter, Della, who was visiting from the UK. Della asked her to write to her when she returned home and this helped get Castleman’s creative juices flowing.

From 2012 to present, she has published literature (using the pen name “Vera Alexander”) with a thematic focus on youth and their experiences. This includes the Della and Easter series, a set of five fairy-tales aimed at young children. She has released a teen graphic novel entitled In the Twinkling of an Eye and a short story called Red Flag. The majority of these works have been published online through Smashworks and Amazon and are also available at Adams Booksellers.

In 2013, she debuted her first novella, Full Circle, at the Pavilion branch of Exclusive Books. It explores the life of an ordinary boy, Bandile, who is involved in an accident and becomes a paraplegic. Here, Castleman pens his rise above this tragedy and determination to take on life with a renewed sense of determination.  Full Circle was inspired by her experiences as a temporary teacher at the Open Air School in Durban, a school which caters to children with physical disabilities. In an interview with Artsmart, Castleman acknowledged her admiration for the student’s “acceptance and joy for education” and their drive to succeed despite their physical challenges. Her novel received high praise from Manuela Cardiga, author of Guilty Pleasures, who commended Castleman for possessing the “impassioned and unpretentious simplicity of a true story teller” and successfully capturing “the African culture, its very tone and cadence and attitude with great tenderness and admiration”.

At present, Castleman works for UmSinsi Press as a typist, editor, typesetter and sometime computer maintenance /support person. She teaches Ballroom and Latin dancing, helps  adults come to terms with computer technology and enjoys blogging.  She is in the process of completing her next novel, Darkest Before Dawn, which will be published as both an e-book and hard copy.  According to Castleman, it is about a young, innocent woman who comes from a sheltered family in a tiny sea side town on the south coast of KZN. She is a refined girl who has studied art and gets a job as an illustrator in a Johannesburg company and meets up with a charming “lout”.

Website: DeLectably Cool C.A.T.S

Twitter: @Vera_Truth

Facebook: Vera Alexander

Blog: Vera Alexander

Selected Work

Excerpt from Full Circle (2013):

Bandile started the lawn mower and let his mind wander as he mowed the lawn.

He was no longer Bandile mowing the lawn. He was on the Albert Hall Stage. He was an honoured guest entertaining Her Majesty the Queen. He looked around at the crowds screaming and shouting … No that wouldn't happen at a command performance.

He turned the mower and started on the next strip.

He had just completed his concert at Wimbledon. The perspiration was running down his face. The crowds were screaming his name and begging him to sing and dance just one more song. The lights were blinking on the large Christmas tree at the side of the stage… No, that wouldn't work either. If it was Christmas it would probably be snowing in the UK.

Up the next strip, Bandile was entertaining a crowd at the Moses Mabhida Stadium. It was summer in Durban. No scratch that, it was too hot in summer and in summer it often rained at night. Okay. So it was winter at the Moses Mabhida Stadium. He was a famous international star who had come to entertain people in his home town. Cirque du Soleil had honoured him by agreeing to send some of their artists as a supporting act. (He had been watching them on the TV and the performers enthralled him!)

During his last number, trapeze artists were suspended from the famous arch and were swinging – mostly in time to his music. The crowd was going wild. His supporting dancers were the team of guys from his school who were now internationally recognised. The dance coach had choreographed a fabulous number for his finale! Girls were streaming down on ribbons from the arch and stopping themselves just above the audience's heads and then wrapping themselves in the ribbons as they ascended to the arch. Each girl had a different coloured ribbon. Clowns were performing on a smaller stage in front of the main stage. Streamers, confetti and angel dust were released to fall on the audiences upturned faces.

Ah well, he could dream!


1998. Tenderfoot Guide To Word Processing: Using Microsoft Word '97.Durban: umSinsi Press

2012. How Easter met Della. Durban: umSinsi Press

2012. In the Twinkling of an Eye. Durban: umSinsi Press

2012. Easter's Fairy Adventure.Durban: umSinsi Press

2013. Easter’s First Christmas.Durban: umSinsi Press

2013. Easter at the Bird Park. Durban: umSinsi Press

2013. Della's Birthday Surprise. [Online] Smashwords: Felicity Keats Morrison

2013. Computer Applications Technology Grade 10 Theory (Cool C.A.T.S.). Durban: umSinsi Press

2013. Full Circle. Durban: umSinsi Press

2014.Red Flag. Smashwords: Felicity Keats Morrison


Review of Many a Cold Night by Cyril James PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 10 August 2014 18:22

By Thomais Armaos

A self-published life account by Cyril James, Many a Cold Night tells of this Durbanite’s journey towards finding peace – or even a stable job after a lifetime of hard living. Born to a coloured mother and an Indian father in Durban in 1945, James provides a grim account of trying to gain acceptance from his father’s strict family. Having roots in such racial diversity as having family from Hindi, coloured and Zulu cultural backgrounds, his childhood is surrounded by diversity but with no real hope of assimilation and belonging to any one of these backgrounds. However, this challenge during his youth helps him adapt and develop the strength needed to face the challenges of life that were presented to him in these diverse forms. Alcoholism, abuse, racism, drugs, crime, gangsterism, rape, murder, poverty, near homelessness, and prison form part of a visual landscape that had surrounded the life of the writer. His is a story that all South Africans can identify with in one way or another, regardless of the circumstances surrounding your birth. James, in this instance, is a sort of South African everyman.

The title, Many a Cold Night, gives the reader somewhat of a hint about its attachment with colloquialism. Like any avid reader, I had high hopes that this title would reveal some deep insight, some universal truth that the writer had become aware of in his late age. Unfortunately, even in the most fruitful of critic’s mind, there is no artistic meaning in this work. Rather, I believe, it to be a story that must be told, for the sake of telling it. Perhaps, this, if any, might be a fair response to a life that had endured so much. Perhaps it is a reflection of human endurance in the face of trial and affliction. The reader will gain a sense of this almost immediately in a reading of the title and from the cover art.

The cover depicts a graveyard with petrified stone angels grasping baskets of flowers with a prayer on their lips, for the dead perhaps or for a man who crawls between the stone slabs that mark the lives of those long passed. Dark clouds form a shadow in the distance as a full moon sheds a supernatural light over the graveyard, providing a portal into what is a grim depiction of the writer’s circumstances. This provides the reader with a sense of foreboding as to what the narrative is about, and the solemn story would undoubtedly follow.

The story is a first person narrative told from the viewpoint of the writer himself, looking back at the events and circumstances of his life. It is a very simple read, almost too simple as that which any writer or critic might deem essential to any novel – dialogue – does not exist in this memoir. Although it seems as though it may lack any essential artistic description, Many a Cold night does give us a considerable degree of insight into the life of the writer; one that I have not experienced in all my years of reading. It is raw, and solemn; perhaps that is where the art lies. It is a slice of life. It is what people do, say, think, feel, how they react, it brings the reader closer to a more real version of the South African experience. It is clear that Cyril James has experienced an unbelievable variety of traumatic and painful life experiences but it does not dwell on the unfamiliar.  Many a Cold Night essentially tells a story that we know but will not acknowledge. It distances itself from the good, light-hearted commercial South African narrative. Primarily, this is the case because the author is not a writer by occupation, and the reader must take this into consideration when reading his work.

Although it is as rough as only a seaman could have written it, it does offer some indirect references to historical, political and socio-economic circumstances of the greater Durban area from the 1940’s till today. Whether these depictions are accurate or fair representations of the people who are in them, however, is to be debated. I find that this text does not try to alleviate the racial and character stereotypes of various ethnic groups that were formed during apartheid. Even worse, I believe that that some racial stereotypes of the time are upheld in this text – negative stereotypes are evident in depictions of characters such as James’ paternal grandmother. The reader can easily be drawn in to attribute this depiction as a desire on the part of the writer to belong. However, in post-aparthied South Africa, this book does nothing to provide historical substance to any youthful Durbanite. What it can provide, however, is insight into the trauma of everyday life; a life full of choices and the trauma being a result of poor choices. In a way, I would call this novel a motivational book – one that undoubtedly uses the shock factor to convey its message. The message is clear, and reminiscent of the stories of our collective history as South Africans: in spite of one’s circumstances or experiences it is quite possible for the spirit to prevail and live without any bitterness.


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