June Drummond (1923 - 2011)
From a review of Loose Cannon (2003) by Margaret von Klemperer.
It was back at the end of the fifties that June Drummond parcelled up the manuscript of her first novel - pages and chapters all unnumbered - secured the parcel with colourful, sticky Christmas tape and sent it off to the predominantly Jewish firm of Victor Gollancz.
'I made all the mistakes,' she says. But it hardly mattered; Gollancz accepted the book. It was the start of a long partnership, with Gollancz publishing Drummond's thrillers and romances until the firm was taken over as part of the huge changes that have swept across the publishing scene. Drummond has shown more staying power than her publisher: this year will see her 80th birthday and has already seen the publication by English publishing house Robert Hale of Loose Cannon, her 16th thriller.
In 1998, Drummond decided that she was going to retire from writing. She and her sister moved into a flat on Durban's Berea and she decided to have a restful life - if being a lay minister and playing bridge allowed time for it.
'But I always had the itch to write,' she says. 'It's like an athlete, you still think you can run a marathon at 90.' But, unlike the athlete, she can. Although Drummond says the world she writes about and the world of publishing have both changed, she has proved that she can still write successfully, for all that she refers to her post-retirement writing as her 'second childhood'.
Drummond enjoys both writing and research but admits that the latter can be so interesting that it leads her off into byways that are of no use for the book on hand. But a writer must be accurate.
'I learnt that with my first book. I wrote about some make of car - a Maserati, I think - and mentioned the magneto. As soon as it was published, I got a letter telling me that the car I described doesn't have one. You've got to get it right.'
Drummond was living in London when she started her writing career. She was Secretary to the Church Adoption Society and in her time there saw over 1000 children adopted. She enjoyed the work and used it for the basis of her second novel. It was a time, before the Pill or legalised abortion, when there were many unwanted babies.
Drummond left Britain in 1960 and, over the Tannoy system on the mail ship carrying her home to Durban, heard the announcement of the Sharpeville massacre. As she stepped off the ship, her mother met her with the announcement that a new political party was having its first meeting in Durban that night and that Drummond had better go along. So she attended the first meeting of the Progressive Party and found herself sucked into the politics of the time.
Drummond worked for what was then the Durban Indian Child Welfare Society and found that the divisions within South Africa hindered the adoption work they were trying to do. 'It was very difficult to do it right when fighting injustices at the same time,' she says.
Drummond may have been drawn into South Africa's politics but they were one subject writers were advised to steer clear of. She says her first novel was 'anti-apartheid in a mild, beginnerish way' and as such appealed to the flamboyant Victor Gollancz, a supporter of Africa's freedom struggles at the time. 'But publishers switched off on Africa for a long time; they felt that critics and readers heaved a sigh when they picked up a book about apartheid.'
It was a situation that has taken a long, long time to start changing. And it meant that Drummond wrote about other things.
Drummond is coming up to her half-century of published writing and shows no sign of stopping. She laughs when she says that maybe her forthcoming 80th birthday will bring in more readers.
'People will either say I must be mad to go on, or let's see how she does it.'
And she does it very well.
From The Black Unicorn (1959)
The week before Max St. Cyr died, the temperature touched one hundred and ten in the shade. No wind stirred the vineyards. Extra fire-watchers patrolled the pinewoods above the house. The stable cat crackled with electricity. This weather, unseasonable in the spring of the year, broke in a storm that rushed down into the Constantia Valley with a brilliance of hooves and a whipping wet mane. Steam rose from the fields like a sigh of relief.
Sometimes I think that that week of intolerable heat contributed to Max's death, crystallising emotions that had been boiling up for months. During the past two years I've thought a good deal about the past, wondering where I made my mistakes. I brought Max up, helped to shape his character. I'm old. I can remember-oh, a long way back.
It was sixty years ago when I first came to Arcenciel, and I was sixteen years old. My hard round hat cut into my forehead, and my sister's boots one size too small made each step a torture. I remember how my father took my hand, and said 'Look, Emma, over the door,' and I looked up and saw above the carved fruits and goddesses the motto '?? corps perdu, with might and main.' My father was a quiet man, a scholar who taught in the school for coloured children on the St. Cyr estate. He'd a cool Scandinavian head from his grandmother, but I took after my mother's people, and I think he was afraid the streak of silliness in me would lose me my chance of success.
He needn't have worried. Rebellion throve in the soil of Arc-en-ciel. The first St. Cyr to arrive in the Cape of Good Hope was an outcast, expelled from Catholic France for his Protestantism, from Holland for his debts, and from England for his political miscalculations. He bobbed up in Table Bay about the end of the seventeenth century, and some years after his arrival obtained a grant of land between Constantia Nek and Tokai, in a valley of rich promise, grazed by heraldic beasts, and sweet with strange flowers that grow nowhere else in the circumference of the world.
On the day he laid the foundations of his farmhouse, there was a storm, and when it passed he saw that a rainbow stood across his land, ending, it seemed, at his boundary. He called the house Arc-en-ciel. The years added lustre to it, the St. Cyrs became important economically, politically, and socially.
Their motto was well chosen. I came, in my squeaky boots, to a home where it was considered normal to live ?? corps perdu; to seek knowledge, to govern, love, fight and laugh with all one's strength. Any small rebellions I might have raised were small grapes in those vineyards.
1959. The Black Unicorn. London. Victor Gollancz
1959. Northern Miner. London. Victor Gollancz.
1961. Thursday's Child. London. Victor Gollancz.
1962. A Time to Speak. London. Victor Gollancz.
1964. Welcome, Proud Lady. London. Victor Gollancz
1964. A Cage of Hummingbirds. London. Victor Gollancz.
1965. Cable Car. London. Victor Gollancz.
1967. The Saboteurs. London. Victor Gollancz.
1968. The Gantry Episode. London. Victor Gollancz.
1969. The People in the Glass House. London. Victor Gollancz.
1971. The Farewell Party. London. Victor Gollancz.
1973. Bang Bang! You're Dead! London. Victor Gollancz.
1974. The Boon Companions. London. Victor Gollancz.
1975. Slowly the Poison. London. Victor Gollancz.
1976. Funeral Urn. London. Victor Gollancz.
1979. The Patriots. London: Victor Gollancz.
1979. I Saw Him Die. London. Victor Gollancz.
1980. Such a Nice Family. London. Victor Gollancz.
1982. The Trojan Mule.. London. Victor Gollancz.
1985. The Bluestocking : a novel. London : Victor Gollancz.
1989. Junta. London. Victor Gollancz.
1990. Unsuitable Miss Pelham. London. Victor Gollancz.
1991. Burden of Guilt. London. Victor Gollancz.
1992. The Imposter. London. Victor Gollancz.
1993. Hidden Agenda. London: Victor Gollancz.
2003. Loose Cannon. London: Robert Hale Ltd.
2004. The Meddlers. London: John Hale Publishing.
2006. Old Bones Buried Under. London: John Hale Publishing.
2008. Countdown Murder. London: John Hale Publishing.