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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Saturday Sampler - Camdeboo Nights by Nerine Dorman



The Owl House
By Nerine Dorman

Hang out with me long enough and the topic of The Owl House and its creator, Helen Martins, will come up in conversation or surface somewhere as a reference in my fiction. Why is this? What is The Owl House? And what makes it so special?

First off, let me touch on outsider art – which is generally considered to be art created by people who are not part of any art establishment and who have taught themselves to create things of beauty. Often the art snobs look down on outsider artists as being naïve and unsophisticated.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Some well-known examples of outsider art include Nek Chand’s sculpture garden in Chandigarh, India; Ferdinan Cheval’s Palais Ideal in Lyons, France; the illustrated manuscripts of Henry Darger of Chicago, USA; and Helen Martins’s Owl House in Nieu Bethsda, South Africa, as well as many others over the years. It’s a fascinating topic, and if you’re interested in art, it’s well worth delving into it.

So, what is this Owl House exactly? Roughly between 1945 and 1976, Helen Martins, a divorced woman, set about transforming her home inside and out. Now you can imagine the stir this caused in the isolated Eastern Cape hamlet of Nieu Bethesda, in a largely conservative community. She painted the interior walls in bright colours which she covered in crushed glass. Outside she had many sculptures made from cement and chicken wire of pilgrims, camels, bottle-skirted hostesses, mermaids and more.

And, as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by this magical place, and have wanted to visit, but it was only when I was in my late twenties that I managed to do so for the first time. Since then, I’ve gone back for a longer visit to Nieu Bethesda, and this little village has really crept into my heart. Each time I’ve of course spent hours wandering around the Owl House.

Of course my recent Lyrical Press release, Camdeboo Nights, features the Owl House. Also, my main character, Helen, is named after Helen Martins – just me paying small tribute to this wonderful place. I figure the more people who know about the magic of the Owl House, the more chance there is that they’ll eventually make their pilgrimage here.

My novel is, of course, jam-packed with myth and magic. I take the existing tropes of magic-wielders, vampires and other strange things, and give them a personal twist. And if you’re looking for an opportunity to travel out of your usual comfort zone, then you’ll be privy to a road trip with some rather interesting individuals. Helen is a young lady who’s going through some tough times. Her parents have split up and she’s had to go live with her maternal grandmother. Trystan’s been on the run for more than a century, and he’s quite content to remain in obscurity – but the hunter is being hunted, and this vampire can’t carry on hiding. Arwen’s family belongs to a secretive witch clan who’re hoping they’ll stay under the radar. And yes, her parents really did name her after a character from one of JRR Tolkien’s novels. Lastly, there’s Etienne. He doesn’t have any magical powers, but he makes up for it by being far braver than most. Also, he doesn’t allow the fact that he’s a little person make any difference.

Curious much? I invite you to take the chance to lose yourself in my world for a spell. There’s nothing typical about this novel, as many of its readers have discovered so far.

Blurb
 
Helen Ashfield’s world is about to be turned upside down. Is she ready?

Helen Ashfield’s life is complicated. Not only must she adjust to her parents’ divorce, but she has to come to grips with her new school in the small South African Karoo town of Graaff-Reinet. She’s sorely mistaken if she thinks she’s going to slot seamlessly into her new life. Her growing magical powers have attracted the unwanted attention of Trystan, a vampire, who may not have her best interests at heart.

Outcast from his kind for drinking another vampire’s blood, Trystan has been on the run for almost a hundred years from Mantis–the closest thing their kind has to an enforcer. All Trystan wants is an existence of quiet anonymity, but Helen turns his world upside-down.

Helen’s powers also mark her as one of Mantis’ targets. If Mantis gets control of Helen, she’ll change the course of history…for the worse.




Excerpt


Armed with her grandmother’s shopping list, Helen ran out to the familiar silver Volvo, looking forward to speaking with Arwen, only to discover Szandor and another woman with a teased-out mop of white-blond hair waited in the car.

The woman turned icy gray eyes on Helen, giving her the impression that she could read each of Helen’s secrets.
She was pale, which wasn’t helped by the funerary aspect of her clothing–a buttoned-up sleeveless shirt with a cameo at her throat. When she moved, an audible swish of many layers of satin and chiffon filled the vehicle.


This must be the aunt. She couldn’t be the mother. The resemblance to Szandor was almost uncanny.


Szandor smiled, but the pleasure did not reach his eyes. “This is Sonja, my sister. Sonja, this is Arwen’s new friend, Helen.”
Sonja gave the briefest of frowns before facing the window.


“Uh, hi,” Helen said, wishing that she could be anywhere else but in this car with these peculiar people. The journey to Graaff-Reinet would be just over half an hour but it would feel like an eternity.


Szandor made a sound that was almost a snigger before turning the key. If only Damon were here, but her brother had gone to visit the Prof the instant his chores were done.


They drove in silence, with only the hiss of the air-conditioner as accompaniment, until they left the valley.
Then Szandor said, “Did you enjoy the films last night, Helen?”


She thought her heart would explode. Should she lie? Should she allow the story to filter through without some of the pertinent details?


“I… Uh. Yes.” She had watched films after Trystan had walked them home. Granted, she hadn’t been able to concentrate on any of the onscreen action.


“Oh,” Szandor said.


She caught a glimpse of his amused expression in the rearview mirror.


Bloody hell, of course he didn’t believe her. What did she expect?


“You haven’t seen or heard anything that you would consider out of the ordinary, have you?” Szandor asked.
“Um, no.”


“You’ll tell us if you do, won’t you?” Szandor asked. It was more a command than a question.


“I guess so.” Helen clutched the seat with white-knuckled hands.


Her grandmother’s amused tones echoed in her memory. The whole lot of them, they’re all witches. The father, too.
How far would Szandor push his craft? What could he do? Was she in any danger? If there was the superstitious fear of witchcraft that was prevalent among the indigenous Africans…


She’d read a little about the subject a few years previously while researching for a painting for her art classes. Witchcraft was a fascinating topic but she had never expected to ever deal with the real thing. Now her present situation seemed very real and very menacing.


“Where’s Arwen?” Helen hoped to steer their conversation to safer territory. She may as well have said “Nice weather, we’re having.”


“Arwen has been grounded,” Szandor said, his pale gaze reading the road ahead.


Oh heck. He knew.


“Oh.” Perhaps it would be better to say nothing at all then she wouldn’t dig herself a deeper hole.


The rest of the ride passed in uncomfortable silence. Helen pressed her face against the glass and hoped nothing more would be said.


She hated deception of any kind. Whenever she lied, she always ended up being caught out. Instead, she watched the passing landscape, where gray-blue spiked agave lined the road in clumps. Every so often jeep tracks led from the road they followed and she wondered where they went.

Buy Camdeboo Nights at Amazon: http://amzn.com/B00B8XYO9G



About Nerine Dorman

Picture An editor and multi-published author, Nerine Dorman currently resides in Cape Town, South Africa, with her visual artist husband. Some of the publishers with whom she works include Dark Continents Publishing and eKhaya (an imprint of Random House Struik). She has been involved in the media industry for more than a decade, with a background in magazine and newspaper publishing, commercial fiction, and print production management within a below-the-line marketing environment. Her book reviews, as well as travel, entertainment and lifestyle editorial regularly appear in national newspapers. A few of her interests include music travel, history (with emphasis on Egypt), psychology, philosophy, magic and the natural world.


Follow Nerine on Twitter @nerinedorman

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