For the latest instalment of In the Armchair, I’m thrilled to welcome Bianca Bowers, who is here to talk about her novel Cape of Storms. I learn from Bianca all the time. She is fierce, passionate and warm. Her poetry is exquisite and so are her stories.
‘They would debate every subject under the infinite karoo sky, from the time the chameleons stalked the sun, to when the crickets began their nocturnal orchestra.’
– From Cape of Storms by Bianca Bowers
I was lucky enough to be a first reader for Cape of Storms. It’s a brave, poignant novel about race, belonging and female ambition by an author with a lilting, poet’s ear. I was moved by its authentic portrayal of South Africa, apartheid and complex human nature. Bianca’s characters suffer trauma and make tough choices. They are utterly human. She anchors us in time and place, offering intricate setting and dialect details. Cape of Storms is a labour of love and readers will fall in love with it. You can find Bianca reading from her novel here.
Cape of Storms
Author: Bianca Bowers
Genre: Coming of Age/Literary Fiction
Publisher: Auteur Books
Editor: Richard Gibney
Book Cover Design: Bianca Bowers
Book Cover Art: Photoneye, Shutterstock ID 134687369
Eight year old Rosalinde lives in an idyllic version of Africa — vervet monkeys in her garden, the lighthouse that illuminates her bedroom window at night, and Mohini, her mystical Hindu maid who is more maternal than her own mother — until a moment in 1982, when she collides with apartheid and her entire belief system is thrown into chaos.
Mainly set on Durban’s breathtaking North Coast, over a period of seventeen years, the story moves between atmospheric locations like the Skeleton Coast, Karoo, Cape Point, and KwaMashu, and hosts an array of vivid characters, including the charismatic Paris and his radical cousin Maleven; Mark, the ex-soldier; and Rosalinde’s predatory, racist Uncle Léon.
While navigating personal injustice, family sagas, romance, and political unrest, Rosalinde’s coming of age parallels the years of apartheid’s climactic end, against an increasingly violent backdrop, and she learns that the human condition of her motherland is far more complex than she ever imagined.
In the Armchair: Bianca Bowers
What genre do you write in and why?
I write across genres because the book/story generally chooses me and I pick whatever genre suits the story. Having said that, I am partial to writing in the genres that appeal to me as a reader. So far, my published works are poetry and literary fiction, and my upcoming novel is women’s fiction. For future work, I would love to write a psychological thriller, nordic noir, paranormal, and a series of some kind.
What are the themes of your novel?
There are three major layers in terms of themes. On the surface, the novel delves into the systemic forms of racial and patriarchal oppression that were part and parcel of living under a totalitarian regime. The second layer is the #MeToo theme, because the story takes places in an era that enabled and empowered predatory and misogynistic behaviour. The third layer, which permeates through most (if not all) of the character’s trajectories is the concept of trauma, and how differently individuals process and survive trauma.
Could there have been any other ending?
I won’t give away any spoilers, but when I initially finished writing in November 2016, the last section of the book (and by extension, the ending) was much darker. My editor suggested it was too harsh and hopeless, and I argued that harsh and hopeless was the point. But, I had demanded honest feedback, so I put it aside for several months and allowed the seed of his suggestion to take root in more objective soil. When I returned with fresh eyes I could see that the ending was a product of my personal anger over the demise of my motherland. As a result, I scrapped the entire last section of the book and began the process of re-plotting and rewriting until I had a more balanced conclusion that honoured both Rosalinde’s journey as well as those who chose to stay behind.
What’s your favourite novel of all time, and why?
It has to be Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. By the time I reached my last year of primary school, I had read most of the books in the school library and went in search of something more adult. I found an abridged version of Wuthering Heights, which absolutely captivated me. It was different to the other books I’d read for escape and entertainment. It was palpable and tragic. Like a slice out of real life, the setting and characters were raw, real and unsettling. I quickly moved onto the original version and carried around a notebook and pocket dictionary as I read, because there were so many words I hadn’t yet discovered (which fed my insatiable hunger for knowledge). In fact, I still have that little notebook and both versions of the book in my bookcase. When I left South Africa, I was allowed twenty kilograms in my suitcase, and Wuthering Heights was one of the few possessions that I couldn’t bear to part with.
Are you working on a new manuscript?
Yes, the title is Three Hearts and it’s due in 2020. It falls into the Women’s Fiction genre and is told from three points of view: Bronte, Aden, and Luther. Bronte and Aden are happily married, and building their winery in the Granite Belt, when the GFC strikes and they lose everything. Seven years later, their marriage is unrecognisable and Bronte has fallen out of love. Thinking of her children, and inevitable future as a single mother, she works behind the scenes on her writing dream and connects with Luther, an American writer, on Twitter. With instant chemistry, and a shared love of writing, Bronte’s emotional life is turned upside down as her friendship with Luther steadily evolves from 280 characters into full blown love. When she confronts her husband with the truth he fights to save their marriage, but Bronte’s additional well of love for Luther cannot be stemmed or redirected. Torn between loyalty to her husband of fourteen years and newfound love for Luther, Bronte tries to persuade both men to consider polyamory.
When Bianca Bowers abandoned her South African motherland at age 23, she knew that she was destined to write a novel about the place that would haunt her long after she left. Cape of Storms is that novel, and it has travelled an epic 21 year journey from concept to publication.
Bianca has a BA in Film/TV/Media and English from the University of Auckland, and she has authored 5 poetry books with Paperfields Press. Her poems have appeared in film, online journals, and print anthologies over the last 20 years. She has lived in the UK and New Zealand, and now resides in Australia with her husband, two children, and rescue hound, Honey.
Print copies can be ordered from any bookshop by providing the ISBN-13: 9780648442646