2nd June 2009

This may surprise you, but the over riding feeling i have after returning home to Durban after two months in Asia, is one of order. Now order isn't a word one usually associates with South Africa - but there you have it. I am once again struck by the degree to which afro-pessimism frames so many people's views when compartmentalizing our country. The other thing i have noticed since returning home, is the level of hype and anticipation about Learning To Fly. I expected a storm but this is looking more and more like a category 5 hurricane with a chip on its shoulder. This is the part of the job that always sounds the most glamorous to people, but can in some ways be more daunting than writing the book in the first place. The pre-publication launch, exactly a week from now shapes up to be a monumental event with my publishers determined to set a new record for a booklaunch in South Africa. I have warned my them about the possibility of me developing an arthritic writing paw due to excessive booksigning and hand shaking but it seems they thought i was joking. Now you may think this is a laughing matter (and it probably is) but Marian Keyes scared the death out of me at the Cape Town bookfair in 2007 when she said that her arm had become mangled and deformed due to signing a million or so books too many. She was using a personalised stamp which made her seem like a fiery Irish librarian checking out books. I'll do my best to avoid the stamp on the Learning To Fly book tour except of course for those of you who have an unnatural fetish for stationery.

And now for some apologies:

I apologise to the good people of Gauteng for the unseemly Spud, Learning to fly billboard that has been erected on the Ben Schoeman Highway between Johannesburg and Pretoria. This is just the sort of grandiose prank that the Penguins are famous for - particularly when I'm away. A traffic jam is bad enough without having local literature rammed down your throat as you sit trapped and gridlocked between a minibus, another minibus, and certain death. An apology too for those readers who have to squeeze past grotesque columns of Spud books in bookstores on their way to more edifying literature. I say blame Harry Potter, he started all this boarding school craziness in the first place.

So the first copies of Learning to Fly were waiting for me upon arrival. Unfortunately my father was overcome with curiosity over what he might or might not have done in his recent past, tore open the envelope, and became the first citizen to read the new book. The good news is that his review was favourable, the bad news is that my father couldn't exactly say it was a pile of brown- - at least without breaking my heart. It was a surreal experience to open the book and feel its pages between my fingers. So many words, and so much time spent on those exact words. It was the moment when Spud - Learning To Fly no longer was the subject of my life, but the object of my labours. That switch from subject to object is enough to short circuit a brain as small as my own.

I began reading and everything was at once familiar, every line set off a "ping" of recollection in my head. I'm not going to tell you what I think of the book because that's immaterial and probably wrong. What you, the reader think is everything, despite the fact that every reader probably thinks differently.

So here it is, the big countdown to launch. Every day takes us closer and the excitement and edginess is everywhere around me.

As David Bowie sings in a marvellous song quoted by Spud Milton on his way to school for the beginning of his third year:

Ground Control to Major Tom
Ground Control to Major Tom
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on.
 
See you on the road
Johnny