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James Whyle’s Walk Launched at The Book Lounge with Andrew Donaldson

James Whyle

James Whyle is a fascinating and multi-faceted writer with much to say that is interesting, original and profound – on the page and in person. Winner of the 2011 PEN/Studzinski Literary Award for the short story “The Story”, the 2013 M-Net Literary Debut Award for his novel The Book of War, Whyle also turns a fair poem.

He was seen at The Book Lounge just a week ago where he delivered a sterling performance at an event celebrating the 2013 EU Sol Plaatje Poetry Award. On Tuesday his second book, the novella Walk, was launched at The Book Lounge and those who gathered to hear him talk about the inspiration behind it were thoroughly gratified.

Andrew Donaldson and James WhyleWalkWhyle was joined in conversation by veteran journalist and book reviewer Andrew Donaldson who conducted a wry and understated discussion that amused and educated all present.

Donaldson described Walk as an enigmatic literary exercise. Based on William Hubberley’s diaries that give an account from a sailor’s perspective of how the survivors of the wreck of the Grosvenor endured. He said the book was “highly rewarding, one that you’ll turn to again and again”.

Whyle was asked what had drawn him to the book. “It had always been around. Chris Billows, a filmmaker introduced me to Hubberley’s diary, which was a very good read. It’s the source book of the wreck of the Grosvenor, so skip me, go straight to the source. It’s available from the Van Riebeeck Society.”

He said, ““I quite liked the thought of a five-finger exercise in a weird way. Walk is not a novel but a version of Hubberley’s diary. Towards the beginning I thought I must expand on these characters, make them bigger, then I just got taken by how he put it down. For example: ‘During the night John Howes, a seaman, died of a great weariness.’ That’s fantastic! You can’t improve on it. I just copied it straight down!”

He spoke about his main character, William, who was a servant of the second mate, Mr Shaw, aged about 17 years. He is called “the boy” in the book. Whyle said it had been an interesting technical challenge to take the story from first person into third. It’s a great story of travelling from Lusikisiki to what is now East London. Some 150 people started walking and just 18 of them arrived in this epic story of survival. This book may be, in the author’s words, “weird”, but according to readers in the know, it is worth every minute you’ll be with this remarkable and unputdownable narrative!

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Liesl Jobson tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #livebooks

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