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Jacana

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

David Bristow received 174 rejection slips before Jacana published Running Wild. The Daily Maverick asked why he persevered…

Running WildFollowing in the footsteps of Jock of the Bushveld, Running Wild is an African story for all ages. It is a tale of resilience, of courage and endurance, a book that will uplift, enrich and warm every lover of the African bush.

The story of Zulu is based on the life of a real stallion that lived on the Mashatu Game Reserve. The versions of the story of Zulu are about as numerous as the people who recount them. The horse and the myth were at times indistinguishable. This account of his life has been stitched together from all those stories.

In February 2000, tropical Cyclone Leon-Eline resulted in a storm so severe that the horses of Mashatu broke out of their enclosure and roamed wild and free for days before returning. Zulu was the only one that did not return. He was thought to be lost to the scourges of the Bushveld.

Years pass before Zulu is discovered to be not only alive and well, but running as the lead stallion of a herd of wild zebras. He is recaptured and returned to the safari stables as a much bolder and wiser stallion – knowledge he passes on to the other horses as well as the humans of Limpopo Valley.

David Bristow has a degree in journalism. He is one of South Africa’s first full-time travel photojournalists and was the editor of Getaway magazine. David has written more than 20 books about Africa, taking a three-year sabbatical mid-career to earn a master’s degree in environmental sciences.

As well as travelling from Antarctica to Alaska, Hillbrow to the Himalayas, he has ridden horse safaris in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Kenya. David now lives on a lake close to the sea near Cape Town with his partner, one cat, two surfboards, three canoes and four bicycles. He has three children and a grand one.

Upon hearing that Bristow received 174 rejection slips before Jacana okay’d his manuscript, the Daily Maverick’s Tiara Walters was intrigued as to why exactly David didn’t just. give. up. Here’s why…

DM: I don’t understand. Why not just self-publish after rejection slip number 83, for argument’s sake?

DB: I really believed in the story, simple as that. I just had to convince someone else. As soon as Jacana heard the premise, they jumped at it, smart people.

With regards to self-publishing, or not in this case, it was about shelf space and numbers. If your book isn’t housewives’ porn or young adult fantasy, you don’t want to go that route unless you are serious about selling books. Making them is the easy part. This is not my first book by a long way so it was not what they call a “vanity-publishing” exercise. But it was my first paperback, so it needed to be a commercial success. I’ve thrown a lot of marketing resources at it, from serious media launches to talks at book clubs.

I think the story of Zulu has the potential of becoming a modern-day equivalent of Jock of the Bushveld. It’s the rollicking, true story of an African stallion that bolts from his stable during the cyclonic floods of 2000, joins a dazzle of zebras in Mashatu Game Reserve and, remarkably, rises to the position of lead stallion.

DM: So what was the problem, then? Were you not photogenic enough? I heard this might be a thing in the unsparing world of contemporary publishing now.

DB: Yup, ugly as original sin. My girlfriend calls me OS (although that might just be os) (os n. Afrikaans for bovine male. Sometimes used for pulling vehicles or carrying things). But also publishing is like that well-trotted-out saying about capitalism: it’s a kak system, but it’s the best we’ve got. Which I guess is my way of saying they know nothing. The accountants and marketing people make all the decisions. And they think only in boxes (very small ones usually), like, does this book fit neatly into one of our sure-selling categories?

DM: Is Zulu the only horse ever known to have “gone” zebra? Did you look for other, um, “horsebra” stories? Perhaps it’s not entirely fanciful to picture a dazzle of zebra running wild through the Namib, displaying suspiciously desert horse-like traits.

DB: In the wilds, yes, this is unique. In captivity zebras and horses, as well as zebras and donkeys, have been crossed. Crosses were common amusements in Victorian circuses, but it was always a zebra male and female horse (zorses). The other way around is not known to ever have occurred. Not even the equine scientists could tell me why.

Continue reading their conversation HERE.

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