Caleb is an important development in my writing as it deals with a problem that has bothered me for some time and the novel has given me the freedom to explore it in a fictional medium. As with most of my writing personal experience plays a role, explained in the Postscript to the novel;
“Two incidents and a literary convention provided inspiration for this novel.
In the year 2000, my wife Cathy and I and two of our children Andrew and Susan were in a double cab pickup travelling back from a holiday in Mozambique when we had an accident. The accident was caused by an approaching vehicle losing control.
We ended up spending some days at a mission near Macia run by a remarkable young man named Willem Nel. That episode changed many of our values and sparked two poems, both included in my book ‘Run, run as fast as you can’ in a chapter entitled ‘Saving our Soul’.
Much, much earlier when I was 17 I successfully applied to attend the annual Rhodesian Schoolboys’ Exploration Society. The society was dedicated to doing research into the natural history of wilderness areas.
The year I attended we went to the Nuanetzi River and camped just above Buffalo Bend not 30 kilometres from the Mozambique border.
One afternoon I became detached from my group and walked into a pride of lions. At first I saw just one and then the whole pride came up, standing on a hillock not 25 metres from where I stood.
I did the right thing and backed away slowly. And I guess they weren’t hungry that day. Later that week I thought I had put the encounter behind me but I was wrong. For decades I had nightmares in which a lion or lions charged me and I stood rooted to the ground.
Forty six years later I wrote this strange poem about it.
The Lions of Nuanetzi
Death comes with terrifying intent
Was the last line I wrote
But I could not connect it to the first
So I tried it in reverse.
Death with terrifying intent
Did not happen
In the midday sun
Over four decades ago.
I was the intruder
But they intruders too
For I was alone
And they a pride.
I wish I could unwrite the line
For it attends me still
In dreams,In the hours before waking
Death comes with terrifying intent.
The literary convention started with the ancient Greeks who saw tragedy as a cathartic experience which could lead to a healing of emotions.
These two definitions taken from the Free Online Dictionary explain;
A purifying or figurative cleansing of the emotions, especially pity and fear, described by Aristotle as an effect of tragic drama on its audience.
A drama or literary work in which the main character is brought to ruin or suffers extreme sorrow, especially as a consequence of a tragic flaw, moral weakness, or inability to cope with unfavourable circumstances.”