EXCERPTS

An excerpted and curated glimpse into the soul of each story.

Here, you’ll find selected passages from my books, offering a taste of the worlds I’ve crafted. Join me in exploring these moments, and perhaps, you’ll be enticed to embark on the full journey within the pages of my novels.

1 CAPE TOWN

Originally my typescript was quite a bit longer… too long for my publisher. Here are the words I cut before the very last page, They feature Renee’s first performance as Clara in ‘The Nutcracker’.

 

     She stepped up and caught sight of her reflection; a slim young woman dressed in jeans topped by a cream cheesecloth shirt. Intricate gold earrings dangled from her ears – a parting gift from Nicolette, who had said she should have them in memory of the night she lost her virginity. Lucky the dark glasses obscured the scared expression in her eyes.

     She licked her lips. It was only because of the wind that her mouth felt so dry. Bracing herself, she pushed open the door.

     After the turbulence outside, the lobby was blessedly still. Renee approached the desk. The doorman stood leaning heavily forward, one forearm resting on the magazine he was reading.

     She already knew what it was he was studying so intently – Compuform, the guide to the week’s horse racing. “Middag. Good afternoon.” 

     He pushed the heel of one hand against the desk and levered his head to look at her.

     “Renee Pretorius?”

     “That’s right.”

     As he nodded, the folds under his chin increased and reduced like a squash box, the kind of piano accordion that was used for playing boeremusiek.   

     “Now I’m getting to know you.”

     He picked up the clipboard lying on the counter next to the magazine and checked through the list of names. From the breast pocket of his short-sleeved shirt he withdrew a ball-point pen, and made a tick on the chart.

     This was it. Renee hitched up her bag and plunged into the world of backstage.

     A lift carried her upstairs. A little way along the corridor and she was in the dressingroom. Two of the other dancers had arrived before her, and were busy taking off their street clothes and storing them in the tall, open wooden lockers. Renee set her bag on the counter top in front of one of the mirrors and sat down. She needed a little while to gather herself. Maybe it was true, what people said about the wind, that it could set your nerves on edge.

     Two hours later she bustled along the corridor towards the stage, aware of the tapping of the stiff blocks of her pointe shoes as they hit the floor in a staccato drumbeat. Her false eyelashes felt heavy on her lids and made her blink. Clad in Clara’s beribboned and flounced party dress, her hair caught up at the back of her head and decked with a flat velvet bow, she tried to regulate her breathing.

     She reached the black-painted area of the backstage wings. Trills, squeaks, single notes, a few arpeggios and small snatches of Tchaikovsky’s melodies wafted up from the orchestra pit. The sounds echoed jerkily inside her as she crunched her pointe shoes in the resin box, twisting them this way and that, and tried to persuade herself she didn’t feel sick to her stomach.       

     “Everything will go well,” she muttered under her breath. “Everything will go well.”

     Rustlings, murmurs, snatches of laughter and conversation came filtering through the thick curtain. On the vast stage behind, all was ready for the opening night’s performance. Scenery was in place, lighting programs set. Any moment now the house lights would be dimmed.

     Renee turned to face the black wall, her forearms lifted and resting against the uneven brick surface. She had to do this.

     She could hear the audience begin to settle, sensed their anticipation. A smattering of applause at the conductor’s entrance grew louder and subsided again. There was silence, then the first notes of the overture sounded, plucking at Renee’s ears and every single nerve in her body. The ballet had begun.

     With a smooth, mechanical grinding of gears, the curtain lifted, showing snow falling gently on fairy-tale houses, their windows gleaming a Christmas welcome. A murmur of appreciation for the set rose from the audience and swelled until it erupted in a burst of clapping.

     Renee leaned her weight first on the toes of one pointed foot and then on the other. She patted the flat bow at the back of her head to make sure it was straight. With one hand she held her skirt out sideways, then let it go again. Any minute now she would be out there, on stage. Her fellow dancers, the other ‘children’, began to form a staggered queue behind her.

     Concentrate on the music. That will carry you along. That’s what dance is all about. The steps will be there. You haven’t forgotten them. Your body remembers. Just concentrate on the music.

     Dr. Drosselmeyer’s bushy eyebrows twitched as he mimed his inquiry: Where were the children of the house? This was her cue. Renee pulled herself up, took a deep breath and ran out onto the stage. The black-painted recesses of the wings released her. She entered the dazzling glare and a different world of dreams and fantasies.

     Immediately she was transformed, clothed with someone else’s character, someone else’s feelings. It truly was like stepping into a magical kingdom. Clara she was. Clara she danced. The blinding lights of the stage shone at her, obscuring the audience. The auditorium was a great cavernous void. A glance at the illumined face of the conductor showed him, torso swaying, his baton poking at the air as he kept strict time. The triangle of his shirt front and the black contrast of his bow tie stood out vividly. His hands emerged from the white edges of his cuffs, while the rest of him merged with the murky background, giving him the appearance of being disembodied. Behind the maestro, Renee could just make out the blurred faces of the people sitting in the first few rows. Beyond that was only darkness. The only way she could tell that the rest of the audience existed was by the clapping that broke out from time to time, and the occasional sound of someone coughing.

     She could sense the energy. On stage while the ballet unfolded she watched the Valse des Fleurs, the Snow Queen pas de deux, the variations in the Land of the Sweets.

     Yes,this was her place, the realm where she could transcend the restricting bonds of her everyday self, be closer to that which she had to become.

     To find the perfect, pleasing line of an arabesque, to stretch arms and legs to form that pose, to use the whole body and soul to make beauty, to uplift the beholder, that was her continual striving. And the knowledge that every other person on that stage was as caught up in the purpose and the illusion as she was, as determined to create an artistic experience for the audience during these few, divorced hours while they sat, captive and captivated, made everything worthwhile.

     Two minutes and an eternity after she’d first run onto the stage, she was making her curtseys, first as part of the full company and then as one of the shorter line of soloists. An usher entered from stage left, bearing flowers. Smiling and nodding graciously, the Snow Queen stretched out her arms to receive her large, cellophane wrapped bouquet. Caught up in the euphoria, Renee didn’t notice another usher following with a second bunch of flowers. He stopped right in front of her. She stood transfixed, until the Nutcracker Prince, who was standing on her left, gave her a surreptitious nudge, and she held out her arms to receive her tribute.

     The exquisite perfume of roses wafted to her nose, the wrapping of cellophane whispered against her skin, but she waited until the curtains were finally closed before looking at the card.

     ‘Well done,’ it said. ‘With all my love, Andy.’

SAILING FOR TROUBLE

Danger! Adventure! Romance!

Accompany my heroine on her quest to find her long-lost half brother.

Be surprised by what she discovers three hundred miles east of Cape Town during her Garden Route treasure hunt.

 

“You know, Alexa,” Nick Adair began, “South Africa? It’s a whole different world. Fascinating, sure, but let me tell you, nothing like you’re used to. You’ll need to be on your guard.”

His warning wafted by me, filled as I was with a fizzy euphoria.

“I’ll be okay,” I said.

Standing at the helm, broad shoulders relaxed, the skipper sent me a quizzical glance.

From my post a few yards away from Nick, I gazed at the view of Table Mountain. The yacht’s engine chug-chugged, its sound a muffled undertone to the excitement pumping through me. For so long I’d worked towards, dreamed of this moment, this moment when the sight my dad had spoken of with such nostalgic longing lay spread before me. The moment that marked the start of my quest.

I took a step closer to Nick.

Shoulder to shoulder we stood and drank in the spectacular beauty. Beyond and behind the still-glistening streetlights of the city, the flat-topped mountain rose majestic and grand. Above it the sky shone a jeweled aquamarine. Some time during the two hours I’d been below deck, the surface of the sea had transformed from the deep purple of night to a silvery gray.

“Magic, isn’t it?” his voice was husky, a little hushed.

Since leaving England I’d grown used to hearing Nick bark out orders. However this time his British-accented voice held a different note. Tears rose in my nose. No way was I going to cry in front of him. Instead, I drew in a deep breath and went for snark.

“Did I hear correctly? Or are my ears still blocked with sea water from yesterday’s swim?”

He grinned, and added, “The sight always grabs me by the throat.”

In response to the unexpected intimacy, I found myself confiding, “Somehow, seeing Cape Town at last, breathing the Southern African air, gives me an inkling of what exile might have meant to my dad.”

Nick put a comforting hand on my shoulder. “Must have been tough.”

The words recalled his warning and caused a question to rise in my mind.

“If this is a whole different world, what are you doing here?”

Long seconds went by before he replied, “The country draws me back.”

Which was kind of a half answer. All along Nick had been close-mouthed about his purposes. At first, I’d presumed he was making this journey purely for pleasure, but over the weeks I’d become convinced he had a hidden agenda.

On our first meeting at the yacht club in Chichester I’d felt an immediate tug of attraction and kind of hoped something might develop between us. Once out on the water, that had quickly changed. I disliked being bossed, but it went with the territory. The guys were just lucky Ginny had been taken on as cook and not me. Anyhow, my crewing wasn’t that bad.

The truth was, I had exaggerated my knowledge of boats and experience of sailing, but surely that had been justified, given my need? The bulk of my hard-earned savings had to be reserved for my time in Africa. I had a full month, but only a month, to find out if my dad really had left a treasure behind, and, hopefully, retrieve it. For Mom and Grandpa’s sake, and mine, and maybe my half-brother Errol’s. If I could find him.

“You’re gonna sail on around the coast with the Stealthy Lady?” Nick asked.

I pushed away the treacherous thread of temptation, along with a strand of hair that had blown free of my ponytail. Right now there were more important things on my mind than romance, although extra time together might alter this tension between us. “Most likely. It all depends-”

“On what the strongbox contains.”

I was still kicking myself for having confided in Nick. After an unaccustomed beer at the bar, elated that my plans had worked out and that he’d agreed to take me on as non-paying crew, I’d found myself sharing my secret.

“In any case, our departure time will be governed by the weather.” He lifted his gaze to the sky. Unlike me, he was a seasoned sailor. “We’ll need a bit of wind to round Cape Point. Too much could be dangerous. Too little and we’re stuck in the doldrums.”

Ooooo. That sounded ominous to me.

“By the way,” he continued, “you need to get a cell phone.”

Always telling me what to do! As if he was much older than me instead of only five years. “I intend to.”

I’d left mine for Mom. Luckily, the friend I’d stayed with in England had given me her old one. A SIM card was the only thing I lacked.

We were drawing nearer to Cape Town harbor. Beyond it, my gaze roamed over buildings, trees and still, the mountain. “Now I understand the appeal of long-distance sailing.”

“You do?” Nick sounded disbelieving.

Caught up in my delight, I ignored his teasing and added, “It’s such an incredible high when you see the shore after all those days and nights of ocean, ocean and more ocean.”

He chuckled, a sound I found all too appealing. With his brandy-brown hair a little unkempt, just curling at the edges, his body muscled and tanned, the guy might look hot, but…

“Maybe you’ve got something there.” Shifting his feet, he widened his stance. “I’m willing to show you the sights of the Waterfront, if you want.”

After the way he’d been during the voyage? Surprising. Maybe the fact that land was in sight had effected a sea change.

“Thanks for the offer,” I said cautiously. “First, though, I have things to do, people to see.”

“Namely your great-uncle David.”

“Right.”

I was really looking forward to meeting this unknown member of my family, especially as, back in Toronto, there was only Mom and my granddad.

Plus, Uncle David had important information for me.

“Is he expecting you?”

“I wrote him before we left, giving our estimated date of arrival. And seeing as you got us here on the exact day…”

“You’re actually complimenting me?”

The incredulity in Nick’s voice made me grin.

He stepped aside. “I need to radio the pilot. You okay to take over?”

Perfectly willing, I put a hand on the helm. “After that, what?”

“Sort out the formalities. Get us cleared by customs and immigration.”

“Then we’ll be free to go ashore.” I caught the breathless thrill in my voice. My long-held dream of setting foot on my dad’s homeland, the dark continent of Africa, would soon be a reality.

CAPE TOWN - Karoo outtake from CAPE TOWN

The semi-desert of the Karoo carries a magic all its own. Eagerly, Renee sprang down onto the red oxide earth and stood breathing in the wide landscape. The dawn wind had dropped. She stretched her arms out, as far as they could go, as if to embrace the wide, empty sky overhead, the land rolling away to the far horizon. As the cold retreated, the air was permeated with a soft warmth.

How quiet it was, how still. A goods train passed by, miles in the distance. The sound carried through the air, soothing rather than enervating.

At first glance, a stranger might think the environment empty. Yet Renee knew how much activity there would be around her if she took the trouble to search at ground level. Locusts would be eating, leaping; trails of ants scurrying from one round, eroded stone to another; and shiny black dung beetles would be pushing their burdens, rolling and rolling the ever-growing ball of dung behind them. Field mice would nibble and dart, taking cover from the raptors in the sky – black-shouldered kites, buzzards, and, at night, owls. And if she walked on she could easily come across a Cape cobra – the deadly rinkhals, lying in a sunny warm spot.

Or she might catch a glimpse of larger species; quail and francolin, dikkops with their long thin red legs and habit of nesting anywhere, right in the middle of nowhere. Then there were the tarentaal, the guinea fowl who blew across the terrain in a cluster, reminding Renee of the rush of corps de ballet from one side of the stage to the other… Yes, to the outsider the veld might look desolate and devoid of life, but that was far from the truth.

While her father worked, wire clippers in hand, she wandered away from the bakkie. Hands pushed deep into the pockets of her anorak, she roamed at random, breathing in the scent of the earth, relishing the blessing of silence, the absence of mechanized, background city noise.

Thank goodness for the tranquility. Here there were no beggars, no dangerous streets. Here there were no sudden, unexpected riots or disturbances, incidents of brutality demanding that she reassess her outlook and beliefs. Here, in the landscape that had nourished and formed her, every thing and every body knew their place. Life was orderly, predictable as the seasons, the same as it had always been. Only she was different.

If only she could share all this with Andy. She longed for his presence. Surely he would understand her deep connection with the land. Maybe he would come at Christmas time, spend some of the long holiday days with her here.

Wandering free in the veld brought her solace and even a measure of reassurance. Yet nature could be unpredictable. Drought could be broken by a flash flood. Then the dry river beds would be inundated by a wall of water that would burst the banks and trickle onto the veld. Sometimes she felt as if the rushing waters of her life were washing away all that had been. Maybe she would be left to cope with a present devastation. Nevertheless, whatever chasms, dongas and hillocks awaited her along the way, there would be no turning back. Perhaps she would meet snakes, spiders, a jackal. But if she was lucky there would also be birds, butterflies and a few spring hares.

Strangely enough, this is the landscape I missed most of all when I left South Africa in my youth.

FROM ‘DANCE TO REMEMBER’, the companion novel to ‘CAPE TOWN’

Based on a true incident (see Saint James Church massacre: Wikipedia), this is the companion novel to ‘Cape Town’. It tells the story of Charmaine who lost her fiancé to Anti-Apartheid violence. How can she come to terms with the Struggle for Freedom and open her heart to life and a new love?

 

July 1989

Never had the path up the lower slopes of Table Mountain felt so steep or so far, not even on the wettest winter day. Desperate to reach the University of Cape Town School of Dance in time for daily Class, Charmaine dodged and threaded her way through the mix of other students heading to campus.

Judging by the dwindling numbers, she was going to be late.

Again!

Twenty minutes later, she stood at the barre. Sweat beaded on her forehead and trickled down the back of her neck. Leg muscles screamed for release. Although all the students knew Miss Forde to be a demanding task-master, that Thursday, three weeks into second half of 1989, the pace the ballet mistress set was even more punishing than usual. Not that Charmaine minded.

     Burning thighs? Oh ja. Aching calf muscles? Sure. Lungs begging for breath? Yes indeed. They brought complete focus on her body. Horror and grief at the drastic intervention in her love life, anger and outrage at the aberration that was Apartheid — none of those dark sentiments could take hold of her mind.

“Stretch into arabesque,” Miss Forde commanded. “Give me lovely extended lines.”

Charmaine’s high instep and slightly knock knees made it relatively easy for her to produce a beautiful  arabesque … or developpé. In that, at least, she considered herself lucky.

“Good. Hold…. Hold…. Bend forward into penché… Slowly. Touch the floor. Straighten up again. Hold… Hold… ” The next command came. “Release the barre….”

Balancing on one leg with both arms rounded above her head, she counted the seconds… One hippopotamus, two… three.

Miss Forde backed up along the line of ballet students.

“Good, Renee.” The talented Afrikaans girl four places ahead touched the barre and quickly lifted her hand again. Unlike Charmaine, she didn’t have an ageing grandma to keep an eye on and a special needs sister who always needed support. And then there was her architecture student boyfriend, so attentive, so dedicated to the Struggle for Freedom… as Charmaine herself used to be. Before.

Out of the corner of her eye, she tracked Miss Forde’s regressive steps. Closer. Closer.

Please don’t let these be the steps of doom.

The ballet mistress drew parallel. She tapped Charmaine’s shoulder with her walking stick. “See me straight after class, please.”

Straight after class? Before she headed to the changeroom?

Usually able to hold a pose for a good six to ten seconds, Charmaine crumpled.

Haunted by the past, aware of the injustices and inhumanity of the Apartheid regime, Charmaine needs to discover and make her own unique contribution to the world and, more particularly, to the city where she lives: Cape Town.

From ‘A WEDDING IN VERMONT’ Part One

Note: In our time, the right to be legally married is so weighted with importance. This wasn’t the case in the mid 60s and on when couples more had the attitude ‘why bother?’. So I began to wonder, what difference does a marriage ceremony actually make, if any? Slowly the story of four different women and their relationships started to take shape (and place!) in my imagination.

 

Far up in the hills of Vermont there’s a place that’s calling, a place known by the family it’s belonged to for decades as ‘The Land’. Nature and the environment are both wild and tamed. For the time being, at least.

     On all who have the good fortune to stay or be invited, the Land has its effect. To get there you follow a rutted dirt road. The way is winding, often bumpy, sometimes steep. After climbing steadily for a fraction over four miles, your car bumps to a stop in a gravel turning circle. Out you climb. You take a deep breath, your gaze resting on  a couple of hummocky fields. An orchard forms the upper border, graces the lower slopes of the hills with old apple trees. Farther up, a forest mix of evergreens and deciduous trees reaches higher and higher.

     Arriving is its own reward.

     If you can get there.

 

Marielle Mason sat tapping the odd-shaped envelope with a fancy stamp, almost afraid to open it. Outside her apartment on New York’s East side, the autumn afternoon was darkening to twilight. The faint scent of dying roses wafted through from the living room into the tiny kitchen. Mark had bought her two dozen to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the day they’d met, but now the deep crimson petals had faded.

Just like her life.

Her forearm rested on the sharp edge of the shelf that served her for a desk. Admonishing herself not to be ridiculous, she slit the envelope open and withdrew the card. She picked up the wooden knife one of her ex-kindergarten pupils had made for her last year as a Christmas present, slit along the top edge of the envelope and withdrew the contents.

Serena and Rob joyfully invite you to join the celebrations around the marriage of their only daughter Fay, to Oliver, son of Nadine and the late Stephen Harrington.

Fay. Getting married. Who would ever have thought?

Marielle stared at the black and white engraved lettering, and a color came to her, a pale green hue. Yes, that was envy.

It was true. She and widower Mark had gotten together with the understanding that a wedding would not be in their future. At the time she’d needed that assurance. He made her happy and she loved to be with him. But recently…

She was happy for Fay. She truly was. Only, this was so unexpected.

The hand holding the invitation sank to her lap. She gazed across at the pinboard on the tan-colored wall. Postcards from travelling friends, notices of upcoming events at the high school Toby, Mark’s son, attended; a flyer for an exhibition of photographs she and Mark were hoping to catch, the recipe for hearty winter lentil soup she’d clipped from the newspaper and planned to make soon – all hung there, a brief collage of their lives and all, temporary.

The postcards would be taken down at the end of the year. Events at Toby’s school would be over. She and Mark may or may not see the exhibition, and the soup would be cooked and eaten. And what then? Would they find the way to walk into the future together?

LATEST BLOGS

Village Life

Homeward bound, I stride downhill and turn onto the narrow, paved path that runs diagonally across...

LIGHT

Grey morning light filtered through the attic window. On a visit to a dear friend in Germany, I...

BOOKS BY BRENDA HAMMOND

Books are currently unavailable on Amazon, but will be linked up shortly. You are welcome to check again for availability soon.

‘Cape Town’ was nominated for a White Pine Award

Сape town

Cape Town

by Brenda Hammond

Сape town

Sailing for Trouble

by Brenda Hammond

Сape town

Dance to Remember

by Brenda Hammond