How Long is a Piece of Rope: Pierre Van Rooyen

Saturdays are Gold is available for Kindle in the UK for 86p

and elsewhere for $0.99

and in glorious hardcover for £17.99

Two children growing up in 1940s South Africa are told to stay away from lonely places because there is a child abductor on the loose. What could possibly go wrong? Young Maudie doesn’t realise she has a ‘gift’ that seems more like a curse to her brother Tadpole who is the only person aware of it. If Roald Dahl, Gerald Durrell and Stephen King had teamed up to write a South African version of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ they might have produced something like this. A moving, exciting, sometimes scary, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny adventure set against a South African backdrop so well described it is almost a character in its own right. When you finish this book, the first thing you will want to do – is read it again.

It was my pleasure first to come across Pierre, and this book, over two years ago when it was wonderful but a long way from the work of art it now is. To my delight, it has been published by Endaxi Press, one of the shrewdest young presses on the block, run by people I respect and admire deeply.

Entering into the full, anarchic spirit of the Piece of Rope shenaningannery, Pierre is on blissfully chaotic form in this interview.

1. Saturdays Are Gold is way better than _______ but one day I’d really like to be as good as_________
I agree entirely. Saturdays Are Gold is definitely better than a ____________. But no, I don’t one day want to be as good as a _____________.
The reaction to Saturdays Are Gold has been phenomenal. When I found myself writing about children, I thought people would sneer at me. But the response has been exactly the opposite. One young man stayed up the whole night devouring the novel, only turning off the light at five a.m.
When asked what he thought so far, he said better than Harry Potter and more exciting. I don’t want this story to end.
On completion of the novel, he ranked it with Treasure Island and Jules Verne’s classics. And yet, the writing is simple, easy to read. Some people say they are not even aware they are reading Saturdays Are Gold. It’s more like they are living it.
Another reader, a woman, said it is one of the best novels she has read in her whole life and couldn’t put it down. She ranked it with Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mocking Bird. Perhaps it is the children who make the novel so appealing.
So, to answer your question, perhaps Saturdays Are Gold is definitely better than the usual formula-driven genre novel. It is absolutely original, based on real people and events that really happened, like an eight year old child in a life and death fight with a python.
One day, I’d like to be as good as … who? There is a lot of John Steinbeck in this novel. He is the author who has influenced me most about how I tell a story and how I get the writing to be matter of fact.
2. You will just love my book if you enjoyed ___________ but if you’re a fan of _____________ steer well clear.
I wanted the novel to evoke  particular feelings which I found in Paul Gallico’s The Snow Goose, Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Joe David Brown’s Addie Pray, filmed as Paper Moon, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, James Michener’s The Fires of Spring, and one or two others with child protagonists.
Those are novels I can read again and again.
If War and Peace is your kind of thing, Saturdays Are Gold won’t work for you.
3. ________comes from the barrel of a gun.
A bang? I’ve heard of idiots going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, but I don’t think it was the barrel of a gun.
There ain’t no guns in Saturdays Are Gold. No car chases. No macho males with their pride in their trousers. And no bum and titties. No four-letter words either. And no gratuitous violence. Seems we don’t need them to get enthusiastic readership.
4. How do you see the role of food in the contemporary thriller and where does Saturdays Are Gold fit into the spectrum?
I think it’s very good for the supermarkets. Halfway though the novel, people rush out and buy popcorn and all that jazz. This is good for the economy.
Saturdays Are Gold will probably be good for the oil mills and veg and fruit farmers, because the children ate peanut butter and oranges and gave the hawker’s horse a carrot.
5. How would it affect the direction Saturdays Are Gold takes if the action were moved wholesale to the set of Glee in chapter 7?
It wouldn’t affect the direction at all, because the wheels would fall off and then we couldn’t head in any direction. You can’t go anywhere with no wheels.
6. When you’re writing, would you rather look out at the sea, or in at your thoughts?
I’d rather look at a pin-up girl on one of those calendars garages give you.
One can’t cross oceans in a tiny sailing boat and write at the same time. The fatigue makes it impossible. There’s just the two of us, working the boat from an open cockpit twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.
It is hell, watch on watch, swapping over every three hours. Three hours in the cockpit, three hours down below trying to sleep. One is awake nine o’clock at night, mid-night, three a.m., six a.m., nine a.m. and so on day and night. When we reach a destination after three weeks at sea, we crash for two days trying to recover lost sleep.
To get the writing going, I day-dream, meditate, transcend until I vanish down one of Alice’s rabbit warrens and come out in another universe which is the scene I’m trying to create. There, I watch what’s going on, I listen to what the children are saying, I try to smell, taste, touch, and catch an emotional feeling.
I begin to live the story and when that happens, words start appearing on the page in front of me. Sometimes they take me by surprise because I swear I did not think those words, but there they are on the page in front of me.
7. When writing, do you start at the beginning and keep going, or start at the end and work back?
Are you crazy? I don’t know where I start and when I finish, I’m more lost than when I started. Remember, I am no longer in this world but in Alice’s rabbit warren. I don’t believe that either the first or the last chapter become apparent until the novel is finished.
I sat for two years with no beginning and no end. Then they came to me at three o’clock one morning when I was fast asleep, and I had to leap out of bed and scribble them down as fast as I could handle the pencil before they floated off into the ether. The other chapters don’t have to be written in sequence. Any chapter can be written any time and the whole lot assembled later.
8. A great villain or a great hero?
Most villains and heroes grate. You know what I mean? There are a few originals, but nowadays there are so many carbon-copies, I find them distasteful. But I do like ordinary people who attempt great things. I am currently reading Gone With the Wind and find contempt for the idiot politicians in both the North and the South and loving admiration for the down and outs who won’t let themselves be defeated.
 9. Saturdays Are Gold will change the way a reader looks at________
Ha, ha. Probably at how he’s going to escape when a lion’s got him by the shoulder, dragging him through the grass. Which way he’s going to duck when a catfish comes flying through the air. Being more cautious about taking the lid off a dustbin in case there’s a python inside. Stepping off a Tiger Moth’s wing with a parachute harnessed to his back. Falling into the Atlantic Ocean and having to swim the whole night. Triple-stage sky-rockets all the way from Hong Kong. Getting trapped in storm-water drains when there’s a flood coming. You know, those sort of everyday things.
10. How long is a piece of rope?
If you’re going to ask questions for which there are no answers, then I’m going to give you answers for which there are no questions.
I mean, first of all it’s a length of rope, not a piece. In any case, there is no such thing as rope. Do you mean a halyard? A warp? A sheet? A hawser? A spring? A breast-line? You must be specific, otherwise I can’t answer the question.
But if you’re talking about comparing novels, I don’t believe there are any hard and fast rules for creativity. Tastes differ widely. Someone compared Saturdays Are Gold to Harry Potter. But I find I cannot read Harry Potter. There’s also a reference to Stephen King. Likewise, I am not a fan of his work.
Perhaps a criterion is entertainment. Saturdays Are Gold is poignant, nostalgic, true-to-life, absurd, charming, ribald, wild, hilarious, insane.

The book is a lot of fun.


~ by danholloway on August 9, 2011.

8 Responses to “How Long is a Piece of Rope: Pierre Van Rooyen”

  1. Love the interview – Pierre is such a delight! Fancy asking a sailor “how long is a piece of rope?”
    But seriously, Saturdays Are Gold is a wonderful read, I’d recommend it to anyone.

  2. Isn’t he wonderful!!

  3. Many thanks to Dan, one of my heroes.

  4. And many many thanks to you Pierre. I’ve been a fan of this book for over 2 years, and it’s so exciting to see it released to the world at large

  5. So much fun to read this interview. Pierre is like a bottle of pop to deal with. One that has been thoroughly shaken and has so much fizz you never know quite where the lid will end up if you aren’t careful 🙂 He is a joy.

    We need more like him in every sense 🙂

    I have never been more proud than of what we have all achieved to bring the best out of Saturdays Are Gold – but all we did was dust it off and give it a little bit of a polish – the raw diamond of it was pretty gorgeous to start with. If I had a quarter of his spirit, talent and wisdom I’d be well content. 🙂

  6. Look forward to reading the book.

  7. […] How Long is a Piece of Rope: Pierre Van Rooyen « The Company of … and in glorious hardcover for £ Two children growing up in 1940s South Africa are told to stay away from lonely places because there is a child abductor on the loose. What could possibly go wrong? Young Maudie doesn't realise she But no, I don't one day want to be as good as a ______. The reaction to Saturdays Are Gold has been phenomenal. When I found myself writing about children, I thought people would sneer at me. But the response has been […]

  8. What a data of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable know-how on the topic of unexpected feelings.

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