Penning books for pure pleasure

ONE of the most prolific authors in Ndlambe, Richard McGhie is not writing books for fame and fortune, but for his own pleasure.

MORE TO COME: Richard McGhie with his six published books, ranging from his autobiography to historical novels and adventure stories Picture: JON HOUZET

Working on his seventh novel at his home in Settlers Park Retirement Village, McGhie said the writing bug had first bitten him in 2007, when he wrote Survivors, an adventure story about two little boys, in the vein of Robinson Crusoe and The Swiss Family Robinson. It took him about four months to write.

“I wrote it for my grandsons – they were six at the time,” he said. “I gave a copy to the Settlers Park library and a couple of people took it out and read it and told me they enjoyed it.

“I tried to write it without too many big words or too elaborate descriptions. It’s a good read for a nine-year-old.”

It took seven years before he turned his attention to writing again, but since then he has been churning out a book about every nine months.

His second book, written in 2014, was an autobiography called Questions I Wish I Had Asked.

Looking back at his own life, McGhie decided he did not want his own children to have unanswered questions about his past

Born in Durban, McGhie said he was very close to his mother and regretted not asking her about a time in her youth when she was invited to dance with a ballet company in the UK. She was a teenager at the time. Just with bits and pieces of knowledge, he wondered what had happened to her budding dance career.

Looking back at his own life, McGhie decided he did not want his own children to have unanswered questions about his past, and so decided to write an autobiography, framing it in the way of things that might be interesting to his children.

“My earliest memories are at age four being in Cape Town with my gran. I didn’t know why I was there – all I remember it was very windy and I lost a marble through a hole in the floor,” he said with a chuckle.

He said his autobiography gives an idea about economics through the years, how a loaf of bread cost just 8c in 1950, and the price of petrol was 5c a litre when he started working on a farm at Mooiriver in 1958.

Included in the book is a balance sheet he prepared for his future father-in-law to show him that he could indeed afford to marry after working out his and his fiancé Mary’s living expenses from their combined earnings of R148 a month after deductions. In those days her wedding dress cost R40, while suits for the groom and best men would set him back R60.

“The autobiography is the biggest book because it’s just verbal. I did it over a period of time and it jumps around a bit,” he said.

It did not take long before he wanted to write something else. His third book, The Devil’s Marbles, is a work of fiction about the theft of diamonds from a marine mining company operating in Namibia. The company hires a trouble-shooter to investigate and he is soon embroiled in dangerous situations.

“At the same time as writing that I was writing a historical novel based on my great-great-grandfather Robert Bovey’s arrival in South Africa on The Chapman, called An 1820 Adventurer. Some of the characters in the story were real people and some of the scenes described were actual events, with details extracted from many books written about the period, but most of the story is fiction,” McGhie said.

“One interesting thing I discovered is that my great-great-grandfather was partly responsible for developing the Jack Russell breed.”

He also found out that Bovey used to own a plot on the east bank of the Kowie, where he had a holiday cottage of sorts.

McGhie is now nearing the completion of his seventh novel, Lost in Botswana, which sees the return of characters he created in The Devil’s Marbles.

McGhie describes his fifth book, The Best Murder Story, as a spoof, just written for fun.

“It’s a comedy of ineptitude,” he said. Lured by a story-writing competition with a prize of R100 000, a young man plans and carries out his own murder.

His sixth book, An Escape to Natal, is another historical novel, this time about the other half of the family, the Clarks, who left Rippon near Leeds to come to South Africa.

It’s about the adventures and tribulations of the pioneers in the development of Port Natal, later to be known as Durban.

“It’s loosely based on real events that the Clark family experienced,” he said.

McGhie is now nearing the completion of his seventh novel, Lost in Botswana, which sees the return of characters he created in The Devil’s Marbles.

It’s about two little boys from Windhoek, one white and one black, who are being sent to high school in Johannesburg. The plane they are in crashes in Botswana, the pilot dies and the two boys make a journey of survival to reach civilisation, encountering wild animals and storms along the way.

None of McGhie’s books are for sale. He just has enough copies printed for family and friends

None of McGhie’s books are for sale. He just has enough copies printed for family and friends, and has provided a copy of each work to the Settlers Park library.

Before he and Mary retired to Port Alfred in 1998, moving from Gauteng, he worked for United Building Society for 36 years. He served as a councillor in the Port Alfred Local Transitional Council until 2000, and after that was a member of the Ward 7 (now Ward 10) committee for seven years, until he called it a day.

McGhie was also instrumental in starting a business forum in Port Alfred.

These days, besides writing, he and Mary keep busy by cooking meals for frail pensioners in Settlers Park for a nominal price.

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