Monday, 20 July 2020

My fifth novel: Through the Bark

At last, my fifth book has been self-published. This one is a fantasy novel. I’ve never wanted to write a fantasy novel because I'm too much of a realist, but I was challenged to try and write it by a few students in my class. Since I've never been one to back away from a healthy challenge, I picked up the gauntlet.

I see myself as a teacher with a hobby to write. I'm not really an author in the entire sense of the word. It's simply because I don't like the phase that happens after the book has been written: the marketing phase. I don't enjoy putting myself out there to advertise and sell my books. Contacting publishers only to be rejected is not my cup of tea. So, most of the time, I see my books as my legacy for my children.

Through the Bark is probably the most difficult book and genre I’ve written. Regardless, it has shaped me in quite a remarkable way. I write mostly in the evenings, over weekends and during school holidays. I started writing the book in November 2018. I chose to write in the first person and to this day I have no idea why. Needless to say, somewhere along the line, in between preparing lessons, teaching, and assessing assignments, I lost my character. In July 2019, I realized the character in chapter six was not the same character with which I had started out in chapter one. So, I had to backtrack. Being tired, I decided to ditch the efforts. I stopped writing in August and threw the idea of being a fantasy writer out of the window.

In December, I read through the book and started from scratch with a new character. A whole new book came to light. I practically wrote the entire book during that holiday. Then I left it to rest until Lockdown, 2020. I completed editing my work in April.

I self-published the book through Groep-7 in Johannesburg. It is also available as an e-book with Kobo.

The blurb:
It’s the beginning of the end. The tree looms dark and tall over every challenge the young, depressed teenager has ever faced. Then, there’s the simple choice: to pick up the wooden beads or to leave them on the ground, half-hidden beneath the decaying leaves. Innocent curiosity brings a subtle transformation, which leads to betrayal and death. Within the dark and dank tunnels beneath the tree, there is a way that leads to sacrifice and a way that leads to eternal despair. Will courage be enough for this young hero to endure the consequences of the road taken?

The story is about a young teenager who suffers from depression. The story is written in first-person narration. The teen in the story has no specific identity: no name, gender, age, or race. It’s basically up to the reader to decide what the identity is. I will refer to the teen as a boy in this synopsis.
The teen is an only child and an introvert who isolates himself. He walks to school and home every day. It is a thirty-minute walk. A huge oak tree is the halfway mark. One day the teen finds wooden beads beneath a tree that look like a bangle. He decides to wear the bangle. A strange metamorphosis takes place, where the teen starts to feel positive about life. The tree’s future is in jeopardy when plans for a shopping center are made. The teen wishes to protect the tree. The teen magically is pulled into the tree. Whenever he is inside, the tree cannot be chopped down. When the beads begin to glow, the teen knows that the tree is in danger. That is when the teen needs to enter the tree. Inside the tree, the teen is able to walk in underground tunnels. He meets Filbert and Quercus (tree creatures). He also meets Fachen, a one-eyed blue boy from a mystical forest. The teen enters the mystical forest and loses the beads. By the time he finds the beads, they are glowing. He races back to the tree’s underground tunnels to save it from being chopped down. Will he make it in time?

Chapter One:
Silent shadows dance eerily on the road as I walk home. I’m neither keen to get there nor stay out here in the dark. My pace is patterned on perception: I move quietly because I fear the ominous presence that moves with me and whispers in the air.
With only the moon and stars to guide me, it’s obvious why my imagination is running wild. It feels as if I’m being followed. I turn to look back, as I’ve done so many times before. Yet, there’s nothing there to see.
I focus on the tree ahead of me. Its silhouette stands gracefully against the distant horizon, waiting patiently, as always, for me to pass. It’s the majestic half-way mark.
I simply love this tree.
It has an air about it that demands respect and admiration. I’ve never walked home this late before. When the sun silently sets behind the mountain, I’m usually safe inside my room. I have more things to do inside the comfort of my room than in this chaotic world. I prefer to sit on my bed and read or write. I can stay there forever. I don’t care for social gatherings, friends, or company. There’s nothing that draws me to leave my room when dusk descends.
Tonight has been an inescapable exception.
I walk to school every day and home again – alone. The thirty-minute walk gives me time to think. I’m not fortunate enough to have doting parents who drive me to and from school. There’s a bus, but I’d rather keep the money for more interesting things.
My parents’ interest in me is purely for the sake of boasting because, when they were young, they never bothered to amount to anything that’s worth talking about. Yes, they attended school, played sport, and achieved good grades. Yes, they attended university and graduated. They both have well-paying jobs, but that’s all they really have. They work long hours to make ends meet: they are hard-working, taxpaying citizens who have no joy in life. I find no sense in their ceaseless chasing after the wind.
They’re like tamed birds in a cage. Even if the door is left open, they won’t come out. They’ve lost their sense of curiosity.
They’re more concerned about what others think of them, so they play it safe. Keeping up the appearances necessitates their constant fear of losing their social standing. This makes them obsess over protecting it. To them, status is everything. I, the protégé, have learned best from my masters. I walk in their shadow.
I wish I didn’t have to fear people. Surely, something should neutralize the constant fear of judgment.
My parents have failed in their conquest to look into themselves, to find inner wisdom to counteract their fear of judgment. They plod along blindly in the security of routine. They no longer focus on what they really want.
Everyone has a passion. Surely they, too, must’ve had something that they were passionate about at some point in their lives. What that is I’ll never know because I never ask – and never will. Instead of showing any interest in them, I stay out of their sight.
Their constant bickering sends me off into my own realms where music and books reign supreme. Within this sphere, I can control all influences and protect my cracked world from shattering into smithereens.
Tonight, I’ve had the opportunity to sit in the stuffy school hall for almost two hours doing absolutely nothing. As with most formal school functions, the awards evening was mind-deadening. Time fragmented into insanely unsatisfying moments and my mood constantly tipped inward to drink from the dregs of despondency.
The only thing that I gained from the experience is to realize (once again) that the blatant obsession to excel puts acute pressure on the youth to develop superior skills. There are too many expectations that cleave to our conscience and not one of these expectations has anything to do with us or with who we really are. We are made to believe that there will be dire consequences if we don’t excel; we are worth nothing without our distinctions. Hence, we become competitive and we compete only for the best.
Why do we do it? We do it to become part of the privileged, the cream of the crop, and we pay an exorbitant price to achieve this status.
While some of it is self-imposed, adults are largely responsible. Instead of teaching us to have a passion for learning or for life, they teach us to live without equilibrium.
What’s the point of having all these book-savvy A’s? None of us are passionate about what we’re doing. In the real world, far from all the school-book knowledge, we aren’t worth a single one of these A’s. We have no experience. We suffocate in confusion because we know too little about ourselves and how to live a life. We only know what others have told us and how to chase their dreams, which is absolute foolishness. We’ve become over-protected, over-indulged, book-intelligent teenagers with neglected virtues, and our souls are impoverished.
The tree distracts my train of thought.
Dark and tall, it looms over me. I stop and look up at it with nothing less than awe and admiration. The prodigious tree stands independently and with such stature.
I ooze forward into the shadow thrown across the desolate road, with no intention to leave. It’s just me and the tree.
I try to wrap my mind around the significance of the moment. There’s an inner struggle of resistance I can’t explain. How is it that the tree just grows here? Who told it how to grow? It’s rooted in natural development according to its nature. It doesn’t burden itself with a past or plan ahead for a future. It just thrives in the moment. Why can’t humans be like that?
A shiver slips down my spine. I’m suddenly overwhelmed by the daunting darkness. The shadows of the towering tree are imbued with imminence.
I’m accustomed to fearing; it has been my constant companion during this night’s walk, but now it intensifies and anxiety grips my heart. I don’t mind being filled with fear. When it happens, I know that it’s not really shutting me down; it’s waking up my senses. I’ve learned that it’s only when I’m scared that I truly feel alive. Anxiety is different, though. I don’t like feeling anxious. I don’t want to be numbed by fear. I don’t want to be numbed by anything.
My home and parents have made me numb to many emotions. I carry hate as a daily burden. The conflict between them just drags me under, deeper and deeper. It’s not them that I hate. I hate their behaviour towards each other because of each other, and what it’s doing to me.
As I grow older, I become more aware of the exhilaration that creeps into my veins at the prospect of leaving them. If it means dying in order to leave, then so be it. They make me yearn for moments where I can just let go of life. They’ve made me feel comfortable with the idea that there’s more to life after death. I’ve no idea where I’ll be once I’ve crossed over, but I’m happy to know that I won’t be here. The world is a wonderful place, but people, like my parents, have ruined it.
I pause.
I move ever so slightly.
My first footstep barely tramples the autumn leaves that lay motionless beneath the tree when my eyes impulsively dart back to the very spot where it lies. It’s almost as if I shouldn’t see it lying there, camouflaged and half-buried beneath the decaying pile. Yet, I do. I see it so clearly as if I’m meant to.
I’m not sure what it is that made me look down. Perhaps it was the slightest of a rustling noise that caught my attention.
I bend slowly to pick it up.
I move out from the shadows into the moonlight and notice the different shades of each little wooden bead. The beads are smooth and not one is like the other. Is it a beaded bangle? I slip the beads over my wrist. They are warm against my skin and I feel comfortable wearing them. Whilst admiring the unique beauty of each little bead, I start walking again. Curiosity creeps slowly out of the dark recesses of my mind and I wonder: to whom does the bangle belong?
Distance changes slowly when it’s done on foot and so do my thoughts.
It’s the last leg of my journey; there’s just one more turn in the road and then I’ll be home. The warmth of the wooden beads has seeped in and spread throughout my body. Strangely, I feel better. I also feel different about home. Somehow, I’ve found a smidgen of courage to go there.
The amber windows wink warmly, lovingly, but I know they aren’t – and, even knowing this, it’s strange that I should think of them in this way. It’s strange that I should think of the house as a place where love can thrive.
It’s never been hospitable.
It’s never been… a home.

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