Writing for love, not money


Writing for love, not money

ZIRK VAN DEN BERG thinks the Copyright Amendment Bill is an outrageous and misguided offence by the state.


THERE are apparently writers who think the Copyright Amendment Bill that has just been passed by parliament means they should down their pens because the restrictions it introduces will hurt their income to such an extent that writing will no longer be worth their while.

I sympathise and think the bill is an outrageous and misguided offence by the state, but I am not in that boat myself. The royalties I receive mean a lot to me, prize money even more, but I never expected to earn a significant income from book sales. My average annual royalties can't keep me alive for even a month. The new law's effect on me will therefore be rather indirect when the publishing industry suffers so much that books like mine are no longer published. Not being published will be a heavy blow.

On the other hand: by 2012, after numerous rejection letters, I thought no one would ever publish my books. The prospect then was to put them on Amazon myself for the handful that might sell and to keep writing on the quiet. I didn't know how long I would be able to sustain such a Quixotic undertaking. From 1991 to 2012 I had a taste — 21 years in which I sold only a single manuscript.

The prospect of writing without being published inevitably reminds me of Paul Devere. (No, not the historical figure, pop singer or cigarette — those are all Paul Revere.) Devere is not someone you know, and that's kind of the point. Just hear this story…

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

One day, long ago, in the days when young white men still had to protect South Africa from the swart gevaar, I took my then wife to the hairdresser. The hairdresser was in Green Point and I was in uniform. While she was in the chair, I stood in the street. I don't mind waiting; that's one of my good qualities. Another is that I don't hold grudges. I was out of place in that uniform.

Wife at the hairdresser?” I hear someone ask. An old man is looking at me over a garden gate. “Which unit are you in?"

“I'm not really a soldier.” (I was a journalist at the army newspaper, Uniform.)

“Nonsense. You're wearing a uniform. Then you're a soldier, it doesn't matter what you do.

I don't answer. I'm not going to discuss the finer points of my self-apology with a pushy old man.

I was in the Chinese civil war." He points to a big sore on his lip. “That's where I got the cancer, from the sun in the Gobi. Everyone is so afraid of the Russians, but I tell you the Chinese are more dangerous. There are many of them and they know how to use a mortar."

My wife's hair must be done by now.

He probably sees me looking towards the corner. “My son is the hairdresser. My wife and I live here above the salon. It's actually very nice. We write musicals."


“Yes. We've done quite a few. I write the words, I'm actually a poet. My wife writes the music. Then we send it to Capab [the former Cape Performing Arts Board]. But they didn't want to perform one yet…” He touches the scab on his lip. “Once I almost sent a poem to the moon. Come in and I'll show you."

I protest, but good manners are not enough to dissuade him from his intention. Eventually I am introduced to his co-worker, a neat little woman with her hair stuck in a roll behind her head. The piano is ready with sheet music unfolded. As he searches for the poem that almost went to the moon, they tell me about their musicals.

We are currently working on a new one.”

It's really our best, this time.”

“It's going to be wonderful.”

Finally he finds what he is looking for in a chest. “Look, here is a letter I got from Nasa."

It's on blue paper with Nasa's seal at the top. It begins with a polite account of how it gets so many requests to take things to the moon that unfortunately it cannot fulfil them all. But the astronauts apparently read the poem and liked it very much.

Everyone underlined their favourite piece for me.”

He points to their names — Edwin Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins. Apollo 11, 1969, the first manned moon landing.

“They would have taken it along if they could.”

“I'm sure.” But my mind tells me a different story, about a particularly dedicated PR team.

You don't want to take some of my pickles with you when you go?”

I have no one to write “thanks, but no thanks" on blue letterheads on my behalf, so I leave with a bottle of pickles. And memories that still stick with me 40 years later.


For someone like Paul Devere, a change like this new law would have meant nothing. There were some of his poetry collections in the SA library (I went looking for them at the time), but that man did not expect to be rewarded for his creative work — he didn't even expect that the musicals he and his wife put out one after the other would ever be performed.

Recognition and compensation for your creative work is only fair and of course extremely welcome, but for some people it is not a reason to write or not to write. Just ask Paul Devere.

♦ VWB ♦

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