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Born in the old Transkei, Gail went to Umtata High School. Halfway through grade 11 the family moved and she found herself in the Afrikaans-medium Bethlehem Hoërskool. ‘It was tough going,’ she says. ‘Every evening I used a dictionary to translate everything into English so I could understand what I was supposed to be learning.’
By the time she wrote her matric she was fluent in Afrikaans and she passed with exemption. So it was off to UCT Ballet School where she trained as a dance teacher, studying classical ballet, Spanish, modern, and European folk dancing. In Pietermaritzburg, she ran the first non-racial dance studio in KwaZulu-Natal. Working later at the Apollo Theatre in the Karoo, she organised the first-ever festival devoted entirely to South African film. Back in Johannesburg, she showed South African films for five years at the Goethe Institute, and she also organised a National Architectural Film Festival. In 1993, Gail found herself involved in print production, an involvement that has led her all the way to the present where she’s the general manager of Porcupine Press, as well as personally managing the production and distribution sides of the business.
‘Dance, film, books: all my life I’ve worked with creative people and done creative things. At the same time, I’ve learned versatility and self-discipline. It’s been wonderful. So many dancers and film people and writers (and editors, designers, and printers) are now my very good friends.’
Once, when asked by an interviewer why he was a writer, David replied: ‘To stave off boredom.’ The interviewer said she was shocked by that reply. So David tried to explain by saying that writing was the only thing that completely engaged his senses, his intellect, and his emotions, all three at once.
More recently, he was asked to write a 100-word bio of himself. Here it is: ‘I published my first short story at age nineteen and my first book twenty-five years later. I came to travel writing gradually, after having begun with fiction. Travel writing allows me the freedom to deal with large themes in an intimate way, and my understanding of fiction enhances the travel narrative. For my first travel book I won a major South African literary prize. I have written extensively on South Africa and other places across the continent. In 2010 I received a SALA Lifetime Achievement Literary Award, and have recently completed a major travel project entitled Walking to Australia.’
Why has David come to publishing? ‘To stave off starvation,’ he quips. ‘But in many ways it’s been an enthralling ten years. I have loved meeting all the writers. Writing can be a lonely business sometimes. But publishing is exactly the opposite. I love all our Porcupine authors, and I have become addicted to the empathy I share with them.’