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Gail Schimmel Launches Whatever Happened to the Cowley Twins? with Angela Makholwa

Gail Schimmel

Crime fiction author Angela Makholwa was in conversation with Gail Schimmel at the launch of Schimmel’s second book Whatever Happened to the Cowley Twins? at Exclusive Books Hyde Park on Wednesday.

Gail Schimmel and Angela Makholwa Whatever Happened to the Cowley Twins?Makholwa told the audience that this book should come with a warning not to pick it up unless you have nothing pressing to do for a while. It is very hard to put down.

Schimmel gave a brief introduction to the story: A mother goes to the doctor with her twin girls and leaves them with the receptionist while she goes into the consulting room. She says that the twins’ father may come to pick them up. After the consultation, the receptionist tells her that the twins’ father did indeed come to get them. They are never seen again. The story then picks up 34 years later…

Schimmel gave the audience a short teaser by reading an extract from the book. In the except, Amanda, a reporter following the case, has invited the twins’ brother Tim to dinner. Amanda goes about setting the scene for a seduction…roses on the table and on the bed, soft music and oysters (even though she doesn’t like them). She is wearing her stilettos, exotic perfume and plenty of lip gloss. Tim arrives with a bottle of wine – and his willowy green-eyed wife! And suddenly the house looks and smells like a brothel.

Makholwa remarked that this excerpt shows that, although the subject matter of the book is dark and tragic, the story has a light feel because of the characterisations. Schimmel said that she didn’t think she would be capable of writing a really heavy book. She described her husband as a “funnyman” and this makes her see things lightheartedly as well.

The story started by Schimmel thinking about secrets, and how every secret leaves a trail. When her parents died, she was going through their papers, which revealed many things she didn’t know about them and she realised that there are many hidden aspects to people, no matter how close your relationship.

An interesting aspect of writing this story, Schimmel says, was creating the character Tim, who was five years old when his sisters disappeared. She found it quite challenging having to write as a male character. Asked about the difference between this story and her first book, Marriage Vows, Schimmel said that this one is more of a mystery story while Marriage Vows was a love story, but there is common ground as they both deal with what happens after the “happily ever after”.

Makholwa mentioned the surprise ending, and Schimmel said that she always knew how it would end, but that getting there was the interesting part. Describing the process of writing, she said that with her first book she would make a point of writing 500 words a night. Now that she has two children that is no longer possible, but she now tries to make her writing part of her work day. This book took a lot longer to finish of course!

Schimmel belongs to a writing group, and many of the members had come to support her. She said that they had provided much encouragement when she felt stuck.

Schimmel feels that the pressure on South African writers to place their stories in a socio-political context is a great tragedy. People have real lives against the backdrop of our history and one doesn’t have to dwell on this history all the time. She also feels that it is sad that South African writers feel that their stories and context will not appeal to international readers. Crime writers have proved them wrong and, after all, South Africa is just another setting like anywhere else.

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