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John van de Ruit

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Movie Musings

I spend a considerable portion of my time on Earth pondering life’s lesser insanities. It really is one of the few downsides of having an unrecognised job, along with the frequent discovery that its noon and you’re still wearing your pyjamas. That aside, I send this ramble into cyber space because in a mere three weeks the feature film of Spud will premiere around the country and a few weeks thereafter (Dec 3rd) will hit cinemas all over Southern Africa. What began as a telephone call in early October 2005 is about to be unleashed as the final result of sixty months of decisions by some extremely cunning people and the odd cat.

For risk of sounding like a hippie, it is an unmitigated triumph that this film was ever made at all. (That it stars an extremely tall and famous man called Cheese makes it all the more unlikely.)Unfortunately the completion of the marathon doesn’t seem to matter much to the lunatic fringe of Spud support who regularly bustle up to my face with unblinking, questioning eyes and lead with, “So tell me honestly John, is the film better or worse than the book?” A nasty catch-22 for any author as one is cordially invited either to slag off your own work, or the movie based on that work with little hope of evading the question in anything less than an afternoon’s worth of explanation. This repeated question naturally inspired some pondering about the point; why is it that people are almost instinctively wired to compare a film to its source material? How can the experience of reading something for days/weeks be equated with that of viewing something else for 100 minutes? It is the equivalent of asking, “Which is more enjoyable, five days in Bali or two hours in Paris?”

So my advice is to forget about comparisons and relish the film for what it is: A beautifully shot but simply told story of a boy seeking acceptance from the mortifying chaos that surrounds him. Troye Sivan as Spud has produced a performance of such delicate authenticity that it’s impossible not to feel terribly for the poor lad as he staggers from one disaster to another against seemingly insurmountable odds. John Cleese (The Guv) is as humourous as always but adds another dimension to his role of the cranky, wine-swilling English teacher. Some of my favourite scenes of the film are the luncheon discussions between the two characters where they attempt to come to grips with fine literature and women. The locations of Michaelhouse are utterly authentic; the dormitory is the original, even so far as the positioning of Spud’s bed, so there can be few quibbles with the interpretation of setting from book to screen. Hell, even the old green stationwagon broke down on its first day of shooting!

But enough about the blasted film, further good news for Spud fans is that a re-release of Spud to mark the launch of the film will hit stores next week as will the behind the scenes of the movie book written by producer Ross Garland and yours truly. The behind the scenes book contains some fantastic untold stories about the making of Spud the film including the freakish manner in which we were able to snare the signature of John Cleese. I’m also extremely proud to announce that the book has quite possibly the longest title in South African Non-fiction literary history:

The Making of Spud the movie, and how a wickedly splendid plan came together

Yours in anticipation


Icarus Allsorts

It’s been a rather momentous week in many ways: Spud wrapped up filming on Sunday in Durban, my trip to the London Book FAir was cancelled due to an Icelandic Volcano, and today is Spud’s and my birthday. (For the second year in a row the little bastard received more birthday greetings than i did.)

So, the movie… what does one say after having gone through an experience like that? It was intense, profoundly mesmerising, and surely one of the greatest adventures of my life. To be back in the old haunted dormitory at Michaelhouse and to see Spud’s Good Knight duvet draped over my old bed, spewed out so many memories both nasty and beautiful. So too, the euphoric pleasure of witnessing the genius of John Cleese inhabiting The Guv with the touch of a neuro surgeon was beyond explanation and incredibly humbling. To the producers Ross Garland and Brad Logan, screenwriter and Director Don Marsh, DOP Lance Gewer, the entire army of crew, the school of Michaelhouse and the inspired cast, I can only doff my cap to your incredible effort and passion for the integrity of the story. Considering the film is now moving into the editing phase, it’s far too early to predict how good it might be come November. That said, I sense there is something incredibly special and resonant about this film and I look forward with no trepidation and only charged anticipation. Today I’m setting off into the mountains to begin work on the making of Spud The Movie, which I’m writing in collaboration with Ross Garland. The book will trace the behind the scenes shenanigans of exactly what it takes to make an independent film in South Africa. The book will be released with the film in November and for those of you intrigued by Spud, films, and everything in-between I suggest you sneak a peak if you are so inclined.

One of the great ironies of my working life is that people almost always ask me about the future rather than the present. When I was touring Learning to Fly, just about everybody wanted to know about the film. Now that the film is underway I’m continually asked, “Where is Spud 4?” This isn’t an easy one to answer. Whilst it’s true that I haven’t begun writing it, I do have a rather clear idea of what I plan to do with it. You may have to be patient, but I’m sure you would agree that I have to end this nonsense with a perfectly constructed BANG!

More anon


Spud the Movie update: John Cleese is having a ball!

Greetings Spud fans. Here’s a jot or two from Eyewitness News on John Cleese and the filming of Spud the Movie (now happening in KZN):

Cleese said he adored working with 14-year-old Troye Sivan who plays Spud.

“He is totally not inflated, he is fun and beautifully mannered and a really wonderful actor and I’m enjoying doing the scenes with him.”

Glad you’re enjoying it, Mr Cleese!

Spud – The Movie filming starts this week…

…as the redoubtable Sally Scott, who’s covered the story like it’s a proper beat, mentions in her latest Spudwise article:

And so it begins. It’s no secret that the doings of 13-year-old KwaZulu-Natal boarding school pupil Spud, aka John Milton, are to be committed to the big screen – in fact filming starts today in the Midlands.

Little did Durban’s John van de Ruit know, when his first novel was published by Penguin Books in September 2005, that his diary-style tales of a pre-pubescent schoolboy’s turbulent ride through an elite KZN boarding school, would become such a runaway success.

Spud, which won the 2006 Bookseller’s Choice Award, was soon whizzing around the world.

Sitting on the London Underground one afternoon I counted three commuters, in one carriage, reading Spud.

The Potato Movie and other musings (Plus: the actor who will play Spud revealed!)

It’s been a while since I last indulged in a spot of blogging – 2009 in fact. I trust you all had a spankingly good holiday – although no doubt the memory of which has long receded in the mind. My festive season was a chaotic affair, mainly due to the fact that Jules and I moved into a new house. It was sad to leave Wombat’s flat and Wombat’s ghost behind, but neither seemed to take offence at our hasty exit. Wombat’s flat (as it is now known) is where I have done much of my Spud writing and it still has Catch 22 pasted to the wall of the study. Now faded and yellow and yet still brilliant.

Three days after moving into the new house, I received the screamworthy news that John Cleese had officially signed on the dotted line to play The Guv. Five days after that, and following months of torture, I learned that the financing had finally been secured and the film was green-lit to begin shooting in March. After years of uncertainty and one step forward, two steps back, Spud the Movie has galloped past the point of no return. A 100% privately financed film in South Africa is a rarity, and my endless thanks and gratitude go out to those who have taken the risk in the name of faith, hope and Spud. I wish for your investment to be returned tenfold. Now, for those of you who aren’t that well versed in the lingo of film, being privately financed means that creative control and all creative decisions remain in the hands of the producers rather than film studio execs, or even worse, a pushy financier who once starred in a house play at school. That means we live or die by the creative decisions we are making right now, and will continue to make for months. That all adds up to more excitement, less sleep and less fingernails.

Speaking of choices, final casting for the teen roles is imminent, although I can officially announce that the role of Spud will be played by the phenomenally talented Troye Sivan, star of Wolverine X-Men Origins. But returning to the search for the teen characters – what an intriguing process it has been. It evolved into a nationwide talent search that opened the door of possibility to many who would never have had a shot at auditioning for a film before. To call the process thorough would be an understatement and I thank you all for your patience and courage in giving it a shot. I could not tell you how many audition tapes we have watched and re-watched. Debates and discussions have zigzagged between Cape Town, Jo’burg and Durban as we gradually filed the actors down to the shortlist for each character. For those that are cast, congratulations and break a leg, to those that got so close, my commiserations – take strength in the knowledge that you got this far and the creative spirit resides in you all.

As you can imagine with all the film tumult, I have had little time to cast my mind forward to the final book in the series. I’m often asked when the final Spud might magically appear in a bookstore round the corner – unfortunately I cannot answer that yet. Rest assured, as soon as I know, I’ll let you know.

Be chilled, and be happy.


On a quest to track down the funniest novels of all time

For those who have read my blogs, books, or more rarely, seen a play that I have written, will know that absurdity, madness and exaggeration cling to my missives like a suspect body odour. In these times when the creative monster hibernates, I am able to look backwards and forwards and digest this rather peculiar world that I’ve stumbled into. For that is just it, up until Spud I always felt that everything achieved was a consequence of my direct input over which I was (mostly) in control. Post Spud, I have entered a world that seemingly happens to me. It’s thrilling, but I can’t help the feeling that it all appears a little charmed and out of control. One moment I’m caught up in the throes of writing and creating, and then I’m touring the country with much fanfare, like some sort of Prodigal son on yet another lap of victory. The third phase is the most difficult – the silence and banality of filling each day without waking up and jumping on the rollercoaster. One would think that regular living would be the easiest phase to adapt to, but to be honest it seems like a great pause before the next storm. The last time I was able to wake up and not have to write or promote my books was almost two years ago, and yet I have learned from that experience that despite my agonising and minor emotional torment, this period of downtime is as important as any other part of the writing cycle.

The title for the third Spud book derived from the first two lines of the chorus in Tom Petty’s song Learning to Fly.

“I’m learning to fly,
But I ain’t got wings…”

Strange that the following two lines should speak to me right now:

“Coming down
Is the hardest thing…”

Touché Petty!

But before I lapse too far into indulgence, let me say that I have been thinking greatly about what will follow the final Spud book. And whilst I’ve learned never to say never; it would take a prolonged period of creative or financial bankruptcy to force me back into the world of schoolboys after Spud 4. The “undiscovered country” is a tantalizing thought, along with the creation of a new set of characters which leaves me slightly tremulous with anticipation. But that’s all for the future and in the lap of the Gods. Right now I’ve got to figure out what to have for lunch and whether it might rain this afternoon or not. Since i don’t have an umbrella this may factor into whether I take a walk to fetch the evening paper or not… Let’s face it, it’s a risk… Okay I’ve decided, I’m staying in with Stephen Fry’s priceless journey through America and a pot of steaming tea for company.

I’m also on a quest to track down the funniest novels of all time. I am aware that humour is subjective and that some people think haemorrhoids hilarious, but if anybody would like to add to my reading list I would be most thrilled. After copious research and mass trawling through websites i have purchased the following…

Right ho, Jeeves. PG Wodehouse
Lucky Jim. Kingsley Amis
A Confederacy of Dunces. John Kennedy Toole
Three Men in a Boat. Jerome K Jerome
Adolf Hitler, My part in his downfall. Spike Milligan
Wilt. Tom Sharpe

Others that I would consider for the mantle of the funniest novel ever would be Catch 22 (Heller), The World According to Garp (Irving) and Still Life with Woodpecker (Robbins).

Look forward to hearing your thoughts…


Catch me on 7de Laan this week

Hi friends, I’ll be making a cameo appearance on 7de Laan this Wednesday. Tune in at 6:30pm on SABC2 – I’ll be launching Spud – Learning to Fly in the show’s new bookshop.

Spread the love


Spud the Movie website launched!

Spud the Movie

Hello all – the ‘Spud the Movie’ website has launched and is open for business!

So all the information you’ve be wondering about like auditions, release dates and all your other burning questions about the movie can be directed to the website. Click on the below link to enter the website:

Other key links:

Important information about auditions:


Spud the Movie Update!

Spud the movie is well on track for a 2010 shoot and cinema release. Casting for the movie will begin in August 2009. Information about how to audition will be available at from 15 July when the film’s website launches. Visit the website from that date to find out when, where and how to audition. There will also be an online process so that we can go to the ends of the earth or least the ends of Mpumalanga to find our Fatty and the rest of the crazy Spud characters.

Frankenstein’s Back!

Man those luscious days in Cambodia and Thailand feel like some time ago now. In fact even the Cape Town Book Fair has receded into the throbbing haze of talks, interviews and book signings. But let me resume from the very beginning and stagger forward in an orderly fashion.


Armed with a decent suntan, three signing pens, and a bubbly SE Asian inspired mojo, I set off for Johannesburg unsure of what to expect.

Sure I knew there was some anticipation about the new book, and yes I was warned that the launch may be a sizeable affair, but nobody gave me the category 12 hurricane warning! My first interview was meant to be a fifteen minute spot on the Rude Awakening on 94.7. It turned into a two and a half hour radio jamboree with Jozi’s craziest people. In fact I think Vern wouldn’t be out of place reading the weather. Anyway after our looney diatribe and being bogwashed by Whack-head Simpson I returned to my hotel in a twitchy mood and set about preparing my speeches for the launch and pacing around the hotel room in a nervous fashion. The weather was bitterly cold – even more so when you’ve just been through an 8 month summer and forgot to pack your jersey. Expecting the worst, I stepped out onto the Melrose Arch Piazza at 18:35 and my jaw fell open as I saw the queue which began at the signing table and stretched down the road and around the block. According to my publishers (who know these sorts of things) there were over 2000 freezing people waiting for me. Four hours later I was still signing away and grinning like an ape at the unfolding mass of humanity before me. What a night! What a feeling! So thank you to those who braved the cold and waited in line – your love and excitement was shattering. It’s official JOZI ROCKS!!!


After 5 days in freezing Jozi I flew South to beautiful Cape Town with British author Adele Parks. We didn’t stop talking (although she spoke far more than me) from the moment we were picked up from the hotel until we had been deposited in our hotel at the Cape Town convention centre. We covered all areas of life from the publishing industry in Serbia to the sex of Ricky Gervais’s cat. Marvellous stuff.

So everybody asks me how the book fair was this year and unfortunately I don’t have a clue. At my first signing the queue double backed on itself like a deadly snake with each fan armed with a sack full of Spuds. I did two signings a day and every single one was identical and just as crazy as the last. My third and final signing pen ran out on the second day and that was followed by several more. At least the flamboyance of my signature has greatly increased and for the first time I have been complimented on my scrawl. This was partly counteracted by the lady who informed me that I held my pen like a deformed baboon, which was a setback as far as signing confidence goes. It began to dawn on me that Spud is the Frankenstein monster let loose on the country and eventually the brute will destroy me too. I decided I couldn’t carry on and ran away. Unfortunately 4 Penguins jumped out of a nearby car with Madagascan registration plates and wrestled me back to my signing desk where a queue of hundreds waited patiently for their Frankensteins to be scribbled on.
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