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John van de Ruit

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

One Week to Launch

Spud – Learning to Fly will be launched next Tuesday, 9 June, in Johannesburg, and a whole slew of other places following that.

This may surprise you, but the over riding feeling i have after returning home to Durban after two months in Asia, is one of order. Now order isn’t a word one usually associates with South Africa – but there you have it. I am once again struck by the degree to which afro-pessimism frames so many people’s views when compartmentalizing our country. The other thing I have noticed since returning home, is the level of hype and anticipation about Learning To Fly. I expected a storm but this is looking more and more like a category 5 hurricane with a chip on its shoulder. This is the part of the job that always sounds the most glamorous to people, but can in some ways be more daunting than writing the book in the first place. The pre-publication launch, exactly a week from now shapes up to be a monumental event with my publishers determined to set a new record for a book launch in South Africa. I have warned them about the possibility of me developing an arthritic writing paw due to excessive book signing and hand shaking but it seems they thought i was joking. Now you may think this is a laughing matter (and it probably is) but Marian Keyes scared the death out of me at the Cape Town book fair in 2007 when she said that her arm had become mangled and deformed due to signing a million or so books too many. She was using a personalised stamp which made her seem like a fiery Irish librarian checking out books. I’ll do my best to avoid the stamp on the Learning To Fly book tour except of course for those of you who have an unnatural fetish for stationery.

And now for some apologies:

I apologise to the good people of Gauteng for the unseemly Spud, Learning to fly billboard that has been erected on the Ben Schoeman Highway between Johannesburg and Pretoria. This is just the sort of grandiose prank that the Penguins are famous for – particularly when I’m away. A traffic jam is bad enough without having local literature rammed down your throat as you sit trapped and gridlocked between a minibus, another minibus, and certain death. An apology too for those readers who have to squeeze past grotesque columns of Spud books in bookstores on their way to more edifying literature. I say blame Harry Potter, he started all this boarding school craziness in the first place.

So the first copies of Learning to Fly were waiting for me upon arrival. Unfortunately my father was overcome with curiosity over what he might or might not have done in his recent past, tore open the envelope, and became the first citizen to read the new book. The good news is that his review was favourable, the bad news is that my father couldn’t exactly say it was a pile of brown- – at least without breaking my heart. It was a surreal experience to open the book and feel its pages between my fingers. So many words, and so much time spent on those exact words. It was the moment when Spud – Learning To Fly no longer was the subject of my life, but the object of my labours. That switch from subject to object is enough to short circuit a brain as small as my own.

The end of the road

Continuing my travel blog for the Penguins ahead of the launch of Spud – Learning to Fly

Time is a trickster. One minute you stand with weeks stretched out before you, and the next the looming and predictable dead end casts a shadow across the face. Weirdly, Cambodia feels like it was the previous year and i can barely remember Kuala Lumpur at all, and may have to re-read my first blog to feel who i was back then. The added bonus to traveling for unseemly amounts of time, is that home always feels like an exciting place to return to, and yet the wandering spirit that has ruled you for so long desires more time to explore and more experiences to devour.

For the last week my thoughts have been with Spud – Learning To Fly and how the following months might play out. I’ve thought about the book tour and the shift from an extremely private recent existence to something more public and amplified. Mostly though, my thoughts are with Learning to Fly, in the knowledge that the first copies of the book will be arriving at the Penguin Colony this afternoon. I hope to see my first copy upon landing on Sunday morning and will no doubt collapse into a heap in the corner and read voraciously and in a Vern-like manner. That will be the beginning of the next journey and perhaps that one will cast light onto the next and then the next.
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Adventures in a mini-wan (part two)

Continuing my travel blog for the Penguins ahead of the launch of Spud – Learning to Fly

I apologise for the fact that i had to break off the story last time due to excessive heat in the internet cafe, a mosquito swarm nesting on my right ankle and a number of long media interviews which have kept me from completing the full sorry tale.

So to get you up to speed the story paused with Julia and I waiting at a cafe/travel agent for the Ko Lanta miniwan after driving around the town of Krabi for hours in a false minivan with sleepy rastas and morose Swedish nubiles. Let’s go – again.

15:00 The real Mini-Wan arrives and halts half way down the street. 2 desperate South African travellers charge after it with their backpacks. The driver slides back the door and 14 Thai faces stare back at us. There is baggage everywhere. Fuelled with the wisdom of Eckhart Tolle, I let rip with a great “Hello, good afternoon everyone” only to be met with absolute silence.

“Sawadeeka!” I tried again. Nothing.

15:01 Driver points to a narrow space on the back seat.

15:02 I discover too late that the Mini-Wan’s ceiling is only 4ft high and I crash my head into the luggage carrier above, much to the consternation of a hitherto unseen live chicken.
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HOT OFF THE PRESS!!! Spud the Movie Update from producer Ross Garland

At last Ross Garland the producer of Spud the movie has stepped out of the the boardroom/bathroom for some long awaited news on the long awaited Spud movie. So all you future movie stars and buffs out there, pay close attention because we might never hear from the man again.

I hand you over to Ross Garland!!!

I see John has been insulting me on his blog for my procrastination.

So here is an update for your blogging delight.

Spud the movie feels like it has passed its watershed moment in its journey towards being made. We have a real international star on board to play the GUV. I’m hoping to be able to reveal his name in the coming weeks. I see that BBC is doing reruns of his top tv show at the moment.

On the back of this news, the money to make the film is starting to piece itself together. As soon as I get confirmation that all is on track for our target shoot date of December we will be rolling out our casting for all the teenage roles, both at certain schools around the country and online. I wish we could do a full on Idols style process because I have no doubt the talent out there will be overwhelming but with the usual limitations of money we are going to have to be smart to give everyone a chance to have a go at auditioning for the film. So we will also launch a web process where people can go online and try out that way. Just like Spud’s audition for Oliver…the long shot at fame and fortune.

Other news is that the same Hollywood distributor that distributed “Tsotsi” to the world has picked up the film, which certainly confirms our view that the film has international legs.

Meanwhile we slowly put together the behind the scenes team – cinematographer, editor, art director – who will all play their part in the 57 person crew who will ultimately make the film what it is. And we are also starting to look at the more mundane issues of where the crew will all stay in the KZN Midlands whilst we shoot, and whether our star should stop over in Rio or London on his way from LA.

And for me, the producer, it’s the usual thing of trying to hold it altogether in the face of constant questions about whether anything we are doing is right – is the budget too high? Is the budget too low? Is the script too commercial? Is the script commercial enough? I too would love to disappear in Vietnam for two months but alas I am not a famous author.

Your man in Cape Town,

Swine syphilis and adventures in a mini-wan (part one)

Continuing my travel blog for the Penguins ahead of the launch of Spud – Learning to Fly

Notwithstanding three delightful near death experiences in the back of a Cambodian tuk-tuk, it has been a rather pleasant trip as far as transport is concerned. That is until we reached Southern Thailand this week. Now to place Thailand in its proper context, it is by far the most prosperous country on mainland South East Asia, primarily because of two reasons: It has never been colonised, and it hasn’t been bombed by the Americans. The contrast between Cambodia and Thailand is almost as stark as the difference between Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Flying via Bangkok to the South Western Thai port town of Krabi, i was thrilled to be tested for swine flu or H1N1 virus, the Scientific name given to prevent pigs from getting a bad name – thanks to CNN the horse has bolted on that one. I myself prefer a terrifying name for these outbreaks – it’s very difficult to imagine terror haunting the streets in the name of H1N1 – i suggest a potentially explosive “Swine Syphilis,” now that’s the kind of name for a real pandemic!
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Spud Milton – Tomb Raider

Continuing my travel blogging for the Penguins as the countdown to the launch of Spud – Learning to Fly nears the single digits.

It’s been a marvellous (wickedly splendid) eight days in the sleepy town of Siem Reap. The name itself means “Siam defeated” which refers directly to a great battle with the Thais that may not have occurred at all. The attractions of this place are the great temple ruins of Angkor built between the 9th and 12th century. These immense beasts that rise suddenly and inexplicably out of the jungle leaving you open-mouthed and somewhat intoxicated by their visage. The grandeur, beauty and craftsmanship that went into their construction and the creative genius that underscored the temples of Angkor is mind boggling. I’ve never been a big ruins fellow, but seeing the ancient temples of Angkor in the flesh is one of the greatest experiences of my life. It’s almost the fulfilment of every young boy’s fantasy… A vast temple of ruins surrounded by jungle and a 200 metre moat! Described by historians as eclipsing the majesty of the ruins of Ancient Egypt and the intricate detail of the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, the signature temple and pride of Cambodia is considered one of the great man made wonders of the Earth.
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50 Days to launch

The bugger about growing older is that it’s an invisible act of decay. Like watching a rose bloom, one minute it’s a bulging bud and the next it’s as vast as a cauliflower, falling to pieces, and soiling its vase water. Yesterday, against all odds, I turned 34 years old, which no doubt some of you will think sounds old, and others will deem it mere spring chickendom. The thing is, I felt exactly the same on the morning of my birthday as I’d felt the previous night when I was still a youthful and vigorous 33 year old – apart from the blinding hangover that is. Now 34, I considered my somewhat haggered and unshaven face in the bathroom mirror and tried to analyse my visage dispassionately. My Dorian Gray moment was shattered by a sly mosquito who emerged out of a small potted bathroom fern with intent to give me the Gecko treatment. In Cambodia the nocturnal female mosquitos spread malaria, and by day, a different species of female mozzie spreads Dengue fever. There is no mention of the rare Dawn and Dusk mosquito in my guidebook, although local wisdom has it that they’re devout pacifists that only spread goodwill.

I lunged forward and thumped my palm into the wall, but the cunning Mrs Dengue evaded my swing and sniggered loudly as my hand crashed into the wall. I am pleased to report that after a swift and bloody battle I triumphed over the death fever carrier and thumped her into the basin in a splatter of blood. But it was my blood on the basin, and my ankle now had a nasty pink welt and itched like hell. Happy Birthday Johnno – you may be 34 but you still have a way with the ladies…
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Mad About Kep!

Continuing my travel blog for the Penguins as the launch of Spud – Learning to Fly looms ever nearer…

I have always suspected that the ways of our modern society, and all of us that exist within it, are clinically insane if not stark raving bonkers. The notion of a mad world that refuses to acknowledge it’s inner lunatic has permeated just about everything I have ever written. The problem is – people have always assumed I was joking – another one of the perils of being a deranged moth desperately circulating the glimmering light bulb of comic Nirvana. But believe it my friends, we are all insane and living a dire catch 22 existence of madmen in a world disguised as sane. Even Eckhart Tolle says so – and only an insane would dare argue with him.

My friends, i don’t want you to be alarmed but i have embraced my inner madman in the last week and i am feeling all the better for it. No more of this “‘author in repose making a sage note in his emerald notebook” business. Oh no, not me! From this point onward i am stir-fried crazy until conclusively proven otherwise. I challenge you to do the same – it’s a highly liberating exercise.

So I discovered my inner madness on the rooftop garden of our villa (ingeniously called La Villa) overlooking the tranquillity of mountains covered in jungle, and the turquoise waters of the gulf of Thailand below. Dotted before me amongst the jungle were the odd thatch and red -roofed backpacker hang outs and everywhere was the sound of birds, small creatures and hooting lizards. For the same price as a bog variety B&B in South Africa we lived like Lords over all we surveyed. Everything that seemed so precious over the last year, myself, and the new book, no longer seemed in any way important anymore. I was indeed small up there looking down on all that natural grandeur. You feel small being the only non-Cambodian around – perhaps it’s through utter anonymity that we find our true place in the world. Perhaps not?

It wasn’t all staring at the view and contemplating our naval however. Jules and I also achieved the following:

Travel blog: Kuala Lumpur and Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

I’ve started a travel blog for the Penguins to help promote the third Spud. Follow me as I backpack through Asia, a convenient place to spend the long countdown to the book launch. Here are the first two entries:


71 DAYS to launch

Happy April fools day y’all! Since my job is to make people laugh and to distract them from their daily lives with idiotic nonsense, i shall therefore desist from attempting an April fool’s joke about myself. Options i considered were:

I’m not coming back.

I’m having a sex change.

I’m racing in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix

I’ve plagiarised Spud, Learning to Fly.

Penguin Books has gone bankrupt.

I’ve bought a brothel.

Macaulay Culkin is playing Spud in the movie!
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How Spud – Learning to Fly got started

Dear Reader

In Spud, the character of The Guv inscribes a book of poetry, which he presents to Spud Milton on his 14th birthday. It reads, “Here’s to all the beginnings, and the possibilities they bring.”

Spud – Learning to Fly’s beginning was August 2007. In a few short years I had written two books, performed hundreds of Mamba shows and lived the life of a celebrated nomad. Running on red bulls and adrenaline, and mostly overawed by the sudden turn in my fortunes, my new roller coaster life took on a life of its own, and I merely chased its wake. The Madness Continues (and continues…) book tour was gruelling and I realised that I had reached an end of sorts. Call it the end of the beginning. I needed a break, a break from the daily buzz, a break from Spud, and mostly a break from myself. I decided to disappear, and so I did. For five months I didn’t mention the “S” word, avoided all contact with the world, and relished my ordinariness. It was a beginning of sorts.
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