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Sunday, January 16, 2011


Susan Roberts’s first published book heralds fascinating reading to come. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Durban theatre audiences will identify Susan Roberts more easily as Sue Roberts who is part Durban’s efficient Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre technical team. She has worked as a stage manager in the South African theatre industry for nearly 30 years.

Educated in Pietermaritzburg, she holds a BA Degree in Speech and Drama, and English and has been writing for the last seven years. During this time, she has featured regularly in the South African Writers Circle newsletter where her work is consistently acknowledged and rewarded. In 2007, she was placed third in the Annual Indwe Risk (formerly Prestasi) Short Story competition.

Two years later, she completed the Postgraduate Creative Writing Module of the English Honours Course at the University of KwaZulu-Natal under the mentorship of Professor Michael Green.

From Daisy with Love was written as a project for this writing course and it went on to win second prize in the Bijou Books 2010 Novella Competition organised by Helen Osborne and Ginny Porter. Bijou Books are succinct, well crafted stories – no more than 30,000 words (less than half a standard novel length)

The storyline takes readers back to 1915 where Daisy, an 18 year-old impressionable young woman who dreams of visiting far-off places, spends her days in voluntary work at the hospital writing letters back home for British soldiers recuperating from serious injuries sustained in East Africa. She lives with her plump, over-protective sister Nellie and they long for letters from their loved ones who are fighting in German South West Africa: Nellie from her husband Arthur and Daisy from Gilbert, who she’s been in love with since she was a child.

The letters make up much of the book’s content. Carefully worded to avoid censorship from military authorities they lack the intimacy Daisy and Nellie desperately want to read. There’s the cheery Arthur, the less garrulous Gilbert and his youthful chatty brother, Harold. Through their words we gain a small insight into the chaos of war – the stench of death, deafening gunfire and the interminable agony of suspense and fear.

Susan Roberts has a good flair for dialogue and there is much well-handled sensitivity in this story without it becoming mawkish.

In her acknowledgements, she states her gratitude to Yvonne Miller and Barbara Maud-Stone’s nostalgic self-published volume, Dear Old Durban for “many historical reminiscences which helped me to colour Daisy’s environment.” These include a reminder that trams ran down the Berea from Ridge Road, stopping at a terminus in Gardiner Street outside the post office. Then there was the Dead Man’s Tree which had funeral notices nailed to it.

There is a nice twist at the end where Daisy’s dream of visiting fascinating and faraway places comes to fruition two generations later through one of her granddaughters.

Susan Roberts’s first published book heralds fascinating reading to come. From Daisy With Love is available from Osborne Porter Literary Services for $7.86 at ISBM 978-0-9869802-5-1 – Caroline Smart