martin steyn
“It is the tale, not he who tells it.”
Stephen King

Sadly, I can’t claim to have had a love of reading since early childhood, but I did love coming up with storylines, whether I had my hands on Lego, action figures, cars, wooden guns or simply my imagination. Which was useful, since my only sister is ten years older and without today’s myriad of technology I often had to keep myself entertained.

When I was 15, I went to the library and got a book by Stephen King. I loved horror movies—a friend and I often rented the Nightmare on Elm Streets after school—and I knew Stephen King’s name from some of his films. I came home with The Dark Half. I don’t remember why; perhaps it was the only one on the shelf. But that was it. For the next two, three years I pretty much exclusively read Stephen King’s novels and short stories.

While reading IT I began to think about writing. My first story was called “Vengeance”, a 26-page cauldron into which I stirred everything from aliens to devil worshippers. Truth be told, it was pretty poor, but I fell hopelessly in love. I wrote more short stories, all horror or supernatural, some of which weren’t too bad. A dream had been born—I wanted to be a writer.

I only began writing in Afrikaans several years later. Out of curiosity. But I had so much fun, the story grew into my first full-length novel. It wasn’t particularly great, either, but I discovered that it was huge fun to write in Afrikaans—especially dialogue—and it was proof that I could write an entire book. It seems like an impossible number of pages to fill when first starting out.

Meanwhile, I’d developed a somewhat worrying interest in serial killers. Vampires had always been my favourite horror creature, so it was probably only natural. The big difference, of course, is that serial killers exist. They walk among us. They look like us. Men like Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy fascinated me. I wanted to know why they were like that. And that was when I began reading true crime books.

Naturally, I would start writing about serial killers. I studied Psychology and Criminology at the University of South Africa. Psychology was fascinating and I also completed an honours degree. Then I set out to write my first crime novel. And discovered that getting it published was not so easy …

Martin Steyn

The But Years. Letters from publishers followed a similar pattern, starting with some compliments before moving on to the inevitable “but”. The twist. And never for the better.

Then one day I saw a link to the South African Writers College. I still don’t quite understand how Google grabbed that one, since I was searching for something completely unrelated. The Write a Novel course piqued my interest. Particularly the part where you send a section of your story along with each module to your tutor. And that was how I met Wilna Adriaanse.

I began work on a new novel for the course. The main character was a middle-aged detective, somewhat dispirited, tasked with investigating the murders of a number of teenage girls. The working title was “Donker Spoor” (Dark Trail). Wilna proved to be a twist in my writing. A good one. Her advice, help and stern reader’s eye made a big difference. And her support did not stop when the course did. She kept on believing in my manuscript.

“Writing is rewriting,” one publisher wrote in a report, “writing is reading and fixing.” And the manuscript went through a number of drafts. Eventually, I sent it to LAPA Publishers and it found its way to the desk of Cecilia Britz. And one day in 2013, a day that started out like most others, I received an email from her. And my dream came true.