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Janice Warman

As a child

I was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and grew up as a privileged white child, surrounded by poverty and deprivation that we largely didn’t see because we lived in a white area. Like the couple in the book, we had a maid called Beauty, and although her child didn’t live with her, she visited for a few days and I remember trying to teach her to read! It made me think how much Beauty must miss her when she went home to the Transkei, where her grandparents looked after her and her siblings. I was shocked that white children got their schoolbooks free but black children had to pay for them. Beauty worked so hard to feed and clothe children she hardly saw, and to pay for their uniforms. Then in 1976, my last year at school, the Soweto riots broke out, and it was shocking to hear of all the children who were shot. The house in the book is really my house (though the Malherbes were luckily not my parents!) and we too had a Basset Hound called Betsy and locked ourselves in during the height of the riots as my mother and I were sometimes alone when my father was travelling.

As an adult

I studied journalism at Rhodes University; it was one of the few degrees in the country where there were both black and white students. In my first year, the black consciousness leader Steve Biko, who lived nearby in East London, was murdered, and there was great shock and grief on campus (along with indifference from some). That politicised me more, and I decided to leave the country once I had graduated. Some of my fellow students were a lot braver than me and stayed on to fight the apartheid system; many were imprisoned and tortured. I came to Britain and worked as a journalist on a local paper and later BBC Radio 4, The Financial Times, The Guardian and The Observer, the Daily Mail and The Spectator.

As an artist

I like to work at the south-facing window of my son’s old room. I use a long oak dining room table rather than a desk so that I can spread out all my books and my big screen – I have a little MacBook Air that I plug into it, which means I can work in the garden if the weather is good. I have a special dog bed for this room and my black Labrador Inca (Inky for short as she’s owned by a writer) spends a lot of time there, especially in winter. My daughter’s pretty brown and white half-Burmese cat Saffy sleeps on the futon. If I’m lucky, apart from the horses and the sheep, I will see a herd of up to 30 deer, including two pure white does, from my window, which overlooks the next-door farm and the Ashdown Forest. I have had one other book published: The Hey Nonny Handbook, the literary survival guide for women (Harriman House, 2006). It’s all about how good poems and books are essential and are just the thing to turn to in a crisis and to share with friends. I have another book out in 2014, Class of 79, which is about three of my fellow journalism students who risked their lives to stay and fight apartheid. My favourite job so far (though my real one is as a financial journalist, editor and publisher) has been volunteering to teach poetry at my children’s school.

Things you didn’t know about Janice Warman.

  1. I love poetry – writing it, reading it and thinking about it!
  2. I begged to ride when I was four and my mother made me wait until I was six. Then the first pony I got onto (called Prince Charming) reared up and threw me off much to my mother’s horror. I got straight back on and she thought, I guess she has the pony bug. Now I ride a beautiful skewbald called Traveller who lives at the top of the garden
  3. My job is financial journalist, editor and now publisher.
  4. I love covering music festivals as a journalist. Especially going along with my camera and photographing the bands. And even more if my children come too!
  5. I was given two pet ducklings as a birthday present when I was eight. They were a birthday present and kept jumping into the swimming pool even though my Dad built them a pond.
  6. I had my first story published when I was six years old – in the school magazine. It was about my dog who was run over but happily survived. I seem to remember it finished ‘but she is orlright now’.
  7. We called all our pets after singers and film stars. The goldfish were Sonny and Cher; the cats were Miss Engelbert and Mr Humperdinck. My dog’s puppies were Dave, Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich (it was a sixties band)
  8. By the time I was eight I had read all the books in the children’s library and the adult library upstairs gave me a library ticket.
  9. I read the first draft of The World Beneath to my children (Dominic and Imogen, now grown up) when they were 10 and 8, and they were really, really good critics.
  10. When they were growing up, our family consisted of eight animals and only four people. We had two horses, a pony who lived in the garden and used to ambush the postman, three dogs and two cats (or it may have been two dogs and three cats...I can’t remember).

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