Thursday, April 24, 2014

So this is my gonzo-fist salute, FHM...

“The merry clink of whisky on ice echoed off the blood-spattered kitchen walls at the compound in Woody Creek, Colorado, as close friends gathered to toast the corpse of Hunter S. Thompson, still slumped at his writing desk.”

That’s the opening line of the finest piece of writing I’ve ever crafted in my years in magazines – a 3000-word in-depth profile after Thompson committed suicide in the February of 2005 – and it strikes me as damn poetic as I pen this goodbye to the publication that launched my career. FHM: South Africa’s own house of gonzo journalism.

Not that FHM went out with a bang. The last two years have not been kind to South Africa’s magazineindustry. Watching those circulation figures dwindle from the best-selling issue of 160 000 copies almost a decade ago to 25 000 a month today was … like watching Thompson’s literary talents waste away after he wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. We knew it was coming. The trigger was pulled last week.

Hagen Engler has written amost excellent post-mortem, if you’d like to know more about the rise and fall of FHM South Africa … the whens, and the whys. I want to talk about the whats. Specifically, I want to talk about what working from the headquarters on the top floor of 5 Protea Place in Sandton from 2003 to 2006 taught me.

I owe that magazine everything. It set me free.

My writing was kak

Before I sent in my application for Junior Copy Editor at FHM, I was working at one of Media24’s Sunday newspapers as a layout sub-editor. I was a 23-year-old silly, small town girl with a troubled family situation, and worse, I was a singularly average writer. I was the Nickleback of writers.

Despite my lack of penis, I was already devoted to the cult of FHM. It wasn’t the half-naked girls lovingly cupping their own breasts in nothing but bikini bottoms (although I’d develop a deep appreciation for the artistry of a glamour shoot after I joined the editorial team) – it was the writing. There was something about the irreverent tone and content inside the creamy pages of that magazine that resonated like a big, brass gong inside me.

I hungered to write like that.

Long story short: I got the job

The long story involves me blabbing about how cool I was because I once interviewed Art Matthews from Just Jinger – who incidentally was called a ‘gold-plated dildo’ in a subsequent issue of FHM – and the editor pointing out to me, in my interview, that I had spelled ‘journalism’ incorrectly in my cover letter. It’s been 10 years and I don’t know why he hired me.

On my first day at my new job, there was a sushi and champagne party in the office for some or other milestone we’d cracked. Milestone-crushing was a sport in those heady days when FHM’s circulation figures were skyrocketing.

I’d never tasted sushi before.

After we put in a few more hours on that issue (because it was an unspoken rule that no matter how hung-over etc. you were, you worked), we ended up at the cocktail bar across from our building. My new editor eventually phoned the guy I was dating at the time, some random, to come and fetch me because there was no way I was driving home. And so I was inebriated, I mean, initiated into the FHM family. With much teasing, and pink drinks with paper umbrellas.

Yes, there were 2am print deadlines. Ah, the shit we came up in our brainstorming sessions. There was free stuff, so much of it. Beer-tasting. Strip clubs. Clay pigeon shooting. Test-driving cars. Photo shoots. Pup quiz night. Lawn bowls. Models! Models! Models!

You can see how amusing-slash-annoying I find it that these days, my claim to fame is as “one of South Africa’s top mommy bloggers”. I’m not, and never have, been a particularly ‘mumsy’ type of woman.


FHM gave me the ultimate gift: my voice as a writer. If you’ve enjoyed my particular brand of storytelling on this parenting blog these last four years, know that it was born in the most unlikely of places – for him magazine.

We sat in a square: Margot Bertelsmann (then managing editor), Hagen Engler (then deputy editor), Brendan Cooper (in his first stint as editor) and myself. Margot polished my editing skills – which any good sub will tell you is oodles more complex than correcting typos and grammar. From watching Hagen reshape incoming articles, I learned the elements of great storytelling.

Cooper taught me the Big Stuff: page layout for maximum impact, killer coverlines, reader interaction, what sells… Now that we’ve crossed over into digital, where content is king – I appreciate just how ahead of his time Cooper was back in the early 2000s.

Good times and bad times

There came a time in 2005 that I stopped dating randoms and met someone special. Actually, we’d met when I was 15, grew up down the road from each other and went to high school together. I fell in love proper. After dating for nine months, we signed an offer to purchase a house. Our loan was approved. We were going to hand over the R50k deposit that Monday.

Instead that Monday, I was sitting in a funeral director’s office paging through leaflets for coffins. It was a car accident. I’ll never forget that phone call – “Yes, officer, but is he okay? Which hospital did you take him to?”

“I am sorry ma’am. He didn’t make it.” I still find it hard to talk about.

The day of the funeral, a bus pulled into the gravel parking lot of the church. It was my FHM crew, and some friends from Heat magazine too. They’d driven to the middle of nowhere (Henley-on-Klip where we grew up) just to be there for me while I buried, who was then, the great love of my life.

Salute, and goodbye old friend

I’m not going to unpack any more of my treasure chest of FHM memories; they belong to the dedicated people who put together that magazine every issue for 15 years. It gives us something to talk about when we bump into each other – which is pleasantly often. I’m still working with most of my original brat pack, in one capacity or another, just on new magazines and brands.

We’re the freaking publishing mafia.

So this is my gonzo-fist salute, FHM. I’m shooting your ashes into the virtual sky from a big red cannon. Packed with dynamite – just like your pages. In the words of Thompson:

“Like most of the others, I was a seeker, a mover, a malcontent, and at times a stupid hell-raiser. I was never idle long enough to do much thinking, but I felt somehow that my instincts were right. I shared a vagrant optimism that some of us were making real progress, that we had taken an honest road, and that the best of us would inevitably make it over the top. At the same time, I shared a dark suspicion that the life we were leading was a lost cause, that we were all actors, kidding ourselves along on a senseless odyssey. It was the tension between these two poles — a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other — that kept me going.” The Rum Diary

Blogger Tricks

Monday, April 21, 2014

The wonder years

Here are some of my baby photos I stumbled across yesterday while I was digging through my childhood treasures. It is weird to think that these photos are over 30 years old! Guess that makes me vintage.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The hollow chocolate bunny who wanted to be a Caramello Bear

It’s possible to know exactly where you are going, and still feel… lost. Got my map, got my five-year-plan, got my hipflask of firewater for when the road gets all hopscotch. Tick, tick, tick. And yet, something is missing.

I’m talking about my work, my job, my business, my career. FYI: that’s where I disappeared to this last while. I have been Making Something of Myself, people.

These last six months I have thrown every ounce of my time, energy and creativity into propelling my little one-woman, occasionally outsourcing, copywriting studio into a small agency. I have a business partner. We have the loveliest intern. We’re going from rent-a-desk to looking for permanent office space. We have 22 freelance writers on our books and counting. We are chasing the holy grail of digital media: creating content candy, not just copy candy.

Things are going gangbusters. Freaking awesome. Hot-firemen-with-nipple-tassles good.

But the price of this first taste of success has been terrible: for my friendships, my marriage and my children.

You didn’t think I was going to say that, did you? You thought I was going to say something along the lines of: “Yes, working moms – you can have it ALL!”

You can’t. It’s a steaming cowpat of bullshit.

My husband has done everything to enable me to chase down my dream: during the week he drops off the kids at their respective schools in the mornings, does the grocery shopping, works on his own stuff during the day (we are both self-employed), picks up kids at 1pm and then again at 4pm, makes us all dinner...

All this to buy me precious extra hours behind my laptop every day, to surf the churn in my inbox, write, write, write, project manage, write, write, edit, do the books, write, edit, project manage (look more emails!), write, write, edit.

 - But let me not overindulge in my tale of how ‘busy’ I am, because etiquette insists that this is a distasteful display of ‘bragging’. -

Where was I? Write. I mean, right – the rock star cult of entrepreneurship needs to be squashed. There is nothing glamorous about the kind of hours it requires to build a business, and almost NO ONE becomes a millionaire.

The real cost nibbles away at the edges of all you hold dear, the core of you – heart, home, the humans that live in your heart and home. It was only when I tried to apply myself to this mommy blogging business that I have been neglecting of late that I realised that a big chunk of my life had been eaten away by work.

Blog post after blog post has been binned, because I have nothing to say about motherhood anymore. In my head, I’ve been laying my writer’s block at the feet of that label: mommy blogger. “It diminishes my reputation as a professional. No one takes mommy bloggers seriously. It doesn’t earn me an income so it’s not deserving of my time,” and so on.

This has been going on for days.

I woke up at 3am and – maybe it’s the chill in the air that cleared my head – I can see so clearly now what the real problem is. I have nothing to say about motherhood, because I haven’t done much ‘mothering’ these last few months. I’m still packing school lunches, bathing kids and tucking my boys in at night. Physically, I’m going through the motions, but mentally I’m not in the room.

So there it is. It’s not pleasant, and I’m not proud of it.

Given it’s Easter weekend, I can’t shake this mental picture of a milk chocolate bunny, and when you bite into its ears – I always start with the ears – it goes ‘crack’ and it’s hollow inside. I’m always disappointed with hollow chocolate eggs and bunnies and whatever… I mean, stick some Smarties or salted caramel in there, stingy confectioners.

I want to be a caramel-centred mom, you know? I used to be plenty gooey on the inside.

This weekend has been a good start. I haven’t done a stitch of work. Okay, that’s a lie – I wrote a short article on Friday morning, and have some editing and editorial planning to do this afternoon – but I have been able to spend some much-needed time with my three amazing sons.

And I took down my old photo albums from the top of my cupboard, prepared with love and hand-scribbled, humorous notes by my dear gran, who raised me. I always ruffle through my childhood memories when I need to ground myself. Later I’ll post some Polaroids of baby Stacey – I can’t believe my chubby cheeks in the one photograph I found.

Until then, think gooey, caramel-centre thoughts, moms and dads.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

GIVEAWAY: A momi ‘O Baby’ accessory bag worth R300!

This competition is closed: the winner was Mariette.

It was only when I had my third baby that I could finally afford a really gorgeous ‘baby bag’. (And they say that the youngest child only gets hand-me-downs: not true baby Oliver, you spoiled little sproglet.) So I was thrilled, right in the beginning of January, when momi baby bags got hold of me to show me their range.

One of the things I love about their brand is that that are called ‘momi bags’... because, frankly, these are bags for grown women who aren’t letting motherhood cramp their style. You want to be able to stash a couple of disposables and some formula powder in there, and probably (if you are anything like me) your phone, your purse, your make-up bag and your car keys.

This is one of the bigger bags, and you can see how well it is made.

Momi Bags is giving away an ‘O Baby’ accessory bag to give away to one of the Lionheart readers. It’s worth R300 and it is just so classy and practical. It’s the perfect size for when you quickly need to nip out to the shops, and you just take the basics with you. I love the style; it’s Chinese silk brocade.

Simply leave me a comment below and tell me: what is the strangest thing that is in your handbag at the moment? If you like, you can also join the momi baby bags and Living Lionheart Facebook pages. 

I’ll announce the winner on Wednesday 19 March at 5pm. This competition is open to residents of South Africa only. Winner drawn randomly.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Shark teeth

I've been writing professionally for 15 years. It's my career. I've always shown an aptitude for it. I trained and qualified accordingly.

Parenting is a whole other bowl of nachos.

I do not know what the @^%%# I am doing.

And the funny thing is, no one does.

And then you're given this fragile bag of skin and bones and heart and brain to care for, and inside you are FREAKING OUT. But you kiss ouchies and read bedtime stories, because you have got this parenting thing in the bag, right?

And when your 6-year-old autistic son suddenly sprouts a tooth behind his baby tooth, you try not to hyperventilate in front of him (because you've got this, remember) but inside you're like "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit..."

So that was my day. How are you doing?