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With friends like mine …

The main obstacle to self-publishing is the publicity. How do you hook people into reading your stuff? Way back in 2012 I was desperately trying all channels to publicize my book, Hillary’s Angel. An IT friend persistently told me to start a blog. Eventually, six months later, I did.

It was scary. Blogging didn’t come naturally at first, but one day I woke up with the realization that it had become a hobby — something I actually enjoyed. However, 18 months later I still have no way of knowing if it has helped sell any books. I tried unsuccessfully to get feedback from Amazon (at one stage there was a nifty chart on my Amazon author’s page, which sky-rocketed whenever I made a sale, but that was taken down for “upgrading” months ago and never replaced) and I’ve not had a whiff of a royalty from them to date.

The idea is (or, rather, MY idea is) that people who read my blog will think WOW I’d like to tuck into more stuff by this magnificent blogger and will then click on and download my Wonderful Book. Certainly I’ve really enjoyed several self-published books that I found on WordPress. Some great writing is not being published via the old-fashioned/conventional channels. In fact, it’s often better than the stuff in the bookstores (and a whole lot cheaper). But in my case I only have positive evidence that blogging has helped me sell one copy. 

In another way (ie not sales related) I do have concrete proof that blogging has helped me publish. Early on it connected me with another first-time self-publisher who was far more blog-literate than I was and incredibly supportive with no prospect of financial reward (which still amazes me). 

Indirectly, thanks to her encouragement, on 21 December I finally delivered another book. This time I published with Smashwords (following my blog-friend’s example) in ebook format only. This is SELF-PUBLISHING in the true sense of the word. Along with the (minimal) effort and the risks involved it has one major advantage: I can now tell exactly how many books I sell. This time around I’m not uploading to Amazon and I’m not asking folk to review me (if they do it will just be a bonus). So for me 2014 will be an honest experiment to see if blogging really DOES help self-publishers connect with readers.

That said, I can tell you what (in my experience) does NOT sell books. First and foremost, a book launch. Rubbish. I had a great party, but didn’t sell a single copy. In fact, if you asked my friends I don’t think they’d be able to tell you why we had the party in the first place. Secondly, book reviews. I had at least three four-star reviews but suspect I was the only one who read them. Next, bookshops. As a self-publisher I found it next to impossible to get bookstores to sell my books. (Another reason why I’m opting for ebook-format only this time round.) I sold three books at each of the two stores that very kindly put Hillary’s Angel on their shelves.  

Then we come to “friends and family”. All the publishing guidelines recommend that you do NOT give friends and family copies of your books. Thing is, they don’t tell you how to get these friends and family to buy their own copies. In the end I gifted copies to most of mine.

So what do I hope to achieve by the end of 2014 (apart from the obvious massive sales to all you supportive WordPress bloggers)? Well, firstly, I’m already deep into a Mills and Boone type romance (publish or perish) to be published anonymously. And secondly (and sadly) I’m thinking of awarding a special prize to my friends for the most inventive excuse for not buying my books. The list is growing daily. (And yep, that would be a book prize.)  

On a more serious note, so far I’ve sold two whole copies of my new book Upside Down. Both to family, who bought them solely in an attempt to “cheer me up”. One was bought by my daughter, who doesn’t read books anyway, and one by my husband when he heard I’d reduced the price to $1. No, these are not tears of joy …

Upside Down


Tell us about a time when you felt out of place.
Photographers, artists, poets: show us CONFUSION.


I wasn’t the only one to feel the confusion. Many people felt so out of place that they left the country. We all had mixed motives — those who stayed and those who left. No-one was motivated entirely by materialism or ideals, and sometimes it was simply a matter of survival. Some of us had no choice. We lived day to day, some hand to mouth. South Africa of the Apartheid years was a land of confusion alright.

My novel is an attempt to tell that story. It is set in a small South African town — a microcosm of the society as a whole as it lurched through a border war and liberation struggle. Today at least we are no longer confused. Our rainbow nation has been transformed by hope.

Cover design: Aria la Faye. Publication date: 21 December 2013. Publishers: Smashwords

Leafy layers



My book Upside Down is ready for publication on Smashwords. I have my cover, the editing’s done. But like this robin chat I can’t resist turning over a few more leaves just in case. The trouble is, there are so many layers to our lives. My book is fiction, but it is based on historical events. When is the research done? When is enough enough? My editor says the time has come. She even edited out some extraneous detail. I couldn’t agree more. But when someone sends an sms to say he’s got more to say … I’m tempted. And when I read another book, one that contradicts earlier facts … I wonder.

I’ve told myself that a work of fiction is just that. I am not obligated to get every detail right. My characters are allowed to be fallible too. Their opinions are not the last word. But still, I feel compelled to look, to dig beneath those layers of leaves and scrabble through the dirt.

Fair Game


Daily Prompt: The Perfect Game
You’re set to play poker (or Scrabble or something else . . .) with a group of four. Write a story set during this game. Or, describe the ideal match: the players, the relationships — and the hidden rivalries.

Photographers, artists, poets: show us COMPETITION.

“She’s done it again,” Anne hissed to Mandy. They exchanged eyebrows as Steffy blissfully arranged her letters in the lower left hand corner of the scrabble board, nowhere near the game in play, so she could use a red triple word square.
“That’s not allowed!” Zoe shut her scrabble dictionary with a snap. “Not allowed. You have to connect your word to the others.” Although Zoe wagged her head and pursed her lips to prove her point, Steffy continued taking fresh letters out of the bag, a tremulous smile tugging gently at the corners of her mouth.
“She’ll still lose,” Mandy whispered to Zoe. “Don’t make a fuss.”
“Hmmf.” But Zoe went ahead with her multiple letter, high-scoring coup. “All the same. There are rules.”
“I’m thinking,” said Steffy.
“The sky will fall,” hissed Zoe.
“I’m thinking of having Botox.”
Mandy stopped mid-turn, her hand poised gannet-beaked above the board. “BoTOX,” she repeated, “The ‘tox’ stands for ‘toxic’. That’s poison to you and me.”
“There’s a woman across the road, three doors down, who does it,” Steffy continued, humming contentedly as she added more letters to her private game in the corner.
“It’s Mandy’s turn,” said Zoe loudly. But Mandy was spellbound, listening to Steffy.
“She does fillers and ‘peels’ too. What’s a peel?”
“They take off your old skin. I think it’s painful.” Mandy’s gannet plummeted. A neat a three-letter splat just where Anne was planning to go.
“Aw,” said Anne. “Bummer.”
“Stephanie, I’m not giving you a score until it’s your turn. And then only if you join your word to the others.”
“Why, Steffy?” Steffy patted Mandy’s beaked hand with her own freckled claw.
“Jeff says I’m not the woman he married. I want to change that.”
“Of course you’re not. That was ten years ago. AND he’s sixteen years younger than us.”
“You lucky devil” added Anne.
“I warned you at the time” said Zoe.
“It costs,” said Mandy. “And it doesn’t last. You need to keep doing it every three months.”
“Steffy’s got the money. Come to that, we’ve all got the money.” Mandy topped up their iced tea.
“Wealthy Widow Women.” Anne took every opportunity to remind them of her own special name for their gang, even though it had only been vaguely funny in the first place, and Steffy wasn’t and hadn’t been a widow for the last ten years.
“It’s your turn, Anne.” Zoe sipped her tea like it was poison. “This is warm, Mandy. Cold things must be cold. Put mine back in the fridge.” It was Mandy’s apartment, so she didn’t mind, but Zoe would have acted the same at her own place round the corner. They just did her bidding. It was easier. Except for Steffy, of course.
Anne added an ‘s’ to Zoe’s word, which led to an argument about the score.
“B…O…T…O…X…” Steffy placed her letters over another triple word square.
“That’s a proper noun! And a trade name! You can’t do that.” Zoe swept the letters off the board.
“This is meant to be a friendly game” protested Anne, “So we don’t need rules.”
“Don’t need rules? Don’t need rules?”
“Tell you what,” said Mandy, tipping the board so that all the letters slid into a heap, “What d’you say we take a little walk across the road to the Botox lady and find out a bit more?”
Steffy opened her purse and took out her lipstick, and Anne grabbed her walker.
“I’m game!” she said.
Only Zoe frowned her disapproval. “Perfect,” she said, “Just perfect.” But she was gathering up her things all the same.

Is my cover blown?

washing line
On the verge of publishing an ebook, I am deciding on an image for my cover. I had this vision of exactly what I wanted. Until today.

Someone forwarded me an email about washing/clothes lines and it’s made me rethink. (See picture, if you are puzzled by this apparent anachronism of modern life.) Apparently washing lines have become redundant, just like typewriters, fountain pens that don’t use cartridges, diningrooms, handkerchiefs and Christmas cards. According to this email, people now prefer to use dryers, even in sunny South Africa. I must be the only person in the world who still spends evenings ironing in front of the TV. Perhaps next time I need a new iron they will be as difficult to find as bottled ink. Perhaps those clothes pegs they sell in supermarkets are only meant for closing bags of cereal and catfood, and not for hanging out clothes at all.

My book is set in the past, covering the period 1954 to 1994, during South Africa’s Apartheid years. It is called “Upside Down”, alluding to reports that interrogation officers at John Vorster Square dangled suspects upside down from a high window until they confessed, as well as the topsy-turvy state of society at that time.

What better image, I thought, than a washing line strung with paper dolls, black and white, to give the impression of the chaos and loss of control experienced by my characters. But now I’m having second thoughts. Even if washing lines were in use during the period covered by my book, what does it help to use one in my cover design if readers can’t relate to or, worse still, are puzzled by the image I hope to project?

The good news is that I think I’ve found the perfect designer to do the cover: She’s young and talented so I can trust her instincts. The bad news is that I still need to find the artwork and I’ve lost faith in my vision. Here’s the poem that did it:

A clothesline was a news forecast
To neighbours passing by,
There were no secrets you could keep
When clothes were hung to dry.
It also was a friendly link
For neighbours always knew
If company had stopped on by
To spend a night or two.

For then you’d see the “fancy sheets”
And towels upon the line;
You’d see the “company table cloths”
With intricate designs.
The line announced a baby’s birth
From folks who lived inside,
As brand new infant clothes were hung
So carefully with pride!

The ages of the children could
So readily be known,
By watching how the sizes changed
You’d know how much they’d grown!
It also told when illness struck
As extra sheets were hung;
Then nightclothes, and a bathrobe too,
Haphazardly were strung.

It also said, “On vacation now”
When lines hung limp and bare.
It told, “We’re back!” when full lines sagged
With not an inch to spare!
New folks in town were scorned upon
If wash was dingy and gray,
As neighbours carefully raised their brows
And looked the other way.

But clotheslines now are of the past
For dryers make work much less.
Now what goes on inside a home
Is anybody’s guess!
I really miss that way of life,
It was a friendly sign
When neighbours knew each other best…
By what hung on the line.

Confessions of a hot cross bun

I guess it’s true that you are what you eat, because in the week my family was away I morphed into a hot cross bun.

Sweeping up the crumbs in preparation for their return I found this quotation by Ashleigh Brilliant:
“Sometimes the most urgent and vital thing you can possibly do is take a complete rest.”

It is a comforting thought – better than the idea that I need another pair of eyes around to keep me motivated.

Four horses, three dogs, two birds and a cat fix me in their limpid gaze. You still had us, they say, and anyway, you were showing signs of becoming a fruit cake even before the buns left the bakery. In that respect they are right.

Last month I bought my first (and last) copy of YOU magazine, enticed by the headline: “Palace Pressure as Book Bombs (Pippa struggles in Kate’s Shadow)”. My excuse is that I had just received notice of the “royalties” (ha!) for my first novel, so I felt a compelling sympathy for poor Pippa whose book on catering is “languishing in the bargain bins”.

All fellow feeling evaporated when I read that she had been paid an advance of 400,000 pounds sterling. Why does a vast monetary reward make it alright to have written a rubbish book? It should make it worse, but somehow it doesn’t. I was toasty with jealousy – very hot and very cross. Pass the butter.

Unfair remuneration makes me particularly angry when I think of all the impoverished editors toiling away without a lunch break in darkest Africa. Plus, I’m told, every time someone tunes in to a TV reality show, another book loses its binding. I wince whenever a film star wins an Oscar. Those overpaid macaroons have been accomplices in some truly tasteless literary massacres.

But at last, my family is back, and I have a deadline for March 19 and an editor of my own sniffing the internet for the final spicy pages of my latest confection. I have alphabetised the toast rack, disabled my Facebook accounts and sharpened my pencils ready for combat. There shall be no more buttery toasted buns for breakfast. Currants have lost all their allure since a little bird warned me that bakers are not the only people who wear white coats. However, someone must eat my Welcome Home chocolate cakes, as I don’t plan on baking again any time soon. On the next trip I’ll make sure they take me along too.

“We spill forth burnt revelations … /until all is spilt milk, souring in a warm sun.” – PH Davies, Suburbanite

Full House!!


Copyright Lynn Sly (for permissions see end of script)

Based on the book by WR Wilkerson III

This play was first performed in Irene, South Africa from 23 Feb to 2 March 2013, with the following cast:

WR WILKERSON II (BILLY) … Bevan Timm (singer)
JOSEPH SCHENCK … Matthew Strachan
HOWARD HUGHES … Charles Ross
LANA TURNER … Alison Ballard
BEN SIEGEL (BUGSY) … Marchárl Jankowitz
VIRGINIA HILL … Patricia Pieterse
FRIEND/WAITER/BUTLER … Katie van Loggerenberg
LAWYERS/GUESTS … Kush du Toit, Stennette van den Berg
MOTHER WILKERSON … Annette Wessels
NORMA VARDEN … Eileen van Zyl (singer)

Scene One:
“The Hollywood Reporter” masthead across top backstage or front. Remains throughout.

Show Girls Vegas style

Show Girls Vegas style

BILLY: [VERY SMARTLY DRESSED. PREFERABLY PINSTRIPES. WALKS ON IN FRONT OF CURTAINS WITH HAND OF CARDS, STOPS CENTRE LOOKING AT THEM, ANNOUNCES TO AUDIENCE:] Hmmm – a full house. [RESTORES CARDS TO POCKET AS TWO BEAUTIES RUSH IN FROM OPPOSITE SIDES OF STAGE AND FAWN OVER HIM. ] You want to hear my story? Ladies and gentlemen, life’s a poker game. Unless you gamble all you’ve got, you’ll never win big time. One of my wives (I forget which one – my memory’s fine, but when you’ve had six wives, all brunettes, the finer detail gets a bit blurred) … Anyway, one of my wives told me I should have been a gangster, but I didn’t have the guts. [SHRUGS] Was she right? Did I lack the balls to get the job done? You listen to my story and then make up your own mind. Fair enough? After all, I didn’t become a media king without getting my hands dirty – and I’m not talking about printer’s ink. It takes courage to stand up and tell the truth. Especially about yourself. And here it is: An up-front, full-colour, special edition on ME, Billy Wilkerson, the man who invented Las Vegas. Saint or sinner? You decide.

CURTAINS OPEN TO REVEAL PARTY SCENE AT JOE SCHENCK’S HOME. TICHI STAGE LEFT. JOESEPH SCHENCK STAGE RIGHT. Girls loose hair, dark glasses and panama hats in pencil skirts and high heels. Guys in dark glasses, panama hats, waistcoats and ties. Flashy. Pencil moustaches and gelled hair – centre partings.


BILLY: [TO SCHENCK] Who’s the brunette?

JOE SCHENCK: That’s Beatrice Ruby Noble. We call her Tichi. Her mother’s my housekeeper. Spanish. Doesn’t speak a word of English.

BILLY: [CONSIDERS] Then she’s not for me: the only Spanish words I know are adios and taco…

JOE: Hell no, Tichi speaks English. I meant the mother. Be my guest.

BILLY: I am your guest, Joe.

JOE: Mi casa es su casa.



JOE: Tichi, I’ve been thinking. You’re a beautiful girl. Would you be interested in an acting career? I could set up a screen test for you tomorrow.

TICHI: You must be kidding, Mr Schenk! You know that my mother would never hear of such a thing. Besides, I don’t want to be an actress. I’ve watched them work. It’s a very difficult and demanding profession. No, my ambition is to marry a rich man.

JOE: [LAUGHS] Well I’ll be damned. I just steered a wealthy gentleman in your direction and when he asked you out, you turned him down. So I reckoned you were a career girl after all.

TICHI: Oh! Billy Wilkerson? The publisher? But I saw him arrive with another woman on his arm. And they looked real close. Under the circumstances I was obliged to refuse.

JOE: Well, little lady, you made a big mistake. Billy always has a beautiful girl draped on his arm… Doesn’t mean a thing.

TICHI: He’s not married?

JOE: Billy’s the most married man I know.

Joe Schenk advises Tichi about BillyWilkerson

Joe Schenk advises Tichi about BillyWilkerson

TICHI: Then I’m not interested.

JOE: But of all the men I know, he’s also the most divorced. He’s already had five wives. His first wife died of the Spanish flu, even before I met him. Then he married Gwynn – I’ve known her and her sister as long as I’ve known Billy: two beautiful brunettes, like the heavenly twins. You’d see them dining with the stars in Billy’s restaurants on the Strip.

TICHI: He owns restaurants on Sunset Boulevard? I thought he ran the Hollywood Reporter.

JOE: That too. But everyone knows: Billy built the Boulevard: Café Trocadero, Ciro’s, you-name-it – Billy brought Paris to Hollywood, baby. When California was living off Coke and sandwiches, he introduced us to champagne and caviar. You name any successful nightclub or restaurant on the strip – it belongs to Billy.

TICHI: But where did he get all that money? Is he from an old family?

JOE: [LAUGHS] No Billy’s just an uncanny business man. But his father was old family alright. Richard Wilkerson or Big Dick as they called him was one of the last of the old-time courtly Southern gamblers – but he died penniless. That’s what happens when you’re a gambler by trade. He was a legend. Way back in 1902 he made gambling history when he won CocaCola.

TICHI: What d’you mean “won CocaCola”?

JOE: He won the concession and bottling rights for 13 southern states. But two weeks later it was all gone. Like the froth on a tumbler of beer. Poof!! Gambled away. Bill’s mother Mary told me : One day she was the proud mistress of a large cotton plantation, and the next she was out in those same fields picking cotton for someone else. I will say this for Billy: he’s made up for everything his mother went through in those bad old days – made sure she never wanted for anything for the rest of her life.

TICHI: And Gwynn? Billy’s second wife? What happened to her?

JOE: As far as I know Gwynn’s still writing her column for the Hollywood Reporter.

TICHI: She still works for her ex?

JOE: In a manner of speaking. As Gwynn will tell you – Billy’s real mistress is his work. He writes Tradeviews – you must have read his column in the Hollywood Reporter? For movie moguls like me, it’s the first thing we read in the morning. Even Rooseveld got the paper airmailed to his desk every day.

TICHI: I can’t believe that the president read the Hollywood Reporter in the White House!

JOE: As God’s my witness. But Gwynn sees no more of her Ex at work than she did around the house. He’s out all morning at the studios and on the social circuit, picking up news tips, and every afternoon he’s down at the track, betting on the horses. Hell, that’s the only legal gambling left in California these days.

TICHI: But there’s gambling here, Mr Scheck. You’ve been having these parties for as long as I’ve known you.
JOE: Yes, but this is my home – it’s an exclusive private party by invitation only. Where’s the thrill in that for big time gamblers like Billy?

TICHI: I don’t see the difference. There’s no limit here: You play all night; the stakes are just as high as any casino – I mean, those chips are $20 000!

JOE: If you’d played at Monte Carlo like Billy, you’d know the difference. The opulence, the luxury …
HOWARD HUGHES: Joe, I’m on my way. Thanks for the hospitality.

JOE: Howie! Why the hurry? It’s still early.

HOWARD: Billy’s playing a dangerous game. I don’t want to be here when his luck runs out. You know what a sore loser he is.

JOE: Miss Beatrice Noble, let me introduce my old friend Howard Hughes. He was a good friend of Billy’s third wife, Miss Rita Ann Seward.

HOWARD: I’m sure I don’t know what you mean, Joe. I’m still a good friend of both Billie Seward AND Billy Wilkerson.
JOE: Just filling her in on Billy’s background, Howie. Miss Tichi here turned him down.

HOWARD: Turned down Billy Wilkerson? That’s a first. The man goes through wives like dollar bills. Drives them to (drink) …
JOE: [INTERRUPTS] You can’t talk, Howie. To keep your attention more than five minutes, a woman needs wings and an engine. [FOR TICHI] Don’t let him put you off. Billy really knows how to woo a woman. He built a mansion for Rita, his third wife. It’s a landmark in Bel-Air.

HOWARD: Tichi won’t know who Rita is. She’s better known as Billie Seward, Tichi.

TICHI: Billie Seward, the movie star! Billy was married to her?
HOWARD: For 13 years. At the height of her acting career.

JOE: [CYNICALLY] Maybe that was why it was the height of her acting career – with Billy at the wheel, steering her publicity. She knew how much she needed him. They kissed and made up more than once.

Marilyn Monroe, Howard Hughes and Lana Turner, who all help tell Billy Wilkerson's story

Marilyn Monroe, Howard Hughes and Lana Turner, who all help tell Billy Wilkerson’s story

HOWARD: Billy built her a fine French Colonial grey stone mansion in Bel-Air – it stands on three acres with a pool and tennis courts – [SEES SWEATER GIRL PASSING BY] Lana can tell you about it. She was married there. Lana, come tell Tichi here about your wedding. [ TAKES JOE ASIDE ] Don’t know why you invited me, Joe. I don’t drink and I don’t gamble.

JOE: The girls like to see you, Howie. And you need to get out more. Let me fix you a glass of milk.

HOWARD: I’m good Joe. You go and watch the game. I’ll find my own way out. [EXITS LEAVING JOE TO WATCH GAME.]

TICHI: [IMPRESSED] So I get to meet Lana Turner! Is it true that Billy Wilkerson “discovered” you?
LANA: Yes. Up till that moment I was just a scullery maid, a cheap Cinderella with no hope of a pumpkin. Then Billy found me, sweet sixteen, sipping a CocaCola at a soda fountain across the street from my school . He turned my whole life around.

TICHI: Was he in love with you?

LANA: Nah. And certainly not after I went blonde. Billy’s a man for the genuine article.

TICHI: You mean he only likes natural blondes.

LANA: Darling, where were you hiding in the locker room? A blonde is as natural as a blue rose, don’t you know. As Marilyn says, “There’s only one sort of natural blonde on earth – albinos.” And our Billy is a man for the genuine article. Although he’s too much of a gentleman to admit that – just says he prefers brunettes. Yup, he sure is the perfect gentleman. Always perfectly dressed. Perfect manners. Perfect house. But don’t get me wrong – Billy’s no toy boy. When he sees what he wants, he goes out and grabs it. He always has to have the very best. [CONFIDES] Let me give you a tip – never, never, NEVER keep the man waiting. He’ll up and leave without you. And don’t try and impress him with smart talk. Just be yourself. Like I said, he’s a man for the genuine article. And talk about a short attention span! It’s like his business ventures – the minute they’re a success, he sells. Drives his colleagues crazy! And he treats his women the same. He plies them with lavish gifts, spoils them rotten and then just when they think they’ve got his number, he gets bored with playing house and moves on.

TICHI: He must have a soft spot for you: To host your wedding at his house.

LANA: It was a VERY small wedding. Only 100 guests. I came down that grand curving staircase on Billy’s arm while a string orchestra played the wedding march. The preacher was waiting at the bottom in front of an arch-shaped window, draped with ferns and white stocks. Two silver candelabra gleamed before the side windows …

TICHI: [BREATHLESS]And your dress?

Lana Turner describes her wedding at the Wilkerson Mansion

Lana Turner describes her wedding at the Wilkerson Mansion

LANA: Very simple. [CONFIDES] You see, my divorce had only just come through on the Friday – extreme cruelty – those were the grounds – I got $10 000 alimony. Anyhoo … I wore a champagne coloured gown, trimmed with Chantilly lace, and I carried four large white orchids… kind of symbolic, the orchids, you know? [GIGGLES] He’s my fourth husband and the wealthiest so far. Did you read about him in the Reporter? He’s the heir to a fortune in tinplate. We had six months in Europe for our honeymoon. Sailed over on the Mauritania.
TICHI: That’s my kind of honeymoon. I’m looking for a man who can feed me on strawberries and cream, smother me in silks and satins, wrap me in furs …
LANA: Go on …
Tichi sings "Peel me a Grape"

Tichi sings “Peel me a Grape”

LANA: [TO JOE AS HE RETURNS] I get the feeling that this lady’s going to get what she wants …

JOE: [TO LANA] You could be right.

TICHI: So, tell me, Mr Schenck, what happened to that grey stone mansion in the divorce settlement?

JOE: It’s still the Wilkerson mansion, if that’s what you’re wondering. There were two more wives after Billie Seward, but neither one of them could hang onto it either.

LANA: Maybe they didn’t want to. I think it was just too big and empty for those poor girls – Billy left them alone so much it must have been full of lonely memories.

TICHI: Didn’t they have careers to keep them busy?

JOE: I’m not sure about Estelle – Estelle Jackson Brown, that was her name – wife number four. She was only around for two years or so. I don’t recall … . But Billy’s fifth wife, Vivian du Bois, now she was a model when Billy met her, and then she had some bit parts in the movies. But even Vivian was only around for about four years.

LANA: [REVELATION] You know what? I think Billy loves his French poodles more than any woman! Those dogs have got it made, I’m telling you. They go everywhere with Billy, which is more than you can say for his wives. Vivian told me – that’s his fifth wife, if you recall – she told me Billy’s wives were just possessions, like bookends on the mantelpiece … just propping things up – kind of holding his social life together… you get my drift? Joe! All this talking has given me a big thirst. Where are you hiding that champagne? [EXIT TOGETHER]


Scene 2:

Tichi Wilkerson, played by singer Yots.K

Tichi Wilkerson, played by singer Yots.K

TICHI: [MOVES TO CENTRE STAGE FRONT.] Welcome to our home, ladies and gentlemen. It’s just a few months since Billy and I met and here I am, married to William R Wilkerson II and mistress of this grey stone mansion in Bel Air, two maids, a cook, a chauffeur, a butler and I’ve lost count of how many gardeners.
So you think I’ve got it easy, do you? Want to hear the truth? The man’s never done any housekeeping in his life. Eats all his meals out – because he owns the restaurants. And when he is at home all he wants is sardines on toast and devilled eggs. Why we have a cook, goodness knows.
Believe me, Billy is in the red! Any deliveries to the house come COD! Whatever comes in, goes out – his gambling debts eat it all up, see. it’s never mattered because he had no personal expenses. The studios provide all the entertainment we could want – they even entertain his guests. They will even screen movies at the mansion for us – we’ve got our own projection room. He’s got no travel expenses. The studios fly him round the country, or overseas – always first class. There’s a limo waiting at every airport. They pay for everything – even clothes when he needs them. So any cash gets gambled away. I mean, how am I meant to pay the staff? I can’t go on like this. So I took my courage in both hands and I said, Billy, could I handle the household finances? Maybe I could help turn things around? And what do you know? He agreed!
Now he’s teaching me all about the newspaper business — from the ground up. He likes to take me to the office with him. I curl up on the leather sofa in front of the fireplace and listen to them gassing away – who’s getting sued, who’s got the dirt on whom, who’s the next big star… I just love that man!
If only I could get him to quit smoking – he knows it’s killing him, and his friends say I haven’t a hope in hell of getting him to quit gambling, but who knows… I do have this one special card up my “sleeve” … [TAKES OUT ACE OF HEARTS THEN REPLACES IT.]
But first, let’s watch a couple of movies. I just love movies, don’t you? You want the uncut version? I thought so. What’s up first, Sam? [ADDRESSES NONEXISTENT PROJECTOR OPERATOR AT BACK OF HALL]

VOICE OFF: Wall Street 1929. Black Tuesday.

TICHI: The Bad Old Days. Make yourself comfortable folks. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride. [EXITS]


Billy and Friend, Black Tuesday 1929

Billy and Friend, Black Tuesday 1929

FRIEND: Billy! Billy Wilkerson. That you?

BILLY: Jack! After all these years. Last saw you back in third year, medical school!

FRIEND: Now I’m working here on Wall Street. What are you doing these days? I heard you also gave up your studies. There was a rumour you were running some speakeasies.

BILLY: I had to stop studying when my dad died. I had no choice. But it wasn’t all bad. A friend got lucky on a World Series bet. He won this movie theatre in Fort Lee, so I managed it for him for a couple of years and sold it at a good price. I produced a couple of one-reelers for a small picture company – had some fun. And as for the speakeasies, why don’t you ask the mayor.

FRIEND: The mayor of New York? You’re kidding!

BILLY: Nope. It was all with his blessing. I mean, what other kind of restaurant can you have with prohibition and all? I’ve run a few for Mayor Jimmy Walker and owned a few myself. But they were only a sideline. I was District manager at Universal Pictures for a spell and, until today, I had half shares in this trade paper on the film business.

FRIEND: In Hollywood?

BILLY: No, actually it’s based in Manhattan. Not too convenient to scoop the latest news, so I’ve just sold my half of the business. I’m moving to Hollywood to start a trade paper there.

FRIEND: That’s great Billy. You must come round to my place and meet the wife and kids. Let’s see, today’s Monday … How about tomorrow?

BILLY: Tomorrow just happens to be my birthday.

FRIEND: The big four-O?

BILLY: Thirty-nine.

FRIEND: [CONFIDES] Tell you what … I’ve got a birthday tip that will set you up for life! The market’s at rock bottom. Play it now and you can’t go wrong.

BILLY: That’s why I’m here. I got $20 000 for my half-interest in the paper. I was thinking about the Radio Corporation, and Ford Motors, maybe.

FRIEND: If you had fifty you couldn’t make a wiser move.

BILLY: Sure thing?

FRIEND: With the market this low there’s only one way it can go.

BILLY: I could borrow another twenty-five…

FRIEND: Then tomorrow we celebrate …

BILLY: You bet!

FRIEND: In those days stock prices were shown on a tickertape machine. This machine was usually about twenty minutes behind the actual prices. The way things were moving in the stock exchange on Black Tuesday, by the end of the day the tape ended up three hours behind. The machines just couldn’t keep up with the pace of the falling stock. It was pandemonium. The floor of the stock exchange looked like a battlefield.

BILLY: Buyers roared and screamed, falling to the floor when they got bad news.

FRIEND: So many people crowded outside the stock exchange, shouting and shoving, we had to call the police to keep order.

BILLY: When I walked into the stock exchange at nine o-clock on Black Tuesday, I had $45 000 in my pocket. When I left 45 minutes later I didn’t have a dime. A thousand dollars a minute – down the drain. I walked out onto Wall Street with nothing to my name and a brand new debt of $25 000. And I wasn’t the only one. Some folk were even worse off. Things got so bad in New York, when you checked into a hotel, the receptionist asked if you wanted the room for sleeping or for jumping.

FRIEND: [START SLOWLY AND CALMLY, WALKING ACROSS STAGE AND BACK, AND SPEED UP, TALKING FASTER AND FASTER INTO A FRENZY] There was a run on the banks. So many people withdrew their money, the banks had to close. When they reopened savers got only ten cents on the dollar. So people started demanding gold for their dollars. [ EXPLAIN TO AUDIENCE] In 1928 the member banks of the Federal Reserve system had borrowed over $60 billion dollars from the Federal Reserve on their fifteen-day promissory notes. Think of it! Sixty billion dollars payable upon demand in gold in the course of one single year. The actual payment of such obligations calls for six times as much monetary gold as there is in the entire world. So in 1929, when people started demanding gold for their dollars, the US government got scared they would run out of gold. Desperate, the Federal Reserve tried to keep up the value of the dollar by raising interest rates. This reduced liquidity for businesses and they, in turn, started laying off employees.

BILLY: And so the vicious circle went on. Spiralling everyone down, down, down, deeper and deeper and deeper. Folks called it the Great Depression. There was only one thing to do. I packed my few remaining possessions into my old model T Ford and set off for Hollywood with my wife and mother. [GETS UP TO EXIT. FLAMBOYANT OLD LADY COMES IN CARRYING COFFEE CAN. AS SHE TALKS, RUDELY PUSHES BETWEEN BILLY AND FRIEND. SHOVES FRIEND ASIDE AND HE BACKS OFF STAGE, OFFENDED. FLOUNCES AFTER BILLY.]

MOTHER: Billy, Billy, I’ve got some cash here to start you off again!

BILLY: Mama … That’s real sweet of you.

MOTHER: Now don’t you go near those banks, you hear? They’re wicked. Wicked. [SHAKES FIST AT RETREATING FRIEND] Takes your money and charges you interest for the pleasure. Then when you need something and come knocking at their door, they won’t give you the time of day. You leave them alone, you hear? [EXIT TOGETHER WITH HER STILL GRUMBLING.]


TICHI: Of course, all this happened before my time. It shows Billy at his worst, and best. Always impulsive, compulsive in everything he did. Risk everything, sometimes lose everything, but still bounce back ready to gamble the shirt off his back. He couldn’t help himself. His mother was that scared he’d end up like his father. That’s why she squirreled away any money he gave her – hid it in empty coffee cans that she stored next to her sugar and spices. I know of at least four times she came to his rescue after he had gambled away the company payroll. But she never let him leave without a good scolding. [SINGS – GOD BLESS THE CHILD ]


Scene Three :



BILLY: What is it?

GWYNN: The Fox, Billy. They’re doing it again.BILLY: Burning the papers are they?

GWYNN: Yes, Billy.

BILLY: Winnie Sheehan watching from his window?

GWYNN: Yes, Billy.

BILLY: Call in the staff, then. Tell them I have an important announcement.
[REPORTER RETURNS WITH HANDFUL OF STAFF. THEY ARE EXPECTING THE WORST. ] It’s two months now since Winfield Sheehan, head of production at Fox, started burning the morning delivery, and today, I can officially tell you that we’ve run out of money. Unless business picks up, I’ll have to post a closing notice. [SHUFFLING OF FEET, BOWED HEADS, ETC] Well, I think it’s about time that … I congratulate you. [STARTS SHAKIND HANDS WITH EACH IN TURN] You’re doing a great job – the best. Since the Hollywood Reporter has been telling it like it is, the film industry has had to wake up and face the music. You’ve been hopping fences, sneaking into the studios – I don’t know how you did it and I don’t want to know – past snoozing guards, making friends on the inside, going through their trash, whatever. By hook or by crook you’ve got me those ballbreaking headlines that stir up the big shots and make them squirm. Since we opened these doors, I’m proud to say that we have not printed a single one of those puff pieces the studios circulate.

GWYNN: [INCREDULOUS] You want us to tone it down a little, Billy?

BILLY: Hell no! If anything, I want you to crank it up. Be sneakier, nastier, meaner than before. Why, here’s my page one article for tomorrow – Tradeviews – it’s one of my toughest talking articles yet. [TEARS PAPER OUT OF TYPEWRITER. GIVES IT TO ONE OF THEM. AS HE TALKS TO THEM ONE BY ONE THEY RUN OFF.] Here, Gus, you go set that. Ed, I want that picture of that… that… whatzizname at MGM?

REPORTER: Clark Gable?

BILLY: Yes, that’s him, the one with the ears. You had lunch with him the other day. I want all those confidential details you told me in that story. Big and bold. Let’s turn him into a celebrity. Then, you get our clipping service to follow the column across the country. We’ll show the studios whose reading the Hollywood Reporter! Then they’ve GOT to support us.

GWYNN: [RETURNING] We’re out of newsprint, Billy.

BILLY: I believe Frank here has gotten us two small ads that will pay for the next roll of newsprint. That right Frank? Make sure they deliver today. [WAVES THEM OUT. PHONE RINGS] Yes, I’ll hold for Mr Hughes. Howard? So you can make that loan? That should keep us afloat for another week and I’ll put in the article about the plane…. Well then, look at it as advance payment on your advertising. We’ll give you all the publicity you need … Of course, say no more. Thank you.

JOE: How d’you do? My name is Joseph Schenck, Mr Wilkerson?

BILLY: Billy Wilkerson, at your service, sir. What can I do for you? I see you’ve just had a facial downstairs.

JOE: Yes, Bugsy Siegel and I were having a shave … [WANDERS ROUND OFFICE LOOKING ROUND]

BILLY: Wouldn’t call him Bugsy if I were you, sir. Ben Siegel. That’s the name. Doesn’t do to “bug” him, if you get my drift. Tends to hold a grudge. Bit of a “sportsman” you know?

JOE: Well, as I say, I was just having a shave in your barbershop downstairs and I happened to pick up the Reporter. I wanted to tell you I was impressed by that article you wrote on what makes a good talkie. I’d never thought of it from that angle before. I was thinking … maybe you have some more suggestions that could be of benefit to me … if I placed an advertisement or two for our forthcoming attractions …

BILLY: Of course, Mr Schenck. You see, talkies are a whole new tack. You can’t treat them like the silent movies. You need new stars – bigger venues. But it also opens a whole new box of tricks… If you’ll join me for lunch, I’ll tell you how I envisage the future. [TAKES TWO DICE OUT OF HIS POCKET AND HANDS ONE TO JOE] Have a roll? {TOSSES HIS ON DESK. JOE FOLLOWS SUIT] Six.

JOE: Four

BILLY: Right! You’re buying. Lunch.

JOE: I am?

BILLY: I got a six, see? [POCKETING DICE] You rolled a four, didn’t you?

JOE: Yes, but …

BILLY: [AS HE PUTS ON HIS COAT AND HAT] I’m not the enemy, Mr Schenck. I have great respect for the way you gentlemen have turned a nickel-and-dime storefront business into one of the top six industries in America. And I could boost that business. You ask about talkies. [PUTS ARM ROUND SHOULDERS.] It’s a funny thing that. You see, when I was district manager for Universal Pictures in Kansas City … [EXIT TOGETHER]



Scene One:

HOWARD HUGHES: I’m no gambler, but I understand compulsion. And Billy Wilkerson is one compulsive gambler – can’t help himself. From the moment he wakes up in the morning it’s all he thinks of. It consumes him. He plans his whole day around the gaming tables and race courses. We’re his closest friends, Joe and I. So Joe would write off anything Billy owed him. I gave him advances in the form of “prepaid advertising”. But by the end of ’44 this was not enough. Despite his two restaurants on the Strip, and the newspaper, which made him a neat profit of $250 000 a year, on average Billy gambled away at least $150 000 annually. But 1944 was different. It got so bad, his losses topped the million dollar mark. He was in deep trouble. Shipments of paper and ink stopped. What did arrive, came COD. A chronic gambler doesn’t keep ready supplies of cash. Billy had nothing in the bank that came anywhere near the figures he was gambling. And the more he lost on the tables or at the tracks, the more fiercely he gambled to make up his losses. His wives, his close colleagues, his friends – we all despaired as he tossed their future away on the gaming tables.

But this was Hollywood. If anything, society encouraged irresponsible behaviour. Here, gambling debts were a kind of status symbol – they showed that you are a go-getter. We held our breath. Billy’s friends went to Mass every morning and prayed. [PAUSE] D’you know … it’s a funny thing. I once added up all the numbers on a roulette wheel. Know what I got? Six hundred and sixty-six. The number of the beast!



JOE: Come in Billy.

HOWARD: It’s me Joe.

JOE: Howie? What’s the latest on Billy?

HOWARD: That rabbit’s foot of his is bald by now with all the rubbing. He’s lost another weekend in Vegas, whenever he feels the table turn cold he just moves on to the next casino.

JOE: You mean, when he starts losing. And? Did his Hail Mary’s work this time?

HOWARD: What do you think? The sad thing is – he doesn’t even like Las Vegas. All that heat and the crummy, run-down gambling joints. Hardly his style. But since gambling was outlawed in California, he’s got no choice but to go to Nevada.


JOE: Talk of the devil.

HOWARD: I’d better go. Got some dailies to watch for my next production.

BILLY: Thought you’d already watched them this morning.

HOWARD: Once is not enough. I might have missed something. [EXITS]

JOE: Don’t overdo things, Howie. [TO BILLY] He needs to get out more. The man’s becoming a recluse.

BILLY: He won’t listen.

JOE: Like someone else I know. Pour yourself a drink, Billy. Sit down. [THEY SIT AT TABLE SET FOR FOR MEAL] Dinner will be ready shortly.

BILLY: Frankly, I’ve lost my appetite. In fact, I’m sick to the stomach. Joe, I have a confession. [PAUSE]

JOE: Go on. What is it Billy?
BILLY: [SLOWLY, RELUCTANTLY] Frankly I’ve lost my appetite. In fact, I’m sick to the stomach. Joe, I have a confession. I’m out of control, Joe … I can’t stop myself… This gambling is eating up my soul.

JOE: Half the battle’s won when you can admit that, Billy.

BILLY: This weekend I wrote out cheques for $850 to Hotel Last Frontier, over $3000 to SS Rex Club, $21 000 to Hotel El Rancho and $900 to Pioneer Club. My losses totalled about $26 000. And last weekend … Kennedy had to bring me the payroll. Flew out to Vegas with the cash in a briefcase. .. And it’s not the first time he’s done that for me.

JOE: Look Billy. If you’re going to suffer these kinds of losses, you need to be on the other side of the table.

BILLY: What d’you mean?

JOE: Build a casino. Own the house.

Inventing Las Vegas - Billy makes the decision to "own the house"

Inventing Las Vegas – Billy makes the decision to “own the house”

BILLY: That’s a mighty weighty suggestion.

JOE: As a chronic gambler who’s suffered some heavy losses myself, I know what I’m talking about. You think about it.

BILLY: But with gambling outlawed in California, it would have to be in Nevada? Vegas? And I hate the desert. Hate those run-down cowboy gambling joints.

JOE: There must be something you can get to like about the place. Something that could motivate you. I know you, Billy. All you need is some inspiration. The right bird … something … you just need a muse.

BILLY: It’s not just me. You’ve got to think of the clients. To make a place work you need the super rich. What could tempt the Hollywood crowd to go all that way? I tried driving there once in my Cadillac and never again. It takes seven hours – and there are no gas stations – you have to load up with cans of fuel. It’s sheer hell, driving all that way in that heat. No scenery. Not a single tree to look at. Hell, the only elegant thing I’ve ever seen out there was this one pink flamingo at the Boulder dam. One goddamn pink bird … I still wonder what it was doing there … looking at itself in the water … cool … elegant … pink … solitary … unique … cool …

JOE: What’s up Billy?

BILLY: [SLOWLY THINKING IT OUT] There’s this publishing company in Brooklyn. A young engineer there has developed this system to reduce the humidity … air conditioning, they call it … now I hear they’re using it to keep buildings cool. Better than swamp coolers any day – efficient, no odour.

JOE: Yes, I’ve heard something about it. Worth looking into if you’re going to build a casino in Nevada.

BILLY: Come to think of it … there’s 33 acres up for sale a few miles outside Vegas … if I set up this unique, cool, stand-alone casino … with the Boulder dam to provide the water … like a pink flamingo in a lagoon… The Flamingo! How’s that for a name? An exotic oasis in the desert. There’d have to be a hotel too so people could stay overnight at least after coming all that way – 250 rooms, double anything available now in Vegas – and a golf course, and stables for horseback riding … Shops, not just any shops but Cartier, Chanel, from France … only the best. At least 30 private six-room bungalows, like Beverley Hills, you know? And the staff would dress in tuxedos. Black tie for guests. Marble, gilt, superb luxury suites…

JOE: Guests could fly out …

BILLY: It would have its own air strip…

JOE: No need to go into town. They could sleep over when they were done gambling …

BILLY: There’ll be a spa and health club, like Baden Baden, so when you’re tired of gambling you can relax in a mineral bath and have a massage. With all the facilities people won’t just come to gamble. We could get Howard out there! Even Howard would come – to watch the shows. He could lay on planes for the celebrities. We’d have the best artists. Floor shows nightly, like the Moulin Rouge in Paris.

JOE: Like your favourite, the Folies Bergères.

BILLY: A nightclub, with dancing and sophisticated entertainment after dinner. Top flight live acts and popular bands from my Hollywood venues. I’ll give it top publicity, advertising – that’s my line. But I know nothing about running a casino so … maybe Moe and Gus from the El Cortez Hotel – I’ll get them to run the tables for me.

JOE: You’re on a roll Billy!

BILLY: I will build a casino to beat all casinos. What the gambler needs is seclusion, isolation and privacy to feed that addiction. Dim lights. No clocks on the walls. Time will stand still. No windows, no sunset or sunrise. It will be perpetual night. You know what I hate?

JOE: What do you hate, Billy?

BILLY: Hard edges on the gaming tables. They’re basically just kitchen tables covered in felt. And having to stand all that time – it stinks. I’ll give my patrons custom made tables with smooth, curved edges, leather padded – have chairs so they can sit down, relax, stay as long as they like.

JOE: Once you’ve got them in there, they’ll never want to leave.

BILLY: The casino will be at the centre of the building. To get anywhere they want to go, the guests will have to walk through the casino!

JOE: Brilliant, Billy, just brilliant!

BILLY: I gotta call my lawyer, Greg Bautzer.

JOE: That playboy?

BILLY: No he’s the best guy for this. I’ll get him to make a deal with this broad who owns the land. She’s been running some bordello in Hawaii or somewhere. Won’t do to let her know I’m the buyer … the sale will have to be in Greg’s name … where’s the phone? [EXITS AS DANCERS ENTER AND WHIRL THEM OUT]


Scene Two:
The mob steps in

JOE: Billy believed you get what you pay for. He always brought experts on board – chefs, architects, decorators, engineers. And once he had them, he was not shy of giving them a piece of the action as silent partners. Moe Sedway and Gus Greenbaum were no different. For a percentage of the gambling profits and a silent partnership, they would manage and operate the Flamingo casino and take full responsibility for the gaming, arranging all the permits involved.

But there was something Billy didn’t bank on. Both men had shadowy pasts. Moe in particular was a faithful henchman of organized crime emperor Meyer Lansky. When Billy’s gambling habits caught up with him yet again, and the Flamingo project ground to a painful halt, Moe organised a new investor – Rothberg – to appear on the scene. What the grateful Billy didn’t realise as he signed the papers, was that Rothberg represented Lansky. Organised crime had just bought into the operation. And who did Lansky choose as his representative to oversee the operation, but Ben Siegel. Yes, the infamous “Bugsy”, patron of Billy’s barbershop and regular customer of Ciro’s, Billy’s elite dining establishment on the Sunset Strip. So regular, in fact, that back in 1939, when Ben was on trial for murder, he ordered Ciro’s finest meals to be served to him in prison.

But for all his flash and bravado, Ben Siegel was little more than an ignorant gangster with an extremely short fuse. He had no experience with resorts, no knowledge of building or running any business, come to that, no style, no class. The only reason Lansky chose him was because he was a childhood friend. Because he had saved Lansky’s life on several occasions when they were boys. But Lansky banked on Billy being in charge of the creative side of the project – Benny would play second fiddle to Billy Wilkerson – or so Lansky thought.


Benny Siegel makes Virginia Hill decorator of the Flamingo

Benny Siegel makes Virginia Hill decorator of the Flamingo

BENNY: I’m only doing this for you Virginia. You’re the first broad who’s ever made me happy. That Billy’s driving me crazy.

VIRGINIA: But Benny, I thought you liked Billy. You said you were learning all that stuff from him. You listen to everything he says. You live in his pocket. God damnit, Benny, if you weren’t a good Jew boy, from the way you go on sometimes I think you’d change your religion just to BE another Billy Wilkerson.

BEN: Okay, okay, the guy’s got a certain style … a certain class. He has what they call “taste”. He knows how to dress. How to talk. He knows “people”. You know? The right people – that’s how he does it. The right architect, the right landscaper. Did you know, this architect of his designed that fancy glass bath for that stripper, whatzername?

VIRGINIA: I don’t want to know about no stripper’s bath! What’s wrong with MY taste? Why can’t I do the decorating round here? Why waste all that money paying a fancy decorator. I could do a mighty fine job all on my own. What’s so difficult, after all? Choosing the drapes, the carpets, ashtrays and stuff. I could do that!

BEN: Don’t be impatient. I’m working on it. I’m gonna get Billy to split the contract. Make it so I can run the hotel building project and leave the casino side to him. Hell, before long, when Lansky sees what a success I make of it, I’ll be running the whole damn thing. It’s just that … Billy needs to be more appreciative. He still thinks he’s the only one who can make decisions. But I’ll show him.

VIRGINIA: I thought you said he WAS appreciative! You said …

BEN: At first, yes. When I first came along he was having problems getting building supplies. The war had messed up the regular supply channels.

VIRGINIA: [COYLY. FLATTERING HIM] And you did your magic and suddenly the supplies came rolling in.

BEN: [MODESTLY] Connections, connections.

VIRGINIA: See? You also have connections. You could be running this whole show on your own.

BEN: Damn right I could.

VIRGINIA: And you could give me an allowance to do the decorating … See what a good job I did with my place in Beverly Hills…

BEN: You sure did, baby.

VIRGINIA: Together we could turn this whole thing around.


LAWYER: As your lawyer, Billy, I’ve got to tell you he’s a waste of money and you need to take care of the situation.

BILLY: Yes, I know that, Greg. The guy drives me crazy. Whenever I fly in I find he’s messed up the deliveries. You’re quite right, I should tell someone to get rid of him.


BILLY: Jeez, no. Not like that!

BEN: Just point me in his direction.

BILLY: No, Ben. I said no. It’s not necessary. But there’s something else I need to discuss with you. I heard you gave orders for a window to be put into the casino wall.

BEN: Yes, to give a view of the swimming pool. So’s you can watch the sun set over the pool from the tables. Great idea, huh?

BILLY: Benny, I specifically said NO windows in the casino. No WINDOWS. Also, that is a load bearing wall. It’ll take forever because now they have to install a major beam to hold up the building. You know what that’s costing? D’you even begin to understand the extent of the damage you’ve done?

BEN: I’m very sorry Billy, but I thought you would like it. It was a misunderstanding. Honest. It’s just very unfortunate that it’s too late to stop now.

VIRGINIA: And I say it’s a mighty fine improvement.

BEN: Hush Virginia. If Billy says it was wrong, it was wrong. And I’m really very sorry.

BILLY: It’s all very well to apologise, Ben, but I can’t have you giving orders as if they’ve come from me. You’ve got no authority to do that. I’m in charge of this project. You’re just here to report back to Rothberg’s investors. That’s the limit of your involvement. I don’t mind explaining things to you, but I can’t have you interfering.

BEN: I’m real sorry, Billy. But it’s frustrating for me. I see all this activity and I get excited and want to help. How about you give me some authority over some small part of the project? Look, you’re almost done with the accommodation now, so let’s say I take over the hotel side of the business and finish it off for you. What harm can that do? It’s virtually complete. Then you stick with the casino. If I get some creative freedom it will stop me interfering with the really crucial stuff that you’re doing. You’ll be free to focus all your energy on the important side of the business.

BILLY: You would stick to your allocated funds? No cross-over? Is that understood?

BEN: Understood.

BILLY: Maybe there is something in that. Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you.

BEN: Thank you Billy. You’re one fine businessman. It’s a great pleasure working with you and learning from you … Come on, Virginia. Let’s go and have some fun downtown and leave these gentlemen in peace to get on with their business.

VIRGINIA: But what about my decorating …. [HE SHUSHES HER. EXIT TOGETHER]

LAWYER: You’re making a big mistake Billy. That man couldn’t stick to a budget if it was tattooed onto his backside. You can’t trust him. He’s got no experience. Zero business acumen.

BILLY: It’s a risk I’ve got to take. I’ll find him an architect and contractor. They’ll guide his decisions. The way I see it, Ben Siegel is one trigger happy gangster. He represents organised crime. I made the mistake of signing over part of the business in exchange for finance and now I’m stuck with them. But, the one good thing is this: If Ben messes up – the syndicate won’t stand for it. They’re conservative when it comes to their cash. They hate to see it thrown away. They expect value for their money. When they cotton onto the way Ben Siegel is wasting funds, they’ll step in and …

LAWYER: Take care of him?

BILLY: Well, I wouldn’t put it that strongly – he’s “this” close to Meyer Lansky. [TAPS FINGER AGAINST NOSE ] No, they’ll “replace” him, rather. They’ll find another manager they can trust with their money. This time, someone who knows something about the resort business.

LAWYER: Why not speak to the big boss directly? Lansky, I mean.

BILLY: And admit I know they’re involved? Not a chance. Look, I rubbed shoulders with the Underground during the Prohibition. I had to get my booze somehow. And in exchange for the best seats in the house, a couple of meals here and there, they’ve always looked after me during labour strikes. But this is different. There’s big money involved here – millions. I’ve got to play things very carefully.

LAWYER: [MEDITATIVELY] I’ve heard the Mafia say “We only kill each other.” You believe that?

BILLY: The problem is, with Benny acting like my kid brother half the time, I’m beginning to feel like I’m part of the family.


Scene Three:


Norma Varney and Marilyn Monroe

Norma Varney and Marilyn Monroe

MARILYN [ENTERS WITH NORMA VARDEN ]: Hello folks. Sorry I’m late. I’ve been on a calendar, but I’ve never been on Time. You boys been waiting for moi? When my girlfriend Tichi asked me I said “Oh, what the hell.” Ever notice how “what the hell” is always the right answer? So I agreed to come –even though I’m no expert on Billy Wilkerson and hardly knew Benny Siegel.

NORMA: Back in 1946 when all this was going on you were only 20 and had only just been discovered so you were kind of busy.

MARILYN: Gosh, gee wiz, I haven’t introduced you, darling! Everyone: This here is Norma. Norma Varden. She’s playing Lady Beekman in Gentlemen prefer blondes. We’re on our way to the studio for rehearsal right now. I’m playing the lead – Lorelei Lee. You know, I always said that everyone’s a star and deserves to twinkle? Well at last I’ve got my turn to twinkle. But poor old Bugsy – he never got his chance…

NORMA: So you did meet Bugsy once or twice… ?

MARILYN: Oops! We shouldn’t call him that, should we? [GIGGLES] Benny. Benny Siegel. He knew this one performer Rose Marie, so he always used to call me Rose Marie, as if he could only keep one name in his head at a time. Not that bright, Benny. All he really wanted was to be in the movies.

NORMA: With his accent? [LAUGHS] Not a chance!
MARILYN: Maybe that’s why he was always practising those tongue twisters – you know, “twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet” and “she sells seashells on the sea shore”.

NORMA: [OFFENDED] Oh, how should I know? No-one tells me anything.

MARILYN: Count yourself lucky, Norma. You’re already a real actress – look at all the films you’ve been in.

NORMA: [MODESTLY] Only 82, not counting Gentlemen prefer blondes.

MARILYN: Exactly. I’ve only done 18. Men still see me as just a pretty face – someone they can talk to. And believe you me, it doesn’t do to know too much. [THOUGHTFULLY] Sometimes I wish I didn’t know half the stuff I do. You see, menfolk like to tell me things… might regret it afterwards … but I’m a good listener. I’ve often stood silent at a party for hours, listening to my movie idols turn into dull and little people.

NORMA: These folks want to know about Benny, Marilyn. That’s why Tichi invited you. What can you tell them about him?

MARILYN: Well… the way I understand it, Benny thought, if he could get the Flamingo finished earlier, he could start making a profit with the casino. That seemed like good sense to me.

NORMA: [LAUGHS] A real businessman like Billy will tell you things don’t work that way, unless you get a real Catholic miracle.

MARILYN: I guess that’s true. When Benny started paying overtime and double time and bonuses, it didn’t speed anything up, just got him deeper in debt.

NORMA: I still think it was that girlfriend of his that did most of the damage. He just couldn’t say “No” to her.

MARILYN: You’re right there. When Virginia Hill took over the decorating – even Benny Siegel could tell she was making stupid decisions, like the drapes – flammable material, you know? He had to get them all specially treated so they wouldn’t go up “Poof!” from the slightest spark. They say she was also squirreling away money for a rainy day – two million in a numbered Swiss account. But Benny was too busy with his secret passages and fancy penthouse suite to notice.

NORMA: Billy Wilkerson was furious.

MARILYN: And Benny stopped even pretending to like him. Told Billy to get lost. They couldn’t agree on anything. And the worse it got, the more worked up Benny was, because he was afraid for his life, and the more he’d lie and spend, the angrier he got.

NORMA: Menfolk! I’m telling you.

Marilyn Monroe: Any girl who wants to be equal with men has no ambition

Marilyn Monroe: Any girl who wants to be equal with men has no ambition

MARILYN: Any girl who wants to be equal with men has no ambition.

NORMA: Us girls, we would just call the whole thing off, wouldn’t we?

MARILYN: Yeah, sometimes things fall apart so that better things can fall together. When you’re young and healthy, you can plan on Monday to commit suicide, and by Wednesday you’re laughing again. So just let bygones be bygones. Have we got time for you to sing us a little song about that, Norma?

NORMA: [THINKS A LITTLE THEN GETS AN IDEA] I think so. How about this one:

BAUTZER (BILLY’S LAWYER): Let me get this straight – you let Siegel buy out your creative interest …

BILLY: For five percent. No cash. I just took shares. I can’t work with the man. It was for the best.

BAUTZER: Then you let him buy out the land for another five percent. I thought you were going to hang onto that.

BILLY: In the original agreement, yes. But it was also in the agreement that I wouldn’t have to put any more money into the development and Benny’s already forced another $600 000 out of me. But look at the bright side: for every dollar that he puts into the Flamingo, I now own 48 cents!

BAUTZER: Well just remember that at this stockbroker’s meeting. You now own 48 percent of six million dollars. You’re the largest individual stockholder in the venture. You’re dealing from a position of immense strength.


BENNY: [TO BILLY] You’re gonna have to part with your portion of the interest.

BILLY: [TO BENNY] What am I going to be paid for it?

BENNY: [MENACINGLY] You’re not going to be paid anything at all for it, and you’d better have all the interest in hand.

BAUTZER: [JUST AS MENACING] Just a minute. Are you telling this man, who has a legal and valid right to the interest, that he’s gonna have to part with it? ‘Cause he’s not gonna have to do anything.

BENNY: He’s gonna have to do this because I’ve sold 150 percent of this deal, and I don’t have 150 percent. It’s only 100 percent and everybody’s gonna have to cut including Billy.

Bugsy admits to selling 150% of the shares in the Flamingo

Bugsy admits to selling 150% of the shares in the Flamingo

BAUTZER: Well, you’d better figure another way out, ‘cause he ain’t gonna cut.

BENNY: [JUMPS TO HIS FEET, SHAKING WITH RAGE, YELLING AT BAUTZER.] I can only tell you if I don’t deliver the interest to the people in the East, I’m gonna be killed. [TURNS TO BILLY] And before I go, you’re gonna go first. And don’t take that lightly. I’ll kill ya if I don’t get that interest.

BAUTZER: [STANDS AND YELLS BACK] Sit down and shut up. Mr Wilkerson, please leave the room. I’ll handle this from here. [BILLY LEAVES. WARNS BENNY AND ATTORNEYS] I’ll tell ya what I’m gonna do. You’d better shut this guy up ‘cause I’m gonna make an affidavit on the remarks Mr Siegel has made at this meeting and who was present. I’m sending one copy to the District Attorney of Los Angeles. I’m sending one copy to the District Attorney of the county here in Las Vegas. I’m sending one copy to the Attorney General. And I’m sending one copy to the FBI. And if Mr Siegel is wise, or his associates here are, they’d better make sure Mr Wilkerson doesn’t accidentally fall down a flight of stairs. They’d better make sure he doesn’t sprain an ankle walking off a curb, because that affidavit is going to be in the hands of those men, and I’m going to be prepared to testify like all the rest of you are going to have to testify as to the statements Mr Siegel has made. So they’d better be goddamn sure Mr Wilkerson enjoys a very long and happy life.

LAWYERS: [PROTESTING ALL AT ONCE] Nothing is going to happen to him, so take it easy Greg. There’s no need for affidavits, or going to District Attorneys.

BAUTZER: [SHOUTS BACK] I don’t care! That’s what I’m gonna do and you gentlemen, who claim to represent his interests, better make sure he’s aware of the consequences if anything does happen to Billy. [STORMS OUT]

BENNY: [SHOUTS AFTER HIM] Well tell Billy he can have toilet paper for his interest! Damn him. Damn him.

LAWYER: What the hell do you think you’re doing?

BENNY: If I can get Billy’s percentage I can leverage enough cash to complete the enterprise and bail myself out. I’ve got to do something fast. The boys have given me an ultimatum.

LAWYER: What about your legal obligations to Wilkerson?

BENNY: Obligations? To Wilkerson? You must be kidding! If he doesn’t comply we’ll both be dead. He don’t have an option. You get Wilkerson’s sell-out price and get back to me. I’m done here.

LAWYER: Where you going Mr Siegel? We need to (discuss) …

BENNY: Beverley Hills. Virginia, she is the only one who cares about me. [EXITS]

LAWYER: That’s what he thinks. Lansky says she’s stolen about two mill so far. [EXIT OPPOSITE ]

BAUTZER: The way I see it you have two options. Give Siegel exactly what he wants and walk away with your life … most likely.

BILLY : But lose my entire investment.

BAUTZER: Yes. Or …

BILLY: Or stand firm…

BAUTZER: Against his outrageous demands.

BILLY: I’ll stand firm.

BAUTZER: OK. That’s fine by me. But just be aware that I cannot guarantee your safety. You need to leave Las Vegas. I’ll handle negotiations in your absence. Now I must write out those affidavits. [SITS AT TABLE.] Where’re you going?


VOICE OFF: Room service. I have a snack for Mr Wilkerson.

BAUTZER: You ordered food?

BILLY: I did. [BAUTZER MAKES TO OPEN DOOR BUT BILLY STOPS HIM.] But somehow now I’ve lost my appetite.


TICHI: Billy took the first flight to New York, where he boarded an ocean liner, the Ile de France, bound for France. From the French port of le Havre he made his way by car to Paris, where he booked into the plush Hotel George V under a pseudonym. Only his lawyer and the editor of the Reporter knew where to reach him.

Billy still believed it was only a matter of time before the “boys” fire the incompetent Benny Siegel. If Billy could hold onto his interest until then, he would be re-instated as creative director and could complete the Flamingo without interference. To hurry the process, Billy ran ads in the Hollywood Reporter publicising the hotel’s true cost: Nearly six million dollars, five million over the original estimate. If the syndicate had not already known how much the Flamingo cost them, they certainly did now. As usual, Billy was playing a dangerous game.


BILLY: If I was recognised by hostel guests, I told them I was in Paris briefly on business. If I was invited to dinner or for a drink, I politely declined by saying I was leaving early the next day. My only daily indulgence was a coke and an English newspaper at a sidewalk café. [BILLY CAUTIOUSLY SITS AT SMALL TABLE, HIDING BEHIND PAPER. WAITER BRINGS COKE ON TRAY.]

TICHI: And on Sunday, he took a cab to mass at Notre Dame. But as the weeks stretched into months, Billy’s exile began to take its toll. He did not feel safe. Confined to the hotel, his life was not his own. He began to question whether any business deal was worth such deprivation.

BILLY: I thought nobody would take a psychotic gangster seriously, but as the weeks dragged on, I realised I was wrong. [ON PHONE BROUGHT BY WAITER] Set my sell-out price at two million dollars, Greg.


BILLY: Hell no. I can’t do that… Well OK then… maybe one million. But that’s my limit.

BENNY: [TALKING ON PHONE] Make a final “take it and get out” offer of $600 000.

BILLY: Well if you put it like that, Greg: “my money or my life”, is it? … OK, then I’ll accept.


Bugsy hands over $600 000 for Billy's last shares in the flamingo. "And if your client were here now I'd blow his F'ing brains out!

Bugsy hands over $600 000 for Billy’s last shares in the flamingo. “And if your client were here now I’d blow his F’ing brains out!

BENNY: If your client were here right now I’d blow his fucking brains out. [PHONE RINGS OFF STAGE. BENNY EXITS]

BAUTZER: If Billy thought it was safe to come home — he couldn’t have been more wrong. The minute he was back in town we got a tip off that his life was in danger. [ BILLY NERVOUSLY LOOKING OVER SHOULDER HURRIES OFF. BAUTZER EXITS. CURTAIN]

TICHI: So it was back to Paris for Billy. But this time things were a little more relaxed. He no longer had to keep his whereabouts secret – his daily Tradeviews column was by-lined from the capital. He could go shopping and visit the Moulin Rouge. At night he strolled the city’s streets, enjoying the outdoor music. Then just when he thought it was safe to return, he received another warning to stay put “until it was all over”.

VOICES OFF: Read all about it. Read all about it. Gangster killed in Beverley Hills home. Read all about it.



Virginia Hill accuses Billy of causing Bugsy Siegel's death

Virginia Hill accuses Billy of causing Bugsy Siegel’s death

VIRGINIA: It’s all your fault, you lousy prick!

BILLY: Not here, Virginia. Not now. People are watching.

VIRGINIA: As if I care! Let them hear every word! It was because of you they killed Benny. If you had turned over your interest on time none of this would have happened. [SLAPS HIS FACE VIOLENTLY BACK AND FORTH SEVERAL TIMES, TURNS AND STORMS OFF BACK THE WAY SHE CAME. ENTER WAITRESS WITH SMALL TABLE AND CANDLE, WHICH SHE PLACES FOR BILLY]

WAITRESS [LOOKS PUZZLED]: It’s not usually this quiet round here at this time, sir. But the show should start soon.

BILLY [RUBBING HIS FACE]: That’s because Virginia Hill just put on a very special slap-up show of her own. Folks are still catching their breath. Me included.

WAITRESS: Oh, Mr Wilkerson! I’m so sorry. If I’d known, I would have kept her out. She’s been that mad since you organised that hit on Bugsy. [REALISES WHAT SHE’S SAID] Oh! I mean, since the Mob organised that hit. We all know you don’t work like that.

BILLY: Then you know right, and you better keep on knowing that, and make sure that everyone else knows it too. How could I have organised it? I was in Paris at the time.

WAITRESS: [ASIDE TO AUDIENCE] And would be today if Bugsy were still alive. [TO BILLY] Everyone knows you were in Paris, Mr Wilkerson, sir, of course you had nothing to do with Ben Siegel’s death. We all know that sir. And we’ll make sure you never set eyes on that woman again. Virginia Hill will never be allowed back inside these walls. Gus and Moe wouldn’t want any trouble. They’ve already turned the tables since they took over the Flamingo. [CONFIDES] You know they’ve already turned a $4 million profit?

BILLY: Yes, that’s pretty neat for their first year in business. But it’s not the exclusive resort I envisaged. [LOOKING ROUND] There was gonna be a dress code – tuxedos only. Look at these people. They could be anybody.

WAITRESS: They are anybody, sir. To turn a profit Gus and Moe had to open the tables to all – they made the Flamingo affordable for the man on the street.

BILLY: Well my dear, the Flamingo’s not the only thing that’s changed round here. I’m not the man you used to know.
WAITRESS: [SADLY]I can see that sir. [ASIDE TO AUDIENCE] More’s the pity.

Billy prays
BILLY: Heavenly father. You have mercy on the soul of Benjamin Siegel. He did me wrong, lord. He left me no choice. But you have mercy on his soul. [PAUSE] All the same… Thank you, father, for this merciful release. I gotta admit it’s a big relief. It cost me BIG TIME. But I came out of it with my life. [PAUSE] I’m sorry about the gambling, lord. I thought the Flamingo was gonna do the trick. Like Joe said: Own the house. But it didn’t work out that way. [PAUSE] You showed me the error of my ways. [PAUSE] Well, you … and Benny. [PAUSE] You understand though, I just had to make sure it wasn’t me back there … gunned down … on the carpet. Lord. [PAUSE] And I’m gonna treat my little lady right, lord, if it’s the last thing I do. No more playing the field. I’ve learnt my lesson. [PAUSE] Okay, the priest gave me twenty Hail Marys for my penance, so I’d better get on with them. [MUMBLES AS MUSIC OF AVE MARIA BEGINS AND CONTINUES TO PRAY JUST MOUTHING THE WORDS] Hail Mary, full of grace, blessed art thou among women and the fruit of thy womb…


BILLY: Holy Mary! Mother of God! Forgive me, for I have sinned.

TICHI: [LIFTS VEIL AND HOLDS OUT HANDS TO BILLY] It’s just me, Billy. It’s only me. Are you alright?

BILLY: Jees! Tichi! You really had me there for a moment… I thought …

TICHI: You’ve been so jumpy since Benny was killed. It’s alright Billy. Honest, you’re gonna be alright now.

BILLY: I guess I do need to ask for your forgiveness after all…

TICHI: You’ve never done nothing to hurt me Billy.

BILLY: Well it’s gonna be different now that we’re married …

TICHI: [SMILING] It sure is. Wait till you hear what I’ve got to tell you.

BILLY: [WORRIED] What’s this, Tichi? You’re not gonna leave me now?

TICHI: No Billy I’m here to stay. That’s what I came to tell you. I’m having your child.


TICHI: [REVEALS ACE OF HEARTS. GIVES IT TO BILLY] As I said back in Act 1. I had this one high card. My Ace of hearts was our son. Billy’s first-born.

BILLY: The day my son was born I quit gambling forever.

Viva las Vegas


All profits from these performanes were donated to Irene Homes


Pegasus and other birds

Wild horses
So what do birds and horses have in common? (Apart from wings, obviously.) If you answered “Nothing”, then you don’t know about Namibia’s wild horses, which continue to exist on a wing and a prayer.
When I was at university and all my worldly goods fitted into a backpack, I had a horror of being dependent on anyone. I imagined an impossibly idealistic Flower Child existence where people lived in communes, growing vegetables, milking cows, virtually spinning and weaving their own cocoons to live independently of the materialistic money-grubbing commercial world. I soon discovered that hippies are as materialistic and selfish as anyone else. My misplaced allegiance was gradually transferred to the animal kingdom. This, as it turned out was another misconception, because domesticated animals are among the most dependent beings on our planet. Take horses, for example. Some people actually believe you can put a thoroughbred out to pasture and it will fend for itself. I would laugh out loud if the consequences weren’t usually so heartbreaking.
The birds of the air are probably the antithesis of our domestic animals – so independent. Take thrushes and robins, my favourite examples. They are seldom seen on a bird table. They simply don’t seem to “need” us humans. (Except to scare off a cat with a water pistol.)
It is their marvellous independence that makes me think of Namibia’s wild horses as mysterious, miraculous beings – like the winged horse Pegasus. They have achieved the impossible by surviving without human intervention for a whole century in desert terrain near Aus, where temperatures can reach 45°C (113°F). Their numbers may vary (naturally) from 85 to almost 300, but they continue to survive, and have developed distinctive characteristics (like their slow measured gait that helps them conserve energy) to withstand their harsh environment.Namibian horses

Because of the variety among these feral Namibian horses, it is thought they are descended from the remnants of several thousand cavalry horses belonging to both German and South African regiments that camped in a 30 km radius of Aus during World War 1. It is believed that when the South African camp was bombed, some horses escaped, only to join up later with horses abandoned by the retreating Germans forces. Fortuitously, a well had been dug at Garub to supply water for the steam trains, supplementing the meagre natural water sources in the area. What also protected these horses was the discovery of diamonds at Kolmanskop, which led to the proclamation of a large restricted area where they could roam freely without competition from other livestock for many decades.
During my daughter’s recent cycling tour of NZ, she sent me a book of poems from Central Otago by Brian Turner. It’s called “Elemental” and has some some wonderful pieces. Nothing expresses my sentiments better than these final stanzas of his poem “Bird Land” (wish I could quote it in full): “… I’m urged to say I feel the need to share this soiled/ and stressed little planet we live on,/ and scrap over, with more than just my own// bloody-minded, apathetic, destructive, complacent/ kind, am urged to stand up like Moses/ and say, ‘As you do to the least of these,/ so you do unto me …’ until the end of our time.”

Why we all need a lighthouse

Bird Island

The sunlight reaches through the clouds, like some even bigger, more powerful lighthouse.

Recently my son got a birthday card showing a car tumbling off a cliff. The caption reads: “But it can’t be wrong. It’s guided by satellites.” More than once my husband has yelled “Throw it out the window!” after following our GPS Shirley’s directions to oblivion, despite his better judgement. (Shirley is no longer with us.) I can only imagine how much worse it would be bobbing about in inky darkness in a small boat. Come to think of it, the bigger the ship, the worse the situation.  And we all know that accidents still happen, despite all the electronic navigation aids ships use today.

Don’t we all need a lighthouse of sorts? Some big, dependable, candy-coloured authority figure to beam hope through our gloom, if not carry us out of the burning building? Since Nelson Mandela’s been in hospital people have been wondering aloud what’s to become of our rainbow when he’s gone.  Well he’s not gone. And what he’s given us is more than a rainbow – it’s a beacon, a lighthouse that even when unmanned must continue its work 24/7, diligently maintained and upgraded by the rest of us. We’re not all bad, despite our squabbles and mistakes and greed. I’ve got to believe the backroom boys are still doing the best they can, even when management messes up.

In the aftermath of the Connecticut school shooting, people have been sharing upbeat pictures on Facebook to communicate positive messages about humankind. We need reminding of the unconditional love and goodness that’s out there, otherwise we’ll stop maintaining the lifeboats – and then what?

When the unthinkable happens it doesn’t help much to be reminded that good stuff happens too.  Sometimes it takes a mighty powerful lighthouse to guide us home and even then, not everyone makes landfall. All the rest of us can do is keep those lighthouses painted and their great prisms turning. Just in case.

Two of my favourite lighthouse photos, chosen at random from a selection that my brother took during his years at sea, just happen to be of the same lighthouse on Bird Island in Mandela Bay, and were taken on his last trip. I chose them without knowing this – in fact, without even realising that they were of the same lighthouse. The significance is this: his first-ever memory of going to sea was as a very small boy on the harbour tug John Dock out of Port Elizabeth to Bird Island. Our father was the chief engineer – the crew referred to my brother as “little chief” on that trip. Years later when he joined the harbour service in Durban he was eventually sent to the tug John Dock as chief engineer. He dug out the old log books from 1948/9 and found our father’s signature on the daily logs. Don’t you agree that truth is always stranger than fiction?


Over 160 000 gannets live on Bird Island in Mandela Bay.

Talking “Duck”

We’ve had a dawn chorus with a difference lately, since two yellow-billed ducks took a liking to our swimming pool. Actually, it’s more of a (VERY loud) monologue than a chorus, and goes something like this:

MS DUCK [Descending, rapid]: Quagagagagagaga. [Dams and ponds are so yesterday.]

DRAKE [Plops into the pool, in her wake]: …………………. [Yes dear.]

MS DUCK [Loud, tremulous]: Queggeggegge. [Give me a swimming pool any day.]

DRAKE [Dips head repeatedly]: ……………….. [Yes dear.]

MS DUCK: Quack…. quack…. quack…. quack…. quack! [Hurry up, we mustn’t be late for breakfast!]

DRAKE [Flying after her]: ………………. [Yes dear.]

That’s the usual “exchange”. Unless one day Ms Duck decides to lay an egg, in which case she will say: “Quaquaquaquaqua!” and Drake might manage a low whistle.

Which brings me to the point of this post: Hillary’s Angel is finally available in paperback and ebook format.

ME [Loud, strident]: Quaquaquaquaquaqua!

ADMIRING PUBLIC [Weak, nasal]: Whaarp-whaarp.

Since I didn’t hear any low whistles, I’m following Ms Duck’s bold example [SPLASH!] and ordering 50 copies myself. A friend in North America is bringing them out to the RSA when she visits in January. (The domestic US postage for my 50 paperbacks is the same as the international postage I paid for one solitary hardback delivered last month.) Then my marketing will begin in earnest – mainly through local libraries, stationery shops and flea markets. Even then, I suspect, the best I can do is cover my costs. Unless sales reach some miraculous tipping point, I will have lost money.

I started this journey feeling like a duck out of water, and I’ve ended up like a duck in a swimming pool – everything feels great, but if I didn’t have a husband to support me I’d be starving to death.

So it’s back to the jungle. I’m sending some children’s stories to a local publisher, likewise another novel – almost done. I doubt that I’ll have better luck this time – what I have to say only seems to appeal to a limited audience; I’ve tried and failed to keep afloat on the warm seas of popular fiction. Then (predictably) I’ll abandon my futile paper chase and go 100% digital so it costs me nothing to publish and any sales I make are pure profit.  Can you explain why I don’t just do that now?

Like my yellow-billed ducks I keep dropping in to this virtual world, which has me fascinated, but I feel I don’t belong here. For real sustenance I keep going back to the bush, until (as my husband unkindly pointed out) I get shot or eaten.  Sadly, that’s my reality. At least it gives me something to bleed about over my laptop.

[Duck-speak translations based on Roberts Birds of Southern Africa (VIIth ed).]