Gillian Schutte is an independent filmmaker and freelance writer. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from Wits University. She loves nothing more than to read literary theory and create fabulist and absurdist storytelling around philosophical constructs. Her writing rejects the protocols of realism in favour of postmodern precepts and narrative practices. She writes from the seam of the intellectual and the arcane and her work is often fused with gender concerns and sexuality, which she writes about frankly and revealingly.
Gillian has directed and produced many documentaries and children’s television programmes. Her interest lies in the personal narrative documentary and social justice and human rights. Her choice of film style is cinéma vérité and her narratives are usually quirky and gritty – much like her writing. Her collection of 14 poems was published by Botsotso publishers in an anthology called 5 (Five South African Poets) for which she received a favourable review in NELM. She is currently working on turning her first novel – After just now (Ludic Press, 2011) – into a film script.
Lila, her husband Lunga, and Tau (their little boy) are driving through the Karoo when they are involved in an accident. Lunga goes through the windscreen, Tau lands safely in his car seat and Lila suffers a severe head injury. Lila moves in and out of consciousness and as she does so we move with her in a journey to find her name, and who she is. By turns laugh-aloud funny and unbearably poignant Gillian Schutte constructs (or deconstructs, destructs and reconstructs) Lila’s story from flashes of history as she falls through time to meet her eighteenth century ancestors and becomes embroiled in their reality. For more recent life story she is given her diary to read when she finds herself in a white hospital room from which she struggles to escape. And all the while, as she surfaces and sinks, Lila the writer, the wife, the mother, the daughter, meets characters from fiction and biography who help or hinder her in her quest to find herself, to keep her son safe and to put her husband back together again.
“I can only give a small indication of the complexity and texture of this finely crafted novel. Despite its intricacy it’s easy to read and it doesn’t take long to suspend disbelief and follow wherever we are led next. Add to this the fact that it’s wonderfully witty (in an advanced Jasper Ffordish kind of way!) and you have a book that you’ll devour in one sitting and then return to over and over again – for the sheer pleasure of it.”
– Maire Fisher
“An effortlessly poetic narrative that is playfully subversive, resonant and topical within the South African context. The writer’s joy of narrative and love of palimpsest is palpable in this daring and sometimes terrifyingly fast storytelling. Her writing performs the fluid multiplicity of feminine sexuality in the style of ‘writing from the body’ (écriture feminine).”
– Professor Deidre Byrne, Unisa
“Exuberant, poignant, grotesque, visceral and deliciously sexy.”
– Narene Stevens, Bluestockings Salon
Hettie has brought me one of her dresses to wear. She has had to take the scissors and cut off half a metre from the bottom. She cannot believe I am a de Waal because I am so short. I tell her about my tiny grandmother who married the son of one of their descendants in the future.
She stares into my eyes and says, ‘I don’t know where you came from, but you crashed into our ox-wagon when we had just arrived back from the Cape of Good Hope. Now I do not think you are really very well. Let me give you some remedies.’
She throws some odd-looking brown acrid slime down my throat. I feel light-headed. I need to get to my son.
Hettie tells me I must wear a bonnet when we go for supper. We walk through some weighty hessian curtains into the centre of the house. There is a table made out of heavy wood, some equally heavy chairs and two candles that smell like sheep fat burning in the centre.
The young Xhosa woman waits to dish up the food for Hettie and Hendrik as well as the nine children who have suddenly filled the room. The noise is unbearable. I see my son with his golden dreadlocks holding onto his mother’s legs as she begins to dish up. Hettie turns to him and hisses spitefully. He recoils backwards in terror.
I get up and shout, ‘How dare you treat my child like that! What is your problem, woman?’
She stares at me aghast. ‘But he is just a little bastar … What is the matter with you?’
Hendrik ignores it all and reads solemnly from a huge dusty bible.
I say to Hettie, ‘What year is this?’
She tells me it is 1790.
I say to her, ‘Hettie Venster! I know who you are.’
She says, ‘Thank God, because no one else seems to care.’
I can see she is weary, drawn and unhappy. She looks like a woman who harbours a secret. She shows no interest in her children or her husband, who sits at the table and looks at the Xhosa girl. He smells terrible. I can smell him from where I am sitting. I get up and move to the other side of the table. My son is staring at me with large almond-shaped brown-black eyes. I try to say something to him. He takes his thumb out of his mouth and puts his index finger to his lips, cautioning me to stay silent. I want to hug and kiss him. My heart starts to bleed until there is a crimson red stain on the tablecloth. Hettie clicks her tongue and wipes it up.
Later I creep outside to pee in the dust. I see Hendrik disappear into an outhouse. I see Hettie huddled at the dining room table with a candle glowing. She is reading a heavy leatherbound book. Her fingers trace the words slowly and she mouths every word in Dutch. I realise we have all been speaking Dutch since we met. I feel for this woman. She seems so intense, so detached. If she were from my time she may have been a literary professor or a writer. She has the writer’s brow with the single hard line slightly to the side of the centre of her forehead. While I am watching her she begins to wail softly under her breath. She cries out, ‘Jesus.’
I call out to her, ‘Hettie, are you all right?’
She turns to me, wild-eyed, and says, ‘Jesus is my lover. He is a beautiful man on a white horse. He comes to me nightly and one day he will take me away with him. I am the whore of Jesus.’
from After just now (Ludic Press, 2011).
Order After just now at firstname.lastname@example.org for the pre-launch
special of R120 (excluding postage).
Visit Gillian’s blog.
Visit Handheld Films.
Visit Media for Justice.