Saturday, November 29, 2014

'Best Thriller Writer in New Zealand' wins SA Books Award

Zirk van den Berg scooped a 2014 KykNET Report Book Prize in South Africa last week for the recent Afrikaans translation of his acclaimed debut thriller NOBODY DIES, which was first published in English in New Zealand ten years ago. 

van den Berg won the film category of the prestigious awards, which offer a total prize money of 500,000 rand in three categories: literary fiction, non-fiction, and book with the most film potential.

When announcing the 'most filmic book' award, Kerneels Breytenbach noted that the visual aspects of novels are often overlooked, and the award was designed to give a boost to books that would work well on the silver screen. The judges were looking for books in Afrikaans with great potential to be turned into a screenplay, stories with strong narratives, especially memorable characters, and could be commercially viable projects for the South African film industry.

Having read the English language version of NOBODY DIES I can heartily agree that it is a book that very well could make for an excellent film, with terrific visuals, action sequences, twisting plot and intriguing hero.

Namibian-born van den Berg moved to New Zealand in 1998. After having written screenplays and fiction in Afrikaans while living in South Africa, he published his first story in English in 2004 (the thriller NOBODY DIES). At the time, van den Berg told Iain Sharp of the Sunday Star-Times that he moved his family from South Africa partially because of the violent crime there; an atmosphere and setting that was very well evoked in a novel 'about identity' that went on to receive great reviews and acclaim. The New Zealand Listener asked if van den Berg's impressive debut made him the 'best thriller writer in New Zealand', and the New Zealand Herald chose the book as one of the best five thrillers, worldwide, of that year. 

Here's the backcover blurb for NOBODY DIES/N ANDER MENS: 

Erica van der Linde has found the perfect way to make sure the witnesses in her police protection programme in Cape Town stay hidden. She kills them. But she hasn't encountered anyone like Daniel Enslin before. You'd hardly call him a criminal. An apathetic loner in a nothing job, Daniel gets his kicks by associating with Frank Redelinghuys, a dealer in all kinds of merchandise, unfettered by the normal rules of morality. But when Daniel witnesses Frank commit a murder, he feels compelled to do something about it. He betrays Frank to his arch enemy, policeman Nic Acker, even though this puts his own life in danger. When the case against Frank collapses, Acker has no option but to put Daniel into the witness protection programme. With Erica to set up a new life for him, Daniel will be safe, at least

It's nice to see, in a way, that van den Berg has somewhat come full circle - from writing in Afrikaans, to moving to New Zealand and getting great acclaim for his debut English-language story, to seeing that story ten years later win him an award for its eventual translation into Afrikaans. The obvious question now: is anyone working on a screenplay for this book? Perhaps Zirk himself?

You can read my 9mm interview with Zirk van den Berg, conducted in June 2012, here.

If you'd like to read NOBODY DIES, and like me your Afrikaans isn't up to scratch, then the book is now available in ebook form in English, with a new cover, directly from van den Berg's own website, Say Books. He has also published a second thriller, NO-BRAINER, a mystery romp featuring sculptor cum blackmailer Jules Dijkstra, which is also available from the same website.

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