Jan Hurst-Nicholson has been writing for about 25 years. Her articles, humorous articles and short stories have appeared in South African and overseas magazines and these were compiled into a book: 'Something to Read on the Plane' a bit of light literature, short stories & other fun stuff.
Her first children's book was 'Leon Chameleon PI and the case of the missing canary eggs' published by Gecko Books, and was one of Bookchat's 1993 South African Books of the Year. This was followed by 'Leon Chameleon PI and the case of the kidnapped mouse'. 'Leon Chameleon PI and the case of the bottled bat' is awaiting publication. These are humorous, animal, detective stories set in a nature reserve.
'Bheki and the Magic Light,' which tells of a rural child's fascination with a torch, was published by Penguin SA.
'Jake,' was published by Cambridge University Press.
Born in the UK, Jan emigrated from Liverpool to South Africa in the 1970s. Her experiences moving to a new continent were the inspiration for her humorous novel 'But Can You Drink The Water?' which was a semi-finalist (top 50 out of 5000) in the 2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. This began as a 13 episode sitcom, but when the producer could not get funding Jan turned them into a novel. This is now available on Amazon as a Kindle digital book.
Jan worked in the R&D department of a large bakery for several years, and this gave her the idea for 'The Breadwinners,' a family saga spanning 50 years and set in Durban. This is now available on Amazon as a Kindle digital book.
Jan has also written a YA novel, Mystery at Ocean Drive, which was a runner-up in the 2010 Citizen/Pan MacMillan YA novel award, and is now available as a Kindle digital book.
Jan's writing also appears in 'Edge Words' (20 stories from the Cheshire Prize for Literature 2006) published by University of Chester, 'Chicken Soup for the Caregiver's Soul' and 'Chicken Soup for the Soul 101 best stories On Being a Parent,' and 'Summer Shorts'.
Jan is a member of the South African Writers' Circle, and of SpeakOut, an organization that teaches public speaking (for when she becomes a famous writer!)
She lives in Durban with her husband, two dogs that are forever on the wrong side of the door, three elderly cats, and the occasional visiting troop of boisterous vervet monkeys.
Jan Hurst-Nicholson has not included an author picture in case it should put off customers considering buying her books, or disappoint those who have read it.
Interview with Jan:
What are your favorite humor books?
--I like observational humour where readers can recognize, and laugh at themselves, in familiar situations, as in Erma Bombeck’s books. I also enjoy Bill Bryson, ‘Father’s Day’ by Hunter Davies, Alan Coren, Spike Milligan, and Deric Longden as they all have their own style of humour. I loved Dave Barry’s article about his colonoscopy. I’ve recently discovered Gordon Kirland’s ‘When My Mind Wanders It Brings Back Souvenirs.’ Who could resist that title? I’m not keen on ‘forced’ humour e.g. if someone slips and falls into a stream that is funny. However, if someone is pushed in then that is not funny.
How much of your humor is based on real life experiences?
--My humorous articles are all based on true-life experiences - but ‘based’ being the operative word as writers are wont to embellish (aren’t we?). Much of my humorous fiction is also based (embarrassingly) on real incidents.
Do you feel being digitally epublished allows you to be more creative with your writing choices?
--Definitely. Not being hampered by the usual word count, or what’s in fashion gives you more freedom. Humour depends on personal taste, or a shared background, so finding a publisher who has the same sense of humour and believes the book will be commercially viable is not easy. Most Indie writers would be happy to sell just a few thousand books, which would probably not be a feasible venture for a big publisher.
If they made a movie out of one of your books, what actors would play the main characters?
--It’s such a long time since I wrote the books that many of the actors I’d imagined in them have all ‘crossed over’ LI had Oliver Reed in mind for Charles McGill in The Breadwinners (not a humorous book). There was a local SA actor who would have been superb for Clive in But Can You Drink The Water? but sadly he died. However, Julie Walters or Pauline Collins would be great for Mavis, but by the time the book is made into a film they would more likely be suited to play granny Gert!
What should readers expect from a humorous Jan Hurst-Nicholson book?
--I would hope they would be entertained, and even go as far as smiling, giggling and occasionally laughing out loud. I especially love hearing from children who say the Leon Chameleon PI stories make them laugh.
If people judged your books by their covers, what would they miss out on?
--I’d like to think that my covers are fairly representative of the content, so they wouldn’t miss out on anything. I recently changed the cover of Mystery at Ocean Drive (A YA action adventure) from an illustrated cover, which readers said made it seem too juvenile.
What's the funniest part of your everyday life?
--Getting an unexpected glimpse of myself in the mirror. Almost anything can be funny - once it’s over.
If www.theonion.com wrote a fake headline about your life, what would it be?
--Writer scoops story on latest archeological find – Egyptian Pyramids Made From Rejected Stone Manuscripts.
If you weren't writing humorous books, what would you be doing for a living?
--Writing humorous books is not making me a living, but it does bring in a bit of pocket-money. I was trained as a bakery technologist - hasn’t every writer been something else first? (that’s what makes it so interesting when we get together.)
Why do you think there aren’t more humorous books out there?
--Because writing humour is not easy! Publishers realise that not every reader will laugh at the same thing, so they are reluctant to take a chance on an unknown writer. Many of the published humour books are written by well-known columnists who already have a following.
What's next for your fans?
--I’ve got fans?
Something To Read On The Plane
But Can You Drink The Water?
Leon Chameleon P.I. and the case of the missing canary eggs
Leon Chameleon P.I. and the case of the kidnapped mouse
A Matter of Convenience
A short story
By Jan Hurst-Nicholson
Family holidays were not the happy events they had once been, especially now that Walter’s bladder had become a liability.
“Let’s go this way. It’s a short cut.” Mavis angrily mimicked Frank’s words under her breath. Short cut to what? The next ruddy life by the looks of it. There was no chance of making a dash for it. Not that her Mam was up to dashing anywhere with her feet. And the only time her dad moved faster than a slippered shuffle was when he’d overdone the senna pods.
She wrung her hands in anguish. Trust Frank to stall the car in the middle of the ruddy lion enclosure. The midday sun was blazing down and the car was already like a sweatbox.
“Try it again, Frank,” she fumed.
“It’s no good. The battery’s flat.”
“That’s your fault? You’ve known about it for weeks. This isn’t a car park. You can’t just hop out and push. Not with them lions.”
Frank was about to remind her that the only reason he’d looked for a short cut was to get her Dad to the lav, but he was interrupted by a plaintive voice from the back.
“Hey, our Mavis. Why’ve we stopped?” Walter had been regretting that second cup of tea even before they’d entered the safari park.
“Car’s stalled,” muttered a scowling Gerry, wedged sullenly between his grandparents in the back seat.
“That wasn’t very clever, Frank,” Gert told him, prodding his shoulder with a bony, arthritic finger.
Frank winced. He cast around for signs of a game ranger, or other visitors foolhardy enough to venture out in the stifling heat. But they were alone. Except for the lions, eyeing them expectantly from the shade of a tree.
Mavis glanced furiously at her husband. He’d done this on purpose. She knew it. He was just waiting for her Mam to say “I’m never going nowhere in this car again.” That’d be all the excuse he needed. And our Gerry too. They both hated these family holidays. Sometimes she thought they hated her Mam and Dad as well.
“Let’s try rockin’ it,” said Frank. “Might get the connections touching, or start it rolling. There’s a bit of a slope. Everybody jump up and down.”
The car squeaked and groaned under an onslaught of uncoordinated bouncing, pitching and rolling like a rudderless yacht in a turbulent sea. But it remained stubbornly immobile.
“Hang on, hang on,” said Frank, calling a halt. His wheezing in-laws sank back like punctured barrage balloons.
“Try the starter again,” urged Mavis.
The click was almost deafening.
“Let’s have another go at bouncing, but with a bit of rhythm this time,” said Frank. “When I say go, we’ll all jump up together.”
But Walter and Gert were still gathering their wits when they should have been up. The family resembled a set of rather wobbly and badly-aligned pistons.
“Useless, this is,” muttered Walter, a light spray of spittle drifting from his badly fitting dentures onto Mavis’s bare neck.
“I’m opening the window, our Mavis,” announced Gert, sucking loudly on a Rennie. “The heat’s getting to me.”
“But Mam, we’re not supposed to…” Mavis began hesitantly.
“I told you we should’ve gone to the beach,” grumbled Gerry.
“Don’t you start, m’lad,” fumed Frank.
“Leave him alone, the lad’s right,” agreed Gert. “You was the only one who wanted to come here.”
Frank swung round, rebellion rising. “I did it for you. To get you out into the fresh air.”
“Fresh air! You call bein’ in this car fresh air!”
“Stop it. Stop squabbling,” cried Mavis, tears brimming. Why did these outings always end in a fight?
“Can’t sit here all day,” announced Walter, opening the door and clambering out.
“Walter!” screamed Gert.
“Dad!” echoed Mavis. “What are you thinking about?”
“All that jiggling up and down. It’s made me want the lav even more,” grumbled Walter.
“You’d know about wanting the lav with that lion after you,” muttered Frank.
Mavis grabbed her Dad’s shirt and yanked him back in. But the sudden jolt dislodged his upper set and his gasp of surprise propelled it into a clump of long dry grass.
“Now you’ve done it,” spluttered Walter gummily.
“Good, now he’ll have to get a new set,” said Frank. “Like a pair of castanets those old things were.”
Mavis shot him a fierce glare. It seemed that the only time Frank spoke to her parents was to make a sarky remark. Why couldn’t it be like it used to be, when Gerry was a kid and they’d gone to the Isle of Man on the ferry? They’d had fun together in those days. But that was before they’d had a car. Before they’d all been trapped together for hours on end.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Walter. “Hey up,” he cried. “Look what’s coming.”
A lion, aroused by the noisy squabble, had slowly risen to its feet and was padding quietly towards them.
“Dad, close the door. The window, Mam, the window!” shrieked Mavis.
They stared in fearful expectation as the big cat circled them. It came unsettlingly close, regarding them with suspicious ochre eyes.
“Don’t panic. It can’t get in,” said Frank.
“Worra about me teeth,” wailed Walter. “It’ll have me teeth. Distract it, our Mavis. Throw it a cheese butty.”
Frank’s eyes rolled heavenwards. “It’s a lion. Not a ruddy pigeon at the Pier Head.”
“Our Tibby used to like a bit of cheese,” muttered Walter, feeling sat on.
“Me Dad’s only trying to help,” snapped Mavis.
A full-scale fight was about to break out when Gert gave a wheezy moan. “I don’t feel right,” she whispered, a wavering hand clutching her throat. “It’s me chest. It feels all tight.”
“What’s up, Gran?” sighed Gerry.
“It’s me heart.” She gave a weak cough. “I think it’s me heart.”
Frank and Mavis exchanged glances.
“Have another Rennie, Mam,” said Mavis wearily.
With a pettish lip, Gert unwrapped the tablet. She was popping it into her mouth when Walter let out a shriek. “It’s got me teeth, it’s got me teeth.”
The lion was taking an inquisitive sniff at the strange, odd-smelling object that lay beneath the car.
“Hoot, Dad. Hoot,” urged Gerry. “You might scare it away.”
Frank blasted the horn. The lion gave a momentary start, took a final sniff, and with a look of disdain, ambled off.
“Now’s your chance,” cried Mavis, her eye on the big cat as it retreated to join its mates.
“Chance to what?” said Frank.
“To nip out and get me Dad’s teeth.”
“Yer what! You want me to risk getting’ mauled for your Dad’s choppers?”
“He can’t spend the rest of his holiday with no teeth.”
“Come on, Dad,” pleaded Gerry, mortified at the thought of appearing with his Granddad minus his upper set.
Frank calculated the distance between car and lion. “All right,” he relented, slowly opening the door. He slid out, cast an anxious eye at the lion and then bolted to Walter’s door and began a desperate search in the long patchy grass. He spotted something beneath the rear wheel. But as he stooped to gather up the yellowing molars the car began a slow roll. He watched in fascinated horror as the wheel gradually crushed Walter’s only means of chewing.
“Frank, the car, it’s running away,” screamed Mavis. “Gerrin’ quick.”
Wrung from a mesmerised trance, Frank sprinted after the moving vehicle. But his foot caught a tussock of grass and sent him sprawling. Temporarily winded, he heard the screams of his family entreating him to get up, only realising the urgency when he saw two lions trotting towards him. Leaping to his feet he hared after the car, reaching it as the big cats quickened into a lope. He jumped in, rammed into gear and let out the clutch. There was a collective sigh of relief as the engine spluttered into life.
“Thanks be praised,” said Mavis.
But Walter wanted to know what had happened to his teeth.
“Yes, where’s his teeth,” complained Gert. “He won’t want to be slurping soup for the rest of the holiday.”
A red mist descended. “They’re broke,” said Frank through tweezer lips.
“They were good teeth, them were,” lamented Walter, as the car bounced its way back onto the road. He cogitated on his loss for a while before announcing, “You’d better be quick getting to that lav.”
“It won’t be long, Dad,” said Mavis, reflecting on the wisdom of these family holidays. Her Dad’s bladder was becoming a bit of a liability, and her Mam’s heart only played up when they were doing something contrary to her wishes. And then there was Gerry. The only thing that would please him would be if they all vaporised and he could go off on his own. Perhaps next year they’d send her Mam and Dad to Blackpool.
And then Gerry was announcing, “There it is, Dad. There’s the café and toilets.”
Frank swung the car into the car park and drew to a halt outside the public conveniences. But it was obvious that something was amiss. The entrance was blocked by bricks and bags of cement. An overalled worker was wheeling a barrow inside.
“What’s going on?” asked Frank.
“We’re closed. Renovations. You’ll have to use the toilets on the other side of the park.” Seeing Walter’s anguished jiggling, he offered, “If you’re in a hurry, you can nip through the lion enclosure. It’s a short cut.”