Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Century Old Estate

I love starting work on a new novel, mostly because for me it’s an exciting journey with God. My latest novel has been no different.

For quite some time I’ve wanted to write a story set in the winelands of South Africa, but hadn’t given much thought to a story idea. Getting dressed for work one March morning this year, as per usual I mused my way through mascara and blush, thinking up story lines (and discarding them as fast as the next color applied to my face). This particular Tuesday morning, however, an idea stuck and I realized it had the potential for a great novel. Soon my story world emerged. The winelands, at last, would be perfect.

Weltevrede vineyards

As I had recently completed writing my Nano 2012 novel and am still in the editing phase, I didn’t feel up to beginning work on another manuscript. I decided, however, that I’d do Nano 2013 differently. Being a Pantser, I determined to use the time between March and November to be more of a Plotter on this story—eight months to plan, plot, research, do character sketches . . . whatever it is that Plotters do. When I told my sister the idea for my next Nano novel, her immediate response was: “I can’t wait so long for you to write that story. You have to write it now.”
I told her I’d think about it. By that evening I’d discovered Speedbo 2013—set your own writing target for the month of March. Suddenly I had the perfect excuse to begin work immediately on my winelands story. I, like my sister, couldn’t wait till November. By the end of March, I’d have 31,000 words written.
Three days later we visited my sister and her husband on their farm, ninety minutes from where we live. Her husband kept asking me when I was going to publish my books, that I couldn’t keep writing good stories and not doing anything with them. I tried to explain to him that it wasn’t so simple, that writing the book was the easy part. We were still chatting about my writing and my new novel, when suddenly he disappeared. Minutes later he returned with the Landbouweekblad magazine—the Afrikaans equivalent of Farmers Weekly—that had been published that same day. He opened to an article titled “Moving Diary of a Strike.” The piece was an emotive glimpse into the diary of wine farmer, Philip Jonker, and how, based on Christian principles and a belief in relationships, he tried to solve the problems of the farm laborer strikes that had led to great uncertainty and fear in the Western Cape in November last year.
I was so moved by his story, that I went to the Weltevrede website, got his email address and wrote to him. I admitted to not being quite finished reading the article because it was slow going for me as it was written in Afrikaans. Philip immediately wrote back and sent me his entire journal of this experience . . . in English. It was a fascinating read—a real David and Goliath story of this humble wine farmer’s unshakeable faith as, led by God’s Spirit, he walked into an angry, emotionally swept-up mob of more than five hundred armed with  pangas, machetes and clubs. He shook the leader’s hand and asked to speak to the people. He spoke hope and encouragement to the crowds that day and in the days to come.
Philip and Lindelize Jonker
That was when I decided I had to make a trip to Cape Town in May and spend a night in one of the cottages on Weltevrede. As I shared on my previous blog, this trip was brought forward a month. Unfortunately, being the Easter weekend and school holidays when we went down, their cottages were already booked. I determined not to return home before paying Weltevrede a visit. So my husband, son and I made a day trip to the Robertson valley. Not only did my visit to Weltevrede, meaning ‘Well Satisfied’, yield contact with Philip Jonker and his lovely wife, Lindelize, I also discovered two intriguing things on their wine estate.
You’ll have to wait till my next blog on Monday, 29th April though to read about what we discovered at this hundred year old wine estate.
If you’re interested in reading Philip’s journal of the farmworker strikes, please send a request with your email address in a comment below.
Marion Ueckermann’s passion for writing was sparked in 2001 when she moved to Ireland with her husband and two sons. Since then she has published devotional articles in Winners (2009) and The One Year Book of Joy and Laughter (published August 2011 by Tyndale House Publishers). She blogs for International Christian Fiction Writers and belongs to Christian Writers of South Africa and American Christian Fiction Writers. She now lives in Pretoria East, South Africa in an empty nest with her husband and their crazy black Scottie, Wally.


  1. You are doing great research and background info for your novel. Well Done! You also seem to be enjoying it immensely. A tour of a winelands farm is a plus. I would love to read about Philip Jonker's approach to the strike.

  2. It's been great fun, Ann. I will forward the Journal email to you.
    PS. Philip Jonker has given me permission to do so.

  3. I am encouraged and awed by the way God used Philip to bring hope into a very difficult situation. His faith is strong and his willingness to give his all to help in the unrest shows a way that we surely all aspire to. His dairy of events tells of our God who is the God of the impossible, for things could have so easily gone the way of violence. With people like Philip living for our Lord and showing a depth of love for others that is staggering we can surely overcome all the negative that is facing us as South Africans in every corner of our land. Let us all pray for more love in our own lives and a desire to bring that love to all people, even as Christ commanded us. Philip, I salute you - you truly are a brother in Christ and living out His command "Love one another, as I have loved you!" (John 13:34)

  4. Wow, some people just make me so ashamed to be called a Christian!I've been meaning to start a diary myself but I'm afraid it would be a small and boring one. But, Marion, I'm inspired by how Phillip's journal has been able to inch you forward in your research (definitely this will bring that certain 'truth' to your story) but also for the stories in it too. Well done Phillip & Marion!

    1. Thanks, Fifi. Remember, if you'd like to read the journal of Philip's journey through the farm laborer unrest in South Africa during November and December 2012, just drop me an email address. It's only about 10 pages and absolutely worth the time invested.