Penstock Publishing


Author: Norman Coates
Soft cover, 257 pages
ISBN 978-0-9921743-2-3
285 x 215 mm Fiction
Price: R140.00

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Trevor, a theatrical designer with an ailing partner, is trying to cope with a Grahamstown Festival theatre production that is going horribly wrong. A week before the opening night the leading actor cannot remember his lines, the leading lady (star of the TV series ‘Brit-eish!’) is throwing tantrums and the young director has gone missing. Meanwhile, the handsome bearded owner of the Leopold Lodge Hotel in the heart of the Karoo sits waiting for Trevor. Why the fascination? What will it lead to?

Norman Coates’ debut novel is sophisticated, touching and wickedly different.

"Beard” is enormously engaging. I laughed in recognition at the Grahamstown section, and while the petty bourgeoisie of Cape Town certainly got the snipe they deserved, the detour into the Karroo was like a coming home. I didn’t want it to end.  – Nicholas Ellenbogen.

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Author Norman Coates

South African expat Norman Coates, a well-known theatrical designer in London, has published his first novel – a shameless and funny story of a theatrical production set for the Grahamstown Festival.

Article from 'The South African' by Marianne Gray

So many South Africans leave home to live abroad and niggling in the back of their minds is the dream of writing The Great South African Novel.

Some have done it, like best-selling author Justin Cartwright, but mainly we just put it off as something we’ll do when we’re older. And never do.

But Capetonian Norman Coates did, as he built a life in London as a well-known theatrical designer, and at 64 his first novel, Beard, a shameless and funny story of a theatrical production set for the Grahamstown Festival, is published this month.

"I must say I feel like an eight-year-old at the prospect of having a novel published,” said Coates.

"Books were big in our home. As a kid I started a library in my bedroom and my brother, sisters and I ran a small in-house magazine full of stories and drawings. I’ve always written. It’s just taken awhile to get between covers. Mind you, bestseller Mary Wesley had her first book published at 71 so I’m well ahead!”

He was born in Wynberg and went to Wynberg Boys Junior and Senior. After graduating from Michaelis School of Fine Art at UCT he worked his passage to England on the Union Castle Line’s SA Vaal as part of Cape Town pop/folk group Canticle. A recording contract awaited and they set off on a life of touring, from men’s working clubs in the grey north to cruising in the Caribbean on the QE2.

Canticle was brought back to South Africa as the "group that made it overseas” and after touring the country, Norman, with Anthony Osler and Suzanne Goldberg, started a fringe theatre in Rondebosch called the Theatre Downstairs.

"The world was ours,” reflected Coates. "We’d had had a hit record, we’d toured everywhere, we’d had fun.”

But London called again and he took the post of resident designer at the famous Almost Free Theatre in the West End, designing new plays by (Sir) Tom Stoppard, John Arden, Wolf Mankowitz among other rising playwrights.

Since then he has designed plays far and wide, here and abroad. His last was Hound of the Baskervilles, the next is As You Like It.

"The the writing has to fit in between the plays. I have so many ideas for future books I could open a shop selling ideas!”

Beard is set in Cape Town, Grahamstown and the Karoo, near Colesberg. It’s what Coates described as a book about people, as they battle with a theatre production that goes madly wrong. "It’s truthful, poignant and, hopefully, laugh out loud!”

The book will be available online in the UK early next year, and is published by Penstock Publishers in South Africa – available in all good bookshops – from 6 December.