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Modjaji Books

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Melissa de Villiers flew in from Singapore to launch The Chameleon House

Melissa de Villiers was in South Africa for a week to launch her debut collection of short stories, The Chameleon House. Her book was launched at the NELM Eastern Star Museum on Friday 20th February in conversation with Anthea Garman of the Rhodes Journalism Department.
Melissa de Villiers

The Book Lounge launch was on Tuesday evening, 24th February 2015, where Melissa was in conversation with Liesl Jobson. Those who attended the launches would have been struck by Melissa’s grounded, thoughtful discussion of and engagement with her stories. She told us that one of her stories went through more than seventy drafts.


Nyana Kakoma who is on a six week internship with Modjaji Books wrote this about Tuesday’s launch at the Book Lounge.

Looking for and finding home: A conversation With Melissa de Villiers

Nothing starts off an evening of book loving better than a glass of wine and sumptuous bites. Except a surprise email from the author’s father and sister right before the author conversation.A priceless look of surprise on Melissa de Villiers face when the Louann from the Book Lounge read an email to Melissa from “Dad and Suzie” wishing her the very best at her book launch, and we were off to a great start of the launch of her collection of short stories, The Chameleon House.

Liesl Jobson (writer and musician), who sat down in conversation with Melissa kicked the evening off with a reading of “A Letter to Bianca” from The Chameleon House. She described the characters from the stories as resilient, emerging through the chaos and recognisable by everyone.

Although she started writing seriously much later, as a shy child who felt she could not express a lot of things, Melissa turned to writing as an escape. “When I had my first child I gave myself permission to write. I wanted my child to know these stories before the memories started to fade,” she explained. While some writers start their stories with a theme or character, it is images that endlessly bothered her that we have to thank for this collection. In trying to understand why they bothered her so much, she wrote a collection that has been described as, “a tough, sharp collection of stories offering unexpected glimpses of a changing country” by fellow writer, Romesh Gunesekera.

The question of looking for and finding home is a running theme in the stories that had to be discussed. Melissa, who is South African, has lived in London and now lives in Singapore, sometimes wonders what it would feel like if she had not left South Africa. “So this collection is almost like a love letter to this place that I left.” It made sense then, that when an audience member asked Melissa whether she tried getting published elsewhere, Melissa said, “I came first and only to Modjaji. It was important to me that my book gets published here.”

On the editing process, Melissa thanked her editor Andie Miller who at times had to cut the umbilical cord when Melissa could not let go of a story even after writing 70 drafts of it.

Before the question and answer session, Liesl pointed out that Melissa has perfected the art of ending stories. She compared it to an Eskom power cut while you are running on the treadmill and end up being flung forward. You would have to read Melissa’s collection to see what she means.

The Chameleon House

For more photos of the launches in Grahamstown and Cape Town click here

Book details

The Chameleon House


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