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Open Features: Lawrence Green - Journalist And Author

...‘Writing is a trade just like woodworking or plumbing, and just as difficult to do. The writer must assemble all his tools and materials, then fit them carefully together as a master carpenter constructs a cupboard or a set of bedroom furniture’...

Marianne Hall brings a vivid word portrait of the South African author, Lawrence Green.

‘PRAH! P-R-A-H!’ A weird bleating call, a banshee wail. The sound of a fish horn. Cecil Wightman embroidered this call in the theme tune of his popular Snoektown broadcasts. So tells Lawrence Green in his best-selling book Tavern of the Seas, published in 1947.

Laurie, as he preferred to be known, wrote 33 best sellers between 1933 and 1972, which sold over 700 000 copies. The traditions and legends of the Cape countryside; journeys in the Kalahari and along the lonely stretches of the Orange River; his adventures in Namaqualand and South West Africa; these and many others were enchanting stories for his many eager readers.

Laurie was a solitary man. He never married. His life-long companion was Lulu Yates-Benyon. Her daughter-in-law, Joan remembers him well. ‘It was wonderful to be part of his family. Laurie was a charming man, a real gentleman, a very interesting man. He would pop around every evening at 6pm as regular as clockwork. He kept his own KWV here. Our conversations were very stimulating, especially when it came to deciding the title of the newest of his books, which he wrote at the rate of one a year.’ John Yates-Benyon, Joan’s late husband, who knew Laurie for 45 years, wrote the biography Memories of a Friendship: Lawrence Green. Joan still has all Laurie’s papers at her home in Sea Point.

Laurie’s wanderlust led him to all parts of the world. As an SAAF lieutenant in WW11 he served in Cairo, Palestine and Cyprus, but it was to the exhilarating air of Blaauwberg Beach that he would return, time and time again.

He was not a good cook, but he was a gastronome and a successful journalist. So he became an authority on cuisine and compiled one of the most comprehensive cookery books to appear in South Africa.

Success did not come easily. After working all day at the Cape Argus he would sweat it out at night in the glow of the hissing primus at his cottage on the Blaauwberg beach. He said, ‘I quite believe that at one time I could boast the finest collection of politely worded rejection slips and foreign stamps in South Africa.’

‘Do not pad, watch out for long sentences, use plenty of full stops. Before you put down a word, think whether there isn’t a shorter, less pretentious one that would do better. A spade must be called a spade, a ball a ball, with no confusing euphemizms to detract from the clear understanding of what the written piece is about.’

Later on, Laurie wrote every weekday from 9am to 12.30pm in longhand 2000 words or more. He built up an enormous reference library of magazine clippings of news items. A book took him no longer that eight or nine weeks to write. It would be ready for his publisher, Howard B. Timmins by the time his currently selling book had run it’s course.

‘Writing is a trade just like woodworking or plumbing, and just as difficult to do. The writer must assemble all his tools and materials, then fit them carefully together as a master carpenter constructs a cupboard or a set of bedroom furniture,’ he advised. ‘There is only one way to build a book. Decide what you want to say, then slog at it, paragraph by paragraph until it is finished. Just sit down and do it.’ He recommended austere surroundings, including a hard-backed chair and a blank wall.

Laurie disliked typewriters which, he maintained, broke concentration. He wrote by hand on 8-inch square pieces of unlined paper, never more than four dozen words to each page. If a mistake was made, the whole page was simply thrown away. If something was added, an extra sheet was inserted.

‘All of us are more sensitive to critics than we let on, and find the pulling of pieces of work a particularly nasty pill to swallow.’
Lawrence Green benefited a lot from the help and guidance of his friend and British author, Leonard Merrick.

‘An author is an artist, a publisher, a salesman. The success of a book depends mainly on the publisher,’ Laurie maintained. ‘Having a book sell well is all that matters to an author. Art, merely for art’s sake, is pure rubbish.’

‘A book is merely a marketable product like any other on sale, the correct, attractive presentation of which is of prime importance in moving the book from the shop shelf to the home of the consumer.’

He wrote his final manuscript in 1972. It was aptly entitled When the Journey is Over.

On a rain lashed day in May of that year, he breathed a long last sigh.

Copyright©Marianne Hall 2002
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