Bergvliet author Mark Winkler spoke about what inspired him to write his latest novel, Theo & Flora, at a meeting of the Thursday Club.
Published by Umuzi, an imprint of Penguin Random House, Theo & Flora is based
on the lives of real people (names have been changed), and, most intriguingly, actual letters and telegrams written between two lovers more than half a century ago.
It tells the story of a stalled novelist, Charlie Wasserman, who, when his investment-banker wife divorces him, finds among her belongings a box of letters and telegrams.
Written during the war years, between 1940 and 1944, the
correspondence reveals a love affair between the ex wife’s grandfather, Theo, a 40-something lawyer at the time, and Flora, a much younger journalist.
They are both married but not to each other.
Mark says Flora and Theo are obsessed with themselves and struggle to declare undying love for each other. Flora walks away from her husband, but Theo’s wife, not wanting to leave the beautiful house in Oranjezicht’s Belmont Road or be seen as a failed woman, refuses to grant him a divorce.
Wasserman, the man in the middle, has his own fling with emotion but handles his affair with far more maturity.
Mark told of the frustration he felt facing huge gaps in the correspondence – times when the lovers were not together, so he fictionalised those parts,
interweaving them with the letters.
Another challenge was to get the chronology right, and
Mark says he wanted to give up at times but thankfully he did not.
Without giving more of the story away, Sandy Bailey, founder of the Thursday Club who has read the book, describes it as a tale of unrequited love.
Mark was born in Johannesburg and grew up in what is now Mpumalanga; he attended high school at St Alban’s
College, Pretoria and studied journalism at Rhodes University in Grahamstown.
He has spent most of his working life in the advertising industry in Bergvliet and prior to that in Tokai, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.
He is the creative director
at a leading advertising agency and snatches time to write in
coffee shops, airports or the knee-hole desk in his study at home.
He has authored three novels, An Exceptionally Simple Theory (of Absolutely Everything) (2013), Wasted (2015), and The Safest Place You Know (2016).
His work is also published in America and in France. For more information about the Thursday Club, contact Sandy Bailey at 021 685 8016.