Sam Roth walks into the Muizenberg coffee bar and splits into two exuberant women. He-she is the cryptic-crossword version of Dorothy Dyer and Rosamund Haden, whose current claim to fame is having written the first book published under Penguin South Africa’s new imprint, South African Puffin.
The work granted this honour is Time Twisters: Cape of Slaves, a young-adult novel that takes its readers back to Cape Town before the abolition of slavery.
Dyer and Haden, both teachers by training, met while teaching at St Mark’s College in Limpopo 20 years ago. At the time, Haden was already writing — a published novel, readers for schools and short stories. Dyer, an English teacher, was reading voraciously and wanting her pupils to read too. But books that would encourage them to do so were in short supply, so she and Haden decided to create them.
Now the two are collaborating on a venture called Cover2Cover Books, with a series set in a township high school aimed at young people who have not yet developed a relationship with reading. But that is another story.
Also out of this creative partnership and Dorothy’s love of historical fiction came the idea for Time Twisters, in which three 21st-century teenagers step through a portal in a painting and find themselves in the “Cape of Slaves”.
When they started on the project, they say, they did not give much thought to where it might lead; they were doing it for the fun of it. Now Dyer, in particular, is absolutely thrilled by the recognition bestowed on the work by the Puffin imprint. “When I was a child I always read Puffin books. I was a member of the Puffin club and the imprint is very special to me,” she says.
Given the egos of most writers, how does such a collaboration work? The answer, in this case, is that Haden and Dyer do not have the egos of most writers and have found the combination of their strengths and weaknesses to be an asset in the creation of a cast of credible characters with distinctly individual voices.
“You have to be flexible, you can’t be precious about your writing,” says one of them (at this point I am no longer noticing who says what).
It helps that they have a similar sense of humour and outlook on the world, though Dyer is “somewhat didactic” and Haden’s plot suggestions are occasionally “far-fetched”, so they correct these tendencies in each other. Haden is good at dialogue but does not like research, so it is Dyer who fleshes out the factual elements.
“We take each other to another level,” they say. “It’s a bit like tennis. It’s fun, lots of fun.”
As are they.