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Jonathan Ball

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Featured Book this Month: Tim Ecott’s Stealing Water

Stealing WaterTim Ecott, author of Stealing Water, has this to say about his family:

“None of my friends had a mother who could fence stolen property, or get you a false passport. None of them had a father that everyone called ‘Rambo’.

“And they probably didn’t get evicted from their homes by the bailiffs or watch their dad making petrol bombs in the kitchen. Even my closest friends don’t know that stuff, because it was a part of my life that I preferred to keep secret.

“It wasn’t just that I was embarrassed by how we lived, it was simply because I didn’t feel they would understand. Some of the stuff that happens when you’re poor is grim, humiliating and damaging.

“But some of it is funny, even when it’s happening. And when you really haven’t got any money, there’s no food in the house and the police are knocking at the door, you find out the real value of friendship. That’s what my mother taught me. My father showed me how to be bitter, and angry, and how to take revenge. But they never stopped loving me, and in a way, that’s what Stealing Water is about.”

When Ecott’s family uprooted from Northern Ireland in 1977, they thought they were leaving behind their troubled lives, including the physical threat to Tim’s father’s life posed by the IRA. They hoped to exchange a hum-drum suburban existence of mortgage debts and small-town society for sunshine and servants in an ex-pat African setting. But, just six months after arriving in Johannesburg they were bankrupt, evicted from their home, and had most of their possessions confiscated by the bailiffs.

Whilst friends and relatives in Britain imagined that they were living privileged lives, Ecott and his family often went hungry.

Tim’s mother had to provide through her shop, The Whatnot, which was situated in an arcade running underneath the streets of Johannesburg. The shop sold goods of doubtful provenance and consequently became a magnet for thieves, vagrants and prostitutes.

Forced to survive on their collective wits, the family members entered a twilight world where their true friends were renegades.

Stealing Water is about family, and what holds them together; it is the story of how the worst of times can become the most important and valuable period of a person’s life.

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