GOOD MORNING, FISH!: “My Interview with Mary Petrus” – Clarence Hamilton

Among Clarence Hamilton’s credits as writer, director and executive producer are Molo Fish! Avoiding the Truth (1997) a thirteen-part television drama and the first South African-Canadian official co-production, and Molo Fish II – Into the Unknown, a ten-part sequel aired in 2004.

On the 26th of January 2023, author of the 1997 Molo Fish! Ekhaya TV series was interviewed by Mary Petrus on his newly published book in partnership with Xarra Books, Good Morning, Fish!, an adaptation of the series which graced televisions at 6 p.m. in that year. Check out the exchange of Mary and Clarence as they delve into the book on the transcription derived from the Molo Fish//Ekhaya Facebook page below:

The Interview

CH: I understand that you read the entire novel without realising there was a signed inscription from me to you in the title pages; what happened?

MP (laughing): I’m 67 years old my friend! That’s the only explanation I can give. Or maybe I should say I was so excited about getting the book, I didn’t have any time for those pages that didn’t tell the story. So, I was shocked and amazed when I heard about the dedication. I had to go and fetch the book and page through it, and I said to myself ‘my vader!’ how could I have missed that.

CH: So, what was your first reaction after reading the book?

MP: You know the strange thing, and I don’t know if I should call it strange, but it brought up so many similar type of memories of my childhood. There were things I never thought about because as a child you tend to take thinks at face value. I didn’t question things. Like going to the post office and knowing there was a door you weren’t supposed to use.

(It reminded me of) The aunties who gossiped and knew everyone’s business. Who laughed about the girl down the road who was supposed to get married and didn’t understand that there may have been serious family politics at play or that she might have been pregnant.

CH: Getting back to your comment about the post office; did you say that you saw the signs and obeyed them without thinking?

MP: Ja. You knew the big door was not for you. You knew to go down the little passage and through the door on the other side and sometimes find there were twenty people ahead of you but on the other side there were only five people but you had to wait in your section because it was normal.

CH: What stuck out for you, apart from the realization of the normality of things you had never thought about?

MP: It was the coming of the white family to Noordgesig. It reminded me of the do’s and the don’ts of our families. It reminded me of the special crockery and table cloths that came out on such days. It didn’t happen at our house like that, but I had an uncle who was an Anglican priest. So, when he had white congregants visit from other parishes, you immediately had to stand to attention and be on your best behaviour. All the nice goodies got taken out of the cupboard and these were things we couldn’t access normally.

CH: What did you think about the school scenes?

MP: They were just so typical of my own experience. I remember the bullying and fights where blood would flow. And when the fight was serious there was a special place to go after school to go have it out. And the place wasn’t too far from the school. When you saw a group heading in that direction and you didn’t want to get involved, then you went the other way. That was also normal.

It also reminded me of the teachers who were also bullies and who could say and do whatever they wanted to the students. And no one could stop him or hold him to account. That is so real. I remember two teachers: one in primary school and the other in high school who used to bully students in that way.

CH: Actually, it was abuse. I wrote about the girl getting hit on the hand but what was missing was a scene about how the boys were made to bend over the teacher’s desk or chair to be caned on the backside. There were teachers who took out all their anger on the boys with tremendous violence. It still boggles the mind how this was permitted.

MP: In high school we had such a teacher. Other teachers sent kids to him for hidings. It terrified us because we knew when he was finished with you, you won’t be able to use your hand. He had a rule: if you were going to get 6 lashes, you had to choose one hand for it. You couldn’t split the lashes between hands. Years later I met this man in church, a deacon! I couldn’t believe it! He was a fantastic maths teacher, excellent, but we knew he was horrible and cruel in the way he beat us. Yet when you looked at his face, you couldn’t associate it with such cruelty.

CH: Did you recognise any of the families in the novel?

MP: I remember Father McKenzie. Years after the series, I met him and members of his family in Cape Town.

CH: All the families are based on actual families, but I had to fictionalise them by displacing children in such a way that no family could claim that one family represents them.

MP: That reminds me of another thing: the sad reality of drug abuse in our families. The story about Boytjie who killed his uncle and didn’t realise who he was when he went to rob him in the dark. It is so real, although the death is extreme.

CH: What else jumped out at you?

MP: The toilet story. I remember at my granny’s house, we had a ritual over weekends to cut up the newspaper. One would cut the page in half, then the halves would be cut up smaller into the right size. And when you went to use the toilet, you had to crumple up the paper!

[My response to why crumpling was necessary resulted in GREAT LAUGHTER!]

CH: Do you think the novel should be prescribed for matric students?

MP: Definitely, because today’s kids have very little idea where we come from and what we had to deal with growing up. Also, because the way you’ve written it makes it accessible without the harshness and rawness that could have made reading it very difficult.

CH: Thank you, Mary.

MP: Good luck with the new one (book two of the Molo Fish quartet). I look forward to reading it with my signed dedication on the first page!