Justin Fox creates word pictures that resonate with paintings, for everyone to enjoy

The publishers’ note about Justin Fox

Travel writer and photographer Justin Fox is the former editor of Getaway International magazine. He studied at Oxford, after which he was a research fellow at the University of Cape Town, where he now teaches part time. His writing and photographs have been published worldwide and he is the author of a dozen non-fiction books. He lives and works in Cape Town.

 Calling stoep talkers and rural book ‘alikers’: Maeder Osler invites you to focus on and share the new book PLACE by Justin Fox, writing from our Cape of Storms to our Worlds of Capes. According to Osler, this book is a thoughtful and enjoyable celebration which adds value to our own journeys to 2024 and beyond. This gentle introduction is aimed at like-minded local yokels. Moreover, he feels, considered readings of this book can help to ground the many greedy troublemakers in this election year, wild with promises of deliveries and hedging on coalitions. Who knows, he asks, what transformations could follow from exploring such a fine book? This experience, he suggests, could sing to the arts of self-expression, to promises and deliveries, for all others and all places. That is, while times, and ‘alikers’, last.

GOOD DAY, DAGSÊ, MOLWENI, also to Cleo, the kaleidoscopic feline relaxing artfully in an entrance to the unique Liberty Books complex at the Peregrine Farm Stall alongside the N2 next to rural (gentrifying?) Grabouw, just before the Elgin Valley, and a bit further from the sprawling new informal settlement of (de-gentrifying?) Knoflokskraal.

‘FREE YOUR MIND! READ A BOOK!’ Cleopatra suggests. This is a place where three of us from down the mountain – Les Osler, David Christianson and myself – were privileged to be at an evening launch of Justin Fox’s new book PLACE (Umuzi, 2023). Cleo, we learn, is a delightful part of the care and curatorship of this rural bookshop, a place of extensive new and recycled reading opportunities, delightful assistance, and effective DIY book systems.

A book for more stoep talks, more places, more seasons and more times

Besides this, I dream of singing or dancing to tunes like ‘I wish I was back on the farm’, conversing at mini stoep talks, modest imbizos or micro lekgotlas, just everyday countryside conversations, or 2024 new year’s surprise packets.

Justin shows that our imaginations could be any such helter-shelter. And so they are. Above is a photograph of one such Justin Fox-type stoep place, from his own website, titled ‘Weskus-hokkie, Lambert’s Bay’.

A spectacular feline named Cleo invites you to read and share PLACE, a book for focused readers and talkers alike.
Weskus-hokkie, Lambert's Bay. Image from Justin Fox's website.

For me, this demonstrates my point about the unlimited outreach of fine books, and celebrates Justin’s simple inscription on the title page of the book:

For Maeder and Les / Happy travels! / Best wishes, / Justin.

This is not in Justin’s handwriting, or his elegant layout. Instead, it helps me to make my point that the book encompasses multiple levels, layers of communication, interactions, often unexpected, often surprising, between places, times, observers, and literary and other artists.

The main purpose of a book, I am reliably told by informed insiders, is that books, especially ones such as PLACE, are the products of considerable work – meant to be read by us as well as others we share them with. In all events, please try to get hold of the book, so that you can read it, share it and talk about it.

Depending on one’s position(s) – which, as we should know by now, can change any second – this Liberty Books treasure depends on how one sees things. For example, the bookshop is either at the start of the Overberg (‘Over ’t Berg) from the Cape of Storms side of things – or, going the other way, the end of the Garden Route before braving windy Sir Lowrys Pass and dropping down precipitously onto (or into) the Cape Peninsula. With countless interesting side-routes. (People live here and there throughout the places or journeys, as the book so interestingly reveals – not to speak of those yonders beyond).  Cleo the cat can confirm (“liberate yourself!, read a book!”) that the bookshop is on the edge of the Houw Hoek Pass, which overhangs the drama of one of the world’s major grain, fruit, wine, dairy and wilderness regions.


So what’s PLACE about, anyway? The backtext reads as follows:

‘In this gripping travelogue, Justin Fox goes on a one-of-a-kind journey. Marrying his love for travel and writing, he sets off to explore the places of his favourite books. From the mountainous eastern Karoo of Olive Schreiner to the big-game lowveld of Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, from Deneys Reitz’s wide-open Cape interior to the bushveld of Eugène Marais’s Waterberg, Fox reveals the majestic power of place.

‘Through the savannah of Herman Charles Bosman’s Marico, the dusty plains of JM Coetzee’s Moordenaars Karoo, the forests of Dalene Matthee’s Garden Route, the subtropical hamlets of Zakes Mda’s Wild Coast, and finally the sandstone crags of Stephen Watson’s Cederberg, he brings to life the settings we’ve only seen through characters’ eyes.

‘Place is a moving love letter to South Africa, merging literature and landscape, and taking the reader on a breathtaking journey – into the heart of South Africa’s spectacular landscape and the inner worlds of its most celebrated authors.’


So this book is a festive and new year’s bargain to read and share. A reason for this praise starts with the cover, which features a painting titled ‘Overberg Landscape’ by the noted artist Erik Laubscher. The Overberg (‘Over t’Berg’. Or Over the Mountain) does not feature in any of the journeys highlighted in the book, and is not named except in small print on the inside front cover. Yet it speaks volumes about the book and its interactions with wider worlds. It haunts much of what the book is about. I find myself transported by the painting, its composition, its detail, its invitations, and how it subtly interacts with the rest of the book.

PLACE is very much about landscapes, other pictures, other artworks, and other places which interact with and flow through the collections of stories and places. lt would seem to me that the point of Laubscher’s work, as well the book, is that they also invite other, indirect associations – also as part of the direct?

Is this not mostly so with creative work, whether the arts or crafts? Laubscher’s works, for example, continue to live on, to invite attention, to gain new followers and to inspire new painters. This can be anywhere and everywhere, any time and every time. Such creations in all forms of arts and crafts mirror, reflect, remind, suggest. They encourage undiscovered and potential contributions, including those nestled in the countryside, as well as those revealed by Justin, his fine fellow writers, and their interactions with other creative writers and creative work. This is a wealth of artistry.

So we at Toverview are also inspired to continue exploring, encouraging, inviting, and finding the artists, writers, painters and crafters of such and similar fine works. We see the mountain of our logo as having space above and below and alongsides for some ‘happy travels’. We are by no means alone – have a look at some of the features you can reach from our associated websites, such as  I-Hantam Community Education Trust,  I-Karoo Space: Enkabeni yeNingizimu Afrika, I-Karoo Development Foundation, Colesberg Ulwazi, Ons Karoo en Kontrei.

Put differently, the cover is a pre-introduction, in paintcraft, to the word craft of the book PLACE. Rather like most of us, neither book nor painting may be direct relations, though indirect links are bold and clear for all who might look to see. Such links are everywhere, and such special place and artwork reminds us to be on the lookout for other examples: other writings, sculptures, carvings, songs, compositions, celebrations and considerations, dances; also, for all forms of stoep talk events, wherever such times and shelters may be, and whenever they may overflow in imaginations, in travels, to open roads and paths and tracks; and footprints. I am finding, beyond the pleasures of private readings, this book PLACE could be a kind of shared experience in the book and its associations, its shades.

So ‘Overberg Landscape’ is a version of travels, of places and of imaginations. Even though, as the book’s title warns, it is PLACE, not places. The book is a series of independent single places – points, positions, contexts, presences of A place, A point, A position – not a random or haphazard collection from a-z or z-a. As we know by now, journeys always start with a first fresh stride, and then yet another further, hopeful, step: and usually we need to be alive to surprises, and usually we hope to learn to ‘watch our step’. PLACE is no mere travelogue. Among other things, it has inspired me to record my own interpretation of the cover (see below), and I invite you to do the same.

The sky anticipates some of the coppery tones lower down in the grainy scene …

These amazing mountains  come from a long time ago. All sorts of blues, bolder, gentler, fade rock by stone by pebble by grain of sand to seemingly less imposing distances …

The reversed-out title is a point in an area; a position in space; a context, superimposed on brimming hues and tones …

The subtitle invites exploration. It reflects the skies, and the skies reflect the fields, crossed by an impossibly straight road. Like the land, this mirrors work, change, cultivation, preparation, shapes, forms, disciplines, protocols, systems, processes, technologies … and even an untamed knife-edged ridge of natural growth …

Diversities of green, in various shades from dark to light. The lands trace boundaries, margins, the heaves and dips of ground, drainages, erosions, depositions …

The words follow the road, or route, twisting and turning towards various tomorrows, held by today, and facing mysterious, indigenous yesterdays. We are left with the lights and darks of bushes, trees, rocks and ruins – slender pulses of untamed lands …

The author’s name takes us from the painting to the book, as one artist to another. (And, lest we forget, the publisher’s imprint reminds us that survivals also include the logistics of marketing .. yet another world …

So free your mind ! Read a book !

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