On The Bookshelf: Becoming Unstuck


Ingrid Winterbach gives us some insight into her latest book, The Troubled Times of Magrieta Prinsloo. 

Magrieta Prinsloo is a zoologist, with a solid academic career. But then her head comes unstuck. After fiercely clashing with her colleagues in the zoology department and insulting the head of the department, on an impulse, she resigns from her job.

She accepts a position at the Bureau for Continuing Education but finds her new boss, Markus Potsdam, a strange, unfathomable man.

He sends her on various missions, some to the Eastern Cape, to liaise with colleagues and associates, and this brings her in touch with a bizarre assortment of people and events – including a convention of people in wheelchairs, prostitutes protesting next to the highway, a beached whale, and the body of a 2 000-year-old Bushman in a museum.

Through these experiences, her life is set at a radically different tangent.

Ingrid Winterbach
Ingrid Winterbach

What inspired the novel?

“Many things – amongst them the skeleton of a whale I saw in the Museum for Natural History in Paris. My walks in the vineyard close to our house in Stellenbosch also proved very stimulating to the imagination!”

Did you have to do extensive research for the novel, and what did it entail?

“This novel did not require all that much research – it entailed mostly reading up on whales, and on aspects of palaeontology (Magrieta works on the phylum Annelida – the earthworm, to be exact).”

The Troubled Times of Magrieta Prinsloo appeared in Afrikaans as Die troebel tyd a year ago, and you won a prestigious award for the manuscript. Was it difficult to see it transformed into English?

“I have a great translator – Michiel Heyns – and it was exciting and rewarding working with him on the project.”

You have received high praise for your work over the years – in both Afrikaans and English. Is it intimidating to sit down and start a new novel?

“Oh yes, that is always difficult. One tries to reinvent oneself, push one’s own boundaries – something that is hardly ever easy.”

What would your advice to beginner-writers be?

“Read, read, read! Write regularly – good writing is a disciplined activity – but remember that good writing requires constant rewriting.”

Words by Irna Van Zyl





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