The Youngsters: Nik Rabinowitz & Gillian Breslin
Picador Africa’s The Youngsters series of books is in the spotlight at HowzitMSN, and after chatting to editor Mandy Weiner and contributors singer Danny K, Anele Mdoda, and Shaka Sisulu, we chat to this amazing comedic duo.
Nik Rabinowitz The Youngsters
Creators of the popular 702 radio show The Week That Wasn't, this comedic duo of Nik Rabinowitz and Gillian Breslin bring their insights and cheek-planted-tongues to the thorny issue of South African history in A Long Walk to a Free Ride.
This is the only book with two authors on it. Is this because Nik can't write?
Gillian: No, Nik is actually a fantastic writer! We collaborated for four years on The Week That Wasn't. The week before Mandy [Wiener] approached Nik, I said we should think about writing a book. So when Mandy approached Nik, Nik included me in the project.
Nik: I have to say that I'm sitting next to one of the funniest writers in the country. So it was an obvious choice when Mandy asked me to write the book, it should be with 'the professor' [nudges at Gillian, who laughs].
Gillian: I have bribed Nik to say all of this.
So are you the funny one and he's just the spokesperson?
Gillian: Well, he's definitely a better performer than I am. It's often unclear, because when I tell people I write with Nik, they assume I write FOR Nik. But what we do is completely a collaboration. We talk things through, massage ideas and punchlines. So it really is a collaboration. Okay, Nik does carry most of the weight of the research!
How did you go about deciding what to write about?
Nik: You know, I know that we sat down in a room somewhere and for a long time stared at the walls and stuff.
Gillian: And watched some cricket.
Nik: And watched some cricket. And... how did we start writing about history? I don't know how that happened?
Gillian: I think we wanted to get to a point where we could explain the present humorously. And in our own mind to get there the only way was to work through the past. Then somehow starting to talk about the history just took on a life of its own.
Nik: We also do this radio show and I started to meet people overseas who listen to it. Mainly expats, but also often non-South Africans with no concept of how did we get to where we are. So we started asking ourselves that question and thought: "Wow. There's a book in it."
You guys, with the show, are known for courting controversy. How many times have you been in front of the BCCSA?
Nik: We've only been fined once, for the record. We were talking about goat f***ers.
Gillian: We did a report on a story that got taken to the BCCSA and got fined for mentioning bestiality. And we got fined for mentioning bestiality in the story about the story.
If you had to rank it from one to ten, how controversial is this book?
Nik: Well, you see, my wife proofread most of it, so it is actually perfectly fine. But she missed a couple of bits - we won't say what those are. But there could be a backlash.
Gillian: Ja, look, we poke fun at everyone. So either everyone is going to love us or hate us. Nobody gets away unscathed.
Nik: We've already spent quite a bit of our future profits on legal advice.
It's surprising you don't have lawyers on retainer already...
Nik: Well, Primedia pays for those. Thank you, Primedia!
Gillian: We're hoping to get in with Danny K's father!
From the view of the publisher this is aimed at a younger audience. How did you approach it? Unlike the other books it does not appear to be a collection of columns or biographical in nature.
Nik: There is a brief biographical section about my traumatic Bar Mitzvah experience, but that's about it.
Gillian: I think you can read it at any age. It's not situated in any age or time. It's a common experience we've all had: whether you're learning about how God smoked the Zulus at Blood River - you could laugh at that section as it is now presented. Or, if you've never heard of it, it will blow you away.
Nik: Piet Retief - what did we say about him? He was the first skinhead. They took off most of his head, actually...
Gillian: He caused a war because of his bad haircut. They cut off a lot of his hair and a lot of his head.
Nik: Ja, Dingaan - the first Zulu hairdresser... We should have put that in the book!
You're touching on history and obviously that would entail a lot of research...
Nik: No! Wikipedia!
Gillian: Wikipedia and a book from Nik's school years.
How did you tackle the topics?
Gillian: We'll be honest - we had a tight deadline. So a lot of it was fuelled by panic and ancient, badly-remembered history. But we did read a little around it. Often Nik would be on the couch frantically paging through a book while I was typing away.
Nik: But who really remember the details of what happened? The great trek and the boers being pissed off and then there was some Zulu action and then something and a couple of other stuff...
Gillian: It's basically the stuff we remember as kids.
Would you recommend that schools use your book instead of history textbooks?
Gillian: Why not? It's probably going to change again in five years.
Nik: We can also get the books faster to Limpopo that the government. Maybe there's a tender in there for us.
Find Nik on Twitter: @nikrabinowitz
Would you like to own a set of The Youngsters books? Why not enter our competition? Two lucky people stand the chance of winning an entire set! All to themselves.
Simply answer the following question: Which division of Pan Macmillan is responsible for bringing The Youngsters series of books to South Africans?
Send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject "The Youngsters" by July 4 2012 and you could win! Only one entry is allowed per person, and only those residing in South Africa may enter. Good luck!