Author feature: Marilyn Cohen de Villiers

By | May 4, 2016

I first met South African author Marilyn Cohen de Villiers through THE Book Club on Facebook – I’d very much like to read and review both of her novels A Beautiful Family and When Time Fails, but it’s going to take me a little while to get to them. The books form part of what Marilyn calls The Silverman Saga, but they can be read in any order. 

When Marilyn first asked if I would be happy to feature her and her books, she referred to my (rather flexible these days!) “no self-published books unless I’ve met you” rule. We then had an interesting conversation about the difficulties and challenges of publishing non-literary work in South Africa. More about Marilyn’s books later, but I’m delighted that she returned to that theme for her guest post. Over to you, Marilyn…

I’ve been invited to speak at a literary festival in Cape Town towards the end of May. This is the first such event I’ve ever been invited to. I feel tremendously honoured, incredibly frightened – and a bit of a fraud. 

You see, as far as I can tell, all the other authors are “proper” authors. They have all had one or more books “properly” published. Some of their books have won awards in local literary circles; many of their books have been longlisted (at least) for said awards. What are they and festival attendees going to say when they discover I am not really one of them? When they realise that neither of my novels has been longlisted (or even submitted) for anything; that the mainstream media – with one notable exception – have ignored them. And that not one of the (about) seven fiction publishers in South Africa were willing to take a chance on A Beautiful Family. (I don’t even have a literary agent – publishers in South Africa deal directly with authors). 

I had been warned as I completed chapter after chapter, and rewrite after rewrite. I had been told that most (all?) South African publishers prefer manuscripts that have literary pretensions and could win awards; and that they also generally accept manuscripts that have been recommended by someone who is already known to them. “It’s an incestuous little circle, publishing in South Africa is,” he’d said darkly. I dismissed this as sour grapes (I knew he had been trying, unsuccessfully, to get his novel published for ages and ages). I decided to try anyway. 

The rejection letters duly arrived: it didn’t fit in with their publishing plans, said some. Another used the identical let-down, but added, very kindly, that they nevertheless recognised that “your book deals with an important subject”. 

Then there were the less tactful rebuffs: “We don’t think it is commercially viable”; and another baldly stated that “your writing is not up to our required standard”, and it would cost far too much (time? effort? money? all of the above?) to rectify. Ouch. But the best rejection was yet to come: it arrived in my post box one year after I had submitted the manuscript. The standard rejection letter was attached to a one page “review” from a “professional reader” who, although she had enjoyed the story, concluded that “the style of writing is not appropriate for the gravity of the subject matter.” 

I didn’t care (much). But by that time, I’d decided to self-publish. And when I completed When Time Fails, I didn’t bother to submit it to same handful of local publishers for rejection.

I have been incredibly surprised at how well both books have been received, within South Africa and internationally. I’m gratified. And humbled. It is so heart-warming to know that there are hundreds of people out there who have bought my books and taken the time to read them. The reason I was invited to the literary festival is because one of the organisers happened to read A Beautiful Family and enjoyed it. 

So technically, I am a published author. But does being (self) published make me a “real” author? Do I really have the right to share a platform with authors who have a stamp of approval from the local literary establishment? What will be the reaction when what is likely to be a pretty erudite audience discovers that I self-published both my novels? 

What would your reaction be? 

Marilyn, anyone who manages to get their books published, read and enjoyed will always be a “real author” to me. Enjoy the literary festival – stand proudly on that stage!

Let me tell you more about Marilyn’s books:

A Beautiful Family

When Johannesburg socialite Brenda Silverman dies in mysterious circumstance in her palatial, well secured home, questions are inevitable. Did she commit suicide? Was it an accidental drug overdose? Or did her death have something to do with her husband? 

Alan Silverman is a handsome, charming businessman with impeccable credentials: a former political activist who fled South Africa in the 1980s and returned to help build the new democracy; a loving husband and devoted father; a pillar of Johannesburg’s orthodox Jewish community; and an intimate of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress elite. He is also a man hiding a terrible secret.

Tracy Jacobs, a young journalist, is assigned to cover the story but as her investigations start to uncover cracks in the beautiful Silverman family facade, she finds herself in conflict with her own community. 

Will Brenda’s inquest finally reveal the truth? 

Spanning nearly forty years and three continents, A Beautiful Family confirms a horrible reality: that “things like that” can and do happen to people just like us. 

When Time Fails

When Annamari’s son falls in love with his real father’s daughter, how far will she go to hide her secret past? 

Annamari made one mistake in her youth: Alan Silverman. It was a mistake that would haunt her for the rest of her life. It was a mistake that would have dreadful consequences for the people she loved. 

Set on a farm in South Africa during the death throes of the Apartheid era and the emergence of the “new” South Africa, When Time Fails follows Annamari and her family as they struggle to come to terms with a changing world and the past she has kept hidden for decades. What will she do when her carefully constructed web of lies finally starts to disintegrate? 

Both books are available in paperback and for kindle via Amazon UK and

Meet the author

I was born and raised in South Africa – in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs, the youngest daughter of an extraordinarily ordinary, happy, stable, traditional (rather than observant) Jewish family. After matriculating at Northview High School, I went to Rhodes University in Grahamstown where I completed a B. Journalism degree. This was followed by a “totally useless” – according to my parents – English Honours degree (first class), also at Rhodes. 

I started my career as a reporter on a daily newspaper at the dawning of the turbulent 1980s. During this period, I interviewed, among others, Frank Sinatra, Jeffrey Archer, Eugene Terre’blanche and Desmond Tutu. I caught crocodiles; avoided rocks and tear smoke canisters in various South African townships; stayed awake through interminable city council meetings and criminal and civil court cases – and learned to interpret balance sheets and understand economic jargon. 

I also married – and for 32 years and one week remained happily married to – my news editor Poen de Villiers who passed away on 15 March 2015. 

After the birth of our two daughters, I ‘crossed over’ into Public Relations. My writing – articles, media releases, opinion and thought leadership pieces and so on – continues to be published regularly in newspapers and other media, usually under someone else’s by-line.
The unexpected death of a childhood friend and colleague in 2011 spurred me to take stock of my life. A few months later, I started writing A Beautiful FamilyMy second novel, When Times Fails, was published in October 2015.

11 thoughts on “Author feature: Marilyn Cohen de Villiers

  1. Linda Hill

    Definitely being self published makes you a 'real' author! In fact some established conventionally published authors are going down the self publishing route to get control back over their own work.

  2. Rae Cowie

    It's the story and writing that's important. 'How' a book got into my hands really doesn't matter to me – and these both sound really interesting reads! Enjoy the literary festival and hold your head high!

  3. Kendra

    Hi Marilyn, Yes, you are absolutely a 'real' author! Well done for persevering! Your books sound interesting–I look forward to reading them one day. Best of luck at the festival.

  4. Sheryl Browne

    I totally agree with the above, Marilyn. Many authors are choosing to self publish, rather that go the rejection route, or as Linda said, many to get their rights back (sometimes from publishers they would have been better off without). I'm a hybrid author myself and would publish something to KDP in a flash if I chose to. The standard of self-published books nowadays is high, the authors themselves setting those standards. If they are going to do it, they're going to do it right! I have many author friends who are self-published. I've read their books and they are good! You are an author. You are published! Good luck with your talk! Be proud! I would be. I'm very sorry for your loss, by the way, and so glad you have grabbed your life and remain determined to achieve your ambitions! 🙂 Sorry this is a long one, Anne. Thanks for sharing. xx

  5. Anne Williams

    And I'm delighted by the response to Marilyn's excellent post. Thank you everyone, and best of luck at that conference Marilyn – I have every confidence you'll shine xx

  6. Unknown

    Marilyn,, dont feel a fraud.. you have been writing for years as a reporters and many reporters end up writing books… Your books both sound great and I will definitely get down to reading them…. Well done, and well done for having the courage to self-publish… Someone commented on the site that a lot of authors are going that route today. I agree. Good luck for the talk, and yes, it is a great honour…

  7. Anne Lapedus Brest

    Marilyn, that comment from "Unknown" is from ME… I didnt realise that Unknown was going to appear and presumed my name would appear…

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