Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Pan Macmillan

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

2010 Citizen Book Prize: Shortlisted Synopses and Voting!

Citizen Book PrizeVoting for the 2010 Citizen Book Prize winner is officially open! Read through the eight synopses below, choose your favourite and voice your opinion at the voting station at the bottom of this post. Or click here to vote at the poll’s homepage.

The winner of the 2010 Citizen Book Prize – held this year for first-time, unpublished teen fiction – receives R10 000, ongoing publicity in CitiVibe, and consideration for publication by Macmillan South Africa.

Here are the synopses of the eight shortlisted manuscripts, followed by the Citizen Book Prize voting station:

Ben Croft and the Secret of the War Witch by Mohammed Fakir

Ben Croft thinks he is just another ordinary 17-year-old high school student who is struggling to adjust to his new school and neighbourhood. That is until he uncovers a deadly secret that has been dormant for almost 328 years. Gifted by ‘Chance’ he soon discovers that he is a very powerful magician with extraordinary powers. Chosen by ‘Fate’ he realises that his destiny is to free the world from black magic and to avenge the death of his parents who were murdered in a car accident by an evil witch. However, it will not be easy. To truly combat the forces of darkness, he will need to destroy the source of all wickedness – an extremely powerful witch called Malevolence!

Malevolence, however, is well equipped with armies of black magicians at her disposal. Ben will not be able to vanquish her until he has destroyed each of her six sisters, each of whom has control over their own continent wherein they reside. Each of them possesses a ruby, pieces of a powerful red diamond that, when reunited, will be capable of destroying Malevolence once and for all. Ben will only be able to acquire the rubies upon slaying each witch. As witches do not reveal themselves to ordinary humans, acquiring the rubies is his only hope of identifying the evil sisters of Malevolence.

After a series of strange dreams, Ben realises that there is a connection between the real world and the dream world. He undertakes a perilous journey to the Forbidden Cave at the top of Death Mountain. His whole life changes when he meets Dominico, an ancient magician trapped in the Book of Portals. Armed with the Book of Portals and Dominico’s magical staff, he sets out to destroy the first witch responsible for all the chaos and misfortune on the continent of Europe. An almost unbreakable bond is formed between Ben and Dominico as they set out on their quest to restore the world to its natural order, free from the interference of witchcraft and the manipulation of black magic – hopefully a lasting end to misery and suffering!

By destroying the first witch, Ben will have the allegiance of all other mystical beings and magical creatures around the world that are all fighting on the side of good. They will recognise him as their saviour and leader. Finally, they will put their differences aside and unite to destroy tyranny and oppression at the hands of the common enemy – Malevolence and her evil regime.

A cauldron of trouble is simmering and the magical ingredients have been added: a jug of fear, a bottle of courage, a scoop of sarcasm, a hint of humour and a jar of bloodshed. Stir briskly and leave to cool. Sip slowly near a warm crackling fire. And there you have it!

A war is brewing. Ladies and gentleman … take your seats!

~ ~ ~

The Discoveries of Wispish by Justin Germishuys

For five hundred years, a family of four dragons has been living in exile in an underground system of caves.

Manvreet, his mate Doris, their son Lester, and Grandpa are all sitting around a rock table when Doris calls Manvreet aside to express her concerns that cave life is stifling Lester’s development. She asks Manvreet to consider returning to the topside world. Manvreet agrees to think about it, but he is afraid of the unknown dangers outside.

The next morning, Manvreet saves an unusual human named William Wispish from drowning in the underground river. William is possibly the only survivor of a team of four cave explorers. Manvreet realises he can find out more about the outside world from this man. So, to Doris’s annoyance, Manvreet decides, in the hopes of establishing a bond and getting information, to take William on a tour of the caves. Lester begs to go along, but when Manvreet denies him, he storms off on his own, blaming William.

On the tour, The Chariot, a box carried by rats, breaks down alongside the underground river. After William has a near-death experience with a catfish, the two males have a snack and William tells Manvreet how the world has changed. Suddenly, a dire rat attacks William, but just before it’s too late, Manvreet rescues him.

That night, a wounded William joins the dragons, excluding Lester, at the Main Chamber for a dinner of dire rats. There he learns some of the story behind the dragons’ exile. He also finds out that, in the morning, because of his wound, he will be staying alone with Doris, who hates him, while Manvreet attends to some chores.

Being alone with Doris is scary, which results in William’s needing to use the dragon’s very large toilet. William almost falls in, but Doris catches him, after which their relationship improves so much that Doris confides in him about her relationship problems with Manvreet. William decides to intervene with cosmetology and dance. The couple reconcile and decide they need time alone, so they cunningly convince Grandpa to take William to the tannery.

During the tannery adventure, William endears himself to the gruff and grouchy Grandpa, loses three priceless jewels, finds evidence that his teammates could still be alive and, most importantly, makes leather pants to replace his pair that was torn when he was attacked by the dire rat.

Later, when everyone is asleep, Lester tries to abduct William but fails. Manvreet insists they go looking for Lester to get an explanation. To William’s surprise, Manvreet abandons him in the middle of nowhere, and Lester finally captures him and takes him to his den. There, William finds Maggie, his teammate, very much alive in Lester’s care.

Manvreet, who secretly followed Lester to his den, eavesdrops and hears Lester explain to William how he doesn’t want to leave the caves. To decide finally if they should stay or go, Manvreet challenges Lester to a showdown. Manvreet wins. They have to leave.

~ ~ ~

Secret Keepers by Luc Haasbroek

Ben Bolt is just an ordinary Durban boy – until the annual Bolt family reunion, that is. Relatives fly in from all corners of the world, but things are not right.

There are rifts in the family and secrets are thick in the air like braai smoke. Uncle Berald seems very edgy and suspicious, and when Ben’s grandmother, Ezmay, has a heated argument with his mother about a fairytale she’d told them, Ben begins to wonder what is really going on. What is his mother hiding? What is Uncle Berald so nervous about? Can Grandma Ezmay’s stories be taken seriously?

Ben’s only escape from the family dramas is his nightly strolls through the city. It is on one of these walks that he comes across two teenagers, George Edison and Winry Bright. They are seemingly unconnected people living ordinary lives on very different sides of the spectrum, but their stories collide under extraordinary circumstances. They meet at the scene of a terrible animal attack. And it is there – in that inconspicuous Durban alley – that the world’s best kept secret is revealed.

Uncle Berald turns out to be part of the Seekers, a secret organisation that exists on the thin line between reality and myth. For the last two thousand years the Seekers have guarded the greatest secret of all – the existence of vampires and werewolves.

As the world of the Seekers is gradually revealed to Ben, he realises that there is a lot more to reality than meets the eye. He is sent to Aeuxistrimm Academy of the Super-Gifted, the secret school where Seekers are trained. Between having lessons with Martians and vampires, riding Pegasus and sword training, the mysterious Society of Secret Keepers – the dark twin of the Seekers – is rising. The Society’s leader, the ex-principal of the Seekers’ academy, Virgil Angel, seems to have a secret agenda. For reasons unknown to the Seekers, the Society awakens the most ancient and feared werewolf of all time, Anubis.

Ben finds himself swept up in Angel’s scheme, and he becomes part of an epic adventure that will rock the very foundations of our world.

~ ~ ~

Sedgewood Boys by Luc Haasbroek

What can run but never walks? What has a mouth but never talks? What has a bed but never sleeps? What has a head but never weeps?

Nathan Walker is a boy with a love for riddles.

He lives an average life at a Durban North children’s home, until he wins a scholarship to Sedgewood Boys’ College.

Nathan tells us the story of his breath-taking first year of high school, one of laughter and tears, romance and friendship. From the tyranny of the prefects to the madness of his dormitory (a place where there are only three kinds of people – those who can do Maths well and those who can’t) Sedgewood is a place Nathan both loves and hates. But things are not quite as they seem.

It is revealed that the boarding school is owned by the South African military and has a dual function – educating young minds and training South African Secret Service agents.

As Nathan finds out, the South African Secret Service is a far cry from MI6 or the CIA. He is thrown into the world of South African espionage, a murky place traversed by few.

Nathan attempts to juggle English and Espionage, girlfriends and guns, cricket and code-breaking.

All the while, tension in the country is mounting. A large portion of land has been evacuated and fenced off, and the public wants to know why. Corruption and lies are rife and political unrest is rearing its ugly head. But far away from the dramas of parliament Nathan is nervous. He’s been given his first mission – to infiltrate and bring down a gang that has been terrorising a part of KwaZulu-Natal nicknamed ‘Savage Land’.

The mission goes routinely, until Nathan makes an unthinkable discovery. One that will make us think twice about how well we know our government and prove once and for all that we are not alone.

For the first time these events have been declassified and the public will know the truth.

~ ~ ~

Mystery at Ocean Drive by Janet Hurst-Nicholson

Everyone experiences a gut instinct that tells them when something is wrong. Jason Hunter has been mistaken more than once – but this time the feeling is overwhelming.

Jason is delivering newspapers on his motorbike when a Mercedes sweeps out of a driveway in front of him. He loses control of his scrambler and almost ends up under the car’s wheels. An attractive teenage girl leaps out to ask if he is hurt, but before Jason can reply the girl is bundled back into the Mercedes and driven off.

Jason’s instincts tell him that the girl is in trouble.

The following day when he delivers the newspaper he sees her in an upstairs window, but when he rings the bell and asks to speak to her he is told that there is no young girl living there. Why?

He goes to the police with his suspicions, but they inform him that 69 Ocean Drive is the Argentinean Embassy and they do not have jurisdiction.

Jason is not about to give up and he enlists the reluctant help of his friends, Marc and David. Together they make a daring attempt to learn the girl’s identity by using Jason’s radio-control helicopter to drop off a two-way radio to her, just managing to evade the clutches of the two burly men who seem to be guarding her.

Jason discovers that the girl’s name is Tessa and she is being held hostage by her uncle who is forcing the girl’s mother, a flying instructor, to fly in a cargo of drugs under cover of the Cross-Africa Air Race.

Jason has to make a plan – fast – to rescue Tessa and expose the drug smuggling. Using his unsuspecting sister’s catering business as a front, Jason smuggles Tessa out of the embassy while a party is underway.

But when they reach the airport no one believes their story.

In a desperate attempt to get the authorities to take them seriously they steal a plane from outside a hangar. Tessa is at the controls, but it is only when they are airborne that they discover, to their horror, why the plane was standing outside the hangar.

~ ~ ~

The House of Scarecrows by Domenico Pisanti

This is a story of ordinary problems juxtaposed with unusual (supernatural) ones. It’s about the marginal children; the different kids who, because they stand out, are ridiculed and bullied, not only by their peers, but who are also punished for their uniqueness by the adults in charge. But it is specifically because of their differences that they’re able to see that something is starting to go very wrong in the small town of Little Starkey.

Little Starkey lies on the way to anywhere. It’s a town of church steeples, a festival of lights, and nasty little nooks. Seen through the eyes of three very exceptional, but persecuted children, strange events begin happening that no one seems to be able to explain. There’s a scarecrow tied to the school pole, the death of the school librarian, the strange suburb of New Anglica and, of course, Torin, Diana and Scruffy have to figure out why Scruffy keeps losing his Thursdays. And what connection does Torin’s mom have to Diana’s mother? Who is the mysterious hobo who seems to know things, and who takes the three children to a strange house that looks like half a ship buried in the hillside?

This is the start of an epic adventure during which the protagonists learn about their heritage, the power of science and magic, and the enemies who hide in the shadows. They discover what Baxter Feathers and his enterprise are up to, and exactly what they are mining at Lake Tao. They even start to understand that there are watchers and enemies in the shadows who are directing Baxter Feathers over his dark purpose as he reports to the mysterious Mr Wu. They meet the assassin creature known as Tick Tock, and try to discover why it’s hunting Torin.

The story also answers the question of why left-handed children are punished in such a severe and inhumane manner, and what the wind chimes around Torin’s mother’s mansion sway to if not the wind (what warning are they foretelling?). We meet John Feathers, the bully who has made it his life’s mission to persecute the three friends, even though his fate is tied to them.

As things start to unravel in Little Starkey, metal and silver begin to melt. The school principal who talks to his dead mother in the attic reveals his own secret, the town librarian knows she is next on the death list, and the Ladies in Waiting appear to assist the children. The Nasty Little Nooks start to appear like cocoons all around Little Starkey, heralding the coming of the scarecrows …

A battle is about to begin, its fate is dependent on the fates of three children, each with an ability that they have to learn.

~ ~ ~

Wee Monk’s Tale: The Secret of Immortality by René van Zyl


795 AD: A time of superstitious beliefs and dangerous forces. When Viking marauders burn the monastery on the Scottish Island, Iona, the orphaned Shaughn (14) is forced to flee the only home he ever knew in a desperate attempt to save a precious Altar Bible. Not willing to be left behind, his cripple step-brother Connor (14), with grand illusions of becoming a knight, and Heather (13), a superstitious, street-wise gypsy girl, accompany him on the adventure of a lifetime.

Hot on the heels of the relic follows the fierce Viking, Thorvald, who is convinced that the Altar Bible contains a secret recipe (a potion for eternal life). The escaping teenagers are cast into every imaginable medieval drama, from a bewitched castle to an encounter with a nasty Druid and even weird Viking Tournament Things.

Shaughn, who passes the time reading Latin (a super-weird hobby for even a medieval teenager!) is clearly not equipped for this mission. Meanwhile, the cynical Connor, who harbours aspirations of becoming a famous knight, notwithstanding a lame foot and serious lack of valour, appoints himself bodyguard to Shaughn. But the brothers can barely stay on top of the spirited horse they fled on!

Their only hope lies in the quarrelsome Heather. Half Spanish and severely traumatised by the abuse she suffered at the hands of her step-parents, her single wish is to find her mother who, according to her, was abducted by fairies when Heather was six years old. Skilled as an archer, she saves the naive boys from various predicaments but her superstitious nature soon drives them crazy. Shaughn, who is focused on his mission, is determined to educate her, while Connor finds it hard not to believe all her weird superstitions.

As if it isn’t enough that they are being harassed by a group of Vikings and their nasty offspring, an ‘undercover’ witch, the teenagers also have to deal with Heather’s drunken step-father (an ex-communicated monk who wants the Altar Bible’s bejewelled cover), the midget Druid and his ogre-like twin brothers who plan to sacrifice the kids on the night of the all-dead, and an eccentric Pilgrim who appears and disappears like a ghost. Their greatest enemy, however, might just be their own insecurities.

Through this journey of outsmarting medieval foes, the bickering children, barely equipped to deal with the threatening choices of real life, touch the lives of many hurt and lost people and also find real friendship. The journey teaches them to trust God unconditionally and to find the heroes inside themselves.

A note on the Altar Bible:

Fact: The Gospel of Colmcille is considered the most important treasure contained in the Trinity College Museum, Dublin. During the Viking raids on Iona in 795, the Bible disappeared and mysteriously reappeared at the monastery of Kells. How it ended up there nobody knows …

Fiction: Well, maybe three canny teenagers rescued it!

~ ~ ~

The Altar of the Spirit Thief by Nico Zaverdinos

Deep in the heart of Zululand, Sarah Stevenson stumbles across a diamond embedded in a mysterious cave, and thinks she has found the answer to all her problems. But instead she and Bongani Ndladla, who that very same night is orphaned in a freakish attack and with whom she shares a strange magic, are drawn into an age-old and bitter war.

Pursued by a mysterious shape-shifting man who is able to transfigure ordinary people into homicidal zombie-like ghouls, the two teens flee to a ramshackle hotel near Greytown. There they find themselves in the midst of an eccentric group of people calling themselves the Children of Orford. The leader of this motley gang, the amiable Baba Ali, tells them the ancient story of the war being waged, and the part that Bongani and Sarah are to play in it. And he teaches them how to unlock the magic lurking in their bloodlines, while they in turn discover another phenomenon – they literally share each other’s dreams.

But can these people be trusted? Sarah has misgivings and decides they must leave. She drags Bongani off into the night and into immediate danger. They are attacked by a gruesome swarm of tokoloshes, controlled by their erstwhile shape-shifting adversary. Fortunately, Ali and his friends catch wind of the attack and Bongani and Sarah are rescued, and afforded the chance to test their new magic abilities.

Bongani and Sarah are moved to Durban, where they meet up with an expert on the mystery magic, Ignatius Chinsammy – a veteran of the ancient war, now forever fettered to a wheelchair. Ignatius has discovered that the Children of Orford’s mortal enemy is set to uncover an artefact that will grant them absolute supremacy in the war. He sends our two heroes to retrieve it, but they fail in their quest and in the process Sarah realises that her birthright – unlike the pureblood Bongani – is that of the enemy they have been fighting – she is a child of the people she has come to hate. Fleeing her fate, she again places Bongani in peril and it is only through the quick thinking of Ignatius that he is saved.

Danger pursues them southwards and Sarah discovers first-hand how terrifying a perversely possessed mob can be. They are rescued from sure death by a kindly but bumbling police officer – another warrior in the primeval war – who takes them to a farm in Underberg. It is here that they meet the oracle Ouma Shipton, a woman who pervades their shared dreamscape. But battle soon looms and the two are whisked away to the Wild Coast for a final showdown with their adversaries.

In an almighty contest between these two factions, Sarah reconciles herself to the fact that she carries within her the blood of the enemy, and Bongani learns his true destiny. Our heroes fight for their lives to conquer all the terrors that have pursued them across the country. Except one … the shape-shifter is still on their trail.

~ ~ ~

2010 Citizen Book Prize Voting Station

Choose one of the synopses and click “Vote” to make your voice heard! (Flash required to view poll on this page; see link below if you don’t have Flash enabled.) One vote per person, please!


Voting closes at 9am on Monday, 30 August. Best of luck to all shortlistees!

~ ~ ~

Citizen Book Prize Voting Announcement


Please register or log in to comment