Cape of Flames

ARTEBY Author Interviews 2016

The Role of Fire

Today, we’re releasing Part 8 of the Author Interview on Magical Realism and other questions we asked the author of the new South African novel ‘The Immortal Life of Piu Piu’ , conducted by Arteby Publishing (AP) on 17th January, 2016, based on a series of 10 questions. Please follow the transcript below. The Interviews will be loaded to YouTube in due time. Here is  Author Interview 7. Just in case you have missed it. Please take note that this is Book 1 in a series called ‘Dance Between Worlds’.


AP: It seems that fire plays an important role in your story. You dedicated a whole Chapter to it: The Cape of Flames. From which perspective should we look at it – real or magical? Could you elaborate a bit on this topic?

BG: Real or magical – that’s a very good question! I think we should look at it from both angles.


Yes, we really went through this historic fire that ravaged through the entire Cape Peninsula in January 2000. We lost almost everything as far as the garden is concerned. The descriptions in Chapter 10 – ‘Cape of Flames’ – are very accurate, so I won’t go into them here. And then – exactly 15 years later, at the end of March 2015 – it happened again. Exactly after 15 years – that’s important here as we’re looking at cycles. What is always amazing during such trying times is the human spirit that suddenly rises to stand up as ONE – and we sometimes wonder where it comes from and where it goes once the challenges are over and everything goes back to ‘normal’ again. Is it rooted in the here and now? And if so, why does it hide most of the time? Or is it part of  ‘. . . that other world where we are all ONE’?

Those 5 days and nights that pushed us to our limits in many ways, also had a kind of magic I’ll never forget. A magic that showed who we truly are, what really counts, and what we are capable of if we really set our minds to it and stand together as ONE. Definitely, fire incorporates both elements – the real and the magical.


Fire is widely regarded as a symbol of spiritual awakening. This implies that before any form of transformation or renewal can happen – be it in case of a person or for Nature itself – it has to literally ‘go through the fire’ . First, a fire has to destroy what’s there before something new can emerge from its ashes. Like the mythical bird, Phoenix, which is part of the name Pippa was given when she was born just after that fire. The historic fires of January 2000 burnt everything to the ground, causing a lot of damage and loss of life. However, as described before, by going through it all together, it also caused a reawakening of the best of the human spirit. South Africans call it Ubuntu –  I am because you are.

To come back to the REAL side of things again: fire is essential for the unique fynbos vegetation described in this book. Many fynbos species depend on fire for pro-creation and would become extinct without them happening every ~ 15 years. Many pods lie dormant in the earth for years until the heat of a fire cracks them open and they finally release their seeds. As soon as the first rains arrive, these seeds will take root in the fertile ground, which is now rich in essential minerals from the ashes. It is a magical process: within just a few days or weeks the first glaring red fire lilies rise from the black landscape, followed by countless bulbs and all kinds of new plant life. This again triggers a specific animal life . . . and so on. Nature knows.

Fire as a life force

Fire – as a vital and purifying life force – personifies the magical process of coming and going – life and death. Fire is part of us and we are part of it. It may disguise itself as love, vision, inspiration, passion, music, creativity . . . or as its often ego-driven counter parts, the shadow side, like hatred, greed, jealousy, destruction, gluttony and fear. We all have both sides within us. We’re all ‘on fire’ – otherwise we wouldn’t be alive. Connecting with it . . . embracing it . . . as Pippa does in the story . . . and learning not to fear it, which is Piu Piu’s journey and life purpose – shows us who we really are.

Here’s from a poet I admire:

“Do not feel lonely, the entire universe is inside you.
Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.
Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.”  

That’s from one of my preferred poets, Rumi.

If we feel a fire for someone or something inside, we know that we’re alive and authentic. Isn’t that what life’s all about? Whether it’s in the REAL or the MAGICAL realm? Does it matter, really?

In the end it’s all ONE anyway!

AP: Absolutely – thank you so much. And by the way, I loved Chapter 10!

Please stay tuned; the transcript of part 9 of our Arteby Author Interview with Bianca Gubalke on her book in the literary genre ‘Magical or Magic Realism’ will follow soon!