About this writer
David Marcus is a wildlife photographer from South Africa. He now lives in the Seychelles, and has a holiday home in Paarl, South Africa. Marcus was born in Johannesburg in 1948, the year that the National Party which invented and instituted apartheid, came to power. He emigrated from the country for political reasons, only returning briefly when the first democratic election occurred. During that time he donated services to a voluntary air ambulance operation, and flew various medical flights around South Africa and its neighbouring countries. His early career involved accounting and designing commercial software systems, but a lifelong passion for flying prompted a transition from IT to private aviation, eventually running the largest private-jet operation in Europe.
His book, Tales from the Cross is a fictionalised account of author David Marcus’ remarkable experiences as an air ambulance pilot, shared through eight self-contained stories. Readers are whisked on a thrilling journey throughout Africa’s dangerous and unforgiving landscape and the book explores the country’s history, written with unique insight from the author as well as extensive research he conducted in order to write it. Each story offers adventure and a fast-paced tale of bizarre circumstances, baring witness to the triumph of the human spirit over hatred and adversity.
AiA: Tell us a bit about your background
D.M: I’m a South African who emigrated from the country during the apartheid era. My career initially involved accounting and financial services, but evolved into designing commercial software systems across a range of different applications. Having nursed a lifelong passion for aviation, my activities transitioned from software to private aviation, where eventually I managed the largest private-jet operation in Europe.
AiA: What brought you back to South Africa?
D.M: I was born in Johannesburg in 1948, the year that the National Party – which invented and instituted apartheid – came to power. Their mad policies and brutal implementation dominated my formative years, and when apartheid collapsed in the early 1990’s, the prospect of attending the country’s first ever democratic election in 1994 proved irresistible. I arrived with the intention of dropping a ballot paper into the box, dusting off my hands, and leaving.
AiA: So how did you find yourself working as a voluntary air ambulance pilot based in Cape Town?
D.M: By coincidence, rather than any planning on my part. While waiting to cast my vote, a friend asked if I would consider donating some time to a local voluntary air ambulance service, both as a pilot and advisor on aircraft maintenance. It was an intriguing notion, and I agreed.
AiA: And you stayed longer than planned?
D.M: Much longer. Piloting various medical flights around South Africa and its neighbouring countries, I encountered circumstances so fascinating (and at times utterly bizarre) I could not drag myself away. My short trip extended to three rather extraordinary years.
AiA: Presumably, those were the experiences that formed the basis of your book Tales From The Cross?
D.M: That’s right – what I experienced at the time was so compelling it demanded documentation. Many distractions needed to be put aside before I found time to devote to the task, but eventually Tales From The Cross emerged as a fictionalised account of some of those events. (You can read more about it on www.talesfromthecross.net)
AiA: Why did you choose to fictionalise your account? Surely you could rely upon truth being stranger than fiction?
D.M: Actually, I started writing the the book in an un-fictionalised, autobiographical format … and about halfway through realised I wasn’t enjoying the process at all. I found myself uncomfortable writing in the first person, and the writing reflected it. More importantly, a number of the events I was describing took place in small, remote communities where memories are long and personal reputations held dear. Even twenty years later, I didn’t want to embarrass anyone.
So I invented a central character, imbued him with some of my personality and character, converted real colleagues into fictional counterparts (with some caricaturing I found irresistible), and suddenly it all worked like a charm. Everything is true and indeed stranger than fiction, except the names and places, and I’m pretty comfortable with that.
AiA: Do you have a favourite tale in Tales from the Cross?
D.M: The stories I chose to tell all have a special quality that made them particularly memorable … bizarre, outrageous, funny, sad, inspiring, and romantic in turn. On reflection, I suppose the chapter “Cat Food” is probably closest to my heart (figuratively as well as literally, if you read the story!) It evokes one of the dilemmas associated with reconciling apartheid’s dark past with South Africa’s future, and reveals the astonishing kindness so often found Africa’s people, despite all they have endured.
AiA: What’s next – more tales from the cross?
D.M: Probably – the eight stories I have recounted barely scratch the surface of what I saw and experienced.
Also, part of “Dreams” (the last story in the book) recounts how the central character Harry Kamel acquired his rather eccentric surname. That subplot is an exact account of how my Russian grandfather arrived in South Africa in the early part of the twentieth century. Something tells me his life in Siberia would be a fascinating topic to research more thoroughly.