by Tim Ecott
Would-be writers interested in collar-grabbing first pages should read Tim Ecott's Stealing Water. A memoir about his unconventional and poor upbringing in South Africa (with a stretch in Malaya), it is staged by an eccentric cast whose stories are told with affectionate humour. It is hard to know whether Ecott, a former BBC journalist, describes with total honesty the people who coloured his life. But it is equally difficult to imagine anyone making up some of the characters who fill his pages, such as Mrs MacDonald, the cat breeder whose Christmas tree is matted with fur. The reason it hasn't been discarded is one of many anecdotes that will move and entertain readers. Central to the book is Ecott's mother, whom he portrays adoringly even though her maternal instincts may raise eyebrows: to numb her son from the stress of having debt collectors visit she laces his milk with valium. Less well delineated is Ecott's father, an army officer who moves his family from Northern Ireland to Johannesburg in the 1970s because he has become an IRA target. There he begins a security business that fails, providing the material for a book that seems to writes itself effortlessly.