[Sponsored] On living with polite ghosts and experiencing miracles—Sven Axelrad chats about writing his debut novel Buried Treasure

Magic happens in the space between. For author Sven Axelrad, this lies somewhere between accounting and writing.

Axelrad’s debut novel Buried Treasure is out now.

‘During the day, the ghost of the writer haunted the accountant. At night, they switched places.’

When I tell people that I’m an accountant I usually get a look of polite surprise. Maybe it’s the tattoos, my posture, the faint smell of coffee and unrequited hope on my skin. Whatever the reason, I sincerely love everyone who has ever raised an eyebrow and said, ‘An accountant? I thought you were an ageing barista or something.’ Of course, there’s nothing wrong with accountants as such – lovely people, well, some of them – roughly the same ratio as you would find elsewhere.

The reason I love the people who look surprised is because I’m a little surprised too. How did I end up spending my days working with numbers when, for most of my life, I’ve been convinced that if answers do exist, they exist in prose? It would be a lot easier for me if I believed in a world explained by numbers. Numbers make a lot of sense. Not words. Words are unruly, difficult to arrange, easy to misplace. They are quantum in nature. They get lost in the cushions.

I was depressed for a while. Truly and deeply sad. I saw myself as split in half. Never quite an accountant. Never quite a writer. During the day, the ghost of the writer haunted the accountant. At night, they switched places. I wrote a lot during this period, at least three novels. I existed this way for years, halved and haunted, until my wife, no doubt tired of living with my ghosts, implored me to choose. Either option was fine, she said. She wanted only that I choose and be happy.

‘Choose writing!’ I hear the spirit of all romantics both past and present say, and, sure enough, fifty percent of me agrees with them.

We spent a morning walking along the ocean from Sea Point to Camps Bay, talking through the options. I didn’t even realise I was having an epiphany. I suspect that’s how it is with miracles, occurring in small, unsexy ways, unseen all around us. Fast forward five years and I have a book being published, so you might assume that in the end, I chose writing, but I didn’t. I chose to get organised.

The early mornings are my time. I wake clear-headed, shirtless in the Durban heat, the residue from dreams still dampening my skin, ideas gummed in the corner of my eyes, a yorkie supine atop the blankets. I’m careful not to speak. I make coffee (black), my soul floating nearby, tethered to my wrist like a balloon. I put on a playlist (songs chosen with care for the book I’m working on). I have words written on my skin – one for each book I’ve completed. In this way I am becoming a book myself, and, adorned such, I write.

I still know what it’s like to be haunted. The darkness is always close by; where else would it go? That’s the way things are. Still, these days, there’s a tentative friendship between my two ghosts. We have hashed it out. They have agreed to haunt me politely.

If you, like me, are haunted, whether by literature/music/art/sadness or love of any kind, I suggest waking up early or staying up late and making something. That’s it. What you do with what you make is your business. It’s not even that important. Making something is important. Making something is a miracle. Everything else is extra.

Buried Treasure is out now.


This article was originally published in The Penguin Post, a magazine from Penguin Random House South Africa. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.Required fields are marked *