Chris Marnewick grew up in what was then the Far Northern Transvaal and went to high school at Potgietersrus, now Mokopane. He practised as an advocate in Durban until recently and now lives in Auckland, New Zealand, where he writes full time.
After a year in the SA Navy, Marnewick studied Law at Potchefstroom and Unisa. He was admitted as an advocate in 1976, and was awarded senior counsel status in 1991. Marnewick completed an LLM degree in 1991 and obtained his PhD in 1996 at the then University of Natal.
Marnewick's writing career started with a textbook, Litigation Skills for South African Lawyers. His first attempt at creative writing culminated in Shepherds & Butchers, which earned Marnewick the University of Johannesburg creative writing prize in 2009 in the Debut Category, as well as the K Sello Duiker Prize by the South African Literary Awards that same year. Skilled in fusing fact and fiction, Marnewick’s Shepherds & Butchers narrates a courtroom drama where a fictional multiple killing provides the background for a factual exposition of the way the death penalty was administered in South Africa during the 1980’s. It has been translated into Afrikaans as - In die Laksman se Skoot.
In 2016 a film based on the book, Shepherds and Butchers, premiered at the Berlin Film Festival where it was awarded the third place Panorama Audience Award for Fiction Films. The film has been screened at flim festivals in Sydney, Shangai and Edinburgh and has been entered with eleven other films based on literary works by the Film by the Sea festival in Vlissingen (The Netherlands) in September 2016.
The film is due to be released in South Africa towards the end of the year.
In 2010, Marnewick published The Soldier Who Said No, a work of crime fiction. This was followed by A Sailor’s Honour in 2011. His first work in Afrikaans, Clarence van Buuren: Die man agter die donkerbril (Protea Boekhuis), was launched during the festival. An English version of the book has also been released.
Challenging the state’s penchant for secrecy by using fiction as a vehicle to expose those secrets, Marnewick reiterates his firm belief that “history has to be recorded by those living through important events, and that the state should not be allowed to keep any secrets in its cupboards”.
Excerpt from Shepherds & Butchers (2008:26-27):
The Sheriff addressed the prisoner by his name, exactly as it was written on the death warrant.
‘Mnuxa Jerome Gcaba, do you have anything to say before the sentence of the Court is carried out?’ he asked. He struggled with the pronunciation of the Zulu names.
The prisoner mumbled something incoherent. He wanted to speak but did not know what to say. Before he could change his mind, the Sheriff stepped back and made a tick on his own clipboard. The Warrant Officer reached behind the prisoner and handed one of the white hoods to the escort. The custom-made hood was an elasticised headcloth with an additional flap, also elasticised, which would in due course be hooked on the prisoner’s chin and cover his face completely. The escort adjusted the hood under the prisoner’s head and pushed the flap back over the prisoner’s head. When he was satisfied that the hood was properly in place, the Warrant Officer handed the escort the prisoner’s name tag. The escort pocketed the tag and held his prisoner in position in the line. The first prisoner was ready.
‘Thank you,’ said the Sheriff with exaggerated politeness as he went up to the next prisoner to repeat the formality.
‘Joseph Gcabashe, do you have anything to say before the sentence of the Court is carried out?’
From here on things would happen fast. In less than five minutes these prisoners would be hanging from their ropes, destroyed by order of the law. Yet every second would feel like an eternity for those in the gallows chamber.
2002. Litigation Skills for South African Lawyers. Durban: Butterworths
2008. Shepherds & Butchers. Roggebaai: Umuzi.
2010. The Soldier Who Said No. Roggebaai: Umuzi.
2011. A Sailor’s Honour. Roggebaai: Umuzi.
2011. Clarence van Buuren: Knew the words but not the music. Pretoria:Protea Bookhuis
2012. Clarence van Buuren: Die man agter die donkerbril. Pretoria: Protea Boekhuis
2015. Mediation Practice in the Magistrates' Court. Durban: LexisNexis.