Born on October 9, 1939, in Johannesburg, South Africa, the son of a military intelligence officer, James Howe McClure was, from his earliest years, witness to the violence and compassion of the paradoxical South African lifestyle. During World War II, while the family was living at military headquarters near Pretoria, antiaircraft guns were installed in the family garden. When the family moved to Pietermaritzburg, the capital of Natal and the hometown model for Trekkersburg, the violence shifted from international war to domestic but bloody strife among the servants and workers. McClure’s mother was able to temper that violence, however, through her close, compassionate relationship with Miriam Makhatini, the family’s Zulu nanny, whom McClure considered a second mother. Along with his natural mother’s relative openness within apartheid, the boy received, from his father—an avid reader, occasional writer, and master of seven languages—a respect for books, languages, and people that kept him reading actively, despite his marginal interest in formal education.
Growing up and remaining in Pietermaritzburg, McClure developed interests in art and photography, working for a commercial studio in 1958-1959 after his graduation from high school. He then taught art and English at a boys’ preparatory school until 1963. Although he had written stories, plays, and a young adult novel, McClure did not yet think of himself as a writer, preferring instead to hone his editing skills, to practice photography, and to develop a new career in journalism. From 1963 to 1965, he worked for Natal newspapers, often in regular contact with the police and the courts as a reporter. The paradoxes of such an inside look at law enforcement under apartheid, however, led to his working long hours; during that time, he “saw too much.”
In 1965, McClure, his American wife, Lorly, whom he had wed in 1962, and the first of his three children left South Africa for Edinburgh, Scotland, where he worked for a year as a subeditor. During the following three years, the McClure family lived in a small apartment in Oxford while he worked for the Oxford Mail . After a momentary triumph when he sold a script, “The Hole,” about an American in Vietnam, to Granada Television and could then afford a modest house, a television directors’ strike left that play and another,...
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