‘We’ve compiled twenty-one questions our followers want to know about writers in Africa. Please post your answers on your blog before 21 June 2013, in celebration of Short Story Day Africa.’ – SSDA email
Note: I assisted with the assessment of manuscripts in the first round of SSDA in 2013.
- Do you actually enjoy writing, or do you write because you like the finished product?I consider writing a novel as similar to penning an excrutiatingly long poem; it’s a highly detailed labour-intensive activity that you’d have to be crazy to attempt. But somehow I find the whole process, from the first word to the splurb for the back cover of the published novel, immensely satisfying. There’s a curious feeling of dissociation from the finished product once it’s beyond my control.
- What are you reading right now? And are you enjoying it? (No cheating and saying something that makes you sound like the intelligensia).I’m reading The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee as course material for my university studies (doing an Honours course in English Literature at UCT). It has a simple biblical feel to it as if it’s getting back to the distilled essence of story. It’s very accessible and quick to read on the surface but will take me months of mulling over and revisiting to get to any kind of grip with the high idealism of its themes.
- Have you ever killed off a character and regretted it?Yes and No. I can’t say too much because it would be a spoiler for those readers who haven’t yet read Lady Limbo, my second novel. It nearly broke my heart to kill off a certain character who was intensely alive and fascinating, but it was a necessary tactical decision. I regretted the demise of my lovable character on an emotional level, but in logical story terms I had no choice.
- If you could have any of your characters over for dinner, which would it be and why?It would have to be Daniel de Luc, the missing husband in Lady Limbo. He always insisted that I tell the story from his wife Paola’s point of view, wanting to accept responsibility for his role in the unraveling of her neatly ordered existence. I tried telling it in his voice (he has a delicious French accent), but he refused to co-operate until I gave in and told it in her voice.
- Which one of your characters would you never invite into your home and why?I wouldn’t invite the child abductor Albert Sarrazin or his wife Nada in Lady Limbo to my dinner table. On the other hand I wouldn’t mind meeting up with them at a dark bar somewhere far away from normal life and finding out more about their childhood, and how they became who they are. The nature of villainry is endlessly interesting.
- Ernest Hemingway said: write drunk, edit sober. For or against?I’d say the reverse is true for me. I have to have a completely clear head to be able to listen to the multiple voices clamouring for attention, and then in the editing process I have to trust that the editor knows better. Sometimes that feels like throwing the baby out with the bathtub so I need to cultivate an air of heedlessness to read those evening emails – cut, cut, cut! Unfortunately alcohol gives me a bad headache, so its all imaginary.
- If against, are you for any other mind altering drug?I’m susceptible to any chemicals or drugs so it doesn’t work for me. But hey, it worked for Hemingway and the world would have been poorer without his literary genius.
- Our adult competition theme if Feast, Famine and Potluck. Have you ever put food in your fiction? If so, what part did it play in the story?My first novel The Good Cemetery Guide has plenty of food scenes related to the state of mind of Anthony Loxton (a guitar strumming funeral undertaker); my personal favourite being a rollicking Kalk Bay snoek feast on the rocks in the final scene. In fact my alternative title (a new e-book edition with a different cover and title is on its way) is A Meal for the Broken Hearted.
- What’s the most annoying question anyone’s ever asked you in an interview?I was asked in a live radio interview by a very superior book critic if I didn’t consider my novel The Good Cemetery Guide to be a bit flaky? This was a long time ago when the word ‘flaky’ was quite new so I was totally stumped, on-air in a national broadcast, for an intelligent response. I’m not sure she knew what it meant either but it certainly put me off live interviews.
- If you could be any author other than yourself, who would you be?
John Irving. I adore his emancipated fearless imagination. His stories are as ridiculously outrageous (he’d say ‘true’) as real life.
- If you could go back in time and erase one thing you had written from your writing history, what would it be and why?
I would change the title of The Good Cemetery Guide. An elderly businessman cum writer I encountered told me my publishers were crazy to let the book go out with that title and he was totally right.
- What’s the most blatant lie you’ve ever told?
When I started out I would tell myself that I wrote for my own pleasure and it didn’t matter if nobody bought the books. It’s not true; stories only live if they are enjoyed by others.
- If someone reviews you badly, do you write them into your next book/story and kill them?
I haven’t yet, but it will probably happen someday.
- What’s your favourite bad reviewer revenge fantasy?Bad reviewer decides she can write better novels than the people she’s interviewing. In a live radio interview the radio reviewer asks her if she doesn’t think the novel she’s slaved over for x years (which she considers to have deep and lofty themes) is ‘flaky’? Ex bad-reviewer now novelist stammers and stutters and they hastily cut over to the next book.
- What’s the most frustrating thing about being a writer in Africa?There is a feeling of being irrevocably corralled by our colonialist apartheid past. The requirement for ‘relevance’ promoted in academia and the media makes it difficult to cultivate an African audience if those are not the themes that inspire one. And yet one needs to sell well in Africa before international publishers will consider one’s work.
- Have you ever written naked?No, it is not an inclination from which I suffer. However, Anthony Loxton’s lover Akuaba in The Good Cemetery Guide is a photographer, and she is prone to working at her art in a state of total undress.
- Does writing sex scenes make you blush?Yes, always. And most especially on re-reading how awful and trite my best efforts are at describing what is essentially an indescribable experience.
- Who would play you in the film of your life?Ana, a Brazilian girl I met on a film script course.
- If you won the Caine Prize for African Fiction, what would you do with the money?
I would hire a great editor I’ve worked with before (through a publisher) to get Volume II of the Lady Limbo trilogy ready for publication.
- What do you consider your best piece of work to date?
- What are you doing on 21 June 2013, to celebrate Short Story Day Africa?I’ll be reading Jeri Walker-Bickett’s short story collection Such Is Life on my Kindle.