Before you do anything, including continue reading my post, check out this fan-bloody-tastic book trailer:
Some background on Fred Strydom and his debut, The Raft
I read Fred’s debut novel The Raft two years ago and I was struck by his immense imagination and his ability to create a world that is unreal yet believable. His books ask profound philosophical questions, yet the language remains so simple you don’t ever feel like you’re reading a thesis. Have a look at The Raft on Amazon:
While I was an assistant editor at Books LIVE, I interviewed him about The Raft, which you can read at the links below:
Five things I took away from the conversation
— Penguin Books SA (@PenguinBooksSA) May 25, 2017
Fred Strydom writes books that I like to read; they’re quirky, philosophical, with clean lines and a touch of class. Confession time: despite the job I do, I wrestle with whether or not I enjoy going to book launches. Meeting authors somehow shatters the illusion that I have about the book. A book feels so real when I’m reading it that when I meet the creator of that story, I feel discombobulated. Like I’m meeting God, or something, and I have a bone to pick with her about how she treated some of my favourite characters. (Note to self, never seek out Margaret Atwood or George RR Martin.)
Yet, I couldn’t miss a chance to get my copy of The Inside-Out Man signed, and in the process I picked up a few pebbles of writerly wisdom that I can put away for later:
Trust your instincts for speed bumps
Writing is about making choices: what do you put in, and what do you leave out of the final product? How do you make these decisions? Fred looks out for speed bumps: parts of the text that make him wince or feel uncomfortable. He said that, when reading and re-reading your manuscript you will find things that you think are cool, but that you eventually will have to cut, because …
Characters must be honest to be authentic
Say you have a line, and it’s a killer line, the best line you’ve ever written. Now look at your character and ask yourself: Is it something she would say? If the answer is no, then you have to cut that line. No matter how much it breaks your heart.
This is probably why his characters are so believable: they’re honest. Whether they’re good or bad, Fred is honest about the motivations for their behaviour.
Questions of identity
He also likes to ask the question: If everything’s gone to seed, who are we in the world that’s left over? In The Inside-Out Man, he asks: Who are we when everything that makes up our identity is stripped away?
This is such a cool question because dystopian fiction – like The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood for example – is becoming more and more plausible. The world could go to shit any minute. We could lose everything in an instant, and then who would we be? Heroes, villains, true believers, followers or rebels? The answer, for me at least, is that you won’t know until it happens, but it’s cool to imagine.
Keep it simple / start with one idea
I don’t like asking writers where they get their inspiration from anymore. It used to be my go-to question, until I saw too many of them rolling their eyes on the inside. “Not that question again,” the lines around their mouths seem to scream at me. However, Fred did share two things about starting a book. The first thing is to start with a single idea, and to take it from there. The Inside-Out Man started out as a writing experiment that he did with a writing partner, and his focus was a single room.
The second point is to keep your language simple. Don’t overburden the reader with elaborate prose. Why shout, when a whisper will do?
Dare to experiment
What I like about Fred Strydom – much the same as why I like China Miéville – is that he’s not afraid to experiment with genres. He’s outspoken about his dislike for literary labels and rightly so. When you put yourself in a box, you place limitations on your creativity. It also happens that writers find a formula that works, and then they stick to that formula for the next 30 books.
Not Fred. His second novel is completely different from the first. It’s not speculative fiction, for one, and it has a completely different style and tone. (I’ve only read a few pages, correct me if I’m wrong.) He’s also written a children’s book for Book Dash, and sometimes he shares illustrations and poetry for children on his official Facebook page.
This all makes him a super cool, versatile writer. I’m excited to start The Inside-Out Man, and to see what he’ll come up with next.
Image courtesy of Penguin Random House South Africa