Interviews with writers
“Nothing factual that I write or say will be as truthful as my fiction.” Nadine Gordimer (1923-2014)
During my time at Sunday Times Books LIVE, I interviewed many remarkable writers. Here is a selection of my interviews:
(Plus: Podcasts of the poet reading from his collection)
It was the height of the Struggle, and Phosa was one of four people called back to South Africa to negotiate the terms for a democratic South Africa and write the Constitution. In the process of fighting for our freedom, the poetry was left for another day.
“I never thought the poems would be published – in fact when they got lost I’d given up hope, I said ‘they’re lost, they’re lost’, it’s like anything that’s lost,” he says, adding quietly, “When they were discovered I was elated.”
How did you come up with the story for Wasted?
I stumbled across a little book called PostSecret, the outcome of an experiment by an American sociologist, in which he distributed free, postage-paid postcards and asked people to send him their innermost secrets anonymously. The replies were almost all in clipped, terse language. Some were tragically sad, some bizarre, some creepy, some funny, and reading them was strangely but fascinatingly voyeuristic. I wondered if I could create a character who spoke in this stilted and unfiltered way. So Nathan Lucius happened before the story, and because he became quite interesting to me, I built his story around his character, a story which explores how and why he has come to be the way he is. I’ve always found characterisation, both in reading and in writing, more interesting than pyrotechnical plot points, and the more character drives action, the more believable the course of events.
At this year’s Kingsmead Book Fair you said that the label “escapism” detracts from the message of novels. Please elaborate on that.
Ha, there’s nothing wrong with escapism. It’s just that labels have a tendency to undermine things. My statement was more against using “escapist” to define certain kinds of fiction. It implies frivolity and mindlessness, and sci-fi has always had a bit of a raw deal anyway. Some people think it’s all about laser guns and aliens. What about the meditation on evolution in Arthur C Clarke’s 2001, or the totalitarianism of George Orwell’s 1984? Even a manic, bloody blockbuster like George Miller’s Mad Max has a surprising amount to say about the new war on misogyny. The irony is that no other genre has given itself as much freedom to address the biggest of all themes and issues.
What inspired this collection of poetry and where does the title come from?
It is my desperate attempt to bring into language the impact India has had on my experience and creativity. At first I thought I could do a vivid and audacious re-run of Jules Verne’s classic as a tale of “globalisation and its crazinesses”. But my long stays in India got me stuck there. Imagining myself as a latter day (South African) Mr Fogg with a Passepartout in tow, allowed me to play with my role as an outsider and deal with my intensive encounters.
A South African Migrant’s Search for an Indian Ancestor – Rajan Soni Talks About Looking for Lakshmi
What is Looking for Lakshmi about?
At one level it’s a simple, accessible, engaging story about a migrant’s search for an anonymous ancestor, lost in remote history. In the end, we are all migrants, moving through time and space, with maps to the past lost along the way. So in that sense we all have a yen for our personal “creation myths”. But what makes the book unusual and gives it both a sharp contemporary feel, and universal quality, is how the story is set in the context of political and social change, here in Africa and in India. And it reveals how intimately these two worlds have been connected for so long, centuries in fact. So much has been written about the Atlantic crossing, but virtually nothing about the historical patterns of migration across the Indian Ocean.
This year, Feist launched his 30th novel and the final book in Riftwar Cycle, Magician’s End – and appeared at the recent Open Book Festival in Cape Town, where book and author drew crowds that went round the proverbial block. Feist was impressed by the energy and enthusiasm that attended the festival, now in its fourth year.
“You could tell the people who were there loved it,” he says. “They were just great, I really enjoyed it.”
“What I didn’t understand until I got here was the position of fantasy relative to the rest of the market, and the fact that here it’s still a bit of a ghetto,” says Feist. “Whereas in the United States and Australia and Great Britain – especially since Harry Potter – the fantasy genre has been 10, 15, 20 years in the mainstream.”
Feist believes he changed minds about the relevance of fantasy during his panel discussions. “I think I convinced them that maybe bringing down a big-name international fantasy author again next year might not be a bad idea. And I would love to see the genre considered a bit more seriously here.”
Follow the links below for a list of interviews and other book news, in chronological order: