The Spark is a series of guest blogs highlighting new African fiction with authors writing about what lit up this book in their heads.
Rahla Xenopoulos is the author of A Memoir of Love and Madness and the novel Bubbles. Many of her short stories have been published in magazines and in Women Flashing, Twist and Just Keep Breathing. Her latest novel Tribe will be released in September this year. She lives in Cape Town.
Here is Rahla on her latest novel.
The Spark for Tribe by Rahla Xenopoulos:
Three years ago I went on vacation to a luxury game lodge in South Africa. On the first night one of my friends said, “All I want is to plug out of apple and into my wife.” It occurred to me, escaping technology is the next human frontier. Transcending the ironic disconnection of social media and maintaining genuine connections.
A couple of months later I met a family – four powerful brilliant women – they were quite clumpy and ugly all except the youngest, a strikingly beautiful blond. And I thought that must have been a difficult life, being the swan surrounded by ugly ducklings. She became my first character, Olivia. The other characters found me, part people I know and part my imagination.
The locations I found, some places I’d visited others I’d been told about. We write about what we know but also we write about what we can never attain, I’ve never belonged to a ‘gang.’
My novel is about a Tribe of friends, flawed, kind, glamorous and struggling to maintain friendships through crisis, time, depression, addiction and the constant interruptions of technology. It takes the reader from Ibiza to Glastonbury, London and finally a luxury game lodge in South Africa.
About a year into writing this book I got hit by a terrible depression, for three months I was unable to write or leave my bed. Returning to the book my characters seemed blurred, they were like strangers to me, overwhelmed I deleted the manuscript. They say unwritten characters go feral inside your head, and mine clattered angrily inside my brain till I picked up pen and paper and resumed writing. A few months later I was once again visited by immobilizing depression, but while I didn’t write anything during the depression neither did I delete anything afterwards. So with the stops and starts of my health it was a slow book to complete, but my characters were also given to stopping and starting their own lives, with break ups in friendships, changes in sexuality, addiction and suicide attempts. In fact, early on in the book one of my favorite characters, Jude, attempted suicide and it was a while before I knew if he would actually make it to the end. I was so happy when he actually lived.
In writing the book I identified my fear of hyperconnectivity. But I cannot say I’ve freed myself from it. Jude reminded me of someone I vaguely know in London. Every time I wasn’t sure what Jude was wearing I’d step onto fb and scroll down that acquaintance’s fb page. If he was wearing a cashmere cardigan in a photo then so Jude would wear a cashmere cardigan in that scene.
I often wonder, how many people will read a book, and recognize aspects of themselves gathered and mixed and baked into someone entirely new.
This book got finished through the tenacity of its characters. They were determined to be written, I value that in a character.