Wamuwi Mbao interviewed me for literary website, Slipnet, talking about cranky authors, issue fatigue, using Twitter an an all-access pass to interesting people, inspiring SA literature, reading bad reviews with good grace (you might also like Sarah Lotz’s essay on hatchet jobs), and that time I fan-girled all over David Simon.
(pic by Keith Mayhew from the CWA Gold Dagger Awards – please don’t repost without permission)
WM: So what do you look for?
LB: I look for a story I can inhabit. Something surprising, beautifully written, with plot and character. It has to have all those things. I get fed up with the argument that a book can be character-driven or plot-driven. If you have gorgeously-drawn characters sitting on their asses, it’s boring. If you have a killer plot peopled with empty mannequins, it’s a Michael Bay movie. They might as well all die, you don’t care. You need great characters who do something in a way that’s effortlessly supported by the writing. (And oh so much effort to make it look effortless)
I just read Alex Latimer’s new book, The Space Race, and it was fantastic: Some beautiful sentences and some beautiful insights into people, but also just this really fun romp of a thriller about an old secret apartheid space programme that gets hijacked. I love books that can tell a story while also engaging with social issues. We see that a lot in SA genre fiction.
WM: Like Charlie Human’s Apocalypse Now-Now.
LB: Charlie Human was actually my MA student. It’s really fun and I think it’s going to turn a lot of young people on to South African fiction. And it’s still political – it’s interesting when Charlie and Sarah (Lotz) say “my books aren’t political”…
WM: Everything is political.
LB: Charlie has Apartheid chemists and corrupt politicians, and Sarah’s dealing with corrective rape in a YA. You can’t get away from the political: you trip over it in the street.
WM: There’s this commonly-held misconception that South African literature is Apartheid literature. I would say that, if anything, the new crop of South African writers have moved away from that. Are you comfortable with being labelled a South African writer?
LB: Absolutely. It limits me only when people think I can only write about South Africa, and I’m like “Fuck off!”
WM: I think we have to be dragged kicking and screaming into new ways of engaging with our literature, whether we like it or not.
LB: I’ll never get away from the South African perspective, and I’ll always see things through a South African lens. So Chicago is a stand-in for Joburg and Detroit is a stand-in for Hillbrow, and it’s looking at those things from that perspective, being socially aware, seeing how the ghosts of history haunt our present, how racism hurts us, how reconciliation is possible, how we can have a sense of humour about terrible things. I don’t think that should be limiting. I hope that’s what makes my work more interesting in the world – that South African viewpoint.