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Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

How to Beat Writer’s Block and the Ogre of Insecurity – Rahla Xenopoulos and Irna van Zyl Share Their Best Tips

TribeRahla Xenopoulos, author of Tribe, and Irna van Zyl, who is publishing her debut thriller next year, recently shared their advice for conquering writer’s block with Media Update.

The feeling of fear inhibits one’s ability to perform and it affects all sorts of people, not only writers. No matter when or where it hits, though, there is a reliable way to beat it.

Xenopoulos says that she imagines writer’s block as “this ogre we feed that thrives on insecurity” – the best way to beat it is to starve it.

Van Zyl advises avoiding writing when you are tired, because: “You need a lot of energy to stay with it.”

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“It has been said that writers have tidier houses than other people,” explains author, Rahla Xenopoulos. “When I start colour co-ordinating my underwear and sitting on Facebook, I know the god of literature is sending [me] signs.”

Writer’s block has many names and forms and each writer experiences it differently. But one thing is for sure, whether you’re a poet, novelist, copywriter or journalist, you will – at some point – come up against it.

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The Hardest Thing Lauren Beukes Has Ever Written, and Why She Wants to Eat Jennifer Egan’s Brain

MaverickBroken MonstersThe Shining Girls

Lauren Beukes was recently interviewed by Alex Segura for Pen America about her “enthralling and immersive fiction”.

Segura asks Beukes about how she came to write for a living, and where she writes. The author admits that she would like to “absorb” Jennifer Egan’s powers, by means of eating her brain if necessary.

Beukes says that she would like to have been a anti-apartheid activist because the enemy was simple – she wishes that “current social issues were as easily defined and that there was a clear path of resistance.” This leads into a discussion of the hardest thing she has ever had to write:

What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever put into words? Why does it stand out for you?

The most daring thing I’ve wanted to put into words was vetoed by my editor. I wanted to describe my terrified heroine’s heart thumping “like an avalanche of ponies.” I still like the metaphor. Can’t you just see it? The ponies tumbling down the scree, all clattering hooves and dust? But the hardest thing to write, which still upsets me and makes me sick and angry, was the essay I wrote, “All The Pretty Corpses,” about the murder of my cleaning lady’s daughter in 2010 and how I believed in the fairytale of justice until the moment in the prosecutor’s office when he told us he was going to have to throw the case out. It was devastating, and it has fed into how I write about violence—what it is, what it does to us, how we talk about it, what it means when we lose someone, how violence is shocking and contemptible, how we shouldn’t let this shit go.

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“Stay Well with All Our Secrets” – Ingrid Jonker’s Last Letter to Andre Brink in Flame in the Snow

Flame in the SnowVlam in die sneeuKarin Schimke recently wrote an article for Marie Claire about Flame in the Snow: The Love Letters of André Brink and Ingrid Jonker.

Schimke en Leon de Kock were responsible for the translation of the collection of letters, which is also available in Afrikaans as Vlam in die sneeu: Die liefdesbriewe van André P Brink en Ingrid Jonker.

In the article, Schimke writes tenderly about Jonker’s suicide and how Brink responded to the public scrutiny and gossip. She also shares a line from the last letter Jonker ever wrote to Brink.

Schimke spoke to the people who were involved in helping these precious love letters see the light: Umuzi publisher Fourie Botha and Brink’s widow Karina Magdalena Szczurek, as well as to Willie Burger, professor of Afrikaans at the University of Pretoria, who said:

“The letters are a knock-out blow to the idea that she was a bubble-headed blonde with a few good verses. She displays clear political thinking, good literary discernment and sharp insight. She had a particularly difficult life. Towards the end of the correspondence it becomes clear that her loneliness has become more desperate, while he slowly withdraws. It’s the stuff good novels are made of.”

Read the article for more about Jonker’s last days and her final letter to Brink:

In the weeks before her suicide, friends noticed a change in Ingrid. Where once she had taken enormous pride in her looks, she had become sloppy. Her cheerfulness had receded into an almost constant bleakness. An extremely difficult childhood and adult life, and a possibly genetic predisposition towards depression and anxiety, had caught up with her. She was poor, had worked in soul-destroying bureaucratic jobs and could not find safety and succour from the maddening world with any of the men who loved her. It is clear, from all the literature available – and now these letters – that the talented poet Ingrid Jonker had run out of the emotional resources required to go on with life.

Her last letter to André ends: ‘Stay well with all our secrets…’

For extracts in English and Afrikaans, quotes from the contributors, articles and more news about Flame in the Snow, visit the website



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Why Sally Andrew Invented Tannie Maria: “To Teach Me How to Love … and Maybe How to Cook!” (Podcast)

Recipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria MysterySally Andrew was recently interviewed by Nancy Richards for SA FM about her newly published debut Recipes for Love and Murder: A Tannie Maria Mystery.

In the interview, Andrew tells Richards about the authors and influences that affected her choice of genre for this book. She says she was interested in exploring the theme of love, although she doesn’t like to write romance. “I really like the genre of the old-fashioned, cosy, mystery writers,” she says. Her love of “the slow moving writing of Alexander McCall Smith and Herman Charles Bosman” also affected her chosen style.

Andrew says she invented Tannie Maria, the lovable and irrepressible narrator of her novel, to “keep me grounded and laughing, and to teach me how to love … and maybe how to cook!”

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Ivan Vladislavic Believes Society’s Monuments Should be Complex, with a Sense of Irony (Podcast)

Ivan Vladislavic
101 DetectivesThe FollyFlashback HotelDouble NegativeThe Loss Library The Restless Supermarket

Ivan Vladislavić chatted to Corina van der Spoel on the RSG Skrywers en Boeke show recently.

Vladislavić won the 2015 Windham Campbell Prize for fiction this year, along with Teju Cole and Helon Habila. His most recent book is 101 Detectives.

Vladislavić chats about the very welcome prize money that came with the Windham Campbell Prize, how being a very precise editor has made his writing process more chaotic, and how he has become interested in the writing that does not get published (hence the “deleted scenes” in 101 Detectives).

He also talks about his relationship with Johannesburg, which he describes as “complicated”.

“My affection for Johannesburg has flourished and also withered away over time,” he says. “I find I like the place more, and then I like it less, according to my own circumstances. I still find it fascinating, for some of the same reasons that I like to write: it’s difficult. But it’s not often fun, is it?

“You have to find what’s interesting, and you have to find a way of surviving here, without the city completely diminishing you or grinding you to dust. It’s an ongoing challenge. One can take these challenges as a way of clarifying something for yourself. For me, as a writer, primarily in my work. But Johannesburg also forces you to confront things in the way that you live, and your relationship with other people, that’s maybe a good and necessary thing.”

Van der Spoel asks Vladislavić for his views on the Rhodes Must Fall movement, since his 1996 collection of short stories Propaganda by Monuments pondered similar issues.

Vladislavić says he is glad people have been forced to admit that statues and monuments are not neutral.

“If they are just a bunch of old statues, then why are people so attached to them?” he asks. “These things have value in society, they stand for something, and they don’t stand for the same thing for everybody.

“It has the potential, anyway, to make people think hard about how the society represents itself, what the power is of representing certain ideas in the form of a statue or a monument. I think that’s the positive side of it.

“We need a society and a public domain that’s complex. If we are going to represent anything in our public spaces by the construction of monuments or museums the least one would hope for is that we construct something complex and something that asks questions rather than delivers answers, delivers final position on things. I think there are many more inventive or interesting things to do with a statue than to take it away and put it in a warehouse.

“To live in a society like this you need a sense of irony. You need a sense of irony about yourself and the society, and how it came to be. How we came to be living where we live. I would hope for a broad and open and maybe even amused public space rather than one that declares certain things anathema.”

Listen to the podcast (introduction in Afrikaans):


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“Boeke kan jou verlei as jy hulle die kans gee” – Fourie Botha

“Om Afrikaanse boeke by Penguin Random House uit te gee is maklik. Ek is Afrikaans, ons bemarkingsmense is Afrikaans, en hoewel die Engelse grootkoppe min Afrikaans verstaan, verstaan hulle die Suid-Afrikaanse boekemark: ’n Afrikaanse roman het ’n baie beter kans om suksesvol te wees as ’n Engelse roman deur ’n plaaslike skrywer.”

ValsrivierDie Alibi Klub’n Huis vir EsterHuisies van papierWoudfonteinDie dag van die Lord

Só het Fourie Botha, fiksie-uitgewer by Penguin Random House, onlangs in ‘n onderhoud aan die gesoute boekjoernalis Elmari Rautenbach gesê. Sy het by hom gaan aanklop om uit te vind hoe hy dit regkry om Afrikaans steeds ‘n prioriteit te hou by dié enorme internasionale uitgewershuis.

Hy vertel ook meer oor sy werkswyse, betrokkenheid by die boeke, die dinge wat bepaal of ‘n boek in Afrikaans én Engels uitgegee word en wat hom as uitgewer gryshare gee.

Lees die artikel om te sien “wat maak al daardie bloed, sweet en trane die moeite werd”:

Wat maak ’n uitgewer grys?

Soveel boeke wat goeie verkope verdien, verkoop nie. Dit is ook swaar om te sien daar is so min mense wat werklik geesdriftig oor skrywers en boeke raak. Dit alles laat die bedryf krimp en affekteer die ondersteuning wat ’n mens vir skrywers kan gee.

En wat maak al daardie bloed, sweet en trane die moeite werd?

’n Boek in sy fisieke vorm met ’n mooi omslag, ’n mooi lettertipe en boekontwerp kan baie naby aan perfek wees. Boeke kan jou verlei as jy hulle die kans gee.

Boeke is waardevol. Boeke leer jou om lank te luister. Daar is baie dinge – ingewikkelde moeilikhede – wat lank neem om te begryp en op te los. Twiets is slegte oefening hiervoor.


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Jabu Masina, One of Two Surviving of the Delmas Four, Contributes His Story to Oral History (Podcast)

In a Different TimeIn In a Different Time: The inside story of the Delmas Four, lawyer Peter Harris relates the real events of the trial of four ANC foot soldiers

Frans “Ting Ting” Masango, Jabu Masina, Neo Potsane and Joseph Makhura became well known for their refusal to participate in their trial, even though they could be sentenced to death. They disputed the legitimacy of the court, on the basis of being soldiers in the just war against the apartheid state.

Masina, who is one of the two surviving members of the group, was recently interviewed Masechaba Lekalake for Power FM about his experiences as a soldier for the ANC, and being involved in “one of the longest trials of the apartheid era”.

Lekalake calls the story of the Delmas Four “one laced with bravery and unshakable resolve”, and regards Masina’s story as an important element of South Africa’s oral history.

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“Being Included Felt Like a Form of Exorcism” – Karina M Szczurek on The Love Letters of André Brink and Ingrid Jonker

Flame in the SnowVlam in die sneeuKarina M Szczurek has written a moving essay in which she reflects on the experience of having her late husband André Brink‘s love letters to Ingrid Jonker published and scrutinised by the entire world.

These intimate writings have now been published in Afrikaans (Vlam in die sneeu: Die liefdesbriewe van André P Brink en Ingrid Jonker) and English (Flame in the Snow: The Love Letters of André Brink and Ingrid Jonker), translated by Leon de Kock and Karin Schimke, and edited by Francis Galloway.

In the piece, titled “The heart has spaces”, Szczurek shares more about her marriage to Brink and her knowing, from the start, of the “life-defining relationship of his youth with Ingrid Jonker”.

“Coming to live with André in the South African spring of 2005, I very quickly realised that in order to know him – truly know him – I had to understand what had happened between him and Ingrid 40 years earlier. We both had to. No other woman in André’s life had left as indelible a mark on him as Ingrid. No other haunted me as much in the beginning of our relationship,” the Invisible Others author writes.

Remembering the time she first read the love letters – which happened during their engagement, two years after she met Brink while he was working on the translation of Jonker’s poems for Black Butterflies – Szczurek writes: “The title for the collection followed from a suggestion I’d made. Being included felt like a form of exorcism.”

Read the article for more about the enormous literary project that is Flame in the Snow and how Szczurek, the last woman to love Brink, was involved in his famous love affair with Jonker:

In the beginning there were the women of his past, a ghost among them. André Brink had never been afraid to love. After the life-defining relationship of his youth with Ingrid Jonker, her suicide, and four divorces, at the age of 69 he had the guts to say yes to a delicate possibility.

When we met in Austria towards the end of 2004 I was terribly young, on the verge of a divorce, broken by betrayals, and almost paralysed by mistrust. Continents and cultures apart, 42 years between us, the odds staked against us could not have been higher. Yet we somehow mustered enough courage to dare the impossible and turn it into reality. For ten years, the first thing we did every morning after waking up next to each other was to smile. No matter what. Of course it hadn’t been easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. And coming to terms with our respective pasts was our greatest challenge.

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Karin Schimke Talks About Translating Ingrid Jonker’s Love Letters for Flame in the Snow

Flame in the SnowVlam in die sneeuNovember sees the publication of what is said to be one of the most important pieces of South African literary history to see the light in recent years.

Flame in the Snow: The Love Letters of André Brink and Ingrid Jonker is translated by Leon de Kock and Karin Schimke, and edited by Francis Galloway. Naturally it will also be available in Afrikaans, the language the letters were originally written in, as Vlam in die sneeu: Die liefdesbriewe van André P Brink en Ingrid Jonker.

Schimke met up with LitNet’s Naomi Meyer to talk about the massive project that was the translation of Jonker’s words to English. De Kock took care of Brink’s words to ensure that the English document had two distinctly different voices. She shares more about the project as a whole, how she approached the intimate love letters and the decisions she made during the translation process.

“Translation is an imperfect art. If perfection is the aim, you have failed before you have begun,” Schimke says. She goes on: “There are two things that were important to me: I wanted the English text to read as smoothly as possible, but without making Ingrid sound as though she had written in English. I wanted to retain some of the texture of Afrikaans.”

Schimke also reveals what she learnt about Jonker through this close reading of her letters and says that the infamous poet “was, first and foremost, a struggling single mother working in soul-destroying jobs”. On her writing, and the difference between Jonker and Brink’s writing, Schimke says: “Ingrid’s poetry was deeply and unashamedly personal. She didn’t, like André, try to grapple great ideas into long novels. Her work feels grounded and embodied. There is a presence and immediacy in both her poetry and her letters and they seem, to me at least, inseparably, undividedly hers.”

Read the article for insight to what is sure to be a fascinating book:

You translated the love letters of arguably the most well-known Afrikaans Romeo and Juliet of the Afrikaans literary world. Did you ever think about this while translating Ingrid’s letters?

Oh, I thought about it all the time!

Because of the time constraints on the project we had no time to read the full manuscript before starting the work. The longer I translated, the less sense I had of what was going to happen next and each day’s work was like watching a new petal unfold on a closed bud. It was – and I apologise for the cliché – gripping. When I closed my computer at night, I would wonder what happens next and I’d approach my computer with a sense of anticipation every morning. No, it was not drone work. It held me entirely. It wasn’t mere engagement with words.

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Flashback Friday: Highlights from a Decade of Lauren Beukes’ Writing

MaverickBroken MonstersThe Shining Girls

LitNet has rounded up eight pieces by Lauren Beukes, whom they call “one of South Africa’s greatest exports”. The article “Writer of the Week: A decade of Lauren Beukes” features highlights of a decade of her interviews, articles and stories.

The earliest article in the list is “My Place: ‘The Accident of Home’”. In the article, Beukes writes about a bad romance in New York, and how being in a different country really taught her how to be South African.

In the bio section, she is introduced as “an intrepid girl reporter”. At the time of the article’s publication, she was working on her MA in Creative Writing and a manuscript called “Branded”, which became her stellar debut Moxyland.

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It takes a context to define something, a control to establish a norm. I learned how to be South African in New York.

“Do you recognise the language?” My lover (who was an inveterate liar, but then I’ve always been attracted to the idea of unreliable narrators) was lying in a hospital bed in a Brooklyn emergency room, his collarbone leaping obscenely, insistently, under his skin. Partially obscured by the disinfectant-green curtains, a black family next to us was murmuring in a foreign language over their loved one against a backbeat of respirators and mournfully bleating machines.

Did I recognise it? As if the borders across the continent were so smudged that there was no difference discernible between Swahili and Sesotho. As if I could be so intimately familiar with the play of vowels and consonants as to be able to identify one tongue out of eleven, let alone a hundred languages, a thousand dialects, because one surely should be the mother of all?

“No,” I said.

I think, actually, they were Caribbean.

Fast forward 10 years, and Lauren was being interviewed about her third wonderfully successful novel The Shining Girls:

What inspired your book?

Violence and the 20th century. I wanted to subvert the serial killer genre, to talk about what violence is and what it does to us – femicide in particular. I wanted to portray what real serial killers are like, as the loathsome vile losers they are, and make the victims real, to make the reader feel their loss and what it means to the world. And I was interested in how the past 100 years have shaped us, from the evolution of the skyscraper and highways to civil rights and abortion, and explore how much things have changed, especially for women. Chicago was a useful stand-in for Johannesburg, with the same issues of segregation, corruption and crime, but it allowed me to play on a broader canvas.

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