News from South Africa

By Mike Nicol

The power of Facebook proved itself this past month when one of our crime novelists, Jassy Mackenzie, lamented on my page that there were no dedicated crime fiction festivals in South Africa.  Let’s start our own responded another crime novelist, Margie Orford, and Helen Holyoake, a book promoter and marketer in Johannesburg, then said, sure, we’re having a book promotion at the end of November why not make it a part of that.  Three days later we had a draft programme of what will be called CrimeWrite, and if all goes well we’ll be chatting crime fiction through the weekend of 27 and 28 November.

I’m not quite sure who’s going to make it to the event but those around at the time include Margie Orford, Jassy Mackenzie, Sarah Lotz, Michael Sears, Stanley Trollip, Mfiso Mzobe, Wessel Ebersohn, and Chris Marnewick.  Deon Meyer’s going to be in Germany that weekend so we’ll be linking up for an internet interview and we’ll be crossing to Richard Kunzmann in London and Roger Smith who’s on an extended holiday in Thailand.

Should be a blast.

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Talking of Roger Smith, he’s been getting good reviews locally for his Wake Up Dead, although sometimes the reviewers are taken aback by the levels of graphic violence in his book.  As Smith keeps explaining, this is noir crime fiction he’s writing.  Recently Tshepo Tshabalala reviewing the book in a Cape Town newspaper concluded: ‘From a strictly thriller book – just a book – point of review, Wake Up Dead is an amazing read. In fact, when taking into account the language, the way he fashions the story and indifferent style of obscenity, the novel would receive my best review of the year thus far.  Yet it still feels as if the author could have introduced some balance into the story.’

He did an email Q&A with Smith:

Do you see the book as more fact than fiction, or vice versa?

Wake Up Dead is fiction with a strong underpinning of fact.

What experiences have you had with the Cape Flats and gang wars that you’ve presented in the book?

My wife grew up in a tough part of the Cape Flats and I’ve learnt a lot from her, and met a lot of people through her. I’ve visited prisons and met ex-cons. One man in particular, who spent over 30 years in prison, served as a model for Wake Up Dead’s villain, Piper. He rose to be a general in the 27s prison gang, fell in love with his prison “wife”, and committed crimes in prison – including a brutal murder – in order to stay inside, where he had power and prestige. I shot an interview with him, which is up on my website (www.rogersmithbooks.com) and he evokes the prison environment more eloquently than I ever could.

You say the following about your work: “I don’t write about anything that doesn’t happen every day in South Africa.” Given the nature of the story, don’t you think you are sensationalising the events a bit?

One in three women will be raped in her lifetime in South Africa. A child is murdered every third day in the Cape. There is a tik epidemic on the Cape Flats. Sensationalising?

Is the book written purely for entertainment purposes, or is there a message you want to put out there? If so, what is that message?

I’m not up on a pulpit here, but I feel strongly that local crime writers have a dual responsibility: to tell good, gripping stories and let the unfortunate realities of our society inform those stories. We don’t live in Sweden, where more people are murdered on the pages of crime novels than in the streets of Stockholm.

What is the response you get from people who’ve read your book? And what is your take on their reactions?

Wake Up Dead has been extensively reviewed in the US, UK, Germany and South Africa and, happily, those reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.

Are all your works this dark/obnoxious/harsh, or did you adopt the tone for this book specifically?

The style of Wake Up Dead mirrors our brutal, hyper-violent society.

Tell me about work we can expect from you in future: genre, topic, approach?

I’m a crime writer. My third thriller, Dust Devils, is done and sold, and I’m working on my fourth. Dust Devils, which is set mainly in KwaZulu-Natal, grapples with disillusioned old Lefties, government corruption, HIV/Aids, the sale of Zulu girls into marriage and the Zumafication of South Africa.

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And while on the subject of interviews, Jassy Mackenzie recently published her second Jade de Jong novel, Stolen Lives (published by Soho in the US), and so I put her under the Q&A spotlight for my blog Crime Beat.  Here’s what she had to say: http://crimebeat.book.co.za/blog/2010/10/04/crime-beat-jassy-mackenzie-and-the-braai-factor/

Mike Nicol

Mike Nicol is a journalist and writer and now a hard-core crime fiction addict. He's published two crime novels - Payback and Our To Score (a co-authorship), and is a founder of the blog Crime Beat. He lives on Cape Town's peninsula, up a mountain, in the teeth of the wind.

Visit Mike at: www.crimebeat.book.co.za.

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