[Rab] Your writing is not just filled with weird and freaky characters and happenings, but it also has great descriptions of South Africa, its cities, towns and landscapes. But yet again President Zuma has failed to appoint you Minister for Tourism, Culture and the Undead. Are you disappointed?
[Nerine] To be honest, I wouldn’t want that position for love or money, I’d prefer it if people just enjoyed my books. Travel writing is a bit of a sideline for me, that informs my writing. I love travelling, and have been all over, including Ireland, Mauritius and Zambia, as part of my repertoire of exotic destinations. I’ve been told that I really do evoke the settings well, so I know I’m doing something right. So it’s a natural extension for me to really live ‘in’ my settings when I write my fiction.
[Nerine] LOL! I wouldn’t exactly call Afrikaans folk the most cuddly, but I’m often gobsmacked by how people respond to us. Look at old Sharlto Copley, who was the protagonist in District 9 and also the antagonist in Elysium opposite Matt Damon. Face it, Afrikaans-speaking people make awesome villains. Personally, I think this might have something to do with South Africa’s past, when Afrikanerdom was synonymous with an oppressive regime. There is something really menacing about that police officer who’s mangling his “is” or “are”.
There’s a bit of a dark side to this for me, because I am, in fact, Afrikaans. I went to an English-speaking school and was often picked on for, among other things, being Afrikaans. So by the time I got to high school, I went out of my way to sound as English as possible. In later years, this wasn’t helped by the fact that I worked for a bunch of British ex-pats, for a few years, so I ended up with quite the British accent.
The weirdest part is that nowadays I’m a bit of a social chameleon (I think many South Africans of my generation are). I tend to reflect the accent of whomever I’m hanging out with, which gets odd when I’m hanging out with Americans. I think the Irish accent is just absolutely brilliant. Try as I might, I can’t pick it up.
[Nerine] If I have to wrap it in one sentence, I’d say this:
Teenage boy ends up having to rescue a prince from a magical realm.
The longer version is that this is a good, old-fashioned boy-hero saves the day kind of tale in which our protagonist unlocks his talents and rescues his best friend. There’s plenty of magic, travel through a magical realm and also dire challenges faced in dark tunnels between worlds. If you enjoyed Harry Potter, Narnia and The Neverending Story, then this might be right up your tree.
[Rab] Which dead writers of weird fiction would you most like to have a chat with on a dark and stormy night?
[Nerine] I’d have loved to have met Anne McCaffrey. She was a huge influence on me when I first started out writing and I was very sad when she passed. Likewise, I would have liked to meet Joseph Campbell. He might not have been a writer, but I’ve listened to some of his lectures, and I am very influenced by his observations on mythology and stories. Of course JRR Tolkien, though I hear he wasn’t always a great lecturer.
[Rab] Do different elements of your identity – Woman writer, African writer, Afrikaans writer, etc - shape the realm of your imagination?
[Nerine] I hate boxes when it comes to fiction. I write stories. Okay, the topic of “African” writer does get my blood up a bit because it’s not an inclusive term. I’ve experimented with this and found that the moment I up the “African” elements on some of my shorter-form fiction, there’s almost automatically more interest. Yet the opposite with the novels. Unless I put elephants and giraffes, I’ve been told I’m not “African” enough.
And I’ve picked up enough that there’s resistance to Africa as a setting for commercial fiction. I don’t know if it’s reader resistance to the location or publishers worried that the books won’t sell. I don’t know. My feeling is if I, as an African, can read books set in New Orleans or Dublin, why can’t readers enjoy books set in Cape Town, if I make sure my world-building is solid enough to make them feel like they’re on familiar turf.
But I’m not going to get all whiny and wangsty about it. I will continue to write stories. Some of them will be in Cape Town. Some of them in the Karoo. Hell, some might be in New Orleans or magical realms you’ve never heard of before. Point is I have stories to tell, and I refuse to be boxed in.
[Rab] How do stories come to you? What can spark a story off? Do you know the ending and then work your way towards it, or is it a character that shapes the story. Or is it something totally different?
[Nerine] I like knowing where a story will end when I start it, that much is for certain. Often I’ll be daydreaming, or I’ll be looking at pictures when a serious “what if” moment slaps me upside the head. I’ll get a pencil in hand, find a scrap of paper, and off I go. I have a “Fresh Ideas” folder in my Google Drive where I’ve collected dozens of ideas, so I won’t ever run out of things to write about. The real challenge is finding the time. Sometimes I start with a character. Sometimes a visual, but the creative process is always fluid. Once again, I try not to box things in and always do things in a certain way.
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