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Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

The Book Launch of Tess, and How Tracey Farren’s Novel was Adapted into an Award-winning Movie

Panel discussion at Tess launchTess

 
The launch of Tess was an both an opportunity to enjoy the success of Tracey Farren’s novel, originally published as Whiplash in 2008, and a chance to share in where the story is going over the next few months.

The room was filled with longstanding supporters of the women responsible for bringing the story of Tess to life in print and on screen, as well as new fans who have yet to experience Whiplash/Tess. The buzz of excitement and joy at what the story has achieved made for a warm and meaningful event filled with very interesting conversation.

Colleen Higgs, publisher at Modjaji, began by speaking about the electrifying manuscript Tracey Farren delivered to her via Ron Irwin a decade ago. The history of Modjaji Books is intertwined with the novel, as it was the first work of fiction to come out of the young company and is a continuing inspiration for Colleen. Whiplash being made into a movie was always her dream, but it took a long time to come to fruition.
Tracey Farren at Tess launch
Tracey Farren described how she came to write Whiplash in the first place. She was intrigued by the prostitutes she encountered near her home daily and, like many of us, she wondered “Why do they do this? And how did this come to be the life they live?” Delving deep into the issues and heartbreaking realities of our society eventually gave birth to Tess, a young prostitute surviving on pain medication in Muizenberg. Tracey says Tess is a character she was deeply in love with, and translating her into a film script was a magical process.
Meg Rickards at Tess launch
Meg Rickards told us she was given Tracey’s novel by a friend. She did not expect to be as bowled over by itas she was, but she couldn’t put it down and read through the night until she finished it. Meg’s empathy for Tess, a character so removed and different from her, was so thorough that her pillow was sodden when she got to the end of Whiplash. She immediately got in contact with the publisher, but found that the film had already been optioned. After a year of waiting, she got the news that the previous deal had expired, and film rights were hers if she wanted them. So the whirlwind of funding campaigns, script rewrites and making a masterpiece on a shoestring budget began. In the end, she had enough budget for 24 days of filming, and was constantly thinking about how to do more with less.
Christia Visser at book launch
A little way into the discussion Christia Visser, the lead actress in Tess, arrived and joined the discussion. She initially wanted to say no to the role of Tess, because she was intimidated by what she would have to feel as she acted out the life of the young prostitute. Colleen says in her early fantasies about the movie she hoped to see Charlize Theron play Tess, but said that in fact Christia was perfect for the movie and even better she had imagined. Tracey commented whatever acting Christia does after Tess will be easy compared with her nuanced and complex portrayal of Tess.

The panel wrapped up their discussion by talking about the process of adapting the novel into a screenplay. Tracey was the screen writer and began the process by refining and focusing the story as she rewrote. Meg said that she could not hope to improve upon the novel as she translated to film; as director she could only be inspired by Whiplash and try to pay homage to it with her adaptation. Christia Visser’s interpretation of the character of Tess was another layer of adaptation, and the final step in bringing the story to life.

Meg and Tracey also both spoke of how the screenplay was changed due to constraints while filming – like service delivery protests in Masiphumelele and the weather changing to rain. Also in the process of editing, scenes that were shot had to be cut.

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Here are some photos from the event:

Ladies at the launchGroup at the launch

 
 
Here are some highlights from the event on Twitter:

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Related posts:

 
 
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Join Us for Our Muizenberg in the Movies Party to Celebrate the Launch of Tess

Tess book cover

 
Come and celebrate the launch of Tess the movie and Tess the book, both set in Muizenberg, and 10 years of Modjaji Books at The Striped Horse in York Road, Muizenberg, on Wednesday, 1 March.

Meet the author Tracey Farren, Director Meg Rickards, and the star of the movie Christia Visser.
Meg will talk about making the movie and show clips of the movie, Tracey will read a scene that was filmed, and Christia will talk about what it was like playing Tess.

Books will be on sale and available for signing, and there will be free movie tickets up for grabs!

Meg Rickards workingTrain MuizenbergTracey Farren
Tess hair in windTess on the road

 
 
Don’t miss this!

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The Film Tess has been Picked Up for International Distribution – Don’t Miss the Book and Film Launches!

Tracey FarrenTess Film PosterMeg Rickards

 
The movie Tess, based on Tracey Farren’s debut novel, has been picked up for international distribution by The Little Film Company.

The film was directed by Meg Rickards and produced by Paul Egan and Kim Williams. It has already won awards and hearts at film festivals, and it will be released on the local circuit on Friday, 24 February.

Read more about the international distribution deal here:

The Little Film Company, a motion picture sales and marketing company founded by Robbie and Ellen Little, is no stranger to the South African film industry, the company previously distributed the 2005 Academy Award Best Foreign Picture winner Tsotsi.  “Tess is a very moving and provocative film and we are all incredibly excited to be bringing it to the world”, said Robbie Little.

Watch the trailer for Tess here:

 

 
Director Meg Rickards wrote an article for Mail & Guardian about why she was committed to making this film. She believes it is crucial that women say “No – systemic sexism can never be tolerated,” and keep on saying that as long and as loudly as necessary.

The story of Tess, a young sex-worker, is one that offers a barometer of how dire sexual violence is in our society. It is not intended to be a general representation, but one story about about one woman, and one voice joining the shout to say “No!”

Read the article

Given that I’m a filmmaker — not a nurse, educator or social worker, who would have infinitely more practical responses — this is what I could do about the things that keep me awake at night: make a movie. I have this mad hope in the power of cinema, not to change the world (if only!) but to nudge it. Cinema’s punch, I believe, comes from its capacity to create empathy and on this basis I challenge viewers to take 88 minutes to walk in Tess’s battered boots.

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Tess

Don’t miss the opportunity to hear the author, the director and the publisher of Tess discuss the story at one of these events:

Colleen Higgs, publisher, will be in conversation with author Tracey Farren and Meg Rickards, director of the movie. Entrance is free. Please RSVP to The Book Lounge: booklounge@gmail.com or 021 462 2425.

  • A screening and panel discussion with the WITS African Centre for Migration & Society in Johannesburg on Friday, 24 February at Wits University.

Details to follow.

  • The Nonceba Family Counselling Centre’s fundraising screening of Tess at the V&A Nu Metro on Sunday, 26 February at 7 pm

Author and screenwriter Tracey Farren, director Meg Rickards and lead actress Christia Visser will join Pauline Perez from the Centre for a Q&A after the screening. Tickets cost R150 and include popcorn and a soft drink – please email noncebafcc@gmail.com to book.

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Here is a list of cinemas that will screen Tess on release day, 24 February:

STER KINEKOR:

  • Bridge
  • Brooklyn Commercial
  • Cresta
  • East Rand Mall
  • Garden Route Mall
  • Gateway Commercial
  • Irene Mall
  • Colonnade
  • Rosebank Mall Nouveau
  • Somerset Mall
  • Tiger Valley
  • Vaal Mall

NU METRO:

  • Menlyn Park
  • V&A Waterfront

INDEPENDENT:

 
Don’t miss out!

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Image of Meg Rickards courtesy of PinkVilla


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Book to movie: Tess by Tracey Farren

Black & White_ Low Res-7Tess book coverModjaji Books and The Book Lounge are very excited to invite you to the launch of TESS by Tracey Farren. TESS is the movie tie-in version of Tracey’s first novel that we originally published as Whiplash back in 2008. For the Cape Town launch of the novel, we are hosting a discussion between Tracey Farren (the author) and Meg Rickards (the director of the movie) about the process of turning the novel Whiplash into the movie Tess. Colleen Higgs the publisher will host the discussion. We’d love to see you there.

The movie opens in South Africa at Ster Kinekor cinemas on the 24th February. The movie has already won several awards and received high praise from reviewers.

‘[Tess] digs its nails into you from the word go … raw, tender, and laugh-out-loud funny – a kickarse gem of a book. Told with startling poetry in the grittiest of emotional landscapes, [it] puts Farren on the map as a wordsmith of astonishing talent.’ – Joanne Fedler

‘Farren shows that she has a true gift for getting into the hearts of very ordinary people while astutely setting the South African sociopolitical context.’ Jane Rosenthal, Mail & Guardian

When the book was published as Whiplash by an unknown debut author in 2008, it was short listed for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize in 2009, and the author received A White Ribbon Award from the Women Demand Dignity Advocacy Group.

A gut wrenching story of a Muizenberg sex worker, Tess who pops painkillers by the handful and sells her body to strangers. When a condom breaks, Tess’s life swings one eighty degrees. She gives up her drugs until she can get to an abortion clinic. Her cold turkey opens up a window in her mind, whipping Tess into a shattering understanding of how she got here. Tess’s quirky humour, raw honesty and deep love of beauty lead her to find redemption in astonishing places. This book has a huge heart, like Tess, revealing that there is something in everyone that cannot be touched. Not by human hands. Not ever.

Tracey Farren lives a stone’s throw from the Cape Point with some children, a luthier and a pack of dogs. She has a psychology honours degree and worked as a freelance journalist for several years before her muse called her to fiction. Tess is a new edition of her first acclaimed, award-winning novel, Whiplash. Her second novel, Snake was published in to critical acclaim and she has just finished writing her third novel, The Rig.

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Tess
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German rights sold for Ameera Patel’s Outside the Lines

Ameera PatelOutside the LinesThanks to Bieke van Aggelen’s agenting we have sold the German rights for Ameera Patel’s debut novel, Outside the Lines. The novel came out on March 29th of this year. Patel is a talented actor and writer, she wrote her debut novel while doing her MFA at Wits University.

Outside the Lines has been very well received, Patel has participated in several book festivals this year, Open Book, Kingsmead, and Essence Festival, and more to come next year. The novel has had great reviews. And now this! Before the book is even a year old. We at Modjaji Books are thrilled!

‘Ameera Patel’s first novel is edgy, witty, fresh, engaging, moving, memorable. This is an important new voice in the emerging movement of new South African fiction, taking us to places at once familiar and defamiliarised by the sensitivity of the writing. A vivid portrait of contemporary Johannesburg, wide-ranging, passionately engaged and acerbic.’
Craig Higginson

More about Ameera Patel – she is an actor who has worked on stage and in television (best known for her role as Dr Chetty in Generations). She is also an award winning playwright. She received a distinction for her MA in Creative Writing in 2013 (University of the Witwatersrand).

Here’s an interview with Ameera Patel on SABC TV
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Outside the Lines

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Futhi Ntshingila on a book tour in Brazil

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Dublinense has bought the rights to publish Do Not Go Gentle by Futhi Ntshingila, which has now been translated into Portuguese, as Sem Gentileza. And this November saw Futhi on a three city book tour to Brazil. What an exciting trip for her, but as her publisher, huge vicarious pleasure for me too. Modjaji has become a publisher that has made this possible for one of our authors. I can see from the snippets on Facebook and Instagram that Futhi has been well received in Brazil, Sem Gentileza has gone into a second print run. There are pictures of long lines of people waiting to have Futhi sign their copy of Sem Gentileza So in South African terms it has become a best seller there.

I met Gustavo Faraon in 2012 at the Frankfurt Invitation Programme and it was through this meeting that the Brazilian publication became possible. We are also in the process of selling North American rights, and an Italian publisher is considering Do Not Go Gentle after meeting with Gustavo at Frankfurt this year.

I’m hoping we can sell the Dublinense edition back into Lusophone Africa. May be we will see Futhi on a book tour in Angola and Mozambique before too long.

Having a house that resembles a book warehouse, and all the shlepping and hassling becomes really worth for moments like these. I can’t wait to hear more from Futhi when she gets back.

Futhi in Brazil 1

Do Not Go Gentle

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Book Lounge launch interview with Ishara Maharaj

Ishara Maharaj’s debut novel, Namaste Life, tells the story of a pair of Hindu twins who leave their home in Durban to study in Grahamstown, only to encounter the kind of tragedy that makes parents want to keep their daughters close. The novel launched at the Book Lounge in Cape Town on 20 July 2016 with a discussion that tapped into the novel’s many facets, such as the dark themes of rape, victim-blaming, and the clash between contemporary life and religious belief. Ishara also shared her thoughts about portraying the Durban Hindu community, the role of Hindu mysticism, and the balance of tragedy and celebration that the story maintains. For those who missed the launch, she has written up her responses to the discussion questions.

Namaste Life Book Lounge launch

Image by Leanne Brady

Part of the novel is set in Durban, where you’re originally from, and the twins go to university at Grahamstown, where you studied. Can you tell us a bit about how those influences emerge in the novel?

One of the initial sparks for writing this novel was reading fiction by other local authors. Rayda Jacobs’ Confessions of a Gambler tackled deeply held beliefs within the Cape Muslim community and got me thinking about how very little has been written about the Durban Hindu community in modern-day terms. While the Hindu community remains strong in terms of its Indian roots, many young people like myself left Durban for better employment prospects, and our lives have changed. I wanted to write about those everyday struggles that young people from this community face, and to express that, as South Africans, we all experience similar struggles irrespective of our cultural or religious backgrounds.

Are you at all similar to your protagonists?

The twin girls in Namaste Life represent different aspects of my personality in some sense. Surya is the rebellious party girl; Anjani is gentle, studious and generally curious about the world. Both are confident in their own ways. Surya has the spontaneity most people wish they had, and Anjani grapples with her connection to the universe while living her life on this planet. I like to think of myself as spontaneous at times, but deeply curious about our subconscious and dreams, as well as the mysteries of the universe! Both Surya and Anjani display resilience and authenticity, two traits I certainly value in myself and in others.

Surya is the quintessential party girl: she’s obsessed with her appearance, wears lots of sexy clothing, has quite a reputation for partying and drinking, flirts with lots of guys, etc. Anjani, is the complete opposite: she’s studious, dresses modestly, has no interest in partying, and is quite devout. As a result it almost seems like Surya’s being set up for victim-blaming when she gets raped. She’s the ‘bad girl’ some people picture when they assume that women must somehow be asking for it. In fact, that’s the exact reaction her mother and grandmother have – they believe the rape is Surya’s fault because she was ‘misbehaving’ as usual. How does the novel tackle this issue? How would you like readers to approach it?

When I wrote these scenes in the novel, it was never my intention to set Surya up for victim-blaming. As we know, the notion that the way a woman dresses makes her more prone to be raped is a complete myth, and a ridiculous one at that, given the fact that all kinds of women are raped under varied circumstances. My intention for including a rape in this novel was to get readers to talk about the subject from a healing perspective i.e. what happens to women and their families after a rape? How do we heal? And if a rape occurred in our family circles, how would we deal with it? The reactions from Surya’s mother and grandmother are extremes to create emotional turmoil in readers’ minds. But if Namaste Life can be discussed among just one group of women in South Africa, I would be happy. More specifically, if our young girls in high schools can talk to their mothers and families about rape and sexual assault and how it affects our lives, my aim would have been achieved.

The dialogue captures the nuances of the Durban Indian dialect; if you’re familiar with it, you can really hear the voices as you read. Was it quite a challenge to capture that dialect on the page, or does writing it come naturally to you?

I think my years growing up in Durban has ingrained that dialect in my head, so I definitely heard it as I wrote, but my studies in linguistics and the mechanics of language really helped me to understand it in terms of social register and spelling. It gave me new appreciation for the slang as well. And there was no way to avoid using the dialect – it just makes for a more believable setting and more authentic characters.

In the Durban Hindu community, the women’s lives are characterised by intense scrutiny: the neighbours are always watching and gossiping. Initially there’s an element of humour to it, but after Surya is raped, her mother and grandmother’s reactions are defined, not only by their religious beliefs, but by their concerns about what the neighbours are going to say if they find out that Surya lost her virginity. Much of the tension in the story comes from this problem. Can you tell us about articulating that difficult mother–daughter relationship? Nirmala wants very much to protect her daughters, but her care ends up manifesting as cruelty.

This kind of scrutiny among women is not endemic to the Indian community. We have all heard the phrase ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’. In this case, it’s keeping up with the Harsinghs! Saving face in the community is a traditional facet that is particularly important for the older generations. It comes from a sense of pride in what has been achieved by families, and some women take it to the extreme when they show off about their husbands’ or children’s achievements. The twins’ mother Nirmala is proud of her family’s status within the community and she wants to uphold that at all costs – even to the point of being cruel to her own daughter. We see the complete insignificance of that community status in Surya and Anjani’s lives and belief systems and this produced the tension to stir the emotional pot between mother and daughters.

It’s interesting to compare Nirmala and the grandmother, Nanima, to the twins’ father, Ashok. He’s unfailingly kind and supportive, which makes his character so much more likeable, but it’s worth noting that, as a man in this community, he doesn’t have to worry about the neighbours and the gossip. In fact he only talks about it in relation to how it affects his wife’s health. Would you say he’s the better parent, or does he just have the freedom to be more loving?

I wouldn’t say he’s a better parent, but he certainly has a different parenting style. It goes back to the way mothers are with their sons and the special bonds between fathers and their daughters. In the Indian community, mothers tend to be harder on their daughters to prepare them for the world outside their childhood homes. But fathers want to shield their daughters at all costs and so they tend to be more loving. Ashok represents a slightly different take in this case, as he allows his daughters to go away to Grahamstown for university. This isn’t usually an option in more traditional Indian homes where sons are typically given more freedom than daughters.

Ashok’s a wealthy, successful businessman, but he’s also quite inept as an adult; his wife and mother-in-law do all the work of looking after him at home. There’s a funny scene where he’s packing for a trip, but he and Nirmala aren’t talking to each other, so he can’t ask her where his underwear is kept and has to look through all the drawers until he finds it. Is that typical of the gender dynamics in the community? 

Surprisingly, it is the case within the Indian community and it goes back to the way mothers traditionally raise their sons and daughters. Sons are taken care of to the point where some of them have never cleared the table or washed a plate in their youth. They get married and their wives – those daughters raised to care for the men-folk – take over from their mothers as caregivers rather than partners. Of course, this has changed over the years with modern family dynamic and more women having full-time careers, but I personally know of men in my own generation who have their wives packing and even buying their clothes!

The Hindu gods Ganesh and Parvati are in the background watching the whole story play out and tweaking things here and there, helping the characters out with symbolic dreams. Can you tell us a bit more about the role of Hinduism and the gods in the story?

I did not want the novel to be too preachy, but I wanted readers to get a feel for some Hindu concepts, particularly the connection to dreams as well as the concepts of karma and the cyclical nature of life. I have personally been fascinated by dreams, the subconscious and the connection to higher powers that dreams provide. For example, there is a certain time on the Hindu calendar dedicated to the worship of ancestors, and many Hindus find themselves dreaming of loved ones who have passed on, even without them knowing that it is the time for ancestral remembrance. I also really do feel that life is cyclical in nature – we simply cannot appreciate the good things and good times in our lives without going through some struggles. We also have the power to influence our futures by the actions we take in this time. Karma is not all set in stone! Hinduism and all its mysticism is an inherent part of the Hindu community so I had to refer to it in Namaste Life for a more authentic read. Dreams and the connection to ancestors are part of other cultures in South Africa as well, so this is a great point of conversation between different cultures.

Although the story deals with rape, victim-blaming and religion, it also has a light side with a Bollywood-style romance for Anjani. Why did you choose to juxtapose those two plots?

I suppose I felt that this novel needed to balance out with a great romance. Life is seasonal and we can never suffer forever. Anjani is seen as the supportive sister throughout the novel, but she needed to have her own story. Her romance with Himal and the wedding isn’t actually all Bollywood! Hindu weddings in South Africa do have ceremonies that span three days (I think it can span five days in India!). And the traditional Indian dress is bright with amazing fabrics and costume jewellery, so if you ever attend a wedding in Durban or Joburg, you may feel that you are in a Bollywood movie, but the dress and the celebrations are very much standard practice!

Interview by book blogger and editor Lauren Smith.

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Every day is Women’s Day at Modjaji Books – huge website sale

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Every day is Women’s Day at Modjaji Books, and so is every month.

We are having a huge website sale to clear stock from my home warehouse (i.e. lounge and dining room and bedroom and garage). Thanks to those of you who have helped me with this already.

Even if you don’t want to buy – do have a browse on the Modjaji website to see what we’ve published in the last 9 years!

I’m a bit proud of all those beautiful books out in the world because of this work. (Actually more than a bit).


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The Cry of the Hangkaka by Anne Woodborne reviewed by Andie Miller

The Cry of the Hangkaka The Cry of the Hangkaka by Anne Woodborne is another of those quiet books that seems to have slipped past amid the noise. Drawing on her own childhood experiences of growing up in Cape Town, Scotland and Nigeria, the author has crafted a richly poetic novel of a child’s view of the world around her.

After her parents’ early divorce, it is just Karin and her mother. ‘We have been alone together my whole life from the first moment I knew I was me.’ At a tidal pool in False Bay, ‘false as men’s hearts’, they ‘sit on rocks warm as toast’ and ‘I put my hands on either side of her face and kiss her nose’. But then her mother makes another bad marriage, and ‘my heart swoops out in resentful love for her.’
Left with new relatives in Scotland suffering the after-effects of the war, life is grimy and bleak. ‘The McCrackens bend to their plates of food. Their sets of teeth clack like the castanets of the dancers in Madeira when Mom and I leaned over the rail to watch. I take tiny bites of dry bread and grey eggs.’ But she learns to read there.

On board ship again, when her mother finally comes to fetch her, she comes across a magazine with photographs of the concentration camps. ‘Only witches can grind and spit out these hell names with their yellow rotting fangs.’ And then they are in Lagos where the women’s dresses ‘have colours I’ve seen on parrots – orange, red, purple, green’ and the ‘loud voices – shouting, calling, laughing, talking – join to make a babbling noise.’ And the sights and sounds and malaria overtake her.

And always there is her new stepfather, Jack, to be navigated around, spilling over into everything around him.

At a time when the literary machine has many authors pushing out a book a year, this debut novel by an author now in her seventies has the feeling of having percolated for a long time. There is a richness to the language that is often absent from books written in hurry.

And the end of the novel is likely to spark debate in book clubs.

Anne Woodborne

Book review by Andie Miller, author of the book about walking called Slow Motion and editor.

The Cry of the Hangkaka

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An interview with Anne Woodborne

Anne Woodborne

Anne Woodborne’s debut novel, The Cry of the Hangkaka, tells the story of Karin, a young child who is uprooted from her home in South Africa when her mother, Irene, packs up their things to escape the shame of divorce. Irene is so desperate to start afresh that she marries the drunken, tyrannical Jack and follows him, first to Scotland, then to Nigeria, forcing Karin to live a lonely life where books and her imagination offer the only escape from solitude and the loathsome Jack.

We asked Anne to share her thoughts on writing colonial Nigeria using a child narrator.

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Like Karin, you spent part of your childhood in Scotland and Nigeria; is The Cry of the Hangkaka partly autobiographical? Can you give some examples of what you chose to fictionalise and why?

The Cry of the Hangkaka is partly autobiographical; that is faction – part fact, part fiction. I chose to fictionalise all the characters because memory is often faulty and always subjective. It was also to give me the scope to extend and embellish the characters and to distance myself when writing about the sensitive issues of domestic violence and abuse. It was necessary to invent characters and situations in the narrative to fill the voids where a young child might not have understood the implications of what she was witnessing. For example, I used the fictional character of Adia to explain a real incident where Amos physically attacks Jack later in the book; an altercation Karin finds confusing. The account of Jack’s drunken arrival at the school’s nativity play was invented to show his conflicted character – his addiction to alcohol and his urge to humiliate and shame Karin and Irene. The alcoholic’s illogical and inexplicable behaviour can only be surmised by the reader. Although much of my book is fiction, I think I stuck closely to the emotional truth.

The Cry of the Hangkaka The story is set in colonial Nigeria, although seen from the perspective of the mostly Scottish expats, who stick to their private and social spaces. What were your goals when crafting the world of the novel?

My goal was to recreate the era just after World War 2 and capture the feeling of new beginnings and fresh hope after the horror of war. It’s a new beginning for Irene as well. At a time when displaced people are desperately trying to return home, she is just as desperate to leave home to escape her bad memories and bitterness. She takes herself and Karin to the northern hemisphere to marry a man she hardly knows, to live in a country depleted by war. It’s a risky venture and one wonders why she chooses to travel so far to escape her past. The theme of displaced people continues with the Scottish expats living in isolation on the Jos Plateau amongst the various indigenous tribes. The contrast between the cultures of the Scottish expats and the Hausa/Fulani tribes could not have been greater. I enjoyed the challenge of recreating the mores of the 1940s and 1950s in a tropical setting.

During her time in Nigeria, Karin reads a book about a Viking named Siward, and his lover, Frida. The Cry of the Hangkaka includes many extracts from this book, which comes to play a significant role in Karin’s life. Why did you choose a Viking tale and what is it about this story that makes it so meaningful to Karin?

It’s purely by accident that Karin is drawn to the Viking saga in the second-hand bookshop in Perth. Perhaps it’s the pocket-sized edition and the gold lettering. Once she starts reading the book on the voyage to Lagos, she is drawn in by the bold character of Siward and the magical, fantastical world of ancient adventure he represents – a world that becomes an escape from her often unpleasant reality. Later at school, she learns more about ancient civilisations in the book From Ur toRome by Kathleen Gadd and Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill. Like all solitary children, Karin needs an imaginary friend but she uses the book character of Siward to be her imaginary protector. She hopes to assimilate his bravery and fearlessness into her own oppressed, fearful self. One can perhaps go so far as to say that on a subconscious level, he becomes a quasi-father-figure. Rather than tell the reader what Karin reads in the Saga, I chose to show what it was like for her to enter that fantasy world and thus wrote the extracts to insert into the narrative. I enjoyed the opportunity to write in another voice.

What are the challenges and pleasures of writing a child narrator for an adults’ story?

After a few false starts, I realised the book had to be written from a child’s perspective. I wanted to give the child who had been silenced and neglected a voice so she could be heard. The challenge was to put myself in the body of a five-year old child, see the world through her eyes, and tell the story with her limited vocabulary. For instance, when she visits her Ouma to say goodbye and the old lady draws in her breath for an angry outburst, I used ‘nose holes’ instead of nostrils. As Karin grows, so does her vocabulary. Her speech becomes more sophisticated as she becomes more observant. I had to be careful not to drift off into an adult’s voice. I used a lot of adult conversation (overheard by Karin) to keep the narrative flowing. Viewing the world through a child’s eyes recalls a kind of freshness when life offers new sights and sounds (e.g. Karin’s first hearing of the Luton Girls’ Choir and her encounter with death, whom she turns into an image) and her childish naiveté gives rise to an innocent humour.

Karin has an aversion to lies and secrets but the adults in her life force them upon her. Paradoxically she uses a ‘badgirl’ persona to express honesty, if only to herself. Would you say this kind of contradiction exemplifies the relationship between children and adults? How does Karin cope with the difficulties of living as child among adults?

The need for lies and secrecy evolves out of Irene’s obsessive desire for respectability; she fears being the object of gossip and moral condemnation. Karin finds this especially burdensome after Pammy’s mother impresses upon her the importance of being truthful (one of the book’s facts). Karin has to be circumspect about what she tells her friends about her family; she’s aware that her family has shameful secrets. This make her feel like an outsider. Karin’s badgirl voice is her way of keeping true to herself and also the first sign of rebellion. She can never speak her truth in her home because there would be unpleasant repercussions. Irene needs her to be tidy, respectful and compliant.

Faced with such restrictions, Karin has no choice but to go underground. Most children keep secrets about themselves from their parents; it’s a way of growing up and achieving independence. A section in J.M. Coetzee’s autobiography Boyhood springs to mind, where he says he had to hide everything he ever loved from his mother, burrowed deep in a hole like a trapdoor spider. In Karin’s case it’s her imagination that enables her to escape into fantasy from Jack’s tyranny and her mother’s strictures; in J.M.Coetzee’s case it was his love of everything Russian.

By using her imagination to escape interior worlds. Karin finds a coping mechanism to deal with difficult caretakers.

Jack is a vicious, opaque character. Why does he loathe children?

Jack is aloof, arrogant and deeply uncomfortable around children as well as society in general. He finds it difficult to interact with people. This may have stemmed from his own troubled relationship with his father.

Jack may fear his own vulnerability, which he sees reflected in Karin. He is also possessive of Irene, and does not want the child to intrude on their privacy. He resents having the child of another man under his roof. His prolonged abuse of alcohol brings about personality changes and entrenches his negativity. Long-term alcohol abuse causes frontal lobe syndrome, and the frontal lobes are the seat for judgement, empathy and caring.

Jack is a composite character; I drew on a few sources to create him, the main one being the real-life Jack himself.

Are you working on any new writing projects?

I am working on the third draft of my second novel. Its progress has been patchy because life keeps getting in the way and I have just had another downsizing move.

The protagonist in my second novel, whose working title is ‘Torn’, is coasting along in a fairly stable relationship and has a number of children when her life suddenly does a 180-degree turn; nothing is as it was and it is frightening and terrible. How she survives and how her children are affected is the theme of the book. It could also be seen as the portrait of a toxic narcissistic character.

I am still trying to get the right voice, an authentic one.

Thank you for your time Anne!

Interview by Lauren Smith

The Cry of the Hangkaka

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