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The ABSA/LitNet
Chain Interview

Die Ketting

Suzy Bell Diane Awerbuck taught English and History at Rustenburg Girls' High School until 2002; she was Head of English and also a member of the Governing Body. She completed a Masters in Creative Writing (UCT), awarded with distinction. Her novel Gardening at Night was reprinted by Vintage in March 2004. It won the Commonwealth First Book Award (African region) in 2004. She is currently working on its sequel, The House of Bread. She teaches Narrative and Aesthetics part-time at the film school AFDA. Her short stories appear regularly in publications - mainly because her ex-students all seem to be journalists. Awerbuck is a freelance journalist and reviewer, mostly for the South African Sunday Times. She also writes and edits for Maskew Miller Longman, and writes a column for
Sonja Loots Sonja Loots (32) is the books editor for Rapport. She has a part-time lecturing post in the Afrikaans Department at RAU, is a member of the KKNK (Klein Karoo National Arts Festival) arts cabinet and has worked as a scriptwriter for the SABC2 soap 7de Laan for the past five years. Her debut novel, Spoor, was published by Tafelberg in 1995 and her poetry and short stories have appeared in anthologies and literary magazines. She freelances as a journalist and apart from corporate work for companies like Absa, contributes regularly to the décor magazine Visi and the lifestyle magazine Insig (articles of hers appear in the current issues of both these magazines). She holds an MA in Afrikaans literature from Rhodes University.

Diane Awerbuck in conversation with Sonja Loots

  1. You initially resisted being interviewed. Would you say that being a writer is something you are (a vocation), or that writing is something that you do (a job)?

    Both. Even if it is a calling of sorts, you can't be a writer without the grim slog of actually getting words down on paper. I think everyone gets irritated with those pretentious poetry café types who present themselves as writers but somehow never get around to writing anything worthwhile. You can't just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. I was hesitant about being interviewed as a fiction writer because, even though I have published a novel and a few short stories, I have for some time been investing most of my energy and effort into my jobs as a scriptwriter and a books editor and critic.

  2. Are writers the products of their circumstances? Is it an "accidental" kind of gift? Are you obliged to use it?

    It's a bit airy-fairy, but I really do believe that true talent is a gift. You can always learn to do it better, and you should, but if the spark isn't there you'll be a wannabe forever. You're not obliged to use it, but I believe if you have talent and don't use it, you'll be less happy than you could have been. I was - and still am - deeply saddened by the recent suicide of Sello Duiker, a contemporary of mine, a fellow soap scriptwriter, and a fiction writer whom I liked and admired tremendously. Although there were many other reasons for Sello's suicide, some of our discussions and correspondence in the last three or four years have led me to believe that his decision to once again take a job that left little time for writing was unwise. Anyone who knew Sello will know that his talent was as apparent as a halo around his head. He was never meant to be a scriptwriter for Backstage or an SABC commissioning editor. He was meant to write, and he might have been a little happier if he could have found a way to do exactly that. To me his suicide was a stern warning to heed the writerly instinct, to try and make time for it, even if it means saying no to other opportunities, including the opportunity to earn good money.

  3. Would you say that writing in Afrikaans is an advantage or a disadvantage to you? What has a language (so incredibly rich, but such a tiny part of global literature) like this given you?

    Writing good fiction in English has never been a real option for me. Not writing in my mother tongue makes me feel as if a ventriloquist is speaking through me. I grow confused, I lack courage. My mindscape, the mindscape of my childhood (so influential when one writes), consists of thoroughly Afrikaans places. Leaving them, or trying to trade them in for something else, would be "a ripping apart", to quote Milan Kundera. He writes in Testaments Betrayed: The adult years may be richer and more important for life and for creative activity both, but the subconscious, memory, language, all the understructure of creativity, are formed very early; for a doctor, that won't make problems, but for a novelist or a composer, leaving the place to which his imagination, his obsessions and thus his themes are bound could make for a ripping apart.

    Writing in Afrikaans has the simple advantage that I can be myself and that I can effortlessly plug into the places where my imagination, obsessions and themes are rooted. It also means that I am in close and intimate contact with my readers. My debut novel, Spoor (Tafelberg, 1995), is a prescribed book for matrics in some schools, and I enjoy receiving enquiries from teachers and pupils.

    The disadvantages stem from the fact that we have a segregrated reading public in South Africa. Writers who write in English and English-speaking readers very rarely read the work of Afrikaans writers, so that Afrikaans writers sometimes feel ghettoised. I do not think the solution necessarily lies in "a change of tongue", to quote Antjie Krog a bit out of context, but in a concerted effort to stimulate debate and contact across language barriers. The recent LitNet Young Voices Online Writers' Conference was an excellent example of how different voices can be brought together - and hopefully this email chain will achieve some of the same results.

  4. Your writing often seems to deal with sadness and dispossession. Would you agree that this is a common theme in South African literature in general? Explain.

    Yes - and it will remain a common theme while South Africans are still trying to deal with the past and trying to find new footholds in a dramatically altered democratic country. However, I do not think this theme is exclusive to South African literature. For instance, I often find many of my own sadnesses mirrored in thoughts expressed by Czech writer Milan Kundera.

  5. In "Circus Boers" the narrator says that s/he lives "in the intertextual realm". What, in plain speech, does this mean? What are its implications for those who do so?

    "Circus Boers" is about the many ways in which people can feel out of sorts. I simply meant that when one doesn't feel at home in the real world, you might feel tempted to inhabit and get lost in imaginary worlds: the worlds of books you read, movies you see and TV shows you watch.

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LitNet: 18 February 2005

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