12 November 1963 |
Pretoria, South Africa
|Genre||Drama, fiction, short stories|
|Notable works||The Good Doctor (2003)|
Any radical change or trauma always makes for interesting subject matter, but then all stories deal, to some extent, with the disjuncture between past and present.
It's expected of novels that they should explain the world and create the illusion that things are ultimately logical and coherent. But that's not what I see around me. Often, events remain mysterious and unresolved, and our emotions reach no catharsis.
'Arctic Summer,' as you might know, is the title of Forster's one unfinished novel.
I go for long walks in Newlands Forest in Cape Town, and I go to the Turkish baths on Sunday mornings.
I long for a South African society that's free of ideological forces – no society can ever really be free of ideological forces – but I wish it was free of power.
I think there's something very dark in the South African psyche. I think we live a lot of the time in a state of a very low-grade civil war; the levels of violence in South Africa are extremely high. In a way, the civil war that never happened is being played out in a covert way, so we live with a lot of very ugly things.
I think the impulse took shape in early childhood when I was very ill with lymphoma for a number of years. I spent a lot of time in hospitals and sick-rooms, being read to by various relatives, and I learned to associate books with love and attention.
Almost overnight, white people have gone from being very powerful to potentially irrelevant. Their future in South Africa is not what many had envisaged, so it involves a lot of reinvention.
While apartheid was in operation, the set-up was a gift for writers if you were looking for a big theme.
I'm fascinated by how much has changed from one generation to another. There are young people growing up now for whom apartheid is just a distant memory and the idea of military service is an abstract notion.
Stationery gets me excited because it has an individual character, unlike computers, which may be convenient but are generic and bland.
Something in a writer's brain needs to watch everything with a detached, amoral eye.
Literature at its fullest takes human nature as its theme. That's the kind of writing that interests me.
It's been unsettling to discover that every form of narrative, even one that purports to tell the truth, is a kind of lying.
South Africa is highly politicised; even small issues become politicised, and it becomes quite bitter.
Yoga helps me with a composed and serene state of mind, which is good for writing.
For the first five years of my life, things felt pretty good. A lot went wrong after that, family-wise.
I like to believe that if you pay close attention to the sentences as they unfold, they will draw you in rather than pushing you away.
Unrequited affection is very painful for the lover, but it can have unexpected, creative consequences.
I'm constitutionally incapable of working on planes or trains, and airports are definitely out.
I've been wanting to write a book about what goes into creating a novel, and the story behind 'A Passage to India' is especially interesting.
Being gay immediately placed me outside the values of the society I was growing up in. Apartheid was a very patriarchal system, so its assumptions seemed foreign to me from the outset. I've always had the advantage of alienation.
Rian Malan was one of the first younger writers to perceive and write about a darkness in the South African psyche that goes deeper than mere politics. To some extent, that's my territory, too.
Writing is not like acting, where you can pull these little stunts that create a particular effect. Words are all it is about, and the way you use words has to be individual and particular to you.
I first went to India because of my interest in yoga, hoping to go to the Iyengar Centre in Pune for a while. That didn't work out, but I ended up on a beach in Goa, writing.
Traveling is one of few zones of experience where you are not directly plugged into the world around you. You're not part of the society you're passing through.
Being gay myself, I'm naturally drawn to the interactions between men rather than men and women.
I try to get going early, on the assumption that the way you begin your day is the way you continue. But certain books only want to be written at night, so there's no hard rule where work is concerned.
I should confess that I'm woefully under-read in South African fiction.
India I have visited a great many times, though there is a lot about it I will never understand.
Writing is very good for household tasks. Because you'd rather fix a dripping tap or paint an old wall – you'd rather do almost anything than sit and write. I have to reach a point of obsession in order to write, and so I find starting a book incredibly difficult.
One of the questions writers bump up against in their work, whether they know it or not, is about lying. Because fiction is a form of deceit, and one's abilities are measured by how convincingly one can persuade readers that these events really happened.
Most writers battle with periods of being blocked; it's almost an occupational hazard. But in the writing of his last and greatest novel, 'A Passage to India,' E. M. Forster got stuck for nine years.
Perhaps cliche is nothing more than the weight of the past pinning down your mind. In this sense, imaginative freedom is a way of finding the future, though it isn't so easy to do.
I wrote large chunks of 'The Impostor' and 'The Good Doctor' on a beach in Goa.