Apart from only Klara’s Visitors, all my novels have been set in South Africa. This is not unusual among novelists from any country. Writers set their stories against backgrounds that they understand and have experienced.
Among South African writers this is particularly true. When you live in a country as full of drama, disaster, bravery, crime and other colourful subject matter, it is a hard to focus your attention anywhere else. The sheer extent of the material available to South African authors is overwhelming.
The result of this has been that South African fiction has probably attracted more attention in the period since the 1940s than that of any other country of similar size. South Africa’s most successful writers have all enjoyed wider readership in the rest of the world than they have at home.
The South African writer dare not claim ever to be suffering from writer’s block. Every edition of every newspaper, every news website or email portal: all are so filled with drama, intrigue and even romance that a shortage of material just does not exist. While much of our news falls into the category of tragedy, equally our current affairs are the source of farce. How the story eventually appears in print depends entirely on how the writer sees the world and his or her country.
The number of different peoples to which the country is home can be either an advantage or a burden to the writer. According to Apartheid’s overlords the country is home to more than twenty distinct peoples, much less than Nigeria’s two hundred-plus, but still plenty. In those days the so-called coloured community alone was divided into more than ten groups. In my novel, The Classifier, I decided to take modern readers into the strange world of race classification, where government established people’s races. Its effect on two young lovers, their families and the lingering marks on their personalities years later were based on real cases.
While it is not politically correct to harp on tribal differences these days, the fact is that we speak some twelve languages and the members of most of our tribes see themselves as something singular. For the writer whose book is going to cover a wide spectrum of his or her compatriots, getting a handle on these communities, their ways of speaking and their habits, is not an easy matter.
Nevertheless, there are not many countries that give you more to write about, happy and sad, interesting and exciting. South African writers have no grounds for complaint.