I’m beginning to believe that I have stalker tendencies. A glimmer of it is emerging in my growing relationship with Barack Obama- I will watch Barack Obama news in languages that I do not understand- and now I’m transferring a bit of my obsession to Henrietta Rose Innes (HRI). It’s odd to find such a predilection so late in life but then too, there is a bit of hope in it. I now have my future psychological afflictions to look forward to through my 50’s, 60’s and hopefully well into my 80’s. What fun!
Back on topic, I just read the Mail and Guardian’s interview with HRI. I’ve been searching the length and breadth of this dear country of mine in search of a copy of last week’s M & G but to no avail- not in Gaborone, Mahalapye or Palapye could I find a copy. So I’ve had to go on line. I loath to do that. The whole idea of reading newspapers on line just seems wrong. You need to get dirty reading a newspaper, and it must dirty itself in polite return; with spilled tea and toast crumbs in my case. You can’t do that on the computer screen, and besides the toast crumbs don’t stick.
ANYWAY- I think HRI is great. I mean look at this- her answer to what is the purpose of fiction (a question M & G always ask the writers of fiction and one I couldn’t answer for the life of me) - “I hesitate to try to answer that one in any way except the personal. For myself, I read fiction to transform my perception and I write to make sense of my experience. I'm really not sure if there is any broader social purpose for most fiction, except perhaps to create an imaginative conversation that involves many minds in a way that isn't possible otherwise”. That’s great, hey? I am definitely plagiarising that answer if ever the M & G ask it of me.
‘Poison’ is the name of her story that won both the Caine and SA/Pen. When asked how she came to write it she says, “I think I always begin with visual images that feel somehow linked. The process of writing the story is really working out what those connections are and why they are meaningful. I think the impetus for this story came from the black clouds of smoke that hung over the mountain during particularly bad mountain fires one year, a cool old Toyota I once briefly owned before it was stolen and the landscape of highway and veld during various road trips (and various breakdowns).” I particularly loved the bit in the story where she is walking along the empty highway and realising its width and the details of the roadside. Very nice.
In the interview she touches on an aspect of South African writing that was of interest recently to a group of writers I’m working with in another project- their isolation. South African writers are not aware of the wonderful writing that is happening in Africa. They know all about America and Europe, but they take a literary leap over the continent which is producing such exciting fiction. Of this she says, “The prize and the activities around it have introduced me to a network of writers from all over Africa, which I've never encountered in South Africa. I hope that the publicity will encourage other South African writers to enter the award and also that it introduces South African readers to some of the writing that's happening in the rest of the continent.”
In the interview HRI comes off as humble and appreciative and a bit disorganised (she nearly missed the deadline for the SA/PEN which set the whole ‘Poison’ ball rolling (she shouldn’t even take a peek at the alternative reality that would have stemmed from THAT deadline missed)). I’m a bit anal about deadlines so that made me nervous, but I loved everything else about her.
The other question I find frightening that the M & G always asks writers is “Describe yourself in a sentence”.
What was HRI’s answer to that?
You gotta love her for that answer alone.