The M&G talks to author Elana Bregin.
Describe yourself in a sentence.
Dutiful, creative, earth- and animal-friendly, worried, unruly, with (fortunately) a good sense of humour.
Describe your ideal reader.
Someone who bunks work to finish the book — as Rosamund Kendal put it on the jacket front of Survival Training for Lonely Hearts.
What was the originating idea for the book?
It started life as The Company of Dogs, with the idea of dogs as a rehumanising force in lonely lives; how they help to break down the walls around the heart and pave the way back to loving, trusting, connecting — all those vital things that get lost or blocked in a society as traumatised, divided and constantly shell-shocked as ours.
Describe the process of writing the work. How long did it take?
L-o-o-n-g. We were in gestation for about 72 months, the book and I. As a full-time working girl, I kept running out of holiday break just when the flow was going. At one point I gave up and wrote Shiva’s Dance in between. By the time I came back to this book the world had changed and so had I — a good thing. It definitely benefited from the fresh perspective and new energy.
Name some of the writers who have inspired you and tell us briefly why or how.
For me, it’s writers who know how to weave a compelling tale with characters that completely draw you in. Past influences: the sci-fi masters — Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness and Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune. For the intelligent romance aspect, some of Barbara Trapido (you can tell my age!) Local writers: Marguerite Poland at her tale-weaving best, Can Temba and the irrepressible Drum voices. Books I wish I’d written: JM Coetzee’s Foe and Ivan Vladislavic’s Missing Persons, for their ability to catapult you both so deep into, and so far away from, the world you know. I could go on.
Do you write by hand, or use a typewriter or computer?
I brainstorm on multiple scrappy scraps of paper and put it all together by automatic pilot on a PC.
What is the purpose of fiction?
To entertain while it illuminates — two equally indispensable qualities. If it lacks the first, it’s a big switch-off. If it lacks the second, it’s like the froth without the cappuccino.
Survival Training for Lonely Hearts is published by Pan Macmillan