/ 7 November 2008

A glimpse past the pen

Edyth Bulbring’s novel The Club (Jonathan Ball) examines the nefarious activities of a privileged section of South African society, seemingly protected by old school ties and secret societies

Describe yourself in a sentence.

Describe your ideal reader.
My ideal reader is about 65 years old, male and healthy. He is more than 1,52m tall, good enough looking with most of his teeth. He enjoys more red wine than he should and is not too fussy about terrible cooking. He is a Christian and likes small dogs that sleep on his bed. He adores patchwork quilts and watching Egoli. He is a widower/bachelor and wants to meet my other ideal reader, who is called Margie. She’s my mother and she’s waiting for him.

What was the originating idea for The Club?
I heard a story several years ago about a very posh girls’ school in Johannesburg. The story went that a bunch of girls had been expelled from their school after they were caught pawning cellphones they had stolen from fellow students. These girls were trying to accumulate cash to buy booze and drugs for a party that they were going to have at one of the learner’s houses while the parents were away. The scheme was discovered when a parent found the party marketing pamphlets that one of the gang was distributing at inter-schools sports events. I am not sure how much of this story is urban legend, but it fascinated me. One part of me marvelled at the initiative of the girls — I mean, what enterprise! But more importantly, I also wondered about the greed of these students who were so spoilt and came from such privileged backgrounds. Where did it all come from? What did these kids see in their society’s elite that made them think and behave like this?

Describe the process of writing and publishing the book. How long did it take?
I sat down to write the The Club on September 3 2006. I had decided to give up smoking in November and so gave myself two months to write it as I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to write another book without cigarettes. I would write a few words and then smoke and lie on the grass and cry and smoke and feel sick and write a few more words and then smoke some more. I finished 45 000 words and quit. Nine months later I pulled the manuscript out again as I wanted to submit it to a competition aimed at the teen market. I realised I was going to miss the submissions deadline and that I was going to have to go through the whole process of submitting cold to publishers and suffering the inevitable rejection letters. I was moaning to my friend at Jonathan Ball Publishers about all of this and he asked to see the manuscript. He called me a week later and offered to publish, but said I would need to develop the manuscript for an adult market. So I spent a few more months on it.

Name some writers who have inspired you and tell us briefly why or how.
“Inspire” is a strong word. I think Caravaggio was inspired. Madonna is inspired. I am motivated to write only because I don’t have a job, hate shopping and I don’t know how to do anything else. But two writers I keep on going back to and reading over and over again are Jane Austen and Roald Dahl. I like Austen for her irony and empathy for her characters. And her long sentences. I wish I could write long, complicated, grammatically perfect sentences. I love Dahl because he tells such good stories about ghastly people and terrible circumstances. And he makes me laugh despite the darkness and despite it all.

What are you reading at the moment?
I am reading only newspapers because I am writing a new book and I don’t like being distracted. The last book I finished was Mike Nicol’s Payback, which I thought was fierce and fantastic. I started reading Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier but have read only two chapters. I am dying to get into it when I am done writing next month.

Do you write by hand or use a typewriter or computer?

What is the purpose of fiction?
Fiction shouldn’t have any purpose other than to allow people to escape their lives for a few hours and be entertained and intrigued. Fiction with a higher purpose tends to be preachy and boring. The best that fiction can do is enrich the lives of a few individuals for a short time. And that’s good enough for me.

How do you see the future of South African literature?
I think there are brilliant South African writers out there. I read a lot of newspaper columnists and I look forward to some new books being written by people such as Kuli Roberts — she’s so wicked; Jacob Dlamini — so clever and wise; Katy Chance — hysterical. There are dozens of fantastic columnists out there with a great eye who have books in them. But South Africans are already writing good books and most of the bookstores just don’t promote them, which is a terrible shame. I think bookstores are going to close down as more people go online to buy books because the prices are lower and the service generally better.

Is there anything you wish to add?