Talking authors: Megan Voysey-Braig

The Mail & Guardian is running a series of interviews with South African authors. We posed difficult questions; we also asked some easy ones. Megan Voysey-Braig obliges.

Describe yourself in one sentence
Permanently at odds with the internal imagining of life and the crude jolt of reality.

Describe your ideal reader
A lone wanderer in a tatty coat and nicotine-stained fingers who thinks the odd beautiful thought.

What are you working on?
A number of bare short stories. Thinking about children’s stories, involving my cat, Moby. I dreamt that she was a bus driver—it must mean something.

Tell us about your everyday writing routine
Everyday? I wish I could be that disciplined! It involves a lot of pacing, swigging back the tea and coffee and rolling cigarettes, feeling haunted and staring at the screen. For me it has a lot to do with listening—I have a few hundred people in me at a time (so it feels!) vying for their stories to be told, which can make it very exhausting. It is more of a process of sorting out the stories, one by one, what are they saying, what do they want to say, etc. While I am listening nothing much in the way of actual writing happens. I need to find the quiet “OK, now it can be told” space and I don’t stop till it is done.

What book(s) are you reading now?
A Book of Memories by Péter Nádas and To My Children’s Children by Sindiwe Magona

Do you remember the first novel you read?
Fairytales were huge (they still are), Roald Dahl and Joan Aiken (Arabel and Mortimer). I am now determined to remember what the first novel was when I “graduated” to the adult section of the library! I remember the novella, The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico; I think it was terribly sad.

What book (if any) changed your life?
There are so many! Some even saved it. At 22 Sartre’s The Age of Reason, at 25 Balzac’s The Wild Ass’s Skin and Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, at 28 JM Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello. Recently, Chuck Palahnuik’s Diary. I became obsessed with the idea of taping my eyes shut while I wrote.

The last piece of writing that made me cry unabashedly was poet Liesl Jobson’s flash fiction piece, A Hundred Times A Day, from 100 Papers.

Do you write by hand, typewriter or computer?
I used to write by hand, filling up numerous 100-page Pick n Pay exam pads in my teens and twenties. Now I can’t seem to think without the sleek lines of a laptop keyboard.

I usually scribble down ideas for stories, sentences, images etc. Sometimes I will return to writing by hand, the odd poem or flash fiction. It is often a far more tangible and emotional experience and always illegible to the reader.

Why should people buy your book as a gift this holiday?
To spread some holiday cheer! Seriously? To warm the cold numb cockles of someone’s heart.

Which book(s) are you buying as presents?
Writers have money to buy presents? Instead of the homemade calendar I had in mind, I would love to fill the stocking with Jacob Dlamini’s Native Nostalgia, Kevin Bloom’s Ways of Staying, Zukiswa Wanner’s The Madams and Behind Every Successful Man, and Erica Emdon’s Jelly Dog Days.

What CD are you listening to now?
I am waiting for Midwinter Graces by Tori Amos to be delivered. Songs right now: Kings of Leon—“Notion”; Bell X1—“The Great Defector”; Girls—“Lust for life” and Tori Amos—“Curtain Call”.

In a multi/polymedia world why is book publishing still important?
I have nightmares about this! The publishing industry should fight with all that it has to ensure that books remain the sacrosanct things that they are, as they are one of the few things left that keep us feeling and questioning, laughing and entertained.

If book shops vanished, if books themselves vanished and were only available in digital format that you can download on your beach holiday, I would not see the point in writing any more. The incredibly special experience of holding your book in your hands, to hold the book of another writer, is not to be trifled with, and I think the lengths that the digital age would go to to diminish the writer/reader relationship is disturbing and lamentable. Curling up with my Kindle just doesn’t sound the same.

What subject is currently passé in South Africa?
Maybe the term “grassroots level”. Passé for one is the burning issue for another. Passé can always be reinvented, told from another perspective so that it looks and feels new and vibrant. I think this is how humanity has managed, all this time, to not collectively expire out of stultifying boredom.

Megan Voysey-Braig is the author of Till We Can Keep An Animal. She is the winner of the European Union Literary Award 2007/08, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best first book 2009, and longlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize 2009. She lives in Berlin, Germany.

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