Talking authors: Thando Mgqolozana

Talking authors: Thando Mgqolozana

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

Describe yourself in one sentence
Foolish, most of the time.
I imagine all writers are, or else I’m in the wrong territory.

Describe your ideal reader
Anyone who enjoys intense emotional participation when they read a book.

What are you working on?
This interview, first and foremost. And then there’s all the gibberish taking up most of my computer space back home. I hope it will amount to something one day.

Tell us about your everyday writing routine
Three things: it has to be done in solitude or not done at all. Second, I don’t need an idea before I seat myself in front of a computer—though having one helps. Notions just reveal themselves as I write, plus I already have life to turn to. And third, for me filling up the page with words the first time is typing, the writing follows in the process of reading the first draft.

Which book(s) are you reading now?
Just completed Zakes Mda’s Black Diamond, and now starting with Margie Offord’s Daddy’s Girl. I like to keep it local for the most part, but Doctorow’s Ragtime is waiting on the side. Sorry to disappoint you but I’m not about to read Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. When I go international it has to be for a good reason; indeed, a different one from those of our booksellers.

Do you remember the first novel you read?
I think it was Troubled Waters by Joseph Diescho. I was already in secondary school. Before that nobody told me there was so much pleasure in reading. In fact, it was generally known that books cold drive you out of sync. They were right, more or less. The pleasure derived from reading is so intense I imagine madness is something like it. Too, adults said they couldn’t identify with the stories of the time, they were not about them. Its evident they hadn’t encountered Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah or Laureta Ngcobo’s And They Didn’t Die or Unity Dow’s Juggling Truths. The argument no longer holds, and today’s kids have no excuse, what with Kopano Matlwa’s Coconut and the likes.

What book, if any, changed your life?
Books change my life every day and every time I read them. Well, some books that is, and it’s not always for the better. Like Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day (Pan 1989). Makes me content with who I am, that is poor, unattractive and hopelessly imprudent. But a book that had the most influence on me has to be that first novel, Troubled Waters: it opened my eyes to the political and literary. I imagined that I could easily have been one of Diescho’s characters a decade or so earlier. It’s an essential read for South African youth.

Do you write by hand, typewriter or computer?
Computer. And I must admit here, why shouldn’t I, the fact that I have troubles writing free hand. It wobbles so as to not make any sense when read. I wouldn’t have made it in the Shakespearean era; those guys did the whole thing with a feather. These days you can afford to be a writer who, as a matter of fact, cannot write.

Why should people buy your book as a gift this holiday?
Because it will help them make sense of the boys’ massacre owing to botched circumcisions. All South Africans know this happens; we expect it to be that way in this coming month too. But what exactly is going on? I believe the book provides some clues. But the book can be bought for all year round purposes too, because it reflects that just as well.

Which book(s) are you buying as presents?
I don’t think there’ll be a point when I stop buying Niq Mhlongo’s Dog Eat Dog and Zukiswa Wanner’s The Madams. They’re everything your spouse, child and friend are not expecting but will never forget once they get them. Forget the ignorant lists of booksellers. As a matter of fact, these big booksellers aren’t by any means engaged in a process of selling good books, they are concerned with making money.

Which CD are you listening to now?
Good question. I say this because I want to confess the following: Siphiwo Mahala, author of that uproarious book When A Man Cries, is indoctrinating me with Lira. Nowadays even when I’m alone I find myself humming I’m a Believer. I’d sing it for you but I can’t, not after—what’s his name—Ras Dumisani’s rendition of our national anthem.

In a multi/polymedia world, why is book publishing still important?
If for nothing else then just to maintain the full meaning of “page-turner”.

What subject is now passé in current South Africa?
Jim comes to Jozi. Today the contrary is equally correct; people are disillusioned and are going back to their “homes”, the former homelands. Sometimes they do so as a matter of necessity—to die there. I’d like to read more of these homecoming stories. I wrote something like this too.

Thando Mgqolozana was born in Cape Town on August 27 1983 and raised in Engodini, a village in the Eastern Cape where he completed his matric in 2001. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in nursing and is currently pursuing a Masters degree in the same discipline. His debut novel, A Man Who Is Not A Man, about a botched circumcision, came out to critical success in June this year.

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