Talking authors: Margie Orford

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

Describe yourself in a sentence.
I don’t believe in stopping working just because I’m tired: I stop when what I’m working on is as perfect as I can make it.

Describe your ideal reader.
One who buys their own copy of Daddy’s Girl, reads it and then goes out and buys my backlist.

What are you working on?
The Quarry, the fourth in my Clare Hart series. The subject matter is chilling—it’s a stalker book, but is taking me in a new direction. Away (perhaps) from drugs and gangs and politicians.

Tell us about your everyday writing routine.
I have way too many children so that means I have to be a dawn patroller. By eight I am at my desk. In my studio at the top of my garden. Then I work for seven or eight hours. Have a break. Read and think and plot in the evening. When I’m into the rhythm of of a book I work seven days a week. I stop for a couple of months when the book is out and done. And feel anxious until I start the new one.

Which book(s) are you reading now?
Children of Bondage by CH Shell—a social history of slavery at the Cape. Sue Williamson’s new book on South African art. Stieg Larsson’s series. Oh yes, and Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady.

Do you remember the first novel you read?
Lorna Doone, by Richard Blackmore, a romance set in 17th century Somerset and devon. And Bronte’s Wuthering Heights—both were tiny editions printed in the late 19th century on onion-skin-thin paper that I ferreted out in my grandparents farm house and read in swelteringly hot summer holidays lying by the pool in what was the Transvaal.

Which book, if any, changed your life?
Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. And Shirley Conran’s Superwoman. I decided that there were better things for a woman to do than make desserts that required 144 egg yolks (the former) and I agreed with Conran that life was too short to stuff a mushroom (the latter). But I had no desire to do housework at all (even quickly). Then I read Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and decided that it was fine to write and to be domestically idle. Like a man.

Do you write by hand, typewriter or computer?
First by hand—the whole book in mad black notebooks. Then I decipher my handwriting and do the rest on my Mac.

Why should people buy your book as a gift this holiday?
Daddy’s Girl is—according to reports I am getting—gripping. So in this mad season where we all are afflicted by too many relatives, you will give someone the gift of being able to vanish into another world. You might also want to consider giving it to the relative who speaks the most as it will keep them quiet for a couple of days.

Which book(s) are you buying as presents?
The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson—the story of the relationship between the first elephant brought to England in the 18th century and the man who devoted his life to caring for her. It is a rare gem.

Which CD are you listening to now?
Rokia Traoure from Mali. Such a voice. And Maria Callas. You can’t tire of her Carmen.

In a multi/polymedia world, why is book publishing still important?
The Mail & Guardian is running a series of interviews with South African authors. We posed difficult questions; we also asked some easy ones. Margie Orford obliges.

You ever tried falling asleep on a laptop? Or dropping your Sony ebook into the bath? Or lighting a fire with pages ripped out of the back of your Kindle?

What subject is now passe in current South Africa?
Memoirs about growing up innocent on farms in South Africa and then realising that everything was not right in paradise. I’ve had enough of those. And all these addiction memoirs. They’re a pretty close second.

Margie Orford is the author of Daddy’s Girl, the third in the Clare Hart series published by Jonathan Ball. Her work has been translated into nine languages and Blood Rose, her second book, is being made into a film. Visit her website

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