Author's notes: MD Villiers

MD VIlliers: ‘Place and voice’ are the two vital elements for the author.

MD VIlliers: ‘Place and voice’ are the two vital elements for the author.

Describe yourself in a sentence.
I’m a South African writer living in London, but still in love with Africa.

Describe your ideal reader.
Someone inquisitive, someone who loves a good story, but also looks for more than just a good story.

What was the originating idea for City of Blood?
I read an article in a South African newspaper about a vigilante attack on the Cape Flats. Two young men, accused of stealing maize and cooking oil, were beaten, tortured and tied to a railway track. One of them died saving the other man’s life.
I made the decision to write a book about it that same day (March 13 2003), but I didn’t know where to start. It is, in some way, a story about the everyday heroes in South Africa, and the everyday victims — those who don’t necessarily make the front page. I dedicated the book to the memory of Sabelo Ntose, the young man who died so bravely.

Describe the process of writing the novel. How long did it take?
Years. I wrote the first scene in November 2007, managed about 2 000 words and then put it aside for almost a year. The last paragraph was added in December 2012. Overall, I’d say I spent a little over three years actually writing the novel.

To me the process of writing starts with two elements, place and voice. I need to have a strong sense of place before I can start a novel, and I need to “hear” the character’s voice. With this novel, voice was especially important since I wrote Siphiwe’s story in the first person, and had several other characters to contend with.

When I write, I tend to start at the beginning, but I need to know the ending in order to make any progress. I don’t work in chronological order. I pretty much add scenes, bits of dialogue and ideas and then have to sift through them and put the novel together like a puzzle. With City of Blood, I also added two viewpoints later on, and that changed the structure of the novel completely.

Name some writers who have inspired you and tell us briefly why or how.
I’m a great admirer of American crime writers Walter Mosley (Devil in a Blue Dress) and Elmore Leonard, whose 10 rules of writing I try to follow, but often don’t. Leonard’s Rum Punch is one of my favourite crime novels. I also like Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy and No Country for Old Men — I love the way nature becomes a character in his books.

Do you write by hand or use a computer?
I write on my laptop, but I always have a notebook with me, and I can write anywhere — coffee shops, airports — as long as I have a comfy place to sit.

What is the purpose of fiction?
Tough question, and a good time to quote Tolstoy: “The aim of an artist is not to solve a problem irrefutably, but to make people love life in all its countless, inexhaustible manifestations.” To me, that is why I write fiction, to make someone smile, laugh, cry, feel, think.

Is there anything you wish to add?
When I left South Africa, I wanted to see the world and write stories set in historic European cities, but I wasn’t in London for long before I started writing about South Africa. It seems to become easier for me with distance, to look in from the outside, so to speak.

City of Blood is published by Random House Struik

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