February has always been a dull month for me, a dreadful period where I’m tired and irritable. My sister says it’s my mind rebooting itself. I say I don’t know and I don’t care because, ironically, it is also the period where I’m most creative.
The darkest and most violent chapters of my books were written in February with an intoxicated mind and anxious soul.
I was in that state when I described a rape scene in Zandile the Resolute and when Shemar died in Zulu Wedding.
“What inspired you to write these books?” people ask. It’s always the first thing the audience wants to know at book festivals and book club sessions.
I never know how to answer this because, really, at no point in my life did I sit down in a garden and inhale fresh air, watch flowers blooming under the blue sky and become inspired to write about broken men and the women who try to fix them.
So I bite my nails and answer: “People, just people and their realities.”
It’s usually not enough. They want to know if my characters exist in real life and if there are any parts of me in the stories. Sometimes the moderator saves me by cracking a joke and moving on to the next question, or I bite my nails even harder and tell the audience that one day, in 2014, I opened my laptop, poured myself a glass of wine and started typing things about what was “wrong” and “right” about us.
See, in this time and age where the literature space has no choice but to accept the outbursts, anger and rawness that we spew in written words, we have no time to be talking about John and Stephanie and how they kiss at the end of the book.
Our Stephanies are not flower arrangers with perfect torsos and bouncing curls. They are fat Nokuthulas with low self-esteem and dark skin. They start off collecting social grants and end up in the corner office because we make them ambitious fighters.
Our Johns do not show up with muscles, on horseback, ready to whisk beautiful girls away into the sunset. They come with baggage; they are wounded and violent and I put them in books because maybe then they might recognise themselves and reflect.
I don’t have a sacred writing space, but I do write better after midnight, when I’m surrounded by creative energy. My first two books, for example, were written in a newsroom.
The stories I write come from being a black woman in South Africa, the friendships and relationships I have had, families and what we perceive as love.
I probably would never have written a series if my first book had not had such an effect on so many people — most of whom weren’t even in the habit of reading.
It is them — because they are still buying my books and hyping them even five years later — who motivate me to continue writing.
So many things have come out of my writing journey and the risk I took to publish myself. The best one is the growing fearlessness about telling our stories as they are and using familiar language to tell them.