The Sleeping Warrior can be loosely described as an urban fantasy, for
want of a better description. It’s a crime thriller with a subtle fantasy
element thrown in.
Mixing up the genres of contemporary fiction has been quite a challenge
and I hope that readers will approach it with their minds wide open and focus
on the story as a whole. The title is well represented in the book: as a famous
mountain vista from the Ayrshire coast; as the central heroic character of the
story; and as the inherent dormant warrior spirit within us all that awakes in
times of crises.
Describe your inspiration for the book?
I am a fantasy author and have been writing heroic fantasy for a few
years. For some reason, I decided to take a break from the epic and write a
contemporary novel as my debut.
Speculative and slipstream fiction is becoming more popular with readers
and much of it is being serialised on the TV and finding its way into movies.
Since I started writing the book over five years ago, it’s obviously not
my intention to jump on the bandwagon of consumer preference; I just liked the
notion of placing a fantasy character into the real world and seeing what he’d
do. That was the intention at the beginning and I loved the way he worked.
Talk to me about your main character/s.
The main protagonist is a self-centred, cynical young lawyer called
Libby Butler who finds her life turned upside down after meeting Gabriel, a
stranger in a south London police station’s custody suite. As she finds herself
in more and more dangerous situations, she comes to terms what is really
important in life and what is merely misguided aspiration.
I really admire honour as a human characteristic. Even though we know
little about Gabriel, you have to respect his strength and self-control. He is
a man who doesn’t abuse his powerful advantages over others and teaches solely
Did any themes come out of the writing that surprised you?
Identity as a theme underpins the story. It must have been a subconscious
thing because I never really thought of a main theme when writing the book. For
some reason, I wrote a scene where Gabriel happened to be reading Umberto Eco’s
Name of the Rose and everything suddenly came together as if it was always
meant to happen. It was completely accidental. I tried to think of intelligent
literature that he would be interested in and remembered that Eco said
something to the effect that a name can be so rich in meaning that it has no
meaning at all. I don’t want to give away any of the story, so will just say
that a name can empower or deprive.
I like to go to places where I can escape for a while and immerse myself
into completely different worlds. Fantasy has always been my preferred genre to
both read and, therefore, to write.
I suppose I have had a career in writing. I was an editor for a legal
publishing company and then a newspaper journalist, so the written word has
always been part of my day job. Some people paint to release creative imagination,
others play music. I write because that is the means by which I can best convey
Why go it alone?
There is still quite a lot of stigma attached to self-published authors,
despite the fact that even peasants can be king on Amazon. I even note that
quite a few amateur book reviewers will only accept traditionally published
authors, which suggests to me that even readers will turn their noses up to
authors who have decided to go it alone.
The fact is that publishers, who have controlled what people read for so
long, are fast losing business to the likes of Amazon and finding out that
readers are perfectly capable of choosing what they want to read for
themselves. You see time and time again, authors who could paper their walls with
rejection letters, become best-sellers overnight.
I’m quite conventional in a way and, until recently, have always aspired
to being a traditionally published author. I’ve thought long and hard about
this and, when The Sleeping Warrior attracted the interest of three publishers,
in a fit of defiance, I thought ‘why should I give it to them?’
I then decided to start up a publishing house which, although I am the
first author to be published by it, I certainly won’t be the only one. I really
don’t care if other writers or readers sniff at the fact I’m self-published.
There is so much effort expended in the process and so much I have learned that
I feel my achievement has been truly great. I am so proud to be able to hold a
real and tangible paperback copy of my first novel in my hands and say ‘I wrote
this and then I published this all by myself.’
You know how it is, no posts for months and now two in a matter of days. Do I spoil you people or wot?
Anywho, I've been busier than a one legged man in an arse kicking contest and I thought I'd share with you some of my goings ons (if that's not a real saying it should be) over the last wee while.
I had a blast at the Grantown crime festival with Caro Ramsay, Alex Gray, Lin Anderson, Malcolm Archibald, Marc Douglas Home - wonderfully organised by the might atom herself, the owner of one of the best wee bookshops in Scotland, The Bookmark - Marjorie Marshall.
On the Friday, Marjorie organised a Crime and Dine evening where we had two authors to a table and we moved to a different table for each course of the meal. It was an excellent evening. Good food and even better company. Here's a photo (lifted from Caro's website).
Another fun night was an "In Conversation ..." evening I had at the University of the West of Scotland, chaired by Dave Manderson with Douglas Skelton and myself talking about our books.
Before they let us loose on the audience, we were interviewed for the University's radio station. The interview is HERE
Go on. You know you want to.
I don't. But that's another story.
There is a short film - very short - of the event on Youtube somewhere. But I can't inflict that on you.
One of the most common questions I’m asked by newbie writers
is whether or not to use sexual swear words in their fiction.
I didn’t give this much thought pre-publication, but I have
since learned that lots of people do care about the use of this sort of
language. It seems a bizarre double standard that you can portray any number of
violent acts without comment, but have your character use the F word and you
will receive all kinds of opprobrium. (I have all these big words in my head.
Got to use them sometime.)
My first lesson on this was when I was doing an event with
Alex Gray and Craig Robertson last year in Dundee. A lady approached us at the
signing table after the event and said she only had enough money to buy one of
our books and to help her decide, she needed to know if we used swear words in
My thought was, that’s me screwed and I pointed to Alex.
A mate of mine, Tony Black had a review on Amazon where the
“reviewer” said that as a Christian she really objected to the foul language
used by the characters. Presumably, as a Christian she didn’t mind the violence
that befell the characters, because she didn’t mention any of that. Then she
went on to question whether our fine officers in blue would use such language.
Re-arrange this sentence, missus. Get to out you need more.
In any case who am I to say that you should get over it? I’m
not the arbiter of all that is fine and wholesome and acceptable. But neither
So, why does this language offend so much? It’s just words, innit? Why does that
syllable crash on to peoples’ ears with such impact? Words are a writer’s tool.
Every word we use while communicating is part of that tool-kit and has a place
in writing surely? It’s part of writer’s contract with the reader that you
display with honesty the interaction between humans. If a certain character would speak like that
in the real world then by fuck, he’s going to speak like that in my book.
I remember meeting my agent for the first time. She was
a small, polite lady of a certain age. A
gentlelady, if I can use the term. We were in a restaurant in an art gallery. We
had been talking for about ten minutes when she pointed to a part of the text
and said, “There’s too much fucking.”
I nearly spat out my mineral water.
She wasn’t referring to it as an action. (That would be a
totally different book.) She was talking about my characters’ use of the
word. So we decided that it was fine if
it was a verbal tic for McBain, but that the other characters should desist, in
the main, so that people didn’t think that it was all me. Thing is, I don’t
tend to swear much in everyday life, it’s just that when I started to write
Blood Tears the swearie words flowed. What’s that all about?
I reckon it was because I was going through a divorce at the
time. ‘Nuff said.
Anywho, the follow up is out now details HERE– and my
feeling – not that I’ve done a f-word count – is that there’s less of it this
time around. Maybe I’m a lot calmer now? The ex and I are good pals. AND in the book that comes out next spring only
contains one f-bomb.
So, aspiring writers? Your question to swear or not to swear?
Fucked if I know.
Everyone else is doing it, so I thought I would pitch in
with some of my favourite reads of 2012. (They needn’t necessarily have been
published last year, but they all came to my attention in the last 12 months.)
In no particular order ...
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was the last book I read in 2012,
but one that was on my radar for quite a few months - because so many people
were talking about it. And if you’re one of the few who hasn’t read it, grab a
copy, like, now. Thoroughly gripping. One of the strongest reactions I’ve had
to a character in a long while. And that’s good writing, people.
The Cold, Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty was the first book I
read in 2012 and it was a stormer. Set in Belfast in the 80’s it is a
fascinating read, beautifully written and with a real sense of danger.
Abide With Me by Ian Ayris
- one of my favourite debuts of the year. Warm, engaging and affecting,
with one of the most original voices I came across all year.
A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez. This is Stav’s first
venture into the police procedural and he’s taken to it like the proverbial
duck to the local pond, but with, I would suggest, a good deal more grace. It’s
classy, captivating and worth every penny I’m about to urge you to spend on
A Dark and Broken Heart by R J Ellory - This book
has quality written all over it – from the unforgettable characters, the see it
and taste it sense of place and the punch in the gut ending.
The Healing of Luther Grove by Barry Gornell - If Daniel
Woodrell had grown up in the West Highlands of Scotland rather than the Missouri
Ozarks in the US, he might have written this book. I simply can’t give this
debut novel any higher praise than that. Stunning.
... is to re-post the (scarily) true story of how I found myself with a giant fecking Xmas tree.
I put my Xmas tree up the other
night. Then I lay down for an hour to rest. Said tree is HUGE.I should have
phoned in some people to help me wrestle it from the loft. Took me three trips
up and down the stairs to get it through the doors and into the living room.
As I placed the tree in the
middle of the floor and cleared the eagle’s nest from its branches I remembered
the day it came into my possession. Just four short years ago...
......cue swirly music (violins
and shit like that)....
....the phone rang. It was my twin sister. The Queen of Chaos (QC). For any newbies reading this, she’s a lovely
lady. She’s four feet eleven inches, a size six, thinks tact is something you
stick your posters on the wall with and enjoys a lifelong blonde moment.
I had earlier been at the swimming
pool with my son where he invented a new sport, Dad Surfing. (In case you don’t
value your lungs and you’d like to try it, all you need is a swimming pool with
a current and a child who is happy to stand on your back while you – and this
is where it gets tricky - float) It was great fun ...and this explains my
uncharacteristic willingness to step in and help. I was in a good mood.
Long story even longer, QC had
been offered a free second-hand Xmas tree. It was seven feet tall, cost £190
new just 2 years ago and it was a cracker. Only thing is QC doesn’t have a car
and is a master of the passive aggressive. I don’t have car, she says - like I
don’t know this – and how am I going to get the tree home to my flat? In Troon?
Like I’ve also forgotten where she stays.
I load the car with self and son
and drive to meet her. She has a piece of paper in her hand with directions to
the home of the tree. The directions to the home of said tree were lousy. We
got lost in a housing estate with one road in and one road out. Several phone
calls later, with shouted instructions from my backseat sister, me snapping at
her and the wee fella giving me a row for being bossy with my twin, we made it.
A nice lady is standing by the
door of her flat on the third floor wearing a look of relief. The look of
someone who has just been told; yes it piles but yes, we can cure you. She
directed us to a cupboard in the communal hall. And opened a door. The only
thing I saw was a huge white box. You know those containers you see on the back
of ships? Roughly the size of one of those.
-that’s your tree, says nice lady
and runs back indoors before we can say anything else.
I couldn’t lift the box off the
ground, never mind lifting it out to the car, but with the wee fella pushing
and me dragging and QC carrying a free box of 20,000 lights the tree owner no
longer needed, we made it.
By which time my shirt was
sticking to my back, my jacket was torn in three places and I was wishing I
only had brothers.
I looked at the box. I looked at the
boot. Not going to happen. I open up the boot (or as the wee fella calls; the
trunk) in the vain hope that Doctor Who has been working nearby. Na. Not a
chance. The tree box would never fit in the boot. There was a large green skip by
the side of the road and it had some space. But the thought of dumping tree
lady’s gift was too much and we resolved to try harder.
While all the pushing was
going on QC was standing to the side wearing an expression of mild panic. It’s
too big, she says. I don’t have big enough corners in my house, she says. You
have it and I’ll take yours. It’ll be lovely for you and the wee man to have a
nice big tree, she says trying to sell me the idea.
- Can we get it in the feckin’
car first, says I.
- Dad! says the wee fella.
Eventually I worked out that if I
moved the front seats forward that there might be room in the back. With a lot
more sweat, more pushing and some muttered curses, we made it. And bonus, we
even managed to close the car doors.
Of course we now didn’t
have enough room for three people. So the wee fella (who’s nearly as tall as
his aunt) sits on QC’s lap and I drive to my house, which is nearer– but I have
to go the long way as the short way goes past the police station. We all hold
our breath and look straight ahead for the ten minutes it takes to get to my
house – because this is proven to make you invisible to the police. Fact.
We get home safely – no
blue flashing lights. I couldn’t possibly drive to QC’s like this. I can’t
leave the wee man at home on his own while I take the tree to hers. Besides, I
can’t face the thought of lifting this humongous box up the three flights of
stairs to QC’s flat. I face the realisation that I’m going to have to accept
this bloody tree.
The next trick is to get
the box out of my car. We all adopt the same activities as before – the wee
fella pushes, I pull and QC stands wearing an expression of alarm. Eventually –
presumably in the same time it takes a crane to lift a container from the ship
on to the wharf, something gives – the car door handle- and the box is out the
car and with more pushing, pulling and sweat, is in my front room.
While my son and I catch
our breath, QC tears the industrial tape from the box – you know the silver
duct tape kind that serial killers use in all the movies – just to see how big
this tree is.
Think Norway’s annual gift
to the British nation.
-it’ll be lovely with lights on it, says QC prompted by
the fact that the room is so dark because the tree is blocking out the light
from the window. The expression of alarm on her face has deepened. She is by now desperate for me to take it off her hands.
She paused, where are the lights? Did you leave the lights behind, she asks me?
kinda busy with a big feckin’ box, sis, says I.
says the wee man.
QC’s last memory of the lights
was while standing watching me wrestle the tree container into the car. She
must have put them down somewhere, she surmises. So we all jump back in the car
and go back to the tree lady’s building …and there in a dark corner of the car
park was our box of lights. Hurrah. Nobody had stolen them. No doubt any
prospective thief had been put off by the thought of the increase to their
electricity bill once they were switched on.
A wee guy was walking his wee
dog past the scene as we screeched to a halt. QC jumped out of the car before I
could pull on the handbrake.
my lights, she explained to the man as if it made perfect sense, while she
swooped for the box. I caught a glimpse of him over my shoulder as I circled
out of the car park – his chin was resting on the back of his dachshund.
By this time we had all worked up
an appetite so we decided to go to Pizza Hut. (Other restaurants focusing on saturated fat are available.) My stomach was saying, do not go
home, do not pass “Go”, go straight to food. The unhealthier the better. The
stomach was to be obeyed. QC generously offered to go halfers for any food.
Relieved the worst of it
was over, we had a wee laugh about our adventures on the way to the restaurant
– but it was to be an illusory moment of calm for when we parked and climbed
out of the car QC realised she didn’t have her handbag. I reasoned that it must
be in my house and besides I was not driving another inch without throwing
something down my throat. And it didn’t matter it if wasn’t a meal acceptable
to polite society.
By the time we got a seat in
Pizza Hut (see above) and ordered our food, QC had worked herself into a frenzy of worry. Her
house keys. Her mobile phone. Her purse.
Oh my fucking god, she screeched.
Maybe the handbag wasn’t in the house. It was on the backseat of the car while I
was pushing the tree-box in. Maybe it got pushed out the other end. Maybe she
left it in the same car park as the box of lights. Maybe it was in the tree
lady’s house. Maybe the tree lady had emptied her purse, had been shopping
on-line with her credit cards and was now happily phoning a porn phone line in
Chile using her mobile phone.
While QC borrowed my mobile
and phoned all of her friends to try and find out the tree lady’s number, the
wee fella gave me another row.
different with your sister, he said, much more bossy.
Nobody had tree lady’s
number. Cue more worry and more doomsday scenarios – her house keys were in her
handbag, I would have to kick in her front door. No, I couldn’t do that as she
has mental neighbours and while she was sleeping they would ransack her flat. She
thought about it some more. NO, she couldn’t do that ‘cos she’d have to stay
awake all night and she was a monster if she didn’t get her sleep. Could she even
get a locksmith on a Saturday night? Shame she fell out with another neighbour
– the witch- ‘cos she used to keep a
spare key for her.
The food arrived and was eaten in
Guinness Book of Records time. The wee man didn’t even have time to get that
tomato smear on his wee cheeks.
There was a collective
holding of breath all the way from Pizza Hut to my house. The wee fella worried
that QC was going to have a rubbish Xmas. I worried that I was going to have a
mad woman on my couch for the rest of the weekend and QC just worried.
We pulled up in front of my
house and all of us took a deep breath and paused in prayer before we get out
of the car.
I unlocked the front door to my
house and QC almost knocked me into next door’s garden in her rush to get past.
The wee man and I looked at each other and waited at the door, afraid to look.
We heard a squeal. She’d found
it. Care to guess where?
...according to Google translate, that is afrikaans for "part two".
MM – There will be, I imagine, a number of aspiring writers
reading this interview ... could you describe your writing process for them?
DM – I have a very fixed schedule. I think that the first
step in being a writer is writing often and writing regularly with discipline.
I am usually sitting down to write about 5 o’clock in the morning. It’s an old
habit, because when I started writing I had a proper day job, so the only time
I could write was between 4 and 7 in the morning. ..
MM – 4 and 7?
DM – Yes, I was a single parent at the time so had to get
the kids up and dressed and fed and take them off to school and then go to
work. And in the evening the kids needed care and attention. So I got into the
habit of getting up very early because that really was the only time I could
write. And it is a fantastic time of the day. So quiet. No distractions. That
became my habit and I now write between 5 and lunch.
MM – Who are your literary influences?
DM – I think I was probably influenced by Ed McBain and John
B McDonald. I was reading them as a teen and into my twenties. They made a huge
impression on me and I still admire their writing so much. One is influenced by
so much ... I’m a huge John le Carre fan. And many others ... like Graham
MM – What are you reading at the moment?
DM – I’m reading a book on movie directing (laughs). We
created a movie company. A friend and I. We made a movie a couple of years ago - I wrote the script and he directed - and it
was such a fun experience. And the movie did quite well in SA, so we thought,
let’s do this more often. And I’ve just finished an original movie script and I
really think I could direct it, but I have more to learn before I can get
there. It’s something different.
MM – And, I guess, it’s a different part of the creative
brain that you get to exercise ...
DM – Yeah, it’s still all about storytelling. This is a
wonderful book by two female movie directors from the US and it’s by far the
best guide I’ve come across on how to direct and what I find fascinating is
that it is all about storytelling. There are many similarities in the writing
process. When you write a book you consider: what is the best way to tell this
story? In a movie, you think about when
do you start a scene, when do you end a scene. That’s the same in a novel when
you think about your chapters. In essence it is all about telling a story.
MM – Yeah, you are just presenting your information in a
different way. What would you say was your biggest lesson from that book so far,
that it’s all about storytelling?
DM – No. My biggest lesson is that I still have a hell of a
lot to learn. There is much that a director has to do. You take the script. You
have the establishing shot. The medium shot. Where do you put the camera? How
do you do the lighting? And so much more. When you write a book you don’t think
about all that. The other interesting thing is that in a book you can write a
scene where 100,000 people fill a city square, but if you want to do that in a
movie it’s going to cost you millions of dollars to film that scene.
Filmmaking is a hugely collaborative process. You have an art director, a cinematographer
...even the actors bring their talent to bear. To me that’s the magic of making
movies. When you write a novel it’s just you and the story and it’s a world
no-one else can enter.
MM – From your books’ perspective, where is your biggest
market at the moment?
DM – France. My book sell well in France. But there’s also
Germany, US and the UK. I was recently on the top ten list in Holland as well.
MM – Do you find a different reaction in some of the
countries that you go to?
DM – Yeah, some countries just don’t get me. The Italians
are just not into me. In Spain, we’re getting there. Slowly. I’ve just realised
with this Dutch thing that it makes a difference if you get a good publisher
who sticks with you. My first book sold dismally in the UK, but Hodder decided
to stick with me and now we are making real progress. I am very fortunate to
have that and in other markets it doesn’t always work that way.
MM – You write in Afrikaans, don’t you? Do you translate it
DM – I have a translator who I work with closely. When she’s
finished I go through it closely, I spend maybe a month working through the
translated work to make sure it is as close as possible to the Afrikaans
MM – And are you published in both languages in SA?
DM - Yes, and my
English version comes out a year after the Afrikaans version and my English
readers are not so happy about this. But there’s nothing I can do about that. It
takes so long to do the translation.
MM - What would you say is the best thing and the worst
thing about being a writer?
DM – I would say that the best thing is this huge privilege
to be able to see the world. To meet book people. I’ve never met a book person
I didn’t like and that to me is just a huge privilege. I wouldn’t have that
honour if I didn’t write. Sometimes I have to pinch myself. You know, I come
from a small South African mining town. I never thought when I started to write
that I would get all these opportunities, that I would get to see so much of
The worst thing is that you can only blame yourself for
anything that goes wrong. You create the book. You write the book. There is
always something that scares you: if you get it wrong then it’s all just your
fault. I find the writing process a slow, tough one ...
MM – It’s not getting any easier then?
DM – No, if anything it’s getting more and more difficult. I
think you are obligated to keep on learning, to keep on improving. If you spend
so much time and effort building a loyal audience, reader by reader then you
owe it to them and to yourself not to do something stupid and spoil it all for
MM –Thinking back to the beginning, was there ever a
“moment” when you thought to yourself, “I am a writer”?
DM – I still don’t think I’m a writer. The term of author or
writer sounds so intelligent and arty and I think of myself more as a
storyteller. My job is storytelling.
MM – And did you come to all of this “storytelling” early on
DM – Yeah, I think I was nine or ten years old. Difficult to
explain ... we were three brothers. We all read voraciously. We went to the
library three times a week. But I was the only one who went from this to wanting
to tell stories that would please, entertain other people. Why me? Why not one
of the others? I
simply had this urge – I knew this was what I wanted to do.
MM – And we are so glad you carried on. Deon, it’s been an
absolute pleasure. Thank you.
During the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival in July this year, I had the good fortune to interview the charming and talented, Deon Meyer in advance of his September publication of "7 Days".
We met in the hotel lobby and on the way up to the media suite - we got stuck in the lift. Cue lots of gags. Thankfully, the lift had almost reached the right level. We managed to open the doors and step up and out onto the hotel landing. Mr Meyer demonstrated that he was a real gentleman by being the last person to exit the lift. I wasn't quite so courteous.
How did our conversation go? First, here's the blurb for 7 Days ...
“I'll shoot a policeman every day until you arrest the
murderer of Hanneke Sloet.”
Shortly after the South African Police Services receive this
threatening email, a policeman is shot by a sniper and recovering alcoholic
Benny Griessel is ordered to reopen the Sloet case.
Hanneke Sloet was a sensual and ambitious lawyer. At the
time of her murder she was working on one of the biggest Black Empowerment
deals in South African history. She was found dead in her luxury Cape Town
apartment, a single stab wound to her chest.
After forty days, the trail has gone cold. The first
investigation could find no motive and no leads, only a set of nude
photographs, an ex-boyfriend with a rock-solid alibi, conniving attorneys and
Benny has to deal with immense pressure from his superiors,
the media and the unfathomable sniper, whose emails keep coming and who won't
stop shooting. And then there's Benny's love interest, former pop sensation
Alexa Barnard, who is also trying to rebuild her life after the ravages of
alcohol, and Benny has to make sure she stays sober for her comeback.
At the same time, Benny's feisty colleague, Captain Mbali
Kaleni, is hunting the shooter, trying desperately to find what connects him to
Both Benny and Mbali are about to endure seven days of hell.
And here's the first part of our interview ...
MM - How much of you is in Bennie Griessel?
DM – (laughs)Bennie was a side character in my first novel –
and the main character in that book was
more like me. Bennie was supposed to be the comic relief in that book, but he
was just such a fantastic character – he was a bit of a cliché – you know, the
alcoholic cop – but I enjoyed writing
him and he found his way to being the main character. And there is only a little of me in Benny.
MM - He is a finely nuanced character. How careful are you
in depicting him, or do you run on instinct?
DM – I do a lot of thinking about my characters ...what are
the emotional moments in their life – what possible genetic markers do they
have. If you don’t know your character when you are writing them, you are going
to make a lot of mistakes. I did spend a lot of time thinking about Benny and I
tried to be very careful to get him right. It’s not difficult – once you know
your character, once you know the pressure points that are going to drive him
or her then it becomes and easier process. “7 Days” is my third Benny Griessel novel and I’m
getting to know him better and better
MM – I thought the counterpoint provided by his relationship
with Alexa was interesting. He is off the demon drink and she’s going through that particular battle. AND it provides a nice piece of mental torture for Benny. He’s in love
with this woman. He knows how she is suffering, but booze is always near...
DM – We have an expression in Afrikaans, to make the wolf the
sheepherder. Benny is of course an alcoholic. His wife used to fight to keep
him off the drink and now he’s got to do that. He has the other end of the
stick. And that for me was an interesting tension to the story – how will Benny
I think the whole idea of the genre is to create conflict.
Conflict is the mother of suspense and to give Benny these challenges creates
MM – What do you think makes Benny such an endearing
DM – I dunno. You’re asking the right guy. I like him and I
just hope the reader will like him. My approach is to make all my characters as
human as possible and I think readers respond to humanity in characters; to
frailty. Life is difficult for all of us and if you have a character who is
finding it difficult to cope ... and as I said, readers respond. And Benny he
does stupid things, but at heart he is a good man. He tries so hard, but he has
so many failings.
MM – Roger Smith is another very fine writer to come out of
South Africa, but if his books were the only reference to the modern state that
is South Africa, you would never set foot in the place. Your books are much
more balanced in that respect. Do you feel a responsibility to do so?
DM – No I don’t. When I do interviews and people ask about
South Africa, then I feel I have a responsibility to try and convince people
that South Africa is a fantastic and safe country. An interesting fact is that
the UK crime rate and the South African crime rate is not all that different.
The thing to bear in mind about crime fiction is that it’s a
small window into a very big world. And it’s usually a small window onto the
dark underbelly of society. When I read a book set in Scandinavia or London, I
don’t immediately think this is a very dangerous place. And I don’t think readers
do either. So that’s why I don’t feel any responsibility. I do try to be honest
and depict SA as it is but you can’t reflect reality. Crime fiction isn’t a
mirror on society. It’s a prism. You set the light to suit the story.
I think if you try to portray SA as it really is, which is a
fantastic, beautiful and safe country, then you affect the story. Just trying
to get the story right is difficult enough, I don’t any other pressures.
MM – Your responsibility is to the story?
DM – Yeah. When I do interviews; when I visit other
countries, I do feel I should talk about the wonders of my country.
Unfortunately, through the media, SA does have a reputation of being a violent
society but I didn’t create that perception and it’s not up to me to alter it.
MM – Another element I found interesting in the story was a
moment when Benny considered the new SA and how Afrikaaners have had to adapt
to big changes ...
DM – Yeah, one of the great things about writing is that you
get to see your country through the eyes of different characters. One of my
characters is a Zulu cop. She looks at SA through Zulu eyes and that enriches
me as an author and it enriches the reader because they get different points of
view. There’s a scene when Benny thinks how unfair the media is when talking
about cops. The police get too much attention from the media and politicians
and the police authorities continually get hit with the political stick. They
get an unfair deal and I wanted to portray that.
MM – What about the soccer World Cup, was that of benefit to
DM – Absolutely. We are still reaping the benefit of the
World Cup. Tourism stats went up during the tournament and they have continued
to rise. Every day, when I go into Cape Town I get to drive on the new highways
that were built for the World Cup. The stadiums are being used for other sports
events and for disadvantaged communities. And also on a psychological level it really
brought the people together. The pride we took, that we showed the world we can
host a very successful world event. I must tell you that I found it very
charming when I was in the UK before the World Cup a lot of journalists were
saying how can you host a World Cup, it’s going to be a fiasco, there’s so much
crime. And in the run up to the Olympics the UK had a problem with GS4. We
never had such a mess.
MM – Back to the books. You are amassing an impressive
backlist. Do you have a favourite?
DM – I don’t really, but there is always the last one.
Because you have lived with it so long and you feel the relief. Devil’s Peak
and Trackers are probably the ones that I’m proudest of. But there are other
books and other characters that I am also proud of. It’s like asking which of
my children I love the most. It’s a very difficult thing to answer.
Keep your eyes peeled for the rest of the interview ...