Saturday, 24 November 2012

Interview with Deon Meyer ... Deel Twee

...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 Greene.

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 yourself?

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 version.

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 world.
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 them.

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 in life?

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.


  1. Great interview. I've always been jealous of the movies and how they can show with a single image or expression what it took pages and pages to write, but you've enlightened me about a few things here. Yeah, it's easy to write about a battle with hundreds of people involved, but trying to coordinate that to shoot for a movie scene would be an insanely difficult undertaking.

    Interesting about the cultural differences affecting how a book sells in different places too.

    1. yeah, its great to get these insights from people who have been there - things that without direct experience that wouldn't occur to you.

  2. Traveling the world gives one a broad experience base, a definite plus in writing. And directing your own movie? I imagine that is quite an experience!

  3. thumbs up for the new movie company :) Do they need a lovely secretary (that would moi) or an art director (that would also be moi) :)

  4. I'm sure if you could get yourself down to South Africa they would consider you. Who wouldn't want the wonderful Dezzy?