I am assuming it is true for all authors, but know that this is true for me: a lot of me has gone into every piece of writing I’ve done. I am not sure how it could be otherwise.
I tried once, as an exercise, to see if I could write something in a genre and style unlike my own – just to see if I could do it. I could, with difficulty, but the result was highly unsatisfactory and when the laptop courteously enquired as to whether I wanted to save it I said no.
Both The Butterfly Heart and The Sleeping Baobab Tree tread on ground familiar to me as a child growing up in Zambia. Writing them has freshened up warm and rich memories and brought them back into the forefront of my mind. I am grateful for that. The other pieces of writing I have been working on are a novella set on Death Row in South Africa prior to the abolition of the death penalty and a full length novel set in South Africa again in the late eighties. Both of these delve into more recent memories of mine and writing them enabled me address the memories and find a place for them.
With the as yet unpublished full length novel, called Turn Left at the Camel Thorn Tree, the story allowed me to look at the question of belonging (it’s alternate name being Who Here Belongs) and a sense of place. Having lived in many places and never truly been of those places, it is a question that intrigues me. And I use the word intrigue advisedly, as it does not distress me – just interests me. I feel privileged to have lived in all of the places, including here in Ireland.
With the novella, called No Shoelaces, the issue is simpler. The novella attempts to take readers into the belly of a place manned by people whose only function is to keep people alive until it is time to kill them. Scheduled date and time. Luckily the place in question now houses a Death Row museum in South Africa. But not so in many other parts of the world. America springs to mind. As does Pakistan which recently ended a five year moratorium and announced plans to execute the 400 prisoners who the government says are under sentence of death. Other groups put the number as high as 8,000. A popular move in Pakistan, something no doubt that Nawaz Sharif is well aware of, but in my view a huge step backwards for the country.
In talking about ‘writing yourself’ I am not for a moment talking autobiography – it is just that the adage ‘write what you know’ holds true for me. It is quite simply just easier. And more real. I for one am going to stick to it.