“Writers want to make patterns out of an inexplicable world,” is how debut crime novelist Michele Rowe describes what we do.
Michele and Christa Kuljian, both of whom have strong links with Allaboutwriting, were guests at our recent monthly workshop at Love Books and Michele’s comment struck a chord. That’s how I’ve always seen writing. Personally, I’ve never liked the idea of forcing ideas down people’s throats, preferring to see it as a descriptive rather than a prescriptive process.
In her new non-fiction book, Sanctuary, Christa sets out to make sense of, and document, a difficult and chaotic world, while Michele investigates Cape Town’s underbelly in her crime novel What Hidden Lies, the first few chapters of which won the 2011 Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award.
Michele and Christa were both talking about first books – but both have other lives and came to book-writing late. Michele is an award-winning script writer, who had just emerged from a long, exhausting project of “writing by committee” for a social issue campaign. She was longing to write something not aimed at “reforming the coun
try’s moral centre”. Christa had been working in development programmes and was tired of writing endless reports and memos. Before she embarked on the book, Christa was a participant in our Creative Writing Course .
For Michele, the real catalyst was a serious illness, which resulted in enforced bed rest – and enforced consideration of what was important in life. (I said I knew exactly what she meant. When I had a serious illness once, I left a husband.)
For both of them, strong characters are essential. Christa set out to tell the story of Johannesburg’s Central Methodist Church, which has for years been sanctuary to thousands of people with no home and no other choice. Of course, her “characters” are real. Nothing could be made up. But it is the people and their stories who provide the heart of her book. They lead you through a history of the church, as well as of Johannesburg.
Michele sees characters as the prism through which to view a world. It is through their eyes that you view the actions which move the story forward. Through them, she tells a story that resonates larger than their lives: “We live in a criminalised society. It permeates our lives. Crime novels are the new social novels. They set out to entertain, but at the same time examine social issues.”
Questions focused on the difference between script-writing and novels – which Michele was admirably placed to answer, as trainer for our scriptwriting course – and on publishing and self-publishing, a subject on every would-be writer’s mind.
It’s a difficult world at the moment, and everything is changing, as I’ve mentioned in recent blogs. But that’s no reason to despair. Most knowledgeable people I’ve spoken to believe that things will settle. There will always be writers and readers – whatever form they write or read in.
Our monthlies always demonstrate this. Anyone is welcome to attend, and we are always astonished at the number of people keen to explore their creativity. We have a lot of fun – soup and wine and a great deal of laughter. And the evening always kicks off with a small writing exercise, with feedback from our guests and us.