Q&A with Gail Gilbride Bohle author of Under the African Sun, part 2
Gail Gilbride Bohle, a past creative writing and mentoring participant launches Under the African Sun on 25 January. We asked her some questions about her writing and publishing process.
Click here to read part 1.
What surprised you about how it unfolded as you wrote it, both insofar as the story is concerned and as regards to the characters?
At first, I carefully avoided anything too “heavy.” I definitely didn’t want to write yet another account of apartheid South Africa. But as I wrote, the emotional trauma of the times crept in anyway. There was no getting away from the fact that we were all wounded in one way or another, by our history. My characters took on lives of their own. My intention was to explore their relationships with one another. I am interested in how people feel about things and so I tried to climb into their hearts.
Where do you start when you are developing a new character?
I have learnt to develop my characters long before I begin to write the story. I need to know what makes them tick. They come alive and I need to climb right under their skins, before I can do them justice. They need to ring emotionally true and not remain cardboard cut-outs. Oh and I make sure readers can visualise them. A fellow mentee once pointed out that she had no idea what Deborah looked like. I rectified that immediately.
What do you consider key steps to take when bringing a character to life?
Mull over the character. Draw or cut out a picture of what they look like. Draw from real life characters and eavesdrop unashamedly, in restaurants and public places. Once you have created your character, breathe life into them. Honour them and make them authentic. I find writing from the heart, especially when I free write, is very helpful here.
What is the one crucial consideration without which it’s impossible to create a believable character?
Truly believing in your character! If you do not believe he is real, then no one else will.
Creating believable dialogue is an essential skill in any writer’s toolkit. How did you achieve this?
Dialogue is my favourite tool. I allow my imagination to take over completely and I actually have the conversation!
Sometimes it feels so real, I believe it really happened. This got me into some trouble at school as I drifted into my imaginary world during Geography lessons. Fiction frees you up to create your own truth. As Jo-Anne says, if it’s emotionally true, it’s true.
What are your top tips for creating credible dialogue?
Imagine the conversation. Really have it. Read it out aloud, to see if it rings true.
Tell us about how you went about finding a publisher.
I googled publishers on the internet and went with my gut feeling. Cactus Rain’s logo and name resonated with me. I took a deep breath and pressed send (from the 2015 Venice retreat actually.)
At what stage of the writing process was this and were there many more rewrites once you had your publishers input?
I only sent my manuscript to publishers, once I had completed two full drafts – under Richard and Jo-Anne’s mentorship. Just when I thought I was home and away, the publisher requested fairly major changes and 10,000 more words! She was really encouraging at the same time and I was open to the suggestions.
Who are your writing heroes / heroines?
I was brought up on the classics, so of course Shakespeare, Hardy, the Bronte sisters, Austen…
Mary Wesley has inspired me hugely. So has J K Rowling. I think Ian Mc Ewan is a genius and Khaled Hosseni’s work makes me sob like a baby. I am a nerdy bookworm and there are so many favourites that I’d probably give you a different answer every time. Closer to home, Jo-Anne Richards’, The Innocence of Roast Chicken, made me sit up and take note, when it was published. I was certainly inspired by it too.
You are invited to the
launch of Under the African Sun
Wednesday 25 January 2017, 6 for 6.30
Exclusive Books, Cavendish Square
Gail is a English/Communications Skills lecturer and lives in Hout Bay, Cape Town. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Rhodes University and a Post-Grad teaching Diploma from UCT.
Under the African Sun is published by Cactus Rain Publishing
Here’s an excerpt from Under the African Sun
Instead of heading back home, Julia turned into Victoria Street and made her way to Valley Road.
“Where are we going?”
Deborah drummed the dashboard anxiously.
“So, do you want to just give up?”
Julia’s jaw was set determinedly.
“Of course not.”
Giving up had seemed like a viable option, if Deborah was being honest.
“Well then. Let’s go.”
Deborah lit two cigarettes and handed one to Julia.
“Love you Jules.”
Julia blew a smoke ring.
“Don’t get soppy on me now. Look for stables.”
Homesteads whizzed by and horses grazed on the long stretches of paddock all around them. This was horsey country, horses, chickens and fresh veg.
“Slow down a bit. There’s one coming up on the right.”
Julia screeched to a halt to allow a group of young riders to cross. They trotted in perfect alignment and turned down a narrow gravel path. Deborah squinted down the lane, as Julia edged the Mazda forward. Windy Stud swung on a rickety pole as the last rider closed the gate behind them. An old oak tree shaded the car and Deborah pushed the gate open. Horses drank from the trough against the fence. A piebald one nuzzled a chocolate brown stallion, which swished away the flies gathering behind them.
“There’s someone to ask.”
Deborah was about to step forward when the black stallion reared up. The groom struggled to grab his reins as he bolted in protest. Three times the stallion managed to evade his capturer, but the fourth time he was outwitted. The groom got a firm grip on then and then brought his crop down hard, on the stallion’s rump, before mounting him bareback and galloping around the paddock a few times. Then he jumped off and led his charge into a stable.
“What’re you waiting for now?”
Julia’s edginess prompted Deborah to squish her way across the muddy grass. The stallion was chomping hay, while the groom brushed him down vigorously.
Deborah dropped her head as she returned the greeting.
“I’m looking for a brown stallion. He’s probably new here. Hercules…”
The groom shook his head slowly, swept his brush across the stallion’s flank and then stood up from his stool.
“He has a white star on his forehead.”
He walked ahead and then turned when Deborah didn’t follow.
She faltered after him as he took her down the length of the stables. She read the names to herself as they went along. Peanut, Smokey, Heaven, The Raj, Prince of Tides, Rosie, Raka…the last stable had no name plaque. A chocolate brown tail swished gently. Hercules? He was the height. Muscles rippled under his chocolate brown coat. Her heart skipped a beat.
The groom opened the stable door and led him out. His head was still dipped and she waited for him to lift it. She willed him to have a white star on his forehead and held her breath as his gentle brown eyes met hers. It wasn’t there.