When I read Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes, I was blown away, so needless to say when she agreed to answer a few of my questions, I might have squeeed a little (yeah, I think I did.) Lauren is the author of Zoo City and Moxyland, is brilliant, an Arthur C. Clarke Award winner, and is all kinds of awesome (in case you hadn’t noticed.) Now that I’ve probably thoroughly embarrassed her, please welcome Lauren to the blog, and if you haven’t already, go forth and read her books!
Lauren, you’re an extremely accomplished journalist and writer, and in addition to receiving your MA in Creative Writing, you were a freelance journalist for 12 years. Did you have the writing bug from a young age, or did it come a little later?
I wanted to be a writer since I was five years old. I wrote my first novel at 17 (and it’s staying in a drawer where it belongs) and got my first paid writing gig, doing kids game reviews when I was 20 and then became a freelance journalist, which gave me the best writing education I could have asked for, a backstage pass to all the interesting places in South Africa, an appreciation for deadlines, an understanding of dialogue (transcribing hours and hours of interviews will do that) and writing every day, in different styles to suit the client.
Your novel, Zoo City, in addition to being one of the best urban fantasies I’ve ever read, is so much more, and is also a bit of a journey to the underbelly of a future South Africa. How much of the setting is more truth than fiction?
It’s 95% real Joburg. Even some of the magic.
What are some of your biggest literary influences?
David Mitchell, Alan Moore, William Gibson, Margaret Atwood, TC Boyle, William Boyd, and whatever great books I’m reading at the moment, which range from The Ward by SL Grey to Diane Awerbuck’s book of short stories, Cabin Fever, Kim Newman’s historical vampire romp Anno Dracula and Patrick Wells’ just devastatingly brilliant (emphasis on devastating) A Monster Calls.
What would you say are 5 of your favorite novels?
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Watchmen by Alan Moore
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis
What’s on your nightstand right now?
I’m one of the judges for The Kitschies, a lit prize celebrating the best novel that “elevates the tone of geek culture”, so I have a ton of nominees arriving practically daily, from publishers ranging from Solaris to Canongate. I’m drowning in amazing books.
When you’re not busy at work on your next novel, and have some downtime, how do you like to spend it?
Hanging out with my husband and my three year old daughter, having friends round for dinner and a movie, going for picnics and hunting arms dealers with my pack of zombie attack dogs. (One of these is made up).
If you could pack your bags and travel anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go, and why?
Please don’t make me get in another plane right now. (I’ve just got back from a mini book tour across five timezones, four cities, three continents, two hemispheres) Can I go off-world? Sign me up for one of those space tours.
It says on your website that you live in Cape Town, South Africa. What do you love the most about living there, and where would you take a first time visitor?
The city attracts interesting, creative people, probably because it’s gobsmackingly beautiful and pretty chilled out. I’d take a visitor on one of the Coffeebeans Routes cultural tours that take in local music and food and art and give you a chance to meet real people in their homes in a meaningful way.
In your twelve years as a journalist, I imagine you met and saw many interesting people and things, but you happen to mention pole dancing on your website, so of course we want to know more about that…
Ha! It was a story for Cosmopolitan magazine and it was really fun, although I only really mastered the swing, none of the fancy upside down stuff. Which is fortunate, because I undoubtedly would have fallen off the table and onto my head.
What’s one of the most daring things you’ve ever done (that you’re willing to admit to?)
Swimming in shark alley – the gap between Dyer Island and Seal Island in Gansbaai which serves as a buffet snack bar for Great Whites. I was out with my then boyfriend who was doing his PhD on them.
It was a really hot day, we hadn’t seen any in the water that day, and the boat was right by the island. I jumped in and leapt straight out again, boat-to-water-to-boat in 0.8 seconds.
If I had been bitten, it would have been entirely my fault, messing around in their territory – Great Whites are intensely curious and they figure out what things are by sinking their teeth into them. “Huh, that’s not a seal, I wonder what it is?” Crunch. Aaieeeee.
Is there any news of upcoming projects or events that you’d like to share with us?
I’m working on a new novel called The Shining Girls about a time-travelling serial killer that will be out in 2013 from Mulholland in the US, HarperCollins in the UK and Random House in South Africa, and a dark take on Rapunzel for Fairest, a comic mini-series for Vertigo, set in Bill Willingham’s Fables universe that will be out next year.