BOOKS: Q&A with Nechama Brodie
The Financial Mail grabbed five minutes with Brodie to talk inspiration, writing and reading in Afrikaans
The book has it all — the SA police and security guards, the Joburg Zoo, Maboneng, sangomas and witches, a crime ring, sexual tension, animal-part trafficking and a whole lot of lightning.
We’re talking about NR Brodie’s Knucklebone, that is.
This is one of those books you read over a weekend, not wanting to stop or talk to those in your family who would begrudge your absorption in the fast-paced, beguiling pages.
You’re probably thinking the author’s name sounds familiar. You’d be correct. It’s the pen name of local journalist Nechama Brodie. She’s known for her fact-checking tweets, prolific feature writing and the much-loved history essential, The Joburg Book. This is her first go at fiction and, of course, it’s set in her beloved City of Gold. It’s part whodunnit, part magical, and entirely a must-read.
The Financial Mail grabbed five minutes with Brodie to talk inspiration, writing and reading in Afrikaans.
Where and when do you write best?
At home, with just enough white noise. I like mild background bustle — my housekeeper and my kids, as long as they have their headphones on when watching TV or playing PlayStation 4. I can’t work with more sound than that. I can’t write to music, and the only thing I can write in coffee shops is e-mail.
My best writing time is in the early morning and late at night, though more the latter these days. My 3am writing days are over, I think.
What are you reading right now?
I’ve just re-read one of my favourite children’s series, a fantasy sequence called The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper. I needed a comfort read. I have Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon on my desk, but only for when I’ve written enough of my own work to justify the reward.
What kind of research did you do for the book? Did you hang out with the police? Sangomas?
I didn’t hang out with cops, though I have worked for several years with a number of ex-cop and cop-like officials around security-related stuff for research purposes. I’d like to hang out with cops, actually. If any of them read this, please invite me along if you have any "bring a writer to work" days.
I did spend time with a few sangomas over a four-or five-year period before, during and after writing.
What one book and musical album would you take to a desert island?
May I take an empty book and a guitar? I’ll write and play. But seriously, I don’t know if I could just choose one of anything. My best friend gave me the most epic book for my 21st birthday: a giant volume containing a dictionary, a mini-encyclopedia and all the works of Shakespeare. I think I might take that. I can’t narrow down one album, but I would probably go classical rather than contemporary.
You’re a Joburg guru. What’s the city’s best-kept secret?
If I told you it wouldn’t be a secret. I’m still pissed off at the Cape Town bloggers who posted all of Cape Town’s secret beaches online.
Which SA authors do you rate at the moment?
The most recent SA book I read was Deon Meyer’s Kobra. I read it in Afrikaans, even though my language is a bit rusty. I’ve always enjoyed Afrikaans, particularly its poetry. The book was marvellous — not just its feel, but also that it made me read more slowly. I usually race through thrillers in a day. This forced me to go more slowly and pay more attention.
I also have Hennie van Vuuren’s Apartheid Guns and Money lined up —it’s an important piece of history.
Is there a sequel to Knucklebone on the cards?
Yes, if there’s enough interest in this one. It’s all about sales and what readers want. I’m quite pragmatic about writing — I am in it for professional and commercial purposes, not just the art of it.
When I signed up with my agent, he asked if Knucklebone was planned with a sequel in mind and of course I said yes — without thinking. So I dashed off a one-page outline of what emerged as the most amazing story, possibly even better than the original. I’d love to get the opportunity to write it, and if enough people love its lead characters, Ian Jack and Reshma Patel — and by "love", I mean "buy the book" — it will happen.
• Knucklebone: A Novel, by NR Brodie (Pan Macmillan), is available from all good bookstores and on Kindle