I hand the baton in the MY NEXT BEST THING circular to Barbara Erasmus. She is the author of several absorbing novels (the kind you do not want to put down until you reach the very last page); her settings are South African, her writing is like a breath of fresh air, but the subtext is always deeply thought-provoking. Her first novel Kaleidoscope deals with the tragic topic of autism and her latest offering Below Luck Level confronts the issue of how families cope with the problem of Alzheimer’s.
HEATHER PARKER- LEWIS
What is the working title of your book?
My Next Best Thing is my new career in marketing. My fourth novel Below Luck Level is headed for the dizzy heights of the New York Best Sellers List – once my campaign clicks into gear… It’s first billing was Fishhoek. Then Greyton. Pinelands is next. New York may seem distant but any traveller knows that it’s best to go via the scenic route.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
She lives below luck level is from a Kay Ryan poem that caught my fancy. It goes on to mention a lottery. And ends with wings. I thought I could fly with that idea…
What genre does your book fall under?
My strength is humour but I have a predilection for tragedy. Small-scale domestic tragedy. Nothing Shakespearean. Not a gun or a sharpened blade in sight.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
My story is set in Cape Town so I’d opt for local talent. I need an eccentric mother and an under-achieving daughter so I’d go for Janet Suzman and Karin van der Laag who plays Maggie in Isidingo – I’m a long-term follower of Horizon Deep.
What is a one-sentence synopsis of your book?
My heroine’s career is finally taking off as she evolves from a waitress to a sous-chef but she has to shift her focus to her mother, a semi-famous struggle writer, who loses her way through Alzheimer’s.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Below Luck Level ( 2012), even with insects (2005) and Kaleidoscope (2004) were published by Penguin. Chameleon (2008) was first published in installments on Mike Nicol’s Crime Beat blog, www.bookslive.crimebeat and then self-published through Mousehand.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
My first three novels were all based on first-hand research which was a lengthy process. For example, I worked in a school for autistic children while writing Kaleidoscope and on a prisoner rehabilitation programme at Pollsmoor while researching Chameleon which is about white collar crime. I wrote Below Luck Level far more quickly because by then, I had become very dependent on the internet for instant, up-to-date medical-research. Also, because Alzheimer’s affects so many families, I had easy access to friends who gave me insight into their own situations as carers.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I have aimed all my novels at a women’s book club market. I’d like to follow the example of writers far more skilled than me who have a light take on serious subjects, The novel I would most like to have written is Brother of The More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido but wishful thinking is as far as I can stretch a comparison.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Any pensioner worries about Alzheimer’s. I’ve been unable to remember where I parked at Pick’nPay since I first got my driver’s licence at 16 but once I hit 60, it took on more sinister connotations. There was also a spate of newspaper articles around the Dignitas Clinic. I try to research topical issues which would be of interest to my target market.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I hope that it’s not a bleak book, despite the Alzheimer’s angle. I have tried to write a character-driven novel and hope that readers will root for my non-achieving heroine whose major skill is the sleight of hand required to shop-lift; and her mother whose maternal skills are decidedly slap-dash; and then there’s always a couple of friends and lovers – and Cape Town of course.
The next writer in the line-up is Liz McGregor, a local journalist with a international background in Asia and Britain. Her first book Khabzela : The Life and times of a South African gave fresh insight into the AIDS crisis while At Risk and Load-Shedding which she co-edited, are collections of stories by leading South African writers, providing an invaluable perspective on contemporary South Africa. She surprised her readers with a new dimension in Touch Pause Engage, a meticulously researched journey into the heart of South African rugby. To learn about her Next Big Thing, visit www.lizmcgregor.bookslive.co.za