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Adults Only teaser: Q&A with Donvé Lee

9. Donvé LeeJoanne Hichens – editor of the Adults Only, the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology – interviews Donvé Lee. Her story “The Mirror” won the Editor’s Choice Award for From The Heart.

Donvé Lee studied fine art, and became a textile designer, a graphic designer, a features writer, an art teacher, a painter, a traveller, a wife and a mother, before finally realising that she was quite simply an artist. After moving to Cape Town, she acquired post-graduate degrees in art history and creative writing. Her books include The Unfolding Man, a biography of artist, scholar and mystic Dan Rakgoathe, and An Intimate War a tumultuous, claustrophobic love story about two wounded individuals bound together by an addictive passion. She is currently working on a biography about South African musician Syd Kitchen. Follow Donvé at donvelee.bookslive.co.za.

Firstly, congratulations on the accolade of Editor’s Choice for your story, “The Mirror”.

I was delighted to find out I was a winner. Writers spend years in anguished isolation trying to communicate, so it’s hugely gratifying when we finally get some recognition.

“The Mirror” certainly has resonance for me as it focuses on finding beauty and meaning in the ageing process…. can you comment on that?

I was exploring several themes: the wonder-filled mystery of desire; the impact societal conditioning has on women and body image; the way men tend to appreciate women’s bodies far more than women do themselves; the almost narcissistic desire some women have to be looked at – which overturns the popular notion of the voyeuristic male gaze and the passive female – and then, yes, the fragility of our ageing bodies and the vulnerability we experience during sexual relationships.

Is it important for you to explore sex and sensuality through writing fiction?

I grew up in a home where the stuff of the heart and the body were never acknowledged, so speaking out about the unspeakable, exploring this terrain through my art, was the natural outcome of this unfortunate silence. Besides, sexuality is such a fundamental part of who we are and intimate relationships are full of mystery and magic, all of which provide delicious material for fiction. I love the fact that men and women are different and I try to celebrate these differences in my fiction rather than deny them.

And of course you explore intimacy as an undeniable aspect of sex…

I’m fascinated by the paradoxical nature of intimate relationships and the fact that the dark side of love is often rooted in unspoken insecurities. Most of us have black holes in our relationships, unspoken stories that we carry around, things we just don’t talk about, stories which drain the life blood out of our relationships but also paradoxically and perhaps pathologically provide the undercurrents which fuel our greatest passions. So if there are any overarching themes in my erotic fiction writing these may be, firstly, the exploration of how these pervasive undercurrents impact on sexual relationships, and secondly, looking at emotional vulnerability as the essential ingredient of eroticism. I am also fascinated by the link between creativity and eroticism.

It was really when I wrote An Intimate War, a memoir dressed up as fiction, that I realised that writing stories about sexuality and intimacy satisfied me deeply.

When you talk about the link between creativity and eroticism, what do you mean?

I don’t think I’ve really found the answer to this question yet, I’m still feeling my way around it. But I know that when I am at my most creative, I feel most alive, most connected to a deeper spiritual source. The energy flowing through me percolates throughout my mind, body, heart and soul. I am alive to mystery and magic, and one of the most profound mysteries of life for me is sexual desire. I think people who are deeply connected to their creative core are more likely to explore and appreciate eroticism in themselves and their relationships.

Can you comment in general on the way we, as South Africans, view sex and sensuality?

The statement is complex and multi-layered and seems to imply that sexuality is somehow linked to nationality or ethnicity. Is there an Afrikaner sexuality? A Zulu sexuality? We are all sexual beings governed by similar instincts, although our sexual behaviour is influenced by our sociocultural environment.

South Africa is uniquely blessed on the one hand by an extremely liberal constitution – one that enshrines gender equality and legalizes gay marriage – and cursed on the other by shockingly high levels of sexual abuse of women and children. We also have a highly sexualized media environment. All of this adds up to sadly schizophrenic society.

Schizophrenic on the one hand and perhaps sexually repressed on the other?

Repressed sexuality amongst South Africans seems to be fuelled by several factors: Apartheid did much to discourage the development of a sexually mature society and in many ways we’re still floundering in the wake of our unfortunate history: the migrant labour system destroyed black families, breaking down relationships between husbands and wives and fathers and children while the conscription campaign created a decidedly chauvinist culture among white males. Secondly, the oppressive influence of religion – the Calvinism of the Dutch Reformed Church, Catholicism and traditional African religions – has inhibited the growth of a sexually mature nation.

What next can we expect from you?

My most recent – not yet published – work is a biography about an unsung cultural hero, South African musician Syd Kitchen, and my newest, sweetest adventure is into the wonderful world of grandmotherhood!

Wishing you all the best with your writing projects, Donvé, and of course, Big Thanks for donating your prize money to The Book Lounge’s Westridge Library Project.

I was privileged to attend schools with well-stocked libraries. I’ve spent much of my life happily buried inside books. Without books I would be thoroughly miserable, and would not be the writer that I am today. Books feed us in all sorts of ways, open so many doors, help us understand our world and ourselves, teach us to fly. Yet tragically, there are far too many children in this country who do not have easy access to books. So if my prize money (a drop in the ocean really) can help to turn a few children at Westridge High into passionate readers, I think my heart will start to sing.

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