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Adults Only teaser: Q&A with Justine Loots

18. Justine LootsJoanne Hichens – editor of the Adults Only, the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology – interviews Justine Loots. Her story “Uncaged” was selected for inclusion in the anthology.

Justine Loots works as an independent writer and filmmaker. She wrote the script, in the form of dub poetry, for Surfing Soweto (Best Documentary Feature, SAFTAS 2012; and Best Local Film, Tri Continental Film Festival 2010). She wrote for the television series High Rollers (nominated for 8 SAFTAs awards 2014, including best writing team) and for two seasons of Erfsondes (both won Best Scripts, ATKV). She wrote series two of When We Were Black (currently in production) and has written for numerous television dramas and comedies. She has worked as a script consultant/editor on various films.

Earlier work includes directing, writing and producing for Carte Blanche and Carte Blanche Africa. Her work includes investigative stories, inspiring stories and profiles. Through this, she spent time with war-zone surgeons, con artists, ex child-soldiers, flying doctors, Rabbis, Imams, Swamis, Priests, Traditional Healers, Buddhist monks, SA struggle heroes and even members of the extreme right wing.

Do you enjoy reading erotica?

I read some Anaïs Nin in my early twenties, and D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers where it all ended rather abruptly… call me old school but the mother-son thing killed it for me. (Naturally, though, I’ll read Adults Only from cover to cover.) Jelaluddin Rumi, T.S. Elliot: now that does it for me. They’re stirring in a soul sense.

So you want your soul to be stirred… as opposed to other parts of your body?

Woman cannot live by bread alone! I’m not dissing the genre though. I’m in no position to do that after paying off a portion of my bond writing soap opera!

What inspired your story “Uncaged”?

Two things: walking in the Drakensberg, which always brings to mind the Khoisan people. In some sites there is an ancient, ancestral presence (this isn’t a John Edwards experience or anything!) Extraordinary as this is, it leaves a residue of sadness… you wonder if this presence has a place in the contemporary world. I suppose I wanted to do something with that sadness, to create a place for this forgotten wisdom.

I was also inspired by a sculpture by the Chinese artist, Liu Xue. The work is a faun of sorts, except the creature has a pig’s body with all four hooves on the ground. The human part of it is an obese man, his tummy merging with the pig’s. It’s a powerful work. In it lies all the greed and shame of humanity… It haunted me for months.

What a powerful image. Which brings us to the aspect of magical realism. It’s a strong element in “Uncaged” and comes as a surprise and a challenge to the reader.

For me it’s only possible to venture into dark terrains with a sturdy set of wings. It might sound contrary, but I find magic realism a very truthful way of writing. You can include those dimensions we’re taught to shut out, growing up; you can return to where the boundaries between the seen and unseen were fluid. I sometimes feel cheated when stories don’t give me that, which is absurd really since not all stories set out to do that.

And the terrain you’ve ventured into is prostitution. Why did you decide to explore this sort of ‘dark terrain’?

On the one hand, prostitution is said to be the oldest profession. On the other, the increase in phenomena like child prostitution and transactional sex – or sex in exchange for material things – suggests that prostitution, in its various forms, is more prevalent and also more socially acceptable, despite the high statistics around rape and physical assault experienced by sex workers.

My sense is that we, as humans, are becoming increasingly disconnected from ourselves and so we make fewer choices that serve our highest wellbeing. Coco, the protagonist in my story, engages in sex every day – an intimate act – yet she is emotionally disconnected. She has to be, perhaps, to survive but there is something out of kilter with this, which is what the story explores.

You teach a Masters’ Course in screenwriting at the National Film and Video Foundation which involves mentoring writers and editors, and taking film scripts through a rigorous development process from inception to script. Is screen-writing your first love?

I suppose screenwriting is a love-hate affair. If passion and talent transport the story from the page to the screen, it’s all love. But there have been times when I’ve watched stories I’ve written on the screen, almost curled up in the foetal position on my lounge floor in sheer horror.

Why now begin to write for the page in particular, although in fact it all starts there?

I’m drawn to the page by a lifelong love for words, and because the idea of painting picture in minds (and not solely on the screen) is appealing to me. I also spent so much of my childhood living in books. Some of my greatest memories never happened! So perhaps there is a desire to return there.

So I see myself as a screenwriter who’s developing my ability to write for the page. I’m working on a novel (also with magical realist elements), which led me to write short stories: I felt out of my depth not writing for the screen and decided I needed some practise. This story, “Uncaged”, was born of that. I’m deeply encouraged and motivated that it’s been published.

What else are you busy with?

I’m currently plotting to steal R20 million, meaning I’ve been commissioned to write a comic heist film. I’m also writing for a local detective TV series.

Thanks, Justine, wouldn’t I just love a share of that R20 mill. That’s what fiction gives us – the chance to dream!

Adults Only

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