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Adults Only teaser: Q&A with Bobby Jordan

19. Bobby JordanJoanne Hichens – editor of the Adults Only, the second annual Short.Sharp.Stories Awards anthology – interviews Bobby Jordan. His story “The Uniondale Road” was selected for inclusion in the anthology.

Bobby Jordan is a Cape Town-based journalist and occasional short story writer. His work has appeared in a variety of newspapers, magazines and anthologies. Career highlights include a travel assignment to find Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, a week-long profile of the guy who paints the Eiffel Tower (in a harness), and tea with landscape painter Pieter van der Westhuizen. His short fiction was thrice short-listed for the Pen/Studzinski Literary Award. His story ‘Claremont Park’ received an Honourable Mention in 2011. Since then he has mainly been writing bedtime stories for his expanding family.

Your story “The Uniondale Road”, a take on what has to be South Africa’s most well-known highway ghost, is intriguing and hard-hitting. What inspired you to write this story (apart from the ghost? Maybe you saw her??)

As far as I know I’ve never seen a ghost, but the longer I live the more I want to believe in them. The Uniondale ghost story was always one of my favourites, because I know that area well. Several times I have driven past the place where the ghost – allegedly a beautiful young woman – appears, and every time I have wondered what I would do if she did. Would I pick her up? What would we chat about? What if I fell in love with her? (apparently she is dazzlingly beautiful).

Once I even went so far as to plan an overnight trip to Uniondale at the beginning of April, which is when the ghost likes to appear – but only to select men. Would she pick me?

The trip never happened but I have never stopped imagining it, each time with a different ending.

You were concerned that mentioning the ‘ghost story’ might be a spoiler (dreaded word), but surely every South African au fait with the actual ‘Uniondale Road’ myth will know, from the title, that something super-natural will pop up?

In fact I am surprised at how few people know about this ghost story. Or if they have heard about it they aren’t quite sure how it ends, if it ends at all. In the end I was satisfied that even if some people knew the story, there would still be enough mystery to keep them guessing all the way to the ‘snot-klap’ at the end.

It must have felt like quite a ride to write. As one of the more graphically sexual stories of the collection, did you find it disturbing, or exciting to write?

Good question! I’m more of a moonlight and 60s music kind of guy, so for me the sexual violence is quite upsetting. I am nevertheless interested in the relationship between violence and sex. It is curious how for many people something so exciting can turn out to be so horrific, and vice versa. I’m not sure if that is intrinsic or extrinsic. And I’m still not sure what it means.

Is there possibly an underlying theme you were wanting to explore? Particularly around abuse?

As so often happens with stories, this one took on a life of its own. What started as an innocent drive through the countryside turned into something far more sinister. Sometimes it seemed I was barely holding onto the steering wheel. I agree with those who say that any story is primarily a subliminal process. For me the Uniondale Road explores the cruelly intertwined light and dark aspects of human nature.

To me, the story also has a sweet after-taste of revenge.

Remind me to stay on your right side! When it comes to your broader interests as a writer, are there any particular themes you’re drawn to?

Like most writers I am interested in just about anything. ‘Nothing’, too, is very interesting – although difficult to write about! One of my first writing ‘exercises’ was a monthly ‘story swap’ with a close friend: we would take turns to come up with the most mundane title imaginable – just to see if we could make it interesting. I can’t speak for myself, but my friend passed the test every time.

Personally I love writing about the foibles of human nature; our battle to tell the difference between reality and imagination. Is there any difference?

Can I throw that question right back at you? Do the boundaries between reality and imagination sometimes feel blurred for you?

I suspect so, but don’t ask me how or – even worse – why. Certainly our everyday reality is a complex and magnificent abstraction. But that’s not all it is. Sorry, that’s about the best I can do. I’m a newspaper reporter, after all – what do I know about reality?

What does writing fiction provide you with that reporting doesn’t?

A lot. Reporting is the fieldwork for writing – or at least that’s the plan. Sadly the writing doesn’t always follow. I once got crapped on for writing a column that said the news basically tells us what we already know; I suspect good fiction is that which shows us something new.

And the state of the SA short story? Your view on that?

More people read the TV guide than short stories. Doesn’t mean we have to stop writing them though.

Indeed not. That last line could not be truer, thanks, Bobby. We hope at some stage to see the collected Bobby Jordan stories in print.

Adults Only

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