On Wednesday night, two of Cape Town’s top crime writers, Joanne Hichens and Consuelo Roland, joined Ron Irwin to discuss how women crime writers are pushing boundaries by exposing the more disturbing side of society. Stuart from Two Dogs/Mercury was on hand to catch this fascinating discussion.
Kerry Hammerton chatted to Joanne Hichens about South African crime writing and the challenges writers face.
Lekker is an Afrikaans word that is dictionary translated as dainty, nice, sweet, palatable. It is used by South Africans to denote happy, nice, good, enjoyable.
South Africans pride themselves on being patriotic and supporting local stars and sports teams. Charlize Theron, an academy award winning actress, will always remain onse Charlize (our Charlize). The support for our rugby team The Springboks is legendary. In the 2010 Soccer World Cup there were many disappointed supporters who expected the national soccer team, Bafana Bafana, to get into the second round.
But this pride and patriotism doesn’t translate into support for local literature.
I invited South African crime writer Joanne Hichens to chat to me about South African literature and her debut solo novel Divine Justice. Joanne also co-authored a crime-thriller called Out to Score. More about Joanne can be found at her website: www.joannehichens.co.za
I have to confess that I read Divine Justice twice, within one month. Bizarre I know (it is that good). I love crime/thriller fiction and read a lot of it. And I read it quickly so I re-read a lot as well, but usually at least a year apart. After reading Divine Justice I then read Out to Score, and then I just had to read Divine Justice again!
Joanne’s writing is fast-paced, hard-hitting and catches the flavours and locations of Cape Town with complete authenticity.
Joanne says of her own writing, ‘I am a woman writing from a woman’s perspective, reflecting women’s sensibilities. Yet I also put myself in the shoes of men and murderers as my job is to create believable characters. I have a stark style that is traditionally seen as a male way of writing. But there are other women writers out there doing the punch-in-the-gut. Why shouldn’t women write strong stuff?’
Her lead character, accidental PI Rae Valentine is tough and determined, but in my discussion with Joanne she admits that she really enjoys writing the ‘baddies’. ‘It’s easier to write the baddies, you can have fun with them, prod them into behaving atrociously’. In Divine Justice the baddie is a white supremacist – and as Joanne says, ‘he does despicable things; he won’t be picking flowers from the sidewalk to take home a bunch to his Sweetheart.’
I have to tell you right now that Joanne has the most amazing open smile. She is warm and engaging. At the start of our interview when we discovered that the batteries on my digital recorder were flat, Joanne’s first reaction was to offer to get batteries. Despite the fact that she writes her baddies so well, she is a caring, friendly person. (Okay she did pay for my coffee – but no bribes were solicited or offered!)
Crime is the fastest growing genre in literature, so I asked Joanne to tell me how well her book is selling. Joanne sounded philosophical when she said, ‘steadily but slowly’. She went on to say that there is plenty of interest in her book and she had had good reviews in local and National newspapers. The book was picked as one of the top ten thriller reads for 2011 by the South African Sunday Times as well as a top ten read by a South African online literary journal LitNet.
This article first appeared on Mslexia.co.uk on the 11th of April. Continue reading the full article here.
Joanne Hichens recently wrote about her travels abroad on Michael Sears’ Murder is Everywhere website.
DIVINE JUSTICE is Joanne’s third novel, following OUT TO SCORE (2006), co-authored with Mike Nicol and published in the USA as CAPE GREED, and STAINED (2009), published in the UK and France. She edited the first anthology of South African crime-fiction short stories, BAD COMPANY (2008) (Kubu makes an appearance), and THE BED BOOK OF SHORT STORIES (2010), both of which include her own work. She lives in Cape Town, but has recently been far to the north-east from home. Here she shares her feelings about the difference and similarity of cities.
Featuring the inimitable sleuth Rae Valentine, the setting of my new novel DIVINE JUSTICE is Cape Town at the toe of the African Continent. Voted Top Destination for Tourists by tripadvisor, Rae describes the harbour city, with Table Mountain as spectacular backdrop, as “a mix of sophistication and in-your-face Africa, a cross between London and Lagos, New York and Nairobi”. Indeed it’s a mix of first and third-world, of varying creeds and cultures, where wealth and glamour sit in stark contrast to poverty and struggle. It’s the perfect environment to forment craziness.
Here, the dream mansion that any Hollywood star would drool over, sits a five minute drive from shantytowns where shacks are constructed of cardboard and plastic. Remember that great sci-fi flick, District Nine? Well, no movie set was created. The impoverished squalor was a pukka South African the township.
As for Hong Kong, a city I recently visited for research, I reckon it’s an equally appealing setting for sci-fi as high density living sees apartment buildings touch the heavens. Not even my photos can capture the sense of the unreal. Demands for living space on this small section of land has meant building up, up, up. Fat fingers of concrete stretch up and disappear into a misty sky.
Joanne Hichens is a writer, editor and journalist. Her new thriller, DIVINE JUSTICE, has just been released in South Africa and will be available on Kindle by the time you read this. DIVINE JUSTICE is her third novel, following OUT TO SCORE (2006), co-authored and published in the USA as CAPE GREED, and STAINED (2009), published in the UK and France. She edited the first anthology of South African crime-fiction short stories, BAD COMPANY (2008) (also now available on Kindle), and THE BED BOOK OF SHORT STORIES (2010), both of which include her own work. She lives in Cape Town.
I asked her to tell us about the new book, her protagonist, and her thoughts about her home city.
Letter from Cape Town
I’ll never forget the thrill when the likes of Deon Meyer, Jassy Mackenzie and Michael Stanley agreed to write for BAD COMPANY, a collection of South African crime-thriller fiction short stories which I compiled and edited in 2008. And then I experienced an even deeper thrill when none other than Lee Child endorsed the book: ‘They told me there were gold mines in South Africa – and look what just came out!’
Plus he wrote in the foreword: ‘talent like this will bring pleasure to our friends and members in America and Europe and Australia…seeing the universal themes through a uniquely African lens.’ On publication, a number of South African authors joined ITW and our place as International Thriller Writers was cemented.
A highlight too, before the collection came out, was dining with David Hewson on his book tour here, not only chatting about the joys of ITW, but reveling in his enthusiasm as he stressed that BAD COMPANY ‘defied all geographical boundaries’.
Here’s the thing. We all know what it’s like to feel fear,to feel threatened, to want to protect ourselves from crime. We live under lock and key, with house alarms, car gear locks, our computers and phones are password protected – each of us is vulnerable to fraud, assault, murder, to violence and rage and hate.
Which brings me to my latest crime novel, DIVINE JUSTICE.
Featuring the inimitable sleuth Rae Valentine, the setting is Cape Town at the toe of the African continent. Voted Top Destination for Tourists bywww.tripadviser.com, Rae describes the harbour city, with Table Mountain as spectacular backdrop, as ‘a mix of sophistication and in-your-face Africa, a cross between London and Lagos, New York and Nairobi’. Indeed it’s a mix of first and third-world, of creeds and cultures, where wealth and glamour sit in stark contrast to poverty and struggle, the perfect environment to ferment craziness.
Rae and her partner Vincent Saldana, hot on the trail of stolen diamonds, get caught up in the evil and nasty world of a bunch of white supremacists under the influence of an over-the-top evangelist. The Pastor predicts that ‘the great King of Terror shall come! Fireballs from on High will heat the sea like the sun!’ and dreams of a safe haven for the ‘chosen.’
Hate-crime bastards are among the worst of the baddies as they commit heinous deeds and murder all in the name of their perceived ‘superiority’. No matter what corner of the earth we call home, every one of us is under threat from intolerance. Every country has experienced the consequences – whether religious fanatics bomb the innocent or deranged individuals orchestrate school shootings, hate is a truly dangerous motivator.
More on Rae: she’s a one-legged ex-junkie who’s made good. Not only is she a newly badged PI (with a library of detective reading in her head to back up her one month online PI course!) she’s also a counsellor and motivational speaker. Sassy, sexy and smart, plus ‘mixed-race, an amputee, and female’, she fits every government spec for equal opportunity and sees herself as an asset to any business.
Sure, she wears a prosthesis, but as she fills out her denim jeans ‘with a bum J Lo would approve of’ and carries a Colt Gold Cup, the focus ain’t on her disability.
Fictional cops and PI’s traditionally have all sorts of vulnerabilities – they’re alcoholics, pill poppers, have bi-polar and obsessive compulsive disorders, the list goes on. Interestingly enough, plenty of disabled detectives – including the blind, deaf and wheelchair-bound- feature in crime-thriller fiction. The best known must be Jeffrey Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme, a quadriplegic who can move only one finger! The website librarybooklists.orgrecords a veritable phonebook of disabled sleuths of which Rae Valentine now joins the ranks. The way I see it, we are all ‘damaged’ in some way, and disability is simply an external manifestation of human frailty.
Though we may live worlds apart, though Africa, and South Africa, for many readers is a distant dream, not only is the crime underbelly Rae Valentine and Vince Saldana stumble into in DIVINE JUSTICE familiar, but so too are the intrepid duo’s all too human foibles and flaws.
If Rae’s learned one thing, in her own words, it is that ‘like the tides, like the seasons, the cycle of resentment and violence will repeat itself, then once it has played out, the rainbow – a small miracle – will grace the city.’
Rae of course, brings an element of justice to a skewed world and she and her right-hand man Vince live to fight another day. I look forward to bringing you the next in the series.
This article first appeared in the Cape Times on the 27th of February.
Jozi sprawls. it never ends, or that’s the way it seems, driving along heavily trafficked highways and byways.
On the Great Northern Book Tour, recently embarked on by fellow Capetonian author Peter Church and myself, my navigatorial skills left much to be desired. When one takes a wrong turn in Jozi, there’s no mountain to set you straight.
Since Jozi is also dangerous, my job then was to keep an eye out for hijackers who might sneak up on us while Peter regularly pulled off the road to stare at the BlackBerry GPS.
Making sense of how to get through Morningside, Hyde Park, Rosebank, Killarney, Cresta, the equivalent of the established suburbs of Cape Town, Peter Church was all action. ‘Let’s do it. Places to go, people to see.’ The aim of the book tour was not only to do a launch at a book venue called Skoobs – that’s books
spelled backwards – but to visit ten stores in one day, to chat to book store stalwarts and to sign our crime-thriller fiction titles.
Not having visited Joburg in years, I was fully prepared to slag off the city as a Gomorrah. But the closest we came to danger was when I disappeared into a shoe store at the Hyde Park Mall and Peter Church came after me. With that glint in his eye, the schedule clutched in his hand like a cocked gun. ‘We’re not gonna get it right if you keep on wandering into shops!’ What woman isn’t difficult to manage when the sales are on, I ask? We were back to rushing along the tiled passages past great deals to get to the next Exclusives, or Estoril, or Independent.
During insightful moments in those book stores, connecting with sellers ‘in the field’, we commiserated about the decline of fiction sales and the downer that Exclusive Books is coming up for a third round of retrenchments. We experienced exhilaration – all our copies sold! And despair – but not reordered.
It’s still an issue to me that book stores don’t do themselves more favours, that they aren’t more proactive. Where are the notice boards pinned with reviews? Where are the shelves stacked with recommended reads? The precious signed copies on display? Do publishers and books store managers liaise at all, I wondered? It’s all too hit and miss. There simply doesn’t seem to be enough vision, or effort to entice readers, especially to try SA fare.
But whether staff had been on payroll for two days or twenty-five years, they agreed books – the hard copy kind – will survive. Kindle is convenient, but a book is tactile, reassuring to hold. And whichever way one reads, people need stories.
Driving towards Montecasino where Skoobs is situated, with Peter worshipping the GPS, I got my own back. ‘I assure you, Jo,’ he insisted, ‘Montecasino is just off Malibongwe Drive. All we need to do is keep going.’ Half an hour later, with my female instinct insisting we’d end up in Bloemfontein before too long, I risked winding down my window and asked directions. Peter smiled sheepishly, manoeuvred across lanes, adjusting our course.
The most unlikey place for a book store has to be smack in the middle of a casino. I felt a touch disoriented as I always do when leaving the light for the dark. I imagined a sort of SA Oceans Eleven going down in our home-grown den of iniquity. Then reckoned if crime writers are to hang out in any book store, this would be the one.
Skoobs, triple volume Temple to the Book, is worth a visit. With leather sofas to kick back in, hammocks to stretch out in for comfort, with a man-sized fish tank on the ground floor, a champagne bar on the top level, it’s opulent, the veritable Theatre of Books it claims to be.
So as Prez Zuma danced the State of the Nation shuffle, we remembered the underbelly. We demand constantly that government take seriously our right to safety, a promise of our constitution! As every moment we protect ourselves from crime, then crime-thriller novels – this was our message – are at the cutting edge of literature, with enough in theme and subject matter to be debated by the brightest of minds.
Touching down in Cape Town, thankful that I’d survived the jol through slick Jozi malls, I checked out the headlines of a local rag: Vrou strangled in mosque backyard; Cop closing in on perv killer; Three cape Russian mafia bosses in court. The Daily Voice, as ever, was living up to its slogan ons skrik vir niks!
Suddenly it all felt safer under the fake stars of Montecasino, security around, sipping sparkling wine and toasting to good books.
Peter Church is author of Bitter Pill and Joanne Hichens is author of Divine Justice. Listen to a podcast of Joanne chatting to Jonathan Duguid of UCT Radio.
Bitter Pill is available on Amazon for download on the Kindle.
This book is about smut. Extraordinary characters thrive in the dark world of drugs, blackmail, violence and sex – playful innocence destroyed in the gutter world of noisy bars, shooters and spiked drinks.
It’s a good book to take note of if you think books should have an enlightening role in society.
After reading this, the Mother City will never be seen in the same way. The ugly side of Cape Town is laid bare.
Saturday afternoon saw a trio of South Africa’s finest crime writers gather together at A Tavola restaurant in Claremont to provide an audience of some 200 people with some insights into the crime writing scene. The event was hosted by Gorry Bowes-Taylor and the main issue up for debate was whether or not crime writing can be classed as conventional literature.
Once starters and mains were served, Gorry introduced Lynda Gilfilian, who then explained how the crime fiction has taken over from the political novel as the preeminent genre in South African literature, as well as the intricacies that went into each of the authors’ respective books.
Deon Meyer spoke first, and pulled no punches in his assessment of the attitude of the academic world towards crime writing. He was quick to make clear his disdain for academic critique, while also expounding on some of the more technical aspects of crime fiction writing.
Our very own Joanne Hichens was second to speak, and opened her address with some rather entertaining headlines from the Daily Voice which illustrated the ubiquity of crime in our communities. Joanne touched on the moral aspects of crime writing and spoke about the “extremes of mankind” that she sought to convey through her writing.
Finally, Margie Orford, author of Gallows Hill, took the stage to speak about what makes crime writing enjoyable, and what makes it successful. She outlined two elements of successful crime writing, namely pace and endearing characters, while also mentioning the importance of spatial development when writing crime fiction.
Thanks must go to Gorry Bowes-Taylor for being such a fantastic host; to De Grendel Wines for sponsoring the wine selection, and to Chef David and the team at A Tavola for a fantastic spread. The Literary Lunch would not have been possible without them.
With 2012 underway and the office as busy as ever, Burnet Media would like to wish our readers and authors well for the coming year.
2011 was a great year for us, with two titles in particular performing well beyond our expectations. 50 People Who Stuffed Up South Africa and The Racist’s Guide to South Africa had their best-ever sales weeks this Christmas – more than a year after publication – and started the first week of 2012 in Neilsen’s SA top 10 list. As of this week, 50 People has been in the top 50 for an unbroken 52 weeks.
A hearty congratulations must go to authors Alexander Parker and Simon Kilpatrick, as next week sees the printing of the 40,000th and 30,000th copy of their respective titles. With upcoming projects that include companion books for both titles and a one-man stage show for The Racist’s Guide, there’s loads more coming from these two to look forward to.
Congratulations must also go to our latest authors:
Peter Church – Bitter Pill
Joanne Hitchens – Divine Justice
David Bullard – Out To Lunch Ungagged
Neil Manthorp – The Proteas: 20 Years, 20 Landmark Matches
Here’s hoping their books sell equally well in 2012, a year that will see the migration of major and new Burnet Media titles to digital formats, as well as new and exciting book launches.