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GLAM Book Chat: Andrew Salomon

GLAMOUR Book Club asked Tokoloshe Song scribe Andrew Salomon ( read GLAMOUR’s review of the book here!) about his first novel for adults, writing fantasy and what he’ll be up to next.

Q: Where did the inspiration for

Tokoloshe Song

come from?

I had previously written a short story featuring a tokoloshe that was one of the winners of the PEN/Studzinski Literary Awards for African Fiction, and it received such a positive response from readers that it inspired me to write a longer work where a tokoloshe would be one of the main characters. I also really liked the idea of portraying tokoloshes as intelligent but misunderstood, rather than just one-dimensional, malevolent creatures.

Q: What are your thoughts on the current South African literary scene in general, and the state of fantasy in SA specifically? Is it a good time to be a writer in South Africa?

From my own experience and that of other local writers I know, the South African literary scene is thriving, with numerous print and online writing competitions, journals and magazines where writers can submit their work.

It is definitely a good time to be a writer in South Africa. You can submit your work directly to local publishers, without having to go through an agent. My experience with my publisher, Umuzi, has been fantastic; they have an exceptional team and are willing to invest time and resources in editing, cover design and publicity, which is particularly impressive since publishing is an industry that is under a lot of pressure.

I’m not implying that it is easy to make a living writing fiction in South Africa. Most writers, including myself, have a day job as well, but local writers are exploring and combining genres such as fantasy, horror and science fiction within a South African and African setting like never before.

Q: You’ve populated the book with various weird and wonderful characters. Like vigilante midwives part of a secret order, creepy mute twins and anthropomorphised animals. Could you say a little about the origin of these characters?

Quite a number of the characters had their origin in short stories, some of which have been published and others not. The two vigilante midwives started out starring in their own short story and I was very glad that they could find a home in the novel since I was very keen on having a pair of highly capable and independent women, who are equally adept at delivering a baby safely through a difficult birth and then causing serious bodily harm to someone who has harmed one of the ones they delivered years ago. One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing fantasy fiction is that you can create characters with amplified attributes and abilities.

Q: There is a strong sense of justice in the novel and a definite set up between characters that are completely morally bankrupt and characters that are prepared to do what is right no matter the cost. And then we have an assassin curiously named Doorway who falls somewhere in the middle. Why was this theme so important to you?

In fantasy writing it helps to have the bad and the good clear-cut, since the energy that drives the story forward is born out of this conflict, but I also wanted a character that was more ambiguous. Doorway is another of the characters who first existed in a short story and his duality is what makes him so interesting: that you can have a character who loves books and reading and who has a soft spot for animals, but who will also happily accept a contract to assassinate someone.

Q: Could you speak about the influence of Africa folklore on the novel and what it was that you wanted to explore by using it in this way?

I work as an archaeologist and I’ve spent a lot of time doing fieldwork in Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia, as well as in South Africa. Through my work and by reading up as much as I could I have been exposed to a great deal of African folklore and I realised that there is a rich seam of myths and legends that could be mined for use in fiction. African myths can be terrifying, humorous, and remarkable, but they are underrepresented in contemporary fiction and I feel by weaving them into fantasy fiction they can contribute greatly to a story.

Q: What was it about Nieu Bethesda that attracted you to that space, and what about it made you want to set a novel, or at least the end of a novel, there?

I had been to Nieu Bethseda on two previous occasions and the town, and especially the Owl House, had made a deep impression on me. I found the Owl House and the lonely legacy that artist Helen Martins left behind both deeply inspiring and profoundly sad. The whole town, with its lack of tarred roads and no cellular reception (at least not when I visited), and the incredible view you get of the Milky Way at night, has a sense of magical seclusion, of a place that exists in its own time, so it seemed like a natural setting for some of the novel.

Read as much as you can, and when you read something and you love it, see if you can figure out why it works. If you don’t, see if you can figure out why not. Write and then rewrite; good writing takes many drafts to appear effortless.

When you send your work off be sure that you have followed the publication’s submission guidelines to the letter, and if you get a rejection letter don’t see it as the end of anything, see it as one rejection less to getting published. And don’t try to force your writing to conform to what you think the market wants or which genre is fashionable, write a story you would love to read yourself.

Q: What are your favourite books or authors?

That’s a tough question to answer because there will always be an amazing book or author that you fail to mention, but internationally I love the books of David Mitchell, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Iain Banks, Annie Hawes, Colin Cotterill, Haruki Murakami, Terry Pratchett and Geoff Dyer, and locally I’m happy to read anything by Alex Smith, Sarah Lotz, Lauren Beukes, Alex Latimer and S.A Partridge.

Q: What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes and I’ve just finished David Attenborough’s Life On Air. Next up is Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years Of Pilgrimage.

Q: What’s up next for you? Any new novels on the horizon?

I have completed a young adult novel called Waterbear that is currently under consideration for publication, and I am working on a fantasy thriller titled The Equilibrist wherein an aspiring tightrope performer who grew up in a circus, becomes one of few people to ever run away from the circus after being framed for a vicious crime, and he has to use all his wits to be able to return and to save the only place he has ever called home.

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