I walked into the room where I was to meet the two winners of the University of Johannesburg literary awards. A woman sat on a barstool, gazing out of the panoramic window at the Joburg skyline straight after a Highveld thunderstorm.
She was elegant and graceful in her designer 1950’s inspired dress and velvet heels. The only thing missing was a Martini or a drink that would catch the light piercing through the window. Picture perfect – like the scene from a movie. It was Dominique Botha, the winner of the University of Johannesburg prize in Literature for False River, her debut novel.
After saying our hellos’, I mentioned the rainbow skyline and poetry started flowing from her mouth as she described the purple and blue hues of forgotten and remembered skyscapes. I was mesmerized and dumbfounded that this was everyday language for someone and it became completely obvious why Dominique had won both the English and Afrikaans prizes – In other words, they were not translated, but written from scratch in both languages as a tribute of love in memory of her brother, where Afrikaans became the descriptive language of her childhood and English the language of an adult remembering things as she chose to remember them.
Lauren Beukes sat down next to Dominique and suddenly the pressure of the privilege hit me. Here I was, a mere blogger, interviewing two award winning authors, with the intention of writing about them. Surely this was insanity. My heart dropped to my toes for a second and as I’m writing this right now, I’m kind of hoping they don’t read this and judge me for my very average use of language.
While my insecurities were running away with me, Lauren – the more calculated and experienced author, was sharing the tricks of the trade with Dominique. She broke the news to her that in reality writing only got harder with every novel. That she needed an amazing smile to share with the cameras for when she became famous and had to pose for numerous photos and the two of them shared a few laughs about the challenges and solitude of being an author.
Lauren’s novel – The Shining girls will not leave you unchanged. It is a highly disturbing subversion of the serial killer genre, where the female victims become the focal point and the serial killer disappears into the shadows and into the background. After accepting her prize, she spoke passionately about talented, caring valuable women who are lost to society, due to violence. That we, as a society need to hold men to a higher standard and need to expect more from them as human beings. Her passion was that of a social activist and in this moment her original pursuit of journalism made perfect sense.
She has however found her voice in her novels, where she can raise her concerns in an original and unexpected manner, drawing her readers into a narrative that will change the way they see the world. It was surprisingly unsettling to meet Lauren. The topic of her book may have played a role in my expectations of who I would meet and her talent for writing in so many different genres is almost uncanny. I actually just wish I had a few more hours to pick her brain, to get into the mind of such an exceptional talent. She is a trendy old soul, with a confidence that shines through in the boundaries she breaks in her work time and time again.
An awe inspiring evening for me to meet these two women! The few notes I shared with you here, don’t touch the vast landscape of the talent I was met with in chatting to these two award winning authors, so the best I can do is rather to encourage you to read the books…The shining girls by Lauren Beukes and False River/Vals Rivier by Dominique Botha – vastly different, but both worthy of every word of praise they have received and all the accolades that have been bestowed upon them.