Thursday, September 13, 2012

Interview: Deon Meyer

Today sees the UK publication of Deon Meyer's 7 Days, the latest in the (Captain) Benny Griessel series. Deon's previous two books, Trackers and Thirteen Hours were both shortlisted for the CWA's International Dagger.

I'm very chuffed that Mr Meyer has answered some questions for Euro Crime:

At the recent Harrogate Crime Writing Festval (HCWF), Jo Nesbo was asked what question would he ask his favourite authors and he replied: "Why do you write?". So that's my first question: Why do you write?

Good question. And there is no simple answer, because the reasons have changed over the years. I started writing because the urge and need to do it (I’ve had it since my early teens) became overpowering, because it was the only thing I’ve ever been reasonably good at,  because I wanted to somehow say ‘I’m here’, and, to be honest, back then, I also hoped being a writer would get me laid (it didn’t).

Nowadays, I still write because of the never-ending urge, but also because I love being read, and I have a deep appreciation and gratitude for my agent and all the publishers who have invested so much in me. But most of all, I now write because sometimes, it is a real joy.

You were asked by Barry Forshaw at HCWF whether you had a favourite character and you said it would be like trying to name a favourite child but do you think your readers have a favourite character - are you always being asked when's the new Benny/Mat/Lemmer - and if so why do you think that character is more popular?

Yes, that’s the question most readers ask. I’m fascinated and delighted by the fact that readers all have their different favourites. But I honestly don’t know why a specific character is more popular. (I can only hope that it is because I try to make them as human as possible.)

I love the fact that your books are linked by a "family" of characters eg with the main character in one book making a cameo in another - how did this come about? Was it planned or did it just develop? 

It definitely wasn’t planned. As a matter of fact, I initially made a firm decision never to write a series (fat lot of good that did me), but I never anticipated how you grow attached to characters. It is one of the most weird and wonderful things about being an author (and the reason, methinks, why most fiction writers are a little bit bonkers):

When writing a book, we get to spend eight or ten or twelve hours every day, month after month, with characters who don’t exist. And during this mysterious process, they slowly turn into real flesh-and-blood people. Perhaps because the subconscious can’t distinguish between actual and fictitious individuals when you live and breathe their thoughts, triumphs and tragedies so intensely, for so long.

For me, they become like very good friends, or family members. After I’ve finished a book, I keep thinking about them, miss them, and (here is the barmy part) worry about them.

That’s why they keep coming back.

You act as an ambassador for your country (South Africa) when you're on tour - and I think you may be unique in this - have you considered getting into politics? 

Because politicians are so good at fiction? Good grief, no! It is a privilege to be an informal ambassador for my wonderful country (mainly because there are so many misperceptions about South Africa out there), but I think I would make a lousy politician – I see too many sides of an argument …

Do you think your books are so popular in the UK because they provide a perspective on life in South Africa, or is is "just" because they are excellent thrillers?

I have absolutely no idea.

How different are your books in their original Afrikaans compared with their English translations? (You mentioned at HCWF that extra explanations were added to the American edition.)

Thanks to my brilliant translator Laura Seegers, the only small difference is a few additional bits of information when needed to clarify matters for the international audience. And, of course, the glossary at the back of the book. And because Americans are slightly less familiar with South Africa, we added a few extra paragraphs in some of the US editions.

Do you have anything to do with the translation process, eg discussions with the translator?

I am very much involved with the translation process. Once Laura has done her excellent work, Isobel Dixon (my agent) and I read carefully, and we often have long e-mail arguments about single words. Of course, Laura usually wins…

Is there any author to whom you are regularly compared in blurbs, etc? If so, is this annoying?

I’ve been greatly honoured by comparisons with John le CarrĂ©, Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson. It’s never been annoying, always thrilling.

You mentioned at HCWF that Val McDermid was one of your heroes. Which other authors do you read? (A certain Michael Connelly makes an appearance in 13 Hours...) 

This is one of the most difficult questions to answer, because I read and enjoy everything - from J.M. Coetzee to William Gibson, with everything in between.

Growing up, I cut my thriller and crime teeth on the great masters: John D. MacDonald, Ed McBain, John le Carré, Frederick Forsyth, Ted Allbeury, Robert B. Parker ... And I still admire them all.

Current authors I love to read and have huge respect and admiration for are Michael Connelly, Robert Harris, Ian Rankin, Dennis Lehane, Lee Child, Michael Ridpath, John Sandford, Val McDermid, George P. Pelecanos, Douglas Kennedy, Mark Bowden, C.J. Box, Anthony Beavor, Harlan Coben, David Morrell, Jeffrey Deaver, Ken Follett, to name but a few.

I can't get enough of Stephen Pinker, love biographies and travel writing, read at least one newspaper every day, one news magazine every week, three motorcycle magazines every month ...

Which (other) South African authors should we be reading?

South African literature – and our crime fiction in particular – is blossoming. Chris Karsten, Mike Nicol, Margie Orford, Karin Brynard, Andrew Brown, Sifiso Mzobe, Peter Church, Wessel Ebersohn, H.J. Golokai, Joanne Hichens, Jassie Mackenzie, Malla Nunn, Diale Tlholwe … The list keeps growing.

And finally...are you planning to write a book based on weeks, months, years, after 13 Hours and 7 Days!

Nope. Enough is enough.

Many thanks to Deon Meyer and Hodder for arranging the interview.

More information about Deon Meyer and his books including photos of some of the locations can be found on Follow him on twitter: @MeyerDeon


Dead Before Dying
Dead at Daybreak
Heart of the Hunter
Devil's Peak
Blood Safari
Thirteen Hours
7 Days


Maxine Clarke said...

Fascinating interview! There have been one or two interviews with Meyer recently but you've thought of the best questions, it is especially interesting to read his remarks on the translation process.

Anonymous said...

Karen - Excellent interview for which thanks. I particularly like the question about being South Africa's 'informal ambassador.' I know just how Mr. Meyer feels...