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Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38
Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for My Mother's Lovers?
Christopher Hope: Two things. There is a wonderful poem by George Barker to his mother where he sees her "as huge as Asia, seismic with laughter/ Gin and chicken helpless in her Irish hand." And it got me thinking. It’s one of those pictures you don’t forget. I wanted to write both about a mother and a continent – Africa – and I wanted them both to be pretty much the same thing. Impossibly large, powerful, impressive and capable of inspiring love and awe, but not perhaps particularly able to reciprocate our puny affections. That was, I think, the one main idea behind My Mother’s Lovers. The other was to paint a picture of present day Africa, from the Congo to the Cape and to look hard at all sorts of questions that fascinate me. Like: why is it that so many African countries have so often been betrayed and sold short by their leaders? And is there any real future for those settlers who regard them selves as ‘ White Africans’? Do they belong? I know they say they do but does Africa take the same view? These questions of belonging, of tribe and sect and belief, which were once supposed to have been answered once and for all by some new world order, are back with a vengeance.
MT: How long did it take you to write it?
CH: I think I started the novel about four or five years ago, and then put it aside because other ideas came up, and because I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted it to take. It took longer than I could have imagined, but then the place I’m writing about and its history make such a giant subject. Anyway these things have a rhythm of their own. I’m pleased I spent the time I did, It was a way of exploring my own past and my part of the world and, also, a way of looking at the terrible, dark comedy that always seems to go hand in hand with power.
MT: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?
CH: I write and write and write, and then look it over. I write on a computer, but the stuff is a mess. It needs draft after draft. I’m one of those writers who needs to see what he’s said before he knows what he wants to say.
MT: What do you do when you are not writing?
CH: I travel, mostly. I go to places that remind me of the country I grew up in – South Africa, not the topography , or anything like that. But the politics, or the repression. All tyrannies seem to me to look a bit like each other. Get to know one you have a entry card to the others. I have spent time in Eastern Europe under the Soviet system, in Moscow, in Belgrade and in East Germany. I have also travelled a lot in places like Vietnam and Laos and Burma. And of course I go to Africa. To Zimbabwe, when I can get in, and to South Africa .
MT: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?
CH: I think every writer has an ideal reader. For me it is one who would be likely to laugh at the same things as I do, and to enjoy, if that is the right word, the ironies of political systems and the great fools people in power invariably must make of themselves.
MT: What are you working on now?
CH: Oh, that is much the same as always: I’m thinking about an idea for another novel.
MT: Who is your favourite writer? What is/are your favourite book(s)?
CH: My favourite writer, I think, is Marcel Proust. But it is always hard to keep to just one. I very much love Candide by Voltaire, A Modest Proposal by Swift, and everything by JD Salinger. Amongst the moderns, I like Richard Ford and Eudora Welty.
MT: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer!?
CH: Very hard to say anything really useful. Though I always remember the advice to Alice on how to tell a story: Begin at the beginning, go on till you reach the end and then stop. It is much harder to follow such good advice than it might seem. Finishing is the hardest thing of all. But unless you can do it, you are not really writing, you’re just going through the motions. For myself, I write because it calms me down; sometimes I think it keeps me on an even keel. It becomes a kind of necessary path to staying well.
MT: Thanks so much Christopher!
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