Two thousand and six congratulations to BWC member Colette Victor, who has recently published her second book! Her novel What to Do with Lobsters in a Place Like Klippiesfontein was released by Cargo Publishing earlier this month.
We interviewed Colette back in November 2013 about the publication of her first book, Head Over Heart, so we thought it only fitting to sit her down again to talk about her latest success. Here she talks about her novel which may never have become a novel at all if it wasn’t for the prompting of the keen members of the BWC.
Oom Marius, storeowner in a conservative, rural town, has long harboured a crush on Patty, but fails to impress her when he installs a lobster tank in his shop. Tannie Hettie, Oom Marius’ wife, must have cancer treatment in Cape Town, creating a predicament for Oom Marius. Petrus, Oom Marius’ mute helper for twenty-two years suddenly speaks! He volunteers to run the shop asking if bookkeeping-skilled Precious, a young township woman he secretly loves, can work with him. Oom Marius agrees.
In church, the dominie (pastor) informs the congregation that a black man will manage the shop while Oom Marius is gone. Many white inhabitants do not want black people taking traditionally held white positions. A group of white men barricade Oom Marius’ shop front, while Charlie, one of Oom Marius’ supporters, helps Petrus and Precious. An attraction develops between Precious and Charlie: Petrus helplessly watches.
In South Africa there are towns where the dominance of whites and contempt for blacks still exists despite twenty-one years of democracy. This bittersweet comedy raises aspects of the dilemma. A gentle story, set at the beginning of summer, always hot and dry, revolves around the shop and a lobster tank. Will the lobsters survive? Will Charlie and Precious’ feelings come to fruition? Will Tannie Hettie survive cancer? How do Patty and Oom Marius relate when Shawn leaves?
How long did it take you to write the novel?
It started off as a short story probably about four or five years ago. The novel itself took me more or less two and a half years to write, including the various edits and redrafting.
Did you read out draft versions of your novel at BWC meetings? If so, do you have any memorable moments you’d like to share from this experience?
I remember reading out the short story in someone’s flat at the height of summer, I think it was Kathleen’s place. Several people commented that it was too short, that the characters were too interesting to abandon to such a short piece of fiction. It was on my way home in the train that I decided to develop it into a full-length novel.
I read many chapters out at the meetings and always took the advice or comments I was given to heart. There was no point being defensive about my work and defending each and every sentence because that way I’d be stuck with a well-defended piece of writing and nothing more. If I wanted to grow then I had to listen to what people were saying. If a single person made a comment on some or other obscure phrase I would ignore it, but if several people commented on the same thing I knew I was doing something wrong. Eventually I started anticipating the comments while I was writing and I think it was at that point that my writing started improving.
This is your second experience with publication, following Head Over Heart. Was it just as exciting, second time around, learning that the book would be published? How did you feel when you found out?
The news of publication for both books followed each other pretty quickly. First I went through years and years of rejection emails from agents and publishers and then suddenly both books did well in two separate competitions – The Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition 2012 and the Dundee International Book Prize 2013. On the back of this success I found an agent and then two publishing contracts followed within a couple of months of each other.
And yes, it’s definitely just as exciting getting this one published. What to do with Lobsters in a Place Like Klippiesfontein is probably a little closer to my heart than Head Over Heart. Cargo Publishing is a small publishing house with a lot of attention for its authors. So saying I’m thrilled would be a sad understatement. There probably isn’t a word big enough to describe what this feels like since it’s something I’ve hankered after since I was nine.
Do you have any other books/novels in the works right now? If so, can you tell us about them?
I’m working on a book called The Godforsaken. It’s set in a run-down bar in the middle of Brussels and is frequented by a bunch of characters who live on the seedier side of life. It takes a look at poverty in Belgium, in Europe, and society’s prevalent pastime of blaming poor people for their situation while sitting happy and insulated on a cushion of middle-class contentment. Hopefully it should be finished to send off to my agent by the summer.
Last but not least, what a title! Did you have any other possible titles in the offing, or was this one always it?
The book started off as an entry for a short story competition under the title of ‘In the Deep’, but it changed pretty quickly after that, to What to do with Lobsters in a Place Like Klippiesfontein when I decided to develop it further. I played around with ideas and word combinations until I found something I was happy with.