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On writing stories based in the US…

By October 15, 2019No Comments

A few interviewers and reviewers have questioned why I, as a South African, have set two (and my upcoming 3rd novel) in the US, instead of here, in SA, where I live. The questions have ranged from the curious to acrimonious (such anger, damn, it’s just fiction).

Nevertheless – an explanation.

Firstly, I am only partially South African. My mother was from New Jersey, and although I grew up in Johannesburg, my US passport and my mother’s heritage blazed brightly in my consciousness. The US was Camelot to me, and my mother fed me a diet from the golden age of US literature – lighter stuff first, when I was young, like Michener and Haley, but then graduating to Heller and Roth and Updike and Mailer and Bellow. For me, fiction became inextricably bound up with the great American novel.  It was also a time where South African fiction was deeply impoverished – there was Paton and precious few other professional SA novelists.

Secondly, I left SA in 1978 to seek my Camelot, arriving as a fresh faced youngster in LA, and foraging there for more than 17 years. I oscillated from career to career, roomed with Rian Malan, argued politics and art and science, supped with urgent and wild dreamers, did things that I shouldn’t have (some of which have found their way into my books), sampled the best and worst of the post-Vietnam era, and loved the place, blemishes and greatness both.  Still do.

Thirdly, the fiction I write (and like to read) is often untethered to location, and the stories exist and play out against the unpredictable foibles of people, and could happen anywhere. That being said, there are great SA novels, especially over the last 20 years, in which SA is in and of itself an important character, freighted and charged with its own peculiar wounded histories.

But I think I am done with the US for the meantime. Next book will be UK or SA. So for those of you who were offended by my choice of fictional location, I am coming home soon.



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