The Shaping of Water is a story that has never been told but that needs to be heard. It is set in a little known part of the world that is beautiful, fascinating and challenging. The historical events did take place but they are part of a history that is not widely known. The characters are fictitious but entirely believable. The novel weaves together the characters, the lake, and the historical events with the themes of political damage, environmental damage, damaged relationships and the survival of individuals. It is a very readable book with a compelling plot.
Please tell us a bit about the central characters in the story.
The main characters are all very different to each other. The times they live through are exceptional. Charles and Margaret are a conventional couple from a colonial background, but committed to the land and people of Africa. Marielise and Jo are radical South Africans and Freedom Fighters who want to build a different kind of future. Manda and Nick each have a troubled past and have to survive a changing world, as do Natombi and Milimo whose village home lies drowned under the new lake.
How does the book affect your heart, change your ideas, remain in your memory?
My readers have said that my novel does the three things that any good book will do and any good writer would hope to make happen.
It makes the reader care about the characters even those who are bad or mistaken.
It offers a new perspective by understanding what motivates these characters.
It opens the door on new places and different cultures.
It makes the characters, the places they loved and lived in, and the risks they took for their ideals and beliefs memorable.
Please tell us about your life in Africa.
I was born In Africa and have spent most of my life there. A Chinese proverb says "it is a curse to live in interesting times" and I certainly have. It is true that during my years in Africa I have experienced pain, loss and some degree of trauma as I grew up in a world of racism and Apartheid. I have however learnt very much and my life has been enriched by the generosity and the dignity of the people I have known who have suffered much more than me and shown much more courage as they tried to change that world and create a better one. Some of this experience I have tried to reflect in my novel.
More than anything I grew to love Africa, its people and its landscapes. This is the place I write about in this book.
You went to Art School in Cape Town, so have you always been creative?
As a child I lived in a world of books and fantasy inventing stories in which I was a cowboy hero. I drew comic strips of these stories and had lucid dreams in which I lived them out. At Art School I discovered that women were second class citizens. Racism and sexism made the life and art difficult. For a large part of my life creativity came second to political action, to family and to children. Somehow I kept secret notebooks and continued to try to paint and write, to dream and to fight for women's rights and for the rights of all humans. For the last twenty years writing and making art has been my focus.
You went travelling around Europe, so what can you tell us about this experience?
I always wanted as a child to 'see the world' – to travel, to learn, to look at art and architecture, but most of all to find out what life was like for other people in other places. It is my good fortune that I have a partner who wanted to do this also. As soon as we stopped paid employment, we set off for a year in a camper-van and made a huge figure of eight journey that took us from England all over Europe, to the Arctic Circle in Norway via Finland and the Baltic states until we looped down again through Croatia across Turkey and back to France through Greece and Sicily. We saw extraordinary landscapes, tragic and inspiring histories and fascinating and amazing people. Art and poetry and writing has come and will come from this experience.
Why did you decide to settle in France?
My partner and I were looking for a way to live better, more simply and more economically. Every day we have experiences that teach us something new. Life is a challenge and a pleasure and we enjoy our rural country life. Most of all it has given me the opportunity to concentrate on my creative life and in this I am generously supported by my partner.
What is next for you?
Writing and making art, while also working for Women's rights continue to be occupy me fully. My next book, under the working title of The Tin Heart Gold Mine, is an exciting mix of wild Africa, London city life, art, sex and political intrigue all experienced by Lara, an artist, but also a mother who does not know which of her two lovers fathered her child, Tim the journalist – or Oscar, owner of the Tin Heart Gold Mine. For The Shaping of Water I used and recommend the excellent Troubador Publishing. Like me, many good writers of quality books have no option but to self-publish as the world of books, publishing, marketing and digital changes and competition increases.