Sunday Times Literary Prize nominee: HJ Golakai
Bibi Slippers asked HJ Golakai a few questions about writing her Sunday Times Literary Award-nominated book The Lazarus Effect.
In Margaret Atwood’s book on writing, Negotiating with the Dead, she compiles a list of hundreds of reasons why writers write. Some of the reasons on the list are:
If you were to name your main reasons for writing this specific book, what would they be?
- To record the world as it is.
- To set down the past before it is all forgotten / To excavate the past because it has been forgotten.
- To satisfy my desire for revenge.
- Because I knew I had to keep writing or else I would die.
- To produce order out of chaos.
- To hold a mirror up to the reader.
- To show the bastards.
- To make money so my children could have shoes.
- To attract the love of a beautiful woman / To attract the love of any woman at all.
- To serve History.
- To keep my brain from trying to be my friend by talking to me all the time.
- To not die an obscure, “normal” person; to have my name remembered beyond my circle of my relatives and friends.
- To be my own boss on a project for once.
- To get over my chronic bout of shadow (read: middle) child syndrome, make my parents proud, and put Liberia on the map again.
- To make money to pay for adventurous trips and glorious food,
- To say “Ha!” to everyone who said short girls with A-cups always finish last.
If there were to be a large-scale film adaptation of your book, who would you cast as your main character, and why?
If I got sucked in by Hollywood’s big bucks, Gabrielle Union would be the best bet, but she’d better bring her A-game to learn the Liberian accent! The best all-rounder would definitely be Genevieve Nnaji from Nigeria, because she’d nail everything: the looks and accent, the back-story, the West African woman’s fire-and-swagger personality ... you name it.
Was there anything you found particularly difficult in writing your book?
Feeling exposed through the character of Vee. It’s impossible to write about my country and circumvent all the tough emotions and memories that every Liberian faces when the subject comes up. I also have a very private side and since Vee shares many traits with me, I knew I’d have to deal with questions about that from people who know me and those who don’t. That, and juggling my time between writing and my day job, were pretty tough.
What was the first book you ever read that made you think, "I want to be a writer"?
This might not be The One, but The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie made a big impact. I was about twelve when I read it, so the slap of the twist ending left a fresh mark. I wanted to write something that good one day. Those “See Jane and Timmy Run” primers were also funny and strangely motivational. Even when I was that young, something in me used to read them and think, “Seriously? A monkey can do better than this.” Where the hell were they always running?
Do you have a "first reader"? And relating to this question, who is your ideal reader?
I have no clue what a “first reader” is, so I'm pretty sure I don’t have one. Every writer wants their book described as “hugely enjoyable”. If the writer delivers something that incites an enthusiastic, emotionally involved response from his or her audience, both parties go away happy. Beyond that no reader is really ideal.
What has been your favourite South African read of 2011/2012?
I really enjoyed Cynthia Jele’s Happiness is a Four-Letter Word and Deon Meyer’s Blood Safari.
Which one of the nominated books would you place your betting money on to walk away with this year's prize?
Haha, mine of course! In this case I'm hoping I'm the house, because the house always wins. Being sporting too, I say good luck to us all and may the best (wo)man win
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