BY ALEXANDER MATTHEWS
The award-winning journalist and writer Margie Orford is the author of the Clare Hart series of crime novels. The five books in the series have been published internationally, in nine different languages. Born in London and raised in Namibia, the Cape Town-based Orford is Executive Vice-President of South African PEN and patron of Rape Crisis.
What does “writing” mean?
Earning a living.
What book changed your life?
The first one I learned to read — a Beatrix Potter, I think — I was about five and suddenly the black squiggles that I had been puzzling over since I was three coalesced into the letters. I realised the magic trick: that writing is written-down talking/thinking/feeling.
Describe your workspace.
I have a studio in my garden. No internet. Huge windows that give me a panoramic view of Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak. A table, a chair, a chaise longue for naps. NOBODY is allowed over the threshold. So no hurly-burly etc. there.
The most important instrument you use?
Pen, paper, heart, brain.
What’s your most productive time of day?
When my panic is greatest.
What do you do when you’re stuck, or not feeling creative?
I fight with the people who love me. Then I go and write. Then I have to come out and apologise and be nice.
How do you relax?
I should, yes…
Who and what has influenced your work?
The Brothers Grimm, the Greek myths and Die Son. A couple of writers in between: the Brontë that wrote Jane Eyre, Kafka, Patti Smith, Waiting for the Barbarians and Disgrace. Some early Milan Kundera, Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain. The many people — survivors, perpetrators and arbiters of violence — whom I have interviewed and dreamt of. Freud. Jung. Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. Johnny Cash A LOT — and other country music too. MacBeth and King Lear etc. I gannet from pretty much everything I read and hear; culture, society — and writing too — is part of one long conversation. Books are just the written down part of it.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Show don’t tell.
Your favourite ritual?
Pouring a glass of wine; smoking a cigarette.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Convincing people who do actual useful things that writing is an actual useful job.
What do you dislike most about yourself?
That I think too much before I do things.
What are you afraid of?
Not having loved enough.
What advice would you give to people starting out in a writing career?
If you can’t be a trapeze artist then you might as well try writing. Your failures will be less spectacular and you won’t break your neck trying it.
What’s the thing you’re proudest of doing?
Photograph: Zaheer Cassim