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Franschhoek Literary Festival

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Crimes of Passion at the FLF

Deon Meyer, Jenny Crwys-Williams and Margie OrfordJenny Crwys-Williams, host of the “Crimes of Passion” panel at the FLF, began things on a sombre note, mentioning the statement AndrĂ© Brink had released about the murder of his nephew.

The word for the violent crime South Africans face on a daily basis is “barbarism”, Brink has apparently said – and Crwys-Williams wanted to know how the two crime writers on the panel – Deon Meyer and Margie Orford – and the interloper, Imraan Coovadia, were able to face this barbarism in their writing.

Deon Meyer, Jenny Crwys-Williams and Margie OrfordMeyer felt that both writers and readers make space for the differences between reality and fiction in their imaginations – that while the impetus for his fiction might come from real-world crime, he’s using the facts to create a world separate from reality, that one can inhabit consciously, without worrying about whether any lines will be crossed.

Orford has recently visited a mortuary for a current writing project, and said that what chills her the most about violence in South Africa is the maleness of it. What she tries to do is distill reality, rather than create a world. Look at the cold, dead, male bodies lined up on the slab – all of them male, no exceptions – and try to back form the story, reduce the number of cadavers, create a plausible line of events, connections and motivations.

Crwys-Williams probed Coovadia – not a crime writer, as roundly acknowledged by all – on whether any crime writing had influenced him.

“Raymond Chandler,” he said. “‘There were two people in the room. Only one of them was dead’” – one of Coovadia’s favourite lines from the genre. He mentioned that the family in Green-Eyed Thieves was divided between criminals and philosophers – and that what connected them was “doubt”: the philosopher doubts the assumptions that people hold, and the criminal doubts that society’s rules should be automatically adhered to.

Crwys-Williams then asked the panel if it was fair to say that the widening circle of crime writers were creating an identifiable South African sub-genre.

Meyer took the lead, singling out Mike Nicol and his recent novel, Payback, as the “true trailblazer” in this regard. But he mentioned that he thought SA crime writing was still heavily influenced by the American style of the genre, more than any other.

In terms of genre, Orford said, of Blood Rose, “I was actually writing a love story between my characters, and I needed to give them something to do between dates.” Orford fans will be pleased to know that she’s planning to reprise her pinching of another writer’s character for her next book… but we won’t say just who yet.

Quote of the hour: “If I was an SA crime writer… writing about a society that starts off in disorder, and can only really end in disorder too [because of the omnipresent nature of SA crime]… I would have a problem…. we have so many bodies and so many people who kill that the connection between criminals and their victims is hard to imagine.”
– Imraan Coovadia


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