– With Jason Donald, author of Choke Chain and Dalila –
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Scotland but came over when I was 2 or 3. My whole childhood was in SA. I’ve got air roots like an orchid.
Was there a sense of guilt surrounding your first book, Choke Chain?
It was more realisation. When you grow into a man, you see yourself and your childhood more clearly. It was my political awakening. It’s an exploration of bigotry. I had a lot of male role models teaching me how to be a bigot. The characters are taught to be confident in a world view with their mistakes being the fault of the ‘other’. It’s the air you breath. It was a process of unpicking all those things in the book.
Do you share anything with the titular character, Dalila?
You’ve got to look for little things that connect you. Use an archive of your own experiences to inform a story. For instance, I know how it is to feel alone and in limbo. It doesn’t or shouldn’t necessarily involve a piece of yourself but you should invest. My mentor, Janice Galloway, urged me to get as close as I could to the characters.
How do you go about engaging with refugees for your work?
Be honest. I assured them I was not including their names or exposing them. They are fully aware. If it doesn’t fit, don’t use it. The story has to work in fiction and it’s not about misquoting people.
Do you feel a social responsibility as a writer?
I’m happy to write silly anecdotes and am not politically motivated. But when you are politically aware and you find something that personally tugs at you, that should be written about.
Do you also help people write stories, other than writing your own?
Up to a certain point. Asylum seekers and minorities should tell their own stories. They should also be able to tell whatever stories they want. To hear their voices in other genres. It’s actually illegal for asylum seekers to be published so I get involved in other projects and help collate these stories.
Is story-telling shared?
There’s a universality that humans want to tell stories. Every story will be an individual expression, but a common thing. Stories are cups that hold meaning. It will hold together as you put individual meaning into it and make it as watertight as possible. The cup is the universal bit.
What has the process of making Dalila into a movie been like?
They bought the option as soon as the book was released and the producer was perisitent. I took them to Glasgow and let them see what I did. It’s like someone doing a cover of your own song. That’s actually lovely.
Were you apprehensive?
The character and subject matter are delicate issues and could have been made destructive in the wrong hands but we had the same sensibility.
How do you choose your titles?
I started with a list of bad names. But, Choke Chain was one of the chapters and a friend of mine pointed it out for the title. And Dalila was just so striking.
Are you going to write another book soon?
We just released Passion Gap, a short film and I’m sketching out ideas for my next novel. I’ve done the pee test and I’m ready for a new try.