Was there a particular image or a character that inspired Apocalypse Now Now?
Our local tabloids made me think about a Cape Town with a supernatural underworld. The tabloids in South Africa are a real goldmine of urban folklore. Everything from tokoloshes to demons make weekly appearances. Some examples of actual headlines I’ve read are “Muti and the Beast” (Muti refers to the magical ingredients used in spells and can include anything from powdered vulture to human body parts), “Priest Fights Fire Demon” and “Terror by Tokoloshe”.
Was this one of those stories which arrived fully-formed, or did it go through a great deal of changes along the way?
It changed quite a lot along the way. I was lucky to have the input of some very smart writers and editors and I tried my best to refine the concept while still maintaining the raw energy that drew me to it the first place.
Do your short stories take place in the same world as Apocalypse Now Now?
No, although the story The Immaculate Particle is also set in Cape Town. In that story the world has started inexplicably dissolving piece by piece. It follows a fake psychic (who makes his living preying on those desperately looking for answers) who is trying to get together enough currency to pay a local gangster to find his daughter.
The blurb on your agent’s site notes that there’s a sequel coming in 2014 – did you deliberately leave some loose ends in the first book to deal with, or is this going to be a standalone sequel (if such a thing can exist)?
I didn’t change the ending at all but I knew that I’d be writing a sequel when I was editing Apocalypse Now Now so I did frame it in a way that would allow for a natural continuing of the story.
As I said in the review, South Africa is not a place that many readers will have visited; how much liberty have you taken with the geography of the place?
Cape Town is used by international film crews because you can pretty much find every kind of landscape around here from forest to beaches, semi-deserts and urban wastelands. I’ve tried to show some of that in the story although the story is mostly fairly localised to the city centre and the surrounding residential areas and I’ve accentuated various aspects of city life in service of the story.
The Mantis and the Octopus is a very detailed part of the backstory to this – is this based on a South African tale, or something completely new?
The god of the San people of Southern African is a shapeshifter who often assumes the form of a mantis. Some of the Mantis story is from the San mythology and the rest is just me just riffing off those ideas. The Octopus is completely made up because… GIANT OCTOPUS!
There are some quite revolting moments – particularly in the Flesh Palace. Did you either censor yourself, or were you asked to cut back on any of these?
Nobody ever asked me to censor. I did get feedback along the lines of “If you’re going to do a zombie sex dungeon then you damn well better do it properly” so maybe the more disgusting moments were me trying to doing the concept justice!
There have been a lot. Lauren Beukes, China Miéville, Neil Gaiman, Brett Easton Ellis, Margaret Atwood, Richard Kadrey. I grew up on epic fantasy and wouldn’t swop my early years with Jordan, Gemmell, Eddings, Donaldson for anything in the world. Recently I read Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis and I really enjoyed that.
What was the first story that you felt absolutely compelled to write down (either as a child or later), that you simply had to get out of your head onto paper?
My first foray into writing was a fantasy short story about elves. I remember that I got so caught up in describing their equipment and weapons that it read more like a fantasy outdoor catalogue than a story. Still it taught me that writing wasn’t quite as easy as I’d hoped and that you have to work at it.
Thanks to Citizen Sigmund at Random House for assistance in setting up this interview.