The Book Club Blog

Books for any occasion and other life stuff

You’ve read the review,now read the interview.

on January 4, 2010

Now that you have read my review of A Legal Alien, and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for, go here to read it, I would like to introduce to you – Jo Latimer. She is the South African author of this delightful and very funny book.  Jo found The Book Club Blog and when I found out that she had written a book, I jumped at the chance to suggest an interview and what luck! She said yes.

With no further pomp and circumstance, here are the answers to the interview questions. As you will soon see, Jo has a fabulous way with words and her humour shines through this interview.  If you haven’t yet read her book, this is just a small taste of what you can expect.

1)  What were your favourite books as a child?

Before I could read, my grandmother read me the Noddy books, my aunt read me the Narnia series and my mom read me the Stan and Jan Berenstains Bear books (“The big honey hunt” / “The bears holiday”) and the Oscar Wilde Fairy Tales. Those books all hold very special meaning for me as a result. When I started reading I read anything I could get my hands on – I remember Flat Stanley, The Secret Garden and a series (I think) written about a hamster called Hafferty Hamster Diamond. When I was a bit older anything by Roald Dahl – I’m still a fan, Wind in the Willows, Water Babies, Peter Pan… The list is endless!

2)  What book/s are you currently reading?

My last book club left me with all the books (3 huge bags full), so I am working my way through all the ones which have piqued my interest, but which I haven’t had time to read over the last year. Next up is “Three cups of tea”, “The Whale Caller” and as soon as I get my hands on it, the 3rd in the Stieg Larsson trilogy – one of the best series I have read in years.

3) To date, what is the worst book that you have read?

I always try and give a book a chance – some I will even give until the last page in the remote hope that something redemptive happens. I am sure there have been others, but the one book I absolutely loathed in the recent past was “Love in the Time of Cholera”. Calling it a love story is akin to calling ‘Requiem for a Dream’ a cheery comedy. It’s not about the quality of the writing, but probably the fact that it was ‘Oprah-ised’ and built up to impossible heights – and then I read it and discovered that it’s predominantly quite a dark, twisted tale of a life-long obsession. No thanks! Perhaps I will try reading it again when I’m in the mood for dark and twisted.

4)  What inspired you to write ‘A legal Alien’ and are any of your characters based on real life people?

I spent two years living in London. By the time I returned home to South Africa, I still felt rather perplexed by all the odd contradictions, characters and rules I had been exposed to. The book began as a kind of literary therapy called “A South Africans Survival Guide to Living in London” which I started for friends and family who had been through the whole experience with me. It was a tongue-in-cheek poke at the seriousness with which the Brits sometimes take themselves. I know that no-one makes fun of the Brits as well as they do themselves (which is part of the strange contradictory nature of living there), but this is my contribution.

There are indeed bits and pieces of people I know in the characters I wrote. For instance, Terry has shades of two very good friends of mine who are the most naturally funny people I have ever met. Glenda is probably one of the characters where I borrowed most blatantly from real life – she is based on a real-life rellie my aunt dug up and the two of us hit it off. We’re still in contact years later and she’s one of my biggest fans. Then there’s the friend of my brother who taps his nose knowingly and tells me that ‘he knows who all the characters are’. I wish he’d clue me in!

5)  Are the incidents described in your book ‘true to life’ or did you use ‘literary licence’?

Some of the incidents have grains of truth at their centre, but in most cases they have been outrageously and shamelessly exaggerated. The rest is pure fiction. Embarrassingly enough, the vibrating vanity case is a true story – although I was travelling to meet my husband with my in-laws who had come over to visit. They pretended not to know me.

6)  Did you always have a passion to write a book, or did this one stealthily creep up and surprise you?

I’ve always had a passion for writing, but never considered taking it any further than storing copious amounts of full, attractively bound notebooks in cupboards. Then I was challenged to try finishing something I had started writing and this was the result. I suppose, then, that the answer is that it was one of those stealthy surprises.

7)  Who are your favourite South African authors and who inspires you to put pen to paper?

There are too many! I love writers who can tell a story simply, but in a way that is so evocative you can see / hear / feel / taste what they are experiencing. A few years ago I was in an academic bookstore and happened to pick up a book by a South African poet which was called “The dream in the next body” – the poet was Gabeba Baderoon and I was transfixed by the simplicity and beauty of her writing. I love happy accidents like that.

8)  I know this is a bit of a cliched question, but if you had any advice for an aspiring writer, what would it be?

Simply put: Don’t give up. Be prepared to revise, NOT compromise on your work. In all likelihood, most writers will experience rejection of some sort before their manuscript is accepted. When I started approaching publishers, I was told that although they enjoyed the story and my writing, the way the book was written was problematic – a lovely man (who originally came from England and got all nostalgic reading about the room-temperature ale) very kindly told me that the South African publishing world was rather conservative (this was in 2006) and that I should consider re-writing. I considered this and ultimately rejected his well-meant advice, because the story just doesn’t work any other way. It may have taken a few years longer, but it happened.

9)  What is your idea of happiness?

Being on my farm with my ‘Italian-South African’, 3 dogs, 6 cats, 1 rescue horse who can’t be ridden & an assortment of wild animals. Nothing better.

Thank you, Jo, for being such a willing participant at The Book Club Blog, we enjoyed having you!

(And for those of you who are still not in the know, we have two copies of ‘A Legal Alien’ to give away, for your opportunity, please leave a comment on the review page of this book. The draw will take place on the 15th January and winners will be announced on the 16th. Good Luck!)

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