In answer to a question, posed at Vredehoek Public Library, concerning the magical-realism of my novels
Magical-realism presents credible worlds, with all the gritty realism of actual life, but allows for the addition of improbable elements, like the visit of an angel or a Madonna. This genre allows for small miracles to happen in the everyday life of the fiction.
If I look back, it seems that my whole life has unfolded in a magical-realist way. As a child, I was surrounded by the iconography of Catholicism and Judaism and was also exposed to African magic and overt superstition.
From a fairly young age, I was aware of prophets and the visitations of angels; of potent curses and miracles; of relics that held spiritual power and of the dark underpinnings of paganism within Catholicism. I knew too of the power wielded by ancestral energies, witches and tokoloshes. The vividly described transubstantiation; the changing of water into wine; the feeding of multitudes with a few loaves and fishes; and the curing of lepers, predisposed me towards an unquestioning acceptance of miracles. The possibility of supernatural visitations and the power of magic, both good and malignant, were ever present. All this, naturally, led me to ‘see’ life through the eyes of a magic-realist and, indeed, to live my own life with a measure of magic.
It was in the Famiglia C’s household of many children that the fact of miracles-within-the-everyday was once told to me. Above their parent’s bed, in the darkened bedroom, hung a religious picture which I remember for its stormy blue-black and purple-blue tones. It was a picture of Christ being removed from his cross, and of his mother, the Virgin Mary, cradling him in the posture of the Pieta. It was portent with mystery and depth. Because we all knew that Christ was buried and rose again from the dead, the picture was also alive with the sense of its impending miracle.
The children, all much older than me, told me that sometimes real tears trickled down from the eyes of Mary and that once a drop of real blood oozed from Christ’s chest wound. They let me stand on their parent’s bed to examine the place where the Roman soldier’s spear had delivered the death-stab, but there was no sign of blood and I was sorry not to have seen the miracle myself, but from then on began to always expect miracles and to seek for angels and wise visitors in the most ordinary of circumstances.
Alongside magical-realism, I’ve made use of meta-fiction too, allowing the reader to enter the work, or entering it myself as the author, playing a part within the unfolding story. Both genres allow for great inventiveness and imagination. They are challenging and interesting to use. While the work is in progress, great attention to detail is required. All the threads must tie up, otherwise credibility can go awry.
My most difficult piece of writing? None of it has been easy, and I can’t name a favourite piece either. I’m creating worlds that have to appear real, while not being real; and forming characters who live real lives, without actually existing. To this is added that magical component …. I have to keep my wits about me. Mostly, I have to be careful not to let any of the fiction intrude into my own life, my own ‘real’ world.
Extract from my work-in-progress: On Writing – An African Memoir