- Diane Awerbuck:
Diane Awerbuck has just published her first novel, Gardening at Night, and it is without a doubt one of the most refreshing books to hit our shelves in quite some time. It is completely autobiographical, and follows Diane's life as a young girl growing up in Kimberley, going through adolescance and womenhood, all the while under circumstances that are not always that easy. Diane has got a unique style of writing, and her very individualistic personality and off beat sense of humour is highly entertaining. Diane currently stays in Cape Town, and has taken the time to answer some questions via email for us.
EB: This is your first novel, so people don't know you yet. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Who is "Diane Awerbuck"?
DA: "Know" as in the Biblical sense? Everything people need to know about me is in the book. I am a post-feminist young white South African woman with a taste for Ray Bradbury and The Magnetic Fields. And licorice. I believe that black gives you the edge, that everyone needs a Dolly Parton tape, that stone-washed denim was always a bad idea. I believe in God. I believe in love. Tell me when to stop.
EB: Was there any specific motivating factors that propelled you into writing?
DA: I thought my mother was going to die - she kept having lumps removed from her left breast. There was so much I needed to say still. I wasn't ready to let her go. She's safe now, but wasn't always. Trauma does that, sifts the silly and pointless from the poignant and real.
My partner left the country at about the same time, and left a spiritual gap as well as a geographical one. I applied for the Masters course so I didn't have to think. The irony.
EB: You're a high school teacher. How do you find the children's attitudes towards writing and literature? Do you feel that there is something that we can and should do to encourage a love for books and literature with them?
DA: Students at high school level are pretty much set in their ways - you have to catch them young. I loved teaching poetry and lit - powerful stuff without being sentimental - and I liked that they got excited, that I could facilitate that lighting up of dark corners - not in the "darkest Africa" sense, but just providing alternatives to their daily fare.
I don't teach much anymore. I was tired in a way that wasn't going away. I made myself sick. Literally. Now I'm unemployed. It's kif.
EB: Seeing that you don't write full-time, where and how do you find the time to write?
DA: I used to feel guilty and work-avoidant all week, sit in PTA meetings grinning my head off and desperately wanting to be at home, and then dash off two or three pieces on Sunday night because I knew I was going to see my Masters supervisor on Monday. Pressure worked for me - it probably doesn't work for everyone. I am incredibly lucky. Writing is easy, and there is just so goddamn much to say.
I'm writing "full-time" now (I still can't believe people are willing to pay me to do this) - wanting to do some travel writing. Two more novels in the head, but I'm trying to pace myself. You know, like a pace-maker.
EB: How long did it take you to write Gardening at Night?
DA: Nine months. My pseudo child. I had something to say.
EB: It is always interesting to see the titles authors give to their books. Can you tell us a little bit about your choice of title?
DA: I stole it from REM; it's off an old album. They've saved me repeatedly. But it's literal as well. My mother used to garden in the evenings. Kimberley is so hot that you can't water during the day. Your plants will boil. That smell - of rubber hosepipes and dog spit and her turning over the earth - stays in my head. It's a metaphor for starting over, the ability to do that, but it's also just itself.
EB: How much of the book is based on actual events in your life, and how much of it is just fiction?
DA: All real. There are some people who won't talk to me anymore. It shouldn't make a difference, that fact-fiction split. Our entire lives are constructs. We live in our heads.
EB: Throughout the book you have a lot of references to mythology, legends and fairy tales. Is there any specific reason for using these? Is it a field of personal interest for you?
DA: Those stories saved this loser child for years - the idea that there is something out there that is bigger and better than your life. The redeeming power of stories. Kimberley is a cultural desert. I grew up to find that I didn't need the sword or the Lady. Or the Prince. Think about it - one hundred-year-old morning breath...
But in the ordinary there is magic too. We only find that out after divorces and drugs and saying never-agains. We just need to pay attention. It's not hard.
EB: Your book is truly South African in the sense that it is rich with South African culture, our way of thinking, our languages and ways of expressing ourselves. Having your novel published internationally, how do you find the response to be from people who are not that familiar with the South African way of doing things?
DA: Friends there who've read it have only been gracious. I did make a French girl cry at one of my lectures. I appreciated that. She said it made her think of her parents. So it's a bit hands-across-the-oceany, but that's cool. I wrote it so that girls don't have to think they are alone. And that's generic.
EB: What do you like to read? What are you reading at the moment?
DA: Other people's letters and email. Ray Bradbury. Barbara Kingsolver. Maja Kriel. Antjie Krog. Hunter S. Thompson. Tin Tin. At the moment I'm reading Schott's Original Miscellany and Young's The Book of the Heart. I'm a glutton for facts and a symbol ****.
EB: What inspires you?
DA: That's a strange question. The X-Files? Everything. Of course.
EB: What are your plans for the future in terms of your writing? Can we expect to see another novel from your side sometime soon?
DA: Little old Jewish ladies sidle up to me and ask what happened with Gordon. So I think I'm going to set their minds at rest - insofar as the minds of old Jewish ladies rest. I'd like to write about Daisy de Melker and Helen Martins, all these great and bizarre South African women. More travel writing, starting with Observatory. That's already begun, like that Carpenters song.There's a website I'll write for: www.extrange.com.