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Maya Fowler

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

In good company

This weekend in Franschhoek I had the privilege of being a panelist alongside Yewande Omotoso, subsequently shortlisted for the Sunday Times prize for her novel Bom Boy, and Tracey Farren, author of Whiplash and Snake. (The latter was on the Sunday Times longlist.) We spoke mostly about setting and spaces, since the discussion was entitled “Cape Voices”. Yewande explained that she had chosen to place a lot of the action in Cape Town’s Salt River, Woodstock and Observatory, because her character Leke is a young man living at the fringe of society, a person with a brittle identity. She felt that the part of the city she chose is a place where one can easily hide.

I talked about setting The Elephant in the Room in Kalk Bay, because it’s a magical seaside space with plenty of history, mystery and texture, with a shift to the very suburban Plumstead, Cape Town. I did this to enhance the sense of loss my character Lily felt at being displaced. At this point I had to alert the audience to the fact that there’s nothing wrong with Plumstead! I myself have lived there, and Gus Ferguson, one of our leading poets, lives there to this day.

Stella, the charming young protagonist in Tracey’s Snake, was placed her in a rural setting, which gave her plenty of opportunity to hide in the outdoors. Tracey wanted to provide her – a young girl who has to deal with massive trauma – with a measure of safety. And orchards, hedges, grassy hillocks: these are places of healing, for Stella, and for Tracey.



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