Interview With Lauren Beukes

Friday, November 30, 2012
Tom Hunter: People always say it's an honour to be shortlisted for an award, and we all know from the Oscars that it's important to prep your stoic face in advance, but what is that winning moment when you hear your name read out actually like?
Lauren Beukes: Deeply shocking. Like being sideswiped by a train. I really wasn't expecting it, had, in fact, just given myself the pep talk about how it's an honour just to be here and to lose to someone as good as Ian McDonald, when China Miéville announced my name. My brother, who was my date for the evening, had to shove me at the stage because I was just sitting there, stunned - which meant I didn't have time to grab my speech and had to ad-lib. My hands shook for half an hour afterwards, but mainly it was this sense of just huge, deep gratitude for everyone who'd read the book or given me support or encouragement or a kick up the arse along the way. It was an unreal high for weeks.
TH: Writing is always hard, but does winning an award like the Clarke make it even harder in some ways?
Lauren: For the first few weeks afterwards, I found myself dreading sitting in front of the keyboard more than usual. I had this image of the ghost of Sir Arthur C. Clarke looming over my chair, arms folded, sneering,
"Better be gooo-ood. Better be even better than the last one." I moaned to my husband that I felt like the win had sabotaged my writing and he rolled his eyes (which he does a lot) and pointed out that I'm always like this at the beginning of a book, full of self-doubt and excuses not to write. I find a lot of the writing process is getting over yourself. Of course there are unrealistic expectations, but mostly they're mine.
TH: To quote a speech you gave at the British Library last year "Those who don't remember history are doomed to repeat it. Those who can't imagine the future are doomed to f**k it up." It's one of our favourite Lauren Beukes quotes, and we have lots, but how do think we can best imagine the future?
Lauren: I'm slightly biased here, but the best way to think about anything is through story that riffs off our current realities with imagination and empathy. Fiction is a distorting lens that can make things clearer. I use the fantastic because I want to tell an interesting story but also as a way of derailing issue fatigue about whatever we're changing the channel on, whether it's surveillance society or rape in the DRC or massacres in Syria. It's allegory, a way of getting perspective that's also, hopefully, really fun to read.
TH: Your next novel is The Shining Girls. What's it about, and how awesome was the bidding war that surrounded it?
Lauren: It's about a time-travelling serial killer, set in Chicago from the 30s to the 90s. I didn't realize the extent that other people would love the idea. It ended up in a six way bidding war in the UK and South Africa after Mulholland Books pre-empted in the US. It was all totally surreal. As a writer, you get used to standing out in the cold, banging on publisher's doors begging to be let in. This was like being on a dating game show. "Oh, however will I choose between all these wonderful suitors?." Pretty awesome, but also very stressful. My agent, Oli Munson, kept me grounded. When I asked him how much I thought we might get in the deal, he replied, drolly, "Anything upwards of a fiver and a packet of crisps." Which is what I sent him as a thank you present (along with a bottle of single malt) when it brought in considerably more than that.
TH: Will you return to the world of Zoo City in any future works?
Lauren: I'm spending a lot of time in the world at the moment adapting the screenplay for producer Helena Spring who has optioned the novel and it feels really good to be back. I would consider returning for a sequel, there's a lot more I'd like to play with and I know exactly what it would be about, but only in two books time at the earliest.
TH: You've just been announced as God-Empress of Science Fiction Awards for a day, what do you do?
Lauren: Oooh, oooh, I would stick a needle in the winner's brain as the announcement was made to be able to synthesise that incredible high of being acknowledged for all the hard work and rolling with the gut-punches to get here and the incredible happy gratitude for the debt you owe to everyone who helped you along the way and then replicate it in a secret underground lab in my basement and sell it as a street drug. It'd be like Breaking Bad's blue meth, only awesome and nice and without the comedown and the inconvenient killing.
TH: You've visited London several times, even if sometimes only on flying visits. What are your favourite things to do in the city?
Lauren: My flying visit (six hour stopover en route to the USA) was to do a reading at the British Library's Out Of This World exhibition with Zoo City cover designer Joey Hi-Fi. I showered at a random stranger's house, via my friends at PornoKitsch, went for breakfast with friends, did the event, had a glass of wine with everyone who came along and rushed back to the airport to get back on a plane.
There are a couple of things I always try to do when I'm in London:
Get to the Tate Modern and other galleries. My favourite show was Louise Bourgeois' towers and spider in the Turbine Hall and seeing Dutch artist Theo Jansen demonstrating his autonomous art animal Strandbeests "live" in Trafalgar Square.
Wander round Brick Lane with my brother and his wife.
Go for a chilled and boozy lunch in Angel somewhere with lovely writer friends including Kim Newman, Pat Cadigan and Chris Fowler, Paul Cornell, Paul McAuley, Sarah Pinborough, John and Judith Clute and and Robert Shearman among others.
Try to see some cool show. Fuerza Bruta was mindblowing, but I couldn't get tickets for War Horse, which sucked because The Handspring Puppet Company is South African and they haven't performed it here.
Buy interesting shoes for cheap in Camden. (My best ever purchase was my girlie 18-hole Docs with slight heel and pointed toe and hooks for easy lacing that I bought in 1996 and have not only lasted til now, but get me stopped in the street by stylists demanding to know where I got them).
Mainly though I like to for dinner at friends', because London feels like a second home and what I want to do is just hang out with good people.


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