Lauren Beukes: The Shining Girl

Lauren Beukes: The Shining Girl

Her work has been praised by Stephen King. George RR Martin dubs her a “major, major talent.” Leonardo Di Caprio’s production company sends her Christmas cards. South Africa’s hottest speculative-fiction writing export, Lauren Beukes, who is regularly seen sporting a Wonder Woman t-shirt, is a superhero in her own right.

Lauren is an award-winning, internationally best-selling novelist who also writes comics, screenplays, TV shows and journalism. Her books have been translated into 26 languages and have been optioned for film and TV. Her accolades include winning the Arthur C Clarke Award, the prestigious University of Johannesburg prize, the August Derleth Award for Best Horror, the Strand Critics Choice Award for Best Mystery Novel, the RT Thriller of the Year, the Kitschies Red Tentacle for best novel, the Exclusive Books’ Bookseller’s Choice Award and her work has also been included in best of the year round-ups by NPR, Amazon and the LA Times.

Lauren’s involvement in film and television work is legendary in its own right and includes directing Glitterboys & Ganglands, a documentary about Cape Town’s biggest female impersonation beauty pageant. The film won best LGBT film at the San Diego Black Film Festival.

Lauren was also the showrunner on South Africa’s first full length animated TV series, URBO: The Adventures of Pax Afrika which ran for 104 half hour episodes from 2006-2009 on SABC3. She’s also written for the Disney shows Mouk and Florrie’s Dragons and on the satirical political puppet show, ZANews and the Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s South African Story.

I had a look at your schedule for 2016 and I’m surprised you find even 5 minutes to spare! I know you’re preparing for the FanCon Cape Town Comic Con and the Franschoek Literary Festival this month, but you just returned from the Persian Gulf, where you attended the Art Dubai event. Last year your USA and Euro tours included eight different countries. How do you cope with all of it and still find time to get any writing done?

I steal time whenever I can, but you have to remember that for all the travel I do (and it is exhausting and demanding and I spend half my life jetlagged), I am in the incredibly lucky position that this IS my day job. I’m not trying to write at night while balancing another full time career as I was before The Shining Girls.

You have a young daughter. Does she travel with you and, if not, how do you both cope with the intensity of your manic schedule?

She stays with her dad. She’s seven and finds book launches incredibly boring. But she does get frustrated. Last year she said to me: “But why do you have to travel? Why can’t you have a normal job, like normal people?” And then she thought about it for a second and said, “Oh yeah, cos then you wouldn’t get to write Wonder Woman comics.”

Does she share your love for reading and writing? Do you encourage her or is it in the genes?

She came out loving stories. As a nine month old baby, we’d take her to story time at the Book Lounge and she’d sit on my lap right at the front, riveted to the rhythm of the words even if she had no clue what they meant. There’s a power in storytelling, particularly when it’s communal. But story time is sacred time in our house – if we get home late, we might skip TV or playtime, but we’ll never skip stories. She’s starting to read more on her own, but it’s still a very special time for the both of us, especially reading comics like Nimona by Noelle Stevens or The My Little Pony comics. She tells me off if I get the voices wrong.

The highlight of my SABF experience was speaking on this panel, hosted by Louis Greenberg, with Lauren and Fred Strydom!

In many ways you are considered to be a pioneer, paving the way for other South African speculative fiction writers. How did you start writing? And did you ever expect to become such an international sensation?

I wanted to be an author from the time I was five years old and I discovered that was a job you could have, that you could get paid money to make up stories. I don’t know how to say this without sounding horribly immodest, but I knew, deep in my gut, I knew that I was going to do this and I shaped my whole life, from five, towards that ambition.

Your advice to would-be authors is to follow a career in journalism. How do you think your years as a journalist equipped you to write books?

Well, my advice to writers is to write. Journalism is a great way to train on the job, to be forced to meet a deadline and a word count, to write in different styles, to find different ways into a story and it exposes you to the world. Journalism gave me a way to explore other perspectives, like a backstage pass into other people’s heads.

Let’s talk about Broken Monsters. The plot deals with a serial killer trying to remake the world in his image and quite honestly scared me half to death. Even Stephen King, considered by most to be the greatest horror writer of all time, hailed it “Scary as hell and hypnotic.” The book has been racking up great reviews from The New York Times to The Guardian and NPR and won best suspense novel in the ALA’s 2015 Reading List. What inspired this particular story?

Um. Truthfully? A failed comics pitch. I had the image of a female detective finding a body that was half human, half deer and started thinking about what that meant, who created it. As someone on Twitter ingeniously observed, “So you basically killed Mr Tumnus from Narnia?” Yep. It’s about creativity and thwarted ambition, about art and masculinity, how the Internet shapes who we are and being a teenage girl in this strange new world we live in.

The Shining Girls is arguably your most well-known title. It certainly isn’t short of awards – including the prestigious Strand Critics Choice Award and the University of Johannesburg Prize. The book has been optioned by Leonardo diCaprio’s production company, Appian Way to be turned into a movie. Can you share any information about the film?

It’s in development, which means they are working on a script, hunting down the right director, shopping it around to talent. It might take anywhere from 4-10 years to get made and, sorry to disappoint you, but 99% of books that get optioned to be turned into movies never make it to the big screen at all. It’s that whole having to raise $30 million thing.

Which of your books are you most proud of and why?

Zoo City is my favourite, Broken Monsters is my best.

Moving on to comics and graphic novels. How is the writing different, apart from the actual word count?

It’s much more collaborative, working with an artist and a colorist and the letterer who all help unfold the story and make it their own. On Survivors Club, I’m co-writing it with Dale Halvorsen (better known as Joey Hi-Fi, award-winning cover designer who does all my South African covers). I love the surprise of working with other minds, when they come up with things you wouldn’t possibly have on your own.

Your graphic novel with artist Inaki Miranda, Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom is a dark Tokyo twist on the legend of Rapunzel set in Bill Willingham’s Fables universe, and a New York Times bestseller. I adore the Fables world. How did you get invited to write in this magical universe?

I met Bill at the bar of a convention and he came along to a reading I was doing because he saw how nervous I was and felt sorry for me. But then he insisted on introducing me to his editor at Vertigo, Shelly Bond (now the head of the imprint) and set up the meeting. I’ve never felt like such a fraud in my life, even though I’ve always, always wanted to write comics, and hey, it’s turned out okay.

You recently began collaborating with Joey Hi-Fi, the alter ego of award-winning illustrator and designer, Dale Halvorsen, who designed the amazing artwork for your book covers. How does a typical “meeting” between the two of you go?

Dale describes our writing sessions on our limited run horror comic, Survivors’ Club as “creepy playtime”. We sit and talk through the plot and the character’s motivations and often act it out. (Those improv classes really came in handy). Most recently, we sat with Dale’s action figures and worked out the choreography of a very big and very complicated fight scene. It doesn’t really feel like work, even when it’s brain breaking. It’s very important to both of us that the story has a pay off, that we have the answers to all the mysteries, that the characters are acting in their interests or are consistent with who they are, and, this is the really hard part, that we subvert the horror tropes and take the reader somewhere unexpected.

You are a fierce supporter of local talent. You advocate many South African (and African) fiction writers in your talks, and you urge readers to support local writers, particularly in the speculative fiction genres. You also run ‘The Spark’ on your website,, whereby you invite SA authors to blog about their own books and the inspiration behind them. What prompted this initiative and what message do you ultimately hope to convey to readers out there?

That SA fiction is not just heavy politics or apartheid stories or farm murders (although it might include some of those things) – that the talent here is up there with the international bestsellers clogging our shelves front-of-store.

You are fairly pro traditional publishing. What are your feelings about independent or self-publishing?

I would not want to do it myself. I like having a boss who sets a deadline and pays me an advance before the book ever hits the shelves, so I have the financial freedom and space to write, who manages the editing and copy editing and production and layout and commissioning a cover artist based on careful market research and does the distribution and marketing and publicity because that means I have more time to write. If those are things you’re happy to do yourself, power to you. I suck at that stuff and I’d rather leave it to the professionals who pay me.

The one and only time we ever met you were wearing a pair of Doc Marten knee-high boots, fishnet stockings and a Wonder Woman t-shirt. What influences your style and what is your favourite personal item of clothing?

Interesting, surprising things, same as the influences on my writing. My favourite item is my 18 hole Docs that I bought in Camden in 1996 for 70 pounds, which was the most I’d ever spent on anything in my life up until that point. They’ve taken a beating and I recently had them re-soled, but they’re still good.

You don’t sound at all South African, which probably makes it easier for your international audience to connect with (and understand!) you. Your accent is hard to place, but my first thought was American. Have you always had the accent, or has it developed over time and through the course of your travels?

I am really, really, really, for real-life, South African. I was born here, grew up here, live here now. I did live in the USA for two years but Americans don’t think I sound American. My accent is more of a mid-Atlantic mongrel melange of English variations. Ashraf Jamal recently described me as an “international bastard”. That shoe fits and I’m wearing it.

What can we expect next from you?

We’re wrapping up the final issue of Survivors’ Club, which will be collected in a trade paperback (aka graphic novel) in September from Vertigo.

I have a book of short stories and essays, Slipping coming out in October from Tachyon Press.

And a new novel, Motherland, out 2017 from Penguin in the UK and Mulholland Books in the USA.

Lauren currently resides in Cape Town, South Africa. For more information, please visit her website at


Jen Su: From Z-A Lister

Jen Su: From Z-A Lister

Jen Su is one of South Africa’s most unique TV and radio personalities. She is a news presenter on Business Day TV and Sky News ‘The African Business Report’, a radio presenter on CliffCentral for the Gareth Cliff Morning Show, a contributor to SABC3 Expresso, and entertainment reporter for People Magazine’s ‘Out and About with Jen Su’. Jen has also been an actress on the hugely popular drama series Isibaya (Season 1) and on Jacob’s Cross (Seasons 5 and 6).

Jen is a top Corporate Emcee and has been the Master of Ceremonies for galas and launches for major corporations such as HSBC, Mercedes-Benz, Coca-Cola, Qatar Airways, Telkom, Transnet, G4S, Heineken, DHL, and many more. She is fluent in English, Mandarin Chinese and Thai, and has also emceed a number of bilingual events for the Thai Embassy and Chinese corporations in South Africa.

Jen is well-known on the social scene, as one of South Africa’s most prominent socialites and A-List celebrities.

She is an avid traveler, hat collector, and red carpet reporter – from the Cannes Film Festival in France, to the MTV Europe Music Awards in Scotland, to New York Fashion Week, to the BET Awards in LA – Jen has been at the forefront of entertainment reporting.

Jen has been in the field of news presenting with over a decade of experience – in addition to BDTV and the financial report on Sky, Jen has been a prime time anchor for Star News Asia in Hong Kong, a senior anchor for Thai TV Channel 11 Newsline, and an anchor for Good Morning China on China TV in Taiwan.



When Jen Su came to our offices for an interview eight years ago I knew immediately that this petite Chinese-American dynamo was going to make a huge impact on the South African social scene. Jen arrived, not knowing anyone in South Africa, impeccably dressed, with portfolio and show-reel in hand. She was confident, talented, experienced, and prepared.

When we launched over a year ago, Jen moved over with us, and to this day is still a part of our CliffCentral family. She is a master at networking, a loyal friend, and brilliant at building her reputation in a natural, effortless way. She also loves to take photos of everything – and we can count on Jen to document everything that’s been going on.

On the surface Jen might seem to be just a hat-loving socialite, but if you’ve ever seen Jen anchor the financial news on Sky, emcee a corporate gala, or sing solo with the Soweto Gospel Choir you will be impressed by the depth of her intellect and talent.

And now, in her book, Jen gives a fresh, unique perspective and shares her secrets to success.

Enjoy and be inspired! – Gareth Cliff, President and Founder,

Your relationship with your father was very close. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you now that he is no longer with you, to share in your success. If you could tell him anything today, what would it be?

I believe that my Dad has always followed my journey, even in death. In the book ‘Journey of Souls’ they talk about the afterlife and I believe that my Dad knows everything that has happened thus far in my life. But if I could tell him anything today, I would say that I miss him so much and I wish more than anything that he could be here with me. I wish I could take him on a tour of beautiful South Africa, and take him on safari!

Tell us about your love of hats.

I am meticulous in crafting each aspect of my appearance and one example of my signature looks are my hats – all 300+ of them. It’s not an Imelda Marcos obsession, but a thought-through element of my style that has added to my distinction and character in endless ways. It all started in my days in Taiwan as a singer, when I found that hats had a way of covering my forehead and making my face look a bit smaller. I stood out, I looked cute, and people noticed me. Over time, however, I realised that hats also had a powerful way of changing one’s character to fit the mood or occasion, without having to change every article of clothing.

I could wear hats to reflect my stylish side, my ‘fun in the sun’ side, and even my crazy side. Over time, hats became my calling card and my trademark. I became the ‘Mad Hatter’ from Thailand to Hong Kong to South Africa. Fans sent me hats and fascinators as gifts on my birthday. And now I’m still asked to judge ‘Best Hat’ for major equestrian events such as the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate or the J&B Met.

What does it feel like moving countries six times, and having to start all over again in each new land?

It has been absolutely agonising to the point of suicide and depression. I have no words, I have experienced the very depths of humiliation and embarrassment, and I have also experienced the gratitude of meeting some absolutely incredible people that have crossed my path in my life journey.

Do you ever get nervous on the red carpet?

Yes. I’m not nervous if I’m the one walking the red carpet, but I’m nervous when I’m the one who has to interview Hollywood celebrities on the red carpet overseas at a huge event. When an A-List celeb walks down the red carpet, you have a split second to grasp their attention and get that interview, or you miss it entirely.  Fortunately, with my American accent, I often grasp the attention of many a Hollywood A-Lister, who usually do a double-take and stop to listen to what I’ve asked!

What does the ‘day in the life of Jen Su’ look like?

It’s very hectic, and it changes from day to day. It almost always starts early, usually before 6am, and consists of photo shoots, on-air broadcasting for my radio show, TV, press conferences, and evening events which range from small product launches to huge corporate galas.

What many people don’t realise is that you are an accomplished pianist – when did you learn and what are your most memorable performing experiences?

I started to play classical piano from the age of five and I performed in national piano competitions from the age of eight. By the time I was ten years old, I was practising piano five hours a day, on my own with no supervision. Neither of my parents nor my brothers were musicians and they did not have to push me to practise. I just had this sense of discipline and desire for accomplishment and perfection that drove me to play those scales over and over again till my fingertips were sore and bleeding. It never felt burdensome, though at times the sound of my friends laughing and playing in the yard outside did pull me off my bench and into a friend’s house or pool. Still, day after day, I found my way back to that piano bench. It was just something I felt compelled to do, and the satisfaction of advancement, of nailing a difficult piece, or performing impeccably at a recital, or winning a national piano competition was the fuel that would drive me further.

One of my favourite playing experiences was with the Philadelphia Orchestra and trumpetist Frank Kaderabek, when I performed the Shostakovitch Piano Concerto No. 1. Another occasion was the U.S. popular morning show ‘The Today Show’. We were selected as a Chinese traditional ribbon dance troupe, which performed all over the nation.

Another thing that many people don’t know about you is that you can sing. Please tell us about your collaboration with Loyiso, JR, and RJ Benjamin, and also your winning a TV singing contest similar to ‘Taiwan Idols’.

Thank you – yes, I’ve been fortunate to have released five albums in Asia and my collaboration with Loyiso, JR, and RJ Benjamin was a theme song called ‘Rise Up South Africa’, which was part of a national compilation of the top World-Cup inspired songs.

Who have you met in South Africa who has inspired you the most, and why?

Nelson Mandela (who I had the honour of meeting at a press conference in Thailand many years ago), Bryan Habana (his family ‘adopted’ me as their adopted South African goddaughter), Gareth Cliff (he’s been an amazing mentor and friend), and of course my ‘pinkies’ – my close girlfriends Danielle Franco, Peta Eggierth-Symes, and Jill Grogor. I have learned so much from their success. And for the book, the late Reeva Steenkamp was the person who inspired me to finally get my courage together and write From Z to A-Lister: How To Build Your Personal Brand.

What advice can you give aspiring authors on the process of writing a book?

You must be extremely patient and always think in detail. Don’t be afraid of failure!

What is one message you would like to give the youth of South Africa today?

Follow your dreams and passions!

You are the mom of two boys – how do you manage juggling parenthood with the line of work that you are in?

It is so difficult and you are always feeling guilty. It is truly impossible! Being a mom has had its fair share of trials. From giving birth, to nappies, to burp cloths (I’ve had spit on my suit many a time!), their first steps, to travelling abroad, and now their coming of age, I’m proud to say that I’ve been there for just about all of their birthdays and milestones. It has been extremely challenging, though, and when you’re a mom who’s also a public figure, and moving from country to country at a moment’s notice, you often feel torn because you can’t be there all the time for your kids.

If someone has to attend an event / gala / launch and their clothing budget is non-existent, what tricks can they use to make themselves look like a catwalk model?

Go through your closet and mix and match existing pieces.

But let’s say you really don’t have anything and need to buy a few basic items – then buy simple (not expensive) classic pieces that can be worn again and again. For the ladies, look at a simple LBD (little black dress without sequins or embellishments), heels, and an accessory or two. The LBD can be worn over and over, while changing accessories. Try to make sure your heels are as comfortable and easy to wear as possible. And practice walking in them! They don’t have to be sky high – just be sure that your heels look and feel fabulous. Guys should invest in one really good suit in black, grey, or vertical pinstripe, changing the look with different shirts and belts.

The important thing to remember is that people are too busy worrying about themselves and their own looks to worry about you and what you’re wearing. Wear your LBD or suit with confidence and don’t worry if you wore the same dress or suit last week. Change your accessories, wear a hat, put on a scarf, change your jewellery, change your belt, put on sunglasses.

Many people never like what they look like in photos. Are there some tricks that you can share?

Look at that camera as if it is your best friend. When the camera is right in front of you, look at the top rim of the camera lens when you are being photographed. It will make your eyes look bigger and more energetic. Looking at the bottom rim or below the camera lens will make your eyes smaller and less interesting.

When the photographer is kneeling down and shooting upwards at you standing, it’s important to slightly tilt your chin down so that your face looks slimmer.

The best kind of smile is a bit of a smile, either showing or not showing teeth, not too wide (think Cheshire cat!) and not a ‘half-smile’ either. You need to practise and take a number of photos to find out which is your best side and your best kind of smile.

You are everywhere on social media. How can writers make themselves discoverable in this medium?

Blogging, vlogging, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – you name it, there are so many excellent ways to build a profile for yourself on social media. As an author your first job is to write something brilliant. And your second job is to connect with the masses and the media. In a nutshell, you need to make yourself, and your writing, discoverable.

What one piece of advice has Gareth Cliff given you that you refer back to often?

When people criticize you is when you’ve actually made it!

When you emcee for an event what kind of preparation do you need to do?

I’m meticulous about preparing and memorising my emcee script. Nine times out of ten, I will memorise an entire script outright. I am fortunate to possess a photographic memory, but memorising a five to ten page script is no easy task for anyone, particularly when you consider the fact that most scripts require the flawless pronunciation of people’s names in a language that is not my own.

There is no ‘last minute’ with me. Each job is treated with the same rigour and discipline. I’ll pace up and down my room committing the script to memory, thinking about how to make it sound natural and practicing my delivery.

At the event I may seem calm and collected, and this is achieved not simply by controlling my nerves, but by my confidence that my prep work has paid off. An accomplished emcee or presenter always looks comfortable in his or her shoes. I will never let my confidence in myself overwhelm the need for one hundred per cent focus and preparation.

In between television links, you’ll always find me in a quiet corner going over my lines, thinking carefully about how I’m going to interpret the next lines I will need to say. I’m so deep in thought that people sometimes think I am an unusually quiet person. Actually, I’m just conserving my energy and focusing on the task at hand.

After everything you have achieved already, it seems there is nothing you cannot do, but what inspired you to write From Z to A-Lister: How To Build Your Personal Brand?

Being able to help others in their quest to build their personal brand through detailing the ‘how’ of how I did it, what were my methods, tricks of the trade, and tried and tested tips for success.

What do you hope others can take from your book after reading it?

I hope that I will be able to inspire others to build up their personal brand to the best of their ability, for their own set of personal A-List aspirations. To anyone who is pursuing their dreams, carving a name for themselves in the social scene, starting over, building their personal brand and social network – this is for you.

I hope that through my personal tale of hardship and challenges, and by sharing my secrets to the way I built my personal brand, I can help inspire you to make it happen for yourself in your own unique way.

In each country I lived in, I was approached to write on this topic, but I was always too insecure or scared of failure to do so. It was in South Africa where I had the immense support of so many of you, that I have finally gathered the courage to make this book come to life.

Always remember that you are not alone in your quest for making yourself into the most amazing brand you can be, and I thank each and every one of you who has crossed my path and helped me in my challenging journey to making it happen.

Jen’s book, From Z to A-Lister: How To Build Your Personal Brand is published by Tracey McDonald Publishers and is available at all leading bookstores as well as on Amazon Kindle.

Gareth Crocker: best-selling author, international filmmaker … and yet he can’t keep his swimming pool blue.

Gareth Crocker: best-selling author, international filmmaker … and yet he can’t keep his swimming pool blue.

Gareth Crocker – best-selling author, international filmmaker … and yet he can’t keep his swimming pool blue…

When I first started researching Gareth Crocker for this interview, it struck me that I might need a little extra space to encompass everything this man has achieved. To that end, I offer my sincere apologies to all who were rudely snubbed in favour of my fifteen minutes of fame in interviewing the legend that is Gareth Crocker.

Let’s start at the very beginning… Gareth’s career took off in 2008 when his debut novel, Leaving Jack was published in London. After selling out in the UK, it was later published in New York and renamed, Finding Jack, where it went on to achieve international acclaim. That same day, it snowed in Johannesburg for the first time in 20 years. Gareth Crocker takes no responsibility for that fact. Despite the blizzard, Finding Jack went on to sell over a million copies. It was translated into several languages and featured in nine volumes of Reader’s Digest Select Editions. It was recorded into an audio book and film rights were sold on no fewer than three occasions. Following this international success, Gareth was then offered a four-book deal by Penguin Random House. Finding Jack was followed by Journey from Darkness (2012), Never Let Go (2013), King (2014), and The Last Road Trip (2015).

Gareth’s latest novel, Ka-boom!  is his first foray into writing non-fiction. Set for release this month, Ka-boom! is a comedy-based “communal” biography, based on Gareth’s own experiences. It’s a story for men and boys about never coming of age, and for the women who want to know why. That’s pretty much all of us… women, that is.

South Africa is also waiting for the highly anticipated ‘Jongo’ – Africa’s first super-hero television series, written and co-directed by none other than Mr Crocker himself.

Let’s start with the man behind it all. Who is Gareth Crocker when he’s not writing books, making movies or generally over-achieving in every sphere of his professional life?

Oh you are far too kind. I’m nothing special. I have a list of failures as long as a giraffe’s neck. I’m just a regular bloke whose swimming pool has been green for the past 11 years. Sell a best-selling book? Sure. Make a superhero TV show? Pfff … no problemo muchacho. Get my pool blue? Forget it. So what do I do when I’m not writing or filming? I’m spending time with my wife and two beautiful daughters, playing football … and tossing a witch’s brew of chemicals into my pool.

Rumour has it that you were a professional footballer for a time? True?

Very, very briefly. I turned out a couple times for a few pro clubs, but was never quite good enough to crack it full-time. I discovered I had the heart of Ronaldo, but the feet of Gareth Crocker. However, I now turn out for the mighty Rhodes Old Boys football club. Our league’s a mish-mash of accountants, journalists, authors, marketers, CEOs and dentists. Although some sides clearly seem to have a superior recruitment strategy to us. One team in particular boasts two former Springboks who have both won the World Cup. Not that this affords them any special favours. They get kicked to pieces just like the rest of us. Quite recently I fulfilled a lifelong ambition by scoring a bicycle kick. It only took me 30 years to get it right.

There’s another rumour that you once ran 100 kilometres?

True. South African readers will know at once what race this is: the mighty Comrades Marathon. It’s normally ‘only’ 90 kilometres, but my wife added another 10 kilometres on top of that when she contrived to forget where she parked our rental car and I had to walk around a cricket stadium for two hours on bleeding feet. Damn that Devil woman.

You started your writing career as a journalist, but left to join a top PR and publishing firm, before becoming a spokesperson for a major company. What brought you back to writing?

I never stopped writing. This is what my daily schedule used to look like:

  • Wake up at 04h30.
  • Go for a wobble around the suburbs.
  • Get the rats to school.
  • Drive to day job. Talk to media about how fantastic my employer is.
  • Come home. Spend three hours goofing around with rats.
  • At 10pm, settle down to begin writing.
  • Cry a lot. Delete what you wrote the previous night.
  • Go to bed at around 02h00. Or don’t go to bed at all.

Fortunately these days I’m now able to divide my time between filming and writing. Which, I know, is a wonderful privilege.

Finding Jack was your breakout novel. Was it the first book you ever wrote?

Hell no. I wrote three horror novels: Malevolence, In the Eyes of a Child and The Midnight Hour. I can’t begin to tell you how appalling they were. Basically, I just vomited up every b-grade horror film I had ever seen and cobbled them into three novels. I found one of the old manuscripts the other day and could barely make it through a single page. Death by clichés!

Your publishing story is legendary – fuel for the fire of aspiring South African authors who follow your success and dream of international acclaim. How did your international publishing deal come about?

Well, I may fall short in many departments, but the one thing I’m pretty good at is to keep going when most people would turn away. Those first three books must have been rejected by more than 500 publishers and agents. Each time I received a rejection note, I would take on board the criticism and try to improve. Eventually – and I’m talking years here – the rejection notes became less scathing. And then, by the time I had written Leaving Jack I decided that I should climb on a plane and try to physically connect with a British agent. After walking London flat and dropping off my manuscript with dozens of agents, I was met with a glorious stroke of good fortune. I dropped my manuscript into one particular agent’s ‘manuscript bin’ which she kept on the patio outside her office (with strict instructions for writers not to knock on the door!). She was out at the time, but when she returned from a meeting later that day she discovered that she had lost her keys and had no choice but to wait for a locksmith. And while she waited, she dipped her hand into the manuscript bin and fished out Leaving Jack. She called me that night and the following day we met and she became my agent. The funny thing is that it would normally have taken her about 3 months just to get to my book (top agents can receive a thousand manuscripts a month). My first international publishing deal was signed a year later.

Your book, Never Let Go, is currently doing the rounds in Hollywood. Is it true that Morgan Freeman read the script? Any possibility of a movie in the near future?

Um … I’m not supposed to say anything, but … yes. He’s considering potential involvement in the film. I’m a massive fan of his. There’s a fair chance that Never Let Go will hit the big screen. But don’t believe a thing until you see it playing in a cinema. Hollyweird is a fickle, fickle place.

They say that life imitates art, but I think in our creative field the reverse is often true. Do you draw on your own personal experiences as material for your fictional works?

Oh absolutely. Particularly when it comes to the dark art of creating characters.

Let’s talk about the new book, Kaboom!. Why the shift towards non-fiction?

Firstly – and just to be clear – I’ll be returning to fiction shortly, but I wanted to have a go at non-fiction for a couple reasons. One, I love writing comedic essays and columns. And two, I wanted to write a book that is just pure fun for men and boys (and women!) and that will appeal to both readers and non-readers alike. I’ve always felt that we need to have more ‘simple’ books in the market. Basic and straight-forward storytelling that appeals to people who either don’t read books at all or maybe only manage to get through one or two books a year. In other words, the sort of guy who’ll read a car or fitness magazine but baulk at a book. So many people try to read books, but give up because the material is too slow, boring or complex. We could grow our reader base substantially if we offered books that are simple to absorb. It’s something James Patterson realised to his advantage years ago.

Which of your books is your personal favourite, and why?

Oh go away.

Ha ha! Okay, moving swiftly forward! Let’s talk about film-making. From what I’ve read, Jongo isn’t your first ‘rodeo’. You’ve made a film before… can you tell us about it?

Several years ago, I made a horror film with a few friends. It was called Taken and told the story of a young couple who are abducted in their sleep and thrust into a basement and series of underground tunnels. It was terrific fun. My two partners and I financed the film and did virtually everything ourselves. I wrote the script, co-produced and co-directed the film. If you’re unlucky enough, you can still catch it on television these days. The film has a remarkably realistic feel to it, but that’s probably because we actually abducted two people in their sleep and thrust them into a basement and series of underground tunnels. There is an outside chance it’s not the worst film ever made. Though I wouldn’t bet on it.

Not that I would ever bet against you, but I have to ask. After making one movie, what possessed you to take on such an ambitious project as Jongo?

It’s a great question. But in truth, we haven’t only made one film. I’ve been working with an existing production company for years and we’ve produced a number of projects together. Having said that, putting a show like Jongo together is massively ambitious. Time will tell if we fall on our faces, but for now things are looking good. We’ve sold the show to primetime television in South Africa and should have it running throughout Africa and abroad by the middle of 2016. We hope viewers are going to love it as much as we do. It’s a gruelling writing, shooting and editing schedule but we’re giving it everything we’ve got and are spending millions on the production. In terms of our company’s resources, we’re pretty much ‘all in’. If this fails, I’m coming to live in your garden, MD. I have a tent.

Jongo is Africa’s first Superhero television show. Personally, I’m super excited about it, given that I’m a huge fan of superhero shows. Arrow and The Flash are two of my favourites! What sets Jongo apart?

A few things. One, it’s an African superhero show set largely in South Africa. So you’re going to see the likes of Joburg the way you’ve never seen it before. Also – and unlike so many South African productions – Jongo is not a patronising show for its local audience and will hopefully inspire young people to lead better lives. Our cameras and filming equipment is world-class and we shoot on a number of spectacular locations. We also want to the show to promote Africa – and to not kick it in its teeth (which so many shows do). Also, while it’s certainly a superhero show, Jongo is largely a comedy-drama at heart and will have something in it for everyone in the family. We’ve unearthed some real stars.

When can we expect it to hit our screens here in SA?

Between April and August, 2016 on etv. It will also appear on some of the DStv pay channels. But our priority was on creating a show that would be freely accessible to viewers across the continent.

Your professional achievements are nothing short of incredible. What is your greatest personal achievement?

My daughters. We had to fight like hell to get both of them. Our eldest is adopted and our youngest only came into our lives because my wife’s a mad ninja warrior who refused to let several miscarriages get the best of her. Family is everything. As you well know!

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

Be born to a parent who owns a publishing conglomerate. Failing that, try and find out from neutral sources (not your family and friends) if you have any talent. If you do, push like hell and don’t give up. Persistence is everything in this game. Also, stay humble and be willing to learn from others who know better than you. There is no ‘finish line’ in this game. Write. Sacrifice. Never give up. Stay humble. Try not to cry too much. Develop alligator skin.

I have to ask… is there anything you CAN’T do?

Er … I’m pretty terrible at just about everything. Pools, DIY, accounting, I got an H for maths in Matric, etc, etc, etc.

Gareth currently resides in Johannesburg, South Africa, with his wife and two daughters. You can find more information about Gareth and his books at, or look him up on Facebook or Twitter.