In fiction it is the author’s responsibility to remove him or herself and allow the characters to form the stories themselves. Hemingway once said that there is nothing to writing but to sit at a typewriter and bleed – but he never told us where the blood comes from. This is a concept only known to good writers, to those who have no blood left in them. It is a secret mantra shared by authors the world over. But if the author is not present in the stories he or she tells then where does the inspiration come from? A writer’s surroundings have a great influence on the work produced – for example Paris’s influence on Hemingway’s A Movable Feast. To shed light on this I turned to Joburg-based author, poet, spoken word artist and friend Andrew Miller.
A couple of months ago Andrew had his debut novel, Dub Steps, published by local heroes Jacana Books as the winner of the Dinaane Debut Fiction Award 2015. The discussion going in started out as a chat about Joburg’s influence on him as a writer – seeing as his dystopian novel plays off in the City of Gold – soon evolved into a borderline philosophical debate about the art of writing.
Andrew’s discovery of Joburg comes in two phases: the first was when he moved to the Highveld from Port Elizabeth when he was 12 years old. The only building on the horizon back then was Sandton City. Andrew didn’t spend much time in town back then because he was in boarding school, but the times he did were adventures. The author’s official introduction to the city was around the year 2000 when he became involved with the art scene that eventually lead to him opening his first art gallery with his wife in 2004. To Andrew, this is where the first wave of more popular parts of the city, such as Maboneng, started – when the original dwellers realised that Joburg is a socialist hub for artists and creatives alike.
When asked to explain what Dub Steps is about in his own words, Andrew laughs and says, “Let me just get my head straight.” He’s been on numerous talk and radio shows and had done a bag full of author Q&As that the plotline of his debut novel has shifted so many times from explanation to explanation. “When I first started to write the manuscript I thought it would be interesting to live in a world where human relationships would be the primary currency, and everything else is secondary – how would we cope as a society seeing as we are such greedy motherfuckers? Especially in a place such as Joburg – which is all about the hustle in a lot of aspects.” This underlying preface to the book stems from the city’s influence on Andrew as a writer and his involvement in the city’s hip hop culture in which nobody had any money and found value in human interaction. What Andrew did in his book was juxtapose this idea of relation to a character that is socially awkward and in classic anti-hero style not a people person.
We spoke for what felt like hours about the craft of writing. Andrew likes to get at least two hours of writing done first thing in the morning – aiming for at least 2 000 words per session, never re-writing or editing until he’s reached the end of the manuscript. This is where the nuts and bolts of writing’s maxim started to shift the interview to something that would only interest budding authors. If you’re out there, I hope you’re reading this.
By Shawn Greyling