We’re more than a little excited for the final installation of Qarnita Loxton’s Being series. Mervyn – a long time fan of the series and of Qarnita – was lucky enough to be sent an advanced copy by Kwela, and Qarnita was generous enough to answer a few questions.
Less than 4 and a half years ago, you published your debut novel, Being Kari. How would you have reacted if someone said to you that by August 2021, you would have published four novels and brought the stories of Kari’s 3 friends – Lily, Shelley and Dianne to life? (If my memory is correct, you weren’t initially planning on a series?)
Disbelief! There is no way I would’ve even imagined that I would be able to write and publish these stories. You are right, I wasn’t planning a series. The reality of these books is a combination of my compulsion to write these stories, the support that I received from my publisher, Kwela, and the support of readers. Also wanting to prove to myself that I had more than one book in me coupled with a big dose of luck! It has been an incredible and wonderfully unexpected experience.
Your novels are all written in an incredibly easy-to-read style with great dialogue and wonderful use of social media (particularly WhatsApp) and at the same time there is a complex issue or theme at the centre of each one, told through the lens of the title character of each of the novels, and also told through the lens of friendship. The issue at the centre of Being Dianne is sexuality/sexual orientation with a focus on parenting. Dianne has a secret same-sex relationship while her daughter is being bullied at school for possibly being gay. What made you decide to focus on sexual orientation for Being Dianne and what were the major challenges in writing it?
When Dianne came out to her friends in Being Lily it was not something that I had originally planned for the character so it was surprising to me too, it was as if she revealed herself to me – but it turned out to be just right for Dianne. I like challenging stereotypes in my novels (in Dianne’s case a pretty regular divorced suburban mom of two, you think you’d know exactly what she would be like). Dianne gave me the opportunity to challenge stereotypes of sexual orientation that I could not pass on. The major challenge for me was not to fall into stereotypes myself when writing her. I also wanted to be true to the character and her many facets, her sexual orientation being just one aspect of her make-up.
The horrific homophobia of other parents was horrible to read but felt really true-to-life. Was that a product of research or did you just easily find those words yourself?
I spent a lot of time doing online research, reading books and talking to parents and individuals who have experienced homophobia. One of the WhatsApp scenes was actually inspired by something I had experienced as a parent and that grounded me in everyday life, to know how easily and unthinkingly homophobia is expressed. Because of this the words came quite easily.
Teen Pride, a social event for queer teens and their straight allies which used to happen at the Book Lounge in pre-Covid times is included in the plot and so Book Lounge gets a lot of airtime in your novel including my new favourite line “what is the Book Lounge anyway?” Thinking of having T-shirts printed with that line on it. Thank you. (This is not a question, clearly!)
But the answer is ‘Yes please, I’ll have a T-shirt!’
When I started reading Being Dianne I did so feeling a little sad as I assumed that as Dianne was the last of the four close friends to get her own book, this was the end of something. But you cunningly brought Shireen (Kari’s sister-in-law) into the friendship group in the new novel. Does this mean we can expect a fifth episode in the series?
As the series progressed, the friendship circle of Kari, Lily, Shelley and Dianne expanded naturally to include Shireen (I’m so glad – cliquey Capetonians already have a bad rep!). I didn’t have plans to do a fifth episode for Shireen but who knows? I also feel a little sad that this is the end of the series, so maybe one day Shireen will push me to write her story as well.
What is the most difficult part of starting a new novel? And are you one of those writers who knows pretty much how the story will pan out when you start writing or do you get surprised by your characters along the way?
I am a combination of the two. I start with a vague plan which operates much like a security blanket, and then as I write I have less need for the security blanket and the characters start showing themselves. For me, the hardest part of starting a new novel is having the courage to start. Each time I have to talk myself into believing that I can write, that I can make words become a story.
I see that you’ve collaborated with three other writers on a joint novel that will be published next year. How did that come about and tell us a little about the experience of writing collaboratively?
Pamela Power, Amy Heydenrych, Gail Schimmel and I met up in Joburg in February 2020 for the launch of Being Shelley and we were so looking forward to all the literary festivals for the year. Everything was cancelled soon after and we were massively disappointed. To ease the lockdown blues we decided to write a fun novel about four friends, each of us as a different character. We had a very broad story line but it was a lucky packet as each of us took turns writing a chapter and we had no idea what was coming. As a writing experience I learned a lot about other writers’ processes and writing capacity but generally it was just fun and full of laughs as we surprised each other with ‘what happened next.’ I think it worked because even with the fun we were all quite disciplined and wrote when we committed to doing so.
What are you reading at the moment? Anything you’ve read this year that you’d like to recommend?
I’ve just started reading Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau which is proving to be a fun trip into the 1970’s. My faves of this year are Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, The Vanishing Half by Brett Bennet as well as local reads Suitcase of Memory by A’Eeysha Kassiem, Go Away Birds by Michelle Edwards and How I Accidentally Became A Global Stock Photo by Shubnum Khan. Last year I struggled to read but this year has been better luck.