GH: Which book did you write first? And how long after the first one did you pen the second?
CR: I wrote Little Diamond Eye first, as the dissertation for my Master’s in Creative Writing at the University of Cape Town, and a wonderful literary agent in New York worked with me on the manuscript for a year after I’d graduated. Once we’d completed that process, I started writing The Presence Of Peacocks. Call me mad, but I sold the flat I co-owned with my mother to buy myself six blissful months to write this book, which just had to come out. Both novels were released as ebooks last month, shortly after my fortieth birthday.
GH: Tell us a little about each book.
CR: Little Diamond Eye is a quirky mystery set in Constantia, Cape Town, in 1985, and later the present day. It was inspired by a local urban legend about a Constantia hostess whose diamond ring was stolen during one of her dinner parties. She called the police and insisted her guests were searched, and, in my version, sets in motion a series of bizarre events that expose the dark apartheid undercurrents in Cape Town’s leafy neighbourhoods.
The Presence Of Peacocks Or How To Fall In Love And Write A Novel is a light-hearted book about writing a book. Each chapter explores a key aspect of novel writing, from setting and structure to conflict and dialogue – but mostly, it’s a charming love story with literary leanings. I set up the associated Peacock Book Project website, www.peacockproject.net, to offer writing templates for anyone interested in writing a novel.
GH: Why the decision to write an ebook and not a book to sit on the shelf?
CR: Getting a book into an e-book store is a very quick process compared to the year-plus it takes to go through the conventional publishing process. So I’ve released these two as ebooks as a first step, and will follow up with hard copies within the next year.
GH: You were features editor at Cosmopolitan magazine, why the change to become a creative writer?
CR: Creative writing is my first love. As a child, I used to write stories, illustrate them with pictures and staple them together into ‘books’. When I sit down at my writing desk, it’s a case of, ‘Ahhh, now everything feels right.’
GH: Are you an avid reader at all?
CR: Totally. I usually have about three books on the go, and I do try to finish them all… At the moment I’m reading Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia, Why Nations Fail by James A Robinson and Daron Acemoğlu, The Anatomy of Restlessness by travel writer Bruce Chatwin, and tonight (after my toddler is in bed) I might just start Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog because the cover looks so inviting. (Always judge a book by its cover!)
GH: What’s your favourite genre?
CR: I’m drawn to literary fiction dramas, autobiographies and self-help books – and the books I write are often a combination of all three genres. For me, there’s nothing better than a deftly written story that expands your understanding of life’s strangeness and difficulties.
GH: Do you have that one book that you just can’t help but read again?
CR: The Assassin’s Cloak – a compilation by the world’s best diarists, including Andy Warhol, Winston Churchill, Leo Tolstoy, Anne Frank and many others. It’s refreshing, reassuring, moving, addictive and at times hilarious. A brilliant bedside companion.
* Little Diamond Eye ($9,99, about R105) and The Presence Of Peacocks Or How To Fall In Love And Write A Novel ($11,99, about R126) are available online at Amazon.
* Catriona is also the author of two other print books: The Love Book and Writing For Magazines: Absolutely Everything You Need To Know.