Rosemund J Handler lives in Cape Town. She climbs the mountains of her city every weekend and delights in exploring the vast open spaces of Southern Africa. Us and Them, her fourth and latest novel, was published in 2012. Madlands, her first novel, was published in 2006, followed by Katy’s Kid in 2007. Tsamma Season, published in 2009, was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Africa region) in 2010.
1. From first draft, to published book, how much editing do you do?
I do a lot. I rethink quite often and I’ve been lucky enough to have a patient and nurturing editor in the wonderful Pam Thornley, who has watched me dig myself out of a few thorny patches over the years! Editing takes up so much time. Sometimes I’d love to just steam ahead and finish the damn thing, but that’s not how it works with me. I’m constantly checking back and rewriting, and I’ve learned to accept that that is my process.
2. What research do you do for your book?
I’ve written a fair amount about family relationships and mental illness, and the research this has demanded has been substantial and time-consuming, but invaluable. I’ve learned an immense amount and I’ve found out that vast numbers of people, some celebrities, but many people you’d pass in the street without a second thought, struggle hugely with their imagined demons.
3. How many words do you write, on average, per day?
It can vary from 200 to 1000 words. On a good day a bit more.
4. Explain your writing process – do you write an outline and fill in the story, or do you write from Chapter 1 and let the story and characters lead you?
I have an idea and I usually let it take me with it. My so-called outlines are notes all over the place, though lately I’ve tried to confine them to a single pad. (A messy one.)
5. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing, and if so, how do you overcome it?
I think being creative is not something you can force and it has to emerge in its own time to do its work. As useful as a writing course can be, such as an MA in creative writing, it’s about having something you want very much to say and then the discipline to put in the long hours to write it. All with absolutely no guarantee that anyone will want to read it, let alone publish it. It’s a lonely business, writing; especially fiction.
6. What do you do when you have writer’s block?
I don’t often have writer’s block, but on the other hand I have days when I’m unconvinced about my writing, when I have an overwhelming sense that I’m doing it wrong. I usually take a break in the hope that this will enable new insights and a fresh perspective. The natural world is a very significant resource for me. Climbing a mountain is a good way to get rid of cobwebs.
7. When you submit your manuscript to a publisher, what information do you include in your proposal?
An outline of the story, I think, and the characters. Why I wrote the manuscript, sometimes. What I hoped to achieve with it.
8. What advice can you give aspirant writers?
Being passionate about writing is one thing, discipline quite another. The best advice I have for aspirant writers is to persevere, to make writing an indispensable part of your life. Not to give up. To be strong in the face of criticism and rejection: there will always be those who will shoot you down at the drop of a hat, but there are also people out there who will support and encourage you and, best of all, love what you write!
A writer’s credo:
‘Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you.’ – William Arthur Ward, college administrator, writer (1921-1994)
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