Lauren Liebenberg is a critically acclaimed author. Her debut novel, The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam, published in 2008, was – to her lasting surprise – short-listed for the Orange Prize for New Writers, as well as long-listed for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize. Her second novel, The West Rand Jive Cats’ Boxing Club, was published in 2011, also to international acclaim.
She is married with two sons, in whom the feral instinct seems to run strong, and is a survivor of the madness of the Super-Mommy-ism epidemic in the Johannesburg suburban outback she inhabits.
Cry Baby is Lauren’s third novel.
An eye-watering amount! Suffice it to say that the published novel bears only the faintest resemblance to the first draft of the manuscript. It’s like rehearsing for a play – “And, from the top …” over and over again. But editing is not a solo pursuit – it’s important to distinguish the re-writing that I, as the writer, do from the cruel act performed by the editors – all the way to proofing!
2. What research do you do for your book?
Enough for your average doctoral thesis! Perhaps a slight exaggeration … And while I would like to claim that it’s indispensable to a “good” novel (which is true, by the way), there’s also a compulsive element to it in my case – those shelves groaning with reference works are my security blanket. And yet I have still blundered in numerous instances where technical or historical accuracy mattered.
3. How many words do you write, on average, per day?
There’s no such thing as average and always too few!
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 repeatedly make the painful mistake of letting the plot evolve organically from the characters. It leads down some deadly blind-alleys.
5. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in writing, and if so, how do you overcome it?
We all have a self-indulgence blind-spot, I believe, so it’s hard to avoid. Preaching; over-wrought descriptions; cardboard cut-out characters who do exactly what you’d expect; sagging pace (to show-case research!) and so forth are all effectively overcome by a good merciless editor.
6. What do you do when you have writer’s block?
Read a good book.
7. When you submit your manuscript to a publisher, what information do you include in your proposal?
A good pitch, in my opinion, should summarise plot, setting and main characters in an appetite-whetting sentence, expand on the main themes explored (in the case of literary fiction) and hard-sell who the novel’s targeted at and why it will jump off the shelf and grab them by the throat in Exclusives. I don’t always succeed.
8. What advice can you give aspirant writers?
There is no room in publishing for coy apologists nor, ironically, for ego. You have to believe in what you’ve written and be prepared to convert sceptical others. At the same time, you need to take a great deal of rejection and criticism – not all of which should be deflected. The good news is that the ego-bruising ordeal of getting into print will stand you in excellent stead for bad reviews, (which are like eavesdropping on a conversation about yourself in the smoke-room, in which everyone agrees that you suck)!
Courtesy of Penguin Books click HERE to read an extract from Lauren’s latest novel, Cry Baby.