SA writer talks about her latest novel

2010-04-14 00:00

EDYTH Bulbring was born in Boksburg and grew up up in Port Elizabeth. She completed a BA at the University of Cape Town, where she edited the university newspaper Varsity and learned how to drink and smoke. Later she worked as a journalist and was the Sunday Times political correspondent from 1991 to 1995, covering the transition to democracy. In 2003 she became a full-time writer. She spoke to STEPHANIE SAVILLE about Pops and the Nearly Dead.

What’s it like giving birth to a character like Pops or Randy, and then simply abandoning them at the end of the book?

Giving birth to Pops and Randolph and all the other characters was a very long labour of love — no quick Caesarean and cool drugs for me. And letting them go is quite hard — and I haven’t yet done it. I was full of anxiety that I hadn’t done them justice. And then I received an advance copy of the book and I was so proud of them. And now people are reading the book and wanting to talk to me about Pops and Randolph, so in a way I haven’t said goodbye to them yet.

How did you get such great insight into both old people and adolescents?

About six years ago my parents moved into a retirement village in Port Elizabeth and a few months later my father died. In the years that ­followed, my mother and I would talk about the goings-on at her retirement village — and of course we would talk about my father.

A lot of the book comes from true stories. But I took a lot of these events and turned them on their head and asked “What if?” and “Why not?” I ­enjoyed being able to take real people and events and give them different histories and endings.

In terms of any insights I may have into being an adolescent, I recall very clearly being a funny-looking teen­ager with thick glasses. The only way I could ever get the boys to take any notice of me — and perhaps kiss me — was to make them laugh.

Sometimes I look in the mirror, ­expecting to see that funny fourteen- year-old — because some days that’s exactly how I still feel. Instead, of course, I see this wrinkly old face that is now mine, and I myself have two teenage daughters and a nine-year-old son. Teens are interesting people. Most of the time they try and shut adults out — especially their mothers — but every now and again they will let me in.

Any insight into future projects or what readers can expect next?

I am currently doing a screen­writing course at Wits, so maybe I’ll produce a decent film script that someone will want. It’s all about murder and political intrigue during the Soccer World Cup.

Sadly, I don’t know anything about soccer other than that David Beckham has a great butt, so I suspect it’s possibly the most boring movie ever written. But I’m having a lot of fun ­being one of the oldest people on campus.

And at the end of the month I am starting to edit my next book, Melly, Mrs Ho and Me, which is going to be published by Penguin in September. It is part of a series, so before the end of the year I am going to have to write the second instalment, which I am trying to stay calm about.

I’ve also written the first draft of an adult thriller, which I’m still not sure whether to dump or rework.

And then I am planning to build a proper stoep on my house, which is the thing I am most looking forward to. I love building and I love hardware shops.

Which is your favourite of the books you have written? Which has sold best?

My other three books have all sold equally well — my mother is quite fair and buys about 10 copies of each (joke). Actually, I think The Club did really well, and I still have high hopes for The Summer of Toffie and Grummer as it’s making its way onto those prescribed school lists (shame, all those poor kids being forced to read my book!).

But my favourite is definitely Pops & the Nearly Dead. It’s the kind of book that both adults and teens seem to be enjoying, even though it is aimed at 13 to 15-year-olds. I like the fact that it builds bridges across the generations and makes people realise that the only thing that separates old people from young people is a couple of years.

What do you do when the muse deserts you and you get writer’s block?

I write the first draft of a book in the shortest time possible, and so I drive myself really hard and tend to neglect everything else and go a bit off my head. Because of this I try not to get writer’s block.

But when I do hit a block I go walking. Walking always sharpens the mind and makes you alert to all sorts of possibilities — like breaking your leg by falling down the holes left by the skollies who nick the water meter covers.

I also wander around my garden a lot (and when my gardener Goodwill comes to work he knows there’s been a block because I’ve done all sorts of weird alterations to his beds). And then, when that doesn’t help, I read newspapers. I love newspapers.

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