Tom Eaton discusses his new book — ‘The Wading’

2008-05-07 00:00

Tom Eaton lives and works in Cape Town as a freelance writer and screenwriter. His latest novel, The Wading, was first conceived as his masters thesis under the guidance of J. M. Coetzee. The Nobel laureate for literature said the book is “refreshingly original in conception and assured in its prose style”. Matthew le Cordeur speaks to Eaton.

Question: Your first draft of The Wading was a masters project. How did it transform into the published form and who influenced you along the way?

Answer: It was obviously the work of a very young and inexperienced writer. I just brought it up to date, although the tone and pace stayed very much as they had been. I worked closely with my editor at Penguin, the incomparable Alison Lowry, and she was hugely helpful in nudging me along. I don’t have a “comfort zone”, but you can get complacent, so it was great to have someone constantly questioning my motives.

Question: What do you do when you are not writing fiction?

Answer: I’d love to write fiction far more regularly than I do, but writing is very much pro bono work, and I’ve got to eat. When I’m not writing (that is, when I’m making a living, and resenting it) I plot and scheme about my next project.

Usually those ideas fall by the wayside, and I end up doing something quite unexpected.

Question: Since being told off by Zakes Mda that you don’t know where the black writers of this country are, have you discovered any writers who you enjoy?

Answer: I must confess that I haven’t done much fiction reading for a very long time, but I’m very happy about the success people like Fred Khumalo and Niq Mhlongo have had. I’ve also enjoyed watching Rayda Jacobs rock the boat.

Question: Going back to The Wading: What influences or experiences did you draw from for this book or is it something you completely made up?

Answer: I drew on all sorts of influences and experiences, and it is completely made up.

Question: People talk about it being post-colonial, which it is not. Where did you draw your ideas from?

Answer: Obviously I was influenced by the world, but I certainly wasn’t making any comment on Africa or South Africa. A couple of people have suggested that The Wading is a bleak view of a future South Africa. It’s not that at all. Beautiful decay and slow, warm, neglect aren’t exclusive to our country, and they couldn’t be more removed from middle-class fears.

Recently National Geographic ran a series on television about how quickly the planet will recover if humanity disappeared tomorrow. A friend of mine said she found it terribly sad, how our traces would be gone so quickly; but I find the idea exhilarating: flowers pushing up through pavements is an image of hope, not despair.

Question: What has been the reception to The Wading and how have your fans of The De Villiers Code received it?

Answer: There’s a quote by Don Marquis that really sums up the response. “Writing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.”

Writing a novel is a lot like that as well. People only really make an effort to tell you about your book if you’ve really made them angry. So far it’s had a couple of very nice reviews, and people have e-mailed me to say how much they’ve enjoyed it. But I don’t know how the De Villiers and Texas fans are taking to it.

Question: Will you ever venture back into journalism or write a column again?

Answer: I’m sure I will at some stage. It’s a great job, being paid to express your opinions.

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