To look at the world 'a little differently' – talking to David Ralph Viviers about Mirage

Author David Ralph Viviers. (Photo: Maggie Gericke)
Author David Ralph Viviers. (Photo: Maggie Gericke)

BOOK: Mirage by David Ralph Viviers (Umuzi)

David Ralph Viviers is one of South Africa’s well-known (and prize-winning) actors. Now he is a published author as well. And his writing is every bit as good as his acting. His novel Mirage (Umuzi) is set in the Karoo and moves between the viewpoints of a 19th-century diarist and a present-day university student who follows up on the diary, which leads him into the heart of the country – and a journey into the past. Here he talks about his writing.

How has your acting work informed your novel-writing?

I wish I could say something like it allowed easy psychological insight into characters … but it took a while for me to get there! I think where it did maybe help was conceptualising scenes in terms of their rhythm — where the beats were, the awkward silences etc. And perhaps seeing action more visually, as it might play out in a film. 

The Karoo is such a presence in Mirage – it’s almost a character itself. What made you decide on this setting?

Since a child, I have been fascinated by the Karoo’s strange beauty. I think even at that young age, I felt there was something metaphysical about this landscape, something you can’t quite put into words: a spine-tingle, a melancholy. Time works differently here: you almost wouldn’t be surprised if a dinosaur had to come round the corner. I think when I’m out in the Karoo, more than anywhere else, I become aware again that I’m on a planet — and of the cosmos beyond.  

This is a quite a feminist story. Please tell us why you decided to inhabit the worlds of two women, a Victorian novelist and a contemporary cosmologist.

I think I’ve always been slightly more interested in female characters, in books and films. My favourite actors are women. Growing up, the most nurturing figures in my life were women. And I’ve felt a kind of weird soul-connection to Olive Schreiner (whom Elizabeth is loosely based on), ever since I first read The Story of an African Farm

The cover of the book Mirage by David Ralph Vivier
Mirage by David Ralph Viviers. (Umuzi)

Have you been interested in the cosmos and astronomy for a long time?

Yes, since I was a child. After school, I’d spend my afternoons reading astronomy books and writing out facts about stars and planets into homemade journals which I’d staple together from old fax machine paper (as you can probably guess, sports weren’t my first priority.) My dad would print out The Astronomy Picture of the Day at work (an online archive still going today) and bring them home for me. Each evening there’d be some new cosmic wonder to discover: black holes, or neutron stars, or exploding supernovas. 

What messages or feelings do you hope readers of Mirage are left with once they’ve finished read it?

More than anything, I’d really love it if readers looked at the world a little differently than they did before reading the novel.

You can read an excerpt from Mirage here. 

This article was originally published in The Penguin Post, a magazine about books for book lovers from Penguin Random House South Africa. 

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