In 5 minutes with author, Over60 asks book writers about their literary habits and preferences. Next in this series is T.M. Clark, a Zimbabwe-born author based near Brisbane. She has continued to showcase her passion for Africa in her novels and children’s picture books. Her first novel My Brother-But-One was shortlisted for the Queensland Literary Award 2014. Her latest book Cry of the Firebird is out now.
Over60 talked with Clark about binge writing, second-chance romances, and her favourite Afrikaans words.
Over60: What is the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?
T.M. Clark: “You must write every day.” I’m a binge writer, the worst advice for me is to try to give me a routine. People need to remember that what works for one writer might not necessarily work for another. This is one of those pieces of advice that, for me, simply doesn’t gel – ever!
What book(s) are you reading right now?
Just starting Hangman by Jack Heath. Knowing Jack primarily as a children’s author, I’m still wrapping my head around him writing awesome successful thrillers, with serial killers, gritty crime and criminals! I’m excited that he has spread his wings and doing both genres. I am loving this book and can’t wait to find out what happens.
What book do you think more people should read?
The Trouble with Christmas by Amy Andrews. I laughed out loud and loved this story. I think everyone should read it to get a little joy in their lives, smile and have the happy feeling I had by the end of the book. I loved this book for the unadulterated romantic comedy that it was – from the cowboy on the cover to the last tacky Christmas decorations.
How have the places you’ve been influenced your writing?
Obviously growing up in Zimbabwe and South Africa has had a huge influence on my writing, but also on the way I think things through. I know that now I’m an Australian princess who loves my internet and electricity working, but I still love Africa! I believe more than anything that being an Australian has opened my eyes to the beauty that is still there in Africa, and the difference of the people who just do their job and who have a seemingly bottomless source of optimism despite all the chaos going on around them.
What does your writing routine look like?
Routine – what routine? Seriously, other than running around after the men in my life (hubby and two university-going sons), I organise the CYA Conference and the Writers at Sea Retreat and collect books from all over Brisbane and South East Queensland for our Papua New Guinea library building project. When would I get a routine?
I do, however, have time blocked out in my diary to write and I guard that with the same ferocity as a mother leopard. Every Friday I’m usually found at the Queensland Writers Centre, joining others for the Writing Friday event, where we use the Pomodoro method of timed sprints to achieve words from 10am to 4pm. I also have my time blocked out to write my book during September and October. I don’t do much socialising or anything in those months as that is writing time.
What is your favourite word, in English or any other language?
Voetsak. It’s a South African word that means ‘go away’. Everyone in southern Africa and every dog understands it – no matter their upbringing, all colours and languages under the rainbow.
Another favourite is the word yebo (Zulu origin but shared across most of the languages now), meaning ‘yes’. It also is the answer to everything whenever anyone asks and you don’t know the answer. If you are feeling under the weather but don’t want to tell someone when they ask, you just say ‘yebo’. If you ask directions from someone and they say ‘yebo’, you know they are just politely saying ‘hello and I don’t know’.
Is there a cliché that you can’t help but love? Alternatively, what trope grinds your gears?
While I know they’re a trope that doesn’t suit everyone, I love second-chance romances. Recently in real life, I got to know about a writer friend who is now in his 70s and had a second chance with his very first girlfriend from when they were 16 years old. It ended happily this time when they got married, and it just made my heart flutter because I am a softie. I believe in soulmates and fate, and I adore that they gave it another chance.
A trope that irritates me… No, nothing. I’m blank on that, but bad or lazy writing irritates me and I have a lot to say about that. The poor tropes get an unnecessary bad rap – it has nothing to do with the author writing a bad book.
Which author, deceased or living, would you most like to have dinner with?
Sir James Percy FitzPatrick, writer of Jock of the Bushveld. It was read to me as a kid, and I reread it every now and again now as an adult. It’s one of the few books that have been with me across four changes of country and are still on my bookshelf. I adore the period he wrote of, the wagons, the teams of oxen pulling them through the bundu and the wild game, the frontier of Africa of yesteryear.
He was a forward thinker for his time, with the underlying theme of this book being one of a man not accepting ‘the way’ that burdened him, wanting to break away from it all and be free. I wonder how much of himself he put into his characters, or if it was all just the story at the time…