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Getting to Know Megan Voysey-Braig

Megan Voysey-Braig, 2008 EU Literary Award WinnerDarryl Accone, Megan Voysey-Braig & Craig MacKenzieMegan Voysey-Braig, whose manuscript Till We can Keep an Animal was the winner of the EU Literary Award this year, is soft-spoken and introspective, but also articulate and brave. She talked to EU Award judges Craig MacKenzie and Darryl Accone at the Cape Town Book Fair this morning.

Recently based in Berlin, where she took a nine-month writing sabbatical for inspiration, she said, “Writing is an obsession and definitely a certain kind of madness, but I am completely in love with the idea of it and finding new ways to express the in betweens of life. I try to connect with that, to make people feel changed by a sentence, or by a word. Writing is a solitary and intimate process, between you and the blank piece of paper.” She always writes with music, finding that it is the rhythm that invokes the rhythm of words. “It’s symbiotic,” she said.

Darryl Accone asked what music she listened to. “Cyndi Lauper’s ‘All through the Night’. I listened to it 200 times. I get stuck on a song. It’s rhythm makes the words happen. The song chooses me and I write the words to that rhythm. I don’t know where I go but when I come back, I’ve produced something.”

Craig MacKenzie said the novel was very disturbing. “It goes to the heart of South African life as we live it presently.” He asked her to sketch the tale briefly.

Megan said it was about a middle aged woman who was attacked, raped and murdered in her home by armed robbers. “I keep her alive so that her story continues. I invite her family members, those who are alive and dead, to tell their stories through her. She is the main protagonist and the narrator.”

She said the novel was written from the shame and sadness that exists in this country. “I wanted to pose questions. We love our grandmothers and grandfathers, our families, but what did they do to perpetuate the system, to make apartheid work and flourish? That’s what I explore in the manuscript, the cruelty that has always existed in South Africa, the violence over 400 years. We see the symptoms of it throughout. To me, there’s a dignity that has never existed. Nobody was ever seen as in a person in their own right. People were treated abhorrently because of their skin colour. It’s a continuing cycle of violence, disrespect and a loss of love.”

She said it was a psychological history of the country that looked at the implications of generations of abuse. “The genetic memory gets passed on. You keep the anger your grandfather felt about being treated with injustice. Even though you have different opportunities, you inherit that landscape.”

She said it was quite a bleak read, “but I wrote it to break the sense of responsibility. I played a part in this. I perpetuated it. What can I do to stop it, to make it better now?”

She wrote from a sense of wanting to apologise and fix what could be fixed. “That’s what the book hopes for.”

Quote of the hour: “The genetic memory gets passed on. You keep the anger your grandfather felt about being treated with injustice. Even though you have different opportunities, you inherit that landscape.”
-Megan Voysey-Braig

 

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