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Ken Barris and Michael Cope Launch Sunderland With Diane Awerbuck

Michael Cope and Ken Barris

The owner of The Book Lounge, Mervyn Sloman, welcomed a full house to the launch of Sunderland by Ken Barris and Michael Cope last week. In the audience were many local authors who’d joined to celebrate this exciting new venture and the duo of authors were joined by Diane Awerbuck in a fascinating conversation that kept all present intrigued and delighted.
Michael Cope, Diane Awerbuck and Ken BarrisSunderlandSpeaking about the unusual novel, Sloman said, “I’m one of those readers who struggles to understand how people collaborate on fiction. In a case like this I knew Ken Barris and Michael Cope would pull it off. But how do they create a coherent voice?” He said Sunderland was seamlessly integrated and very funny. Also very serious. There is plenty to stimulate the reader, to get your head working in rather weird ways.”

Cope spoke about the origins of their collaboration. He said, “I had this idea for a novel. It involved quite a lot of ‘nesting’. It’s a novel within a journal within a novel.” He said he was an autodidact when it came to writing, having never studied it formally. “I try to get myself behind the character’s eyeballs, but there was too much nesting to do that. I realised I needed another voice, and the voice I needed was Ken’s.”

Cope explained the story line: “The famous South African Charles de Villiers has died. His estate requests a young academic, Art Berger, a student of De Villiers, to reconstruct his last book from the remaining fragments.” He said the voices did not conflict as he had taken the voice of De Villiers, writing the email fragments, and Barris had taken the voice of Berger. “It was never a case of I write a few lines, Ken wrote a few… The domains were clearly separate and we only fought a teeny bit!”

Cope also reflected on the notion of verity. “Fiction is more true than history and biography. Janet Malcolm points this out most usefully. In history and biography, everything is subject to doubt. The next book might undermine everything. If I tell you he woke up and looked in the mirror to brush his teeth, then that’s what happened! We carry the truth.”

Barris spoke about the points of conflict. “Charles de Villiers has brain tumors. He’s left a terrible mess on his computer that Art Berger has to piece together. Art is frustrated by the comprehensive mess. There are multiple folders with the same name. A series of chapters don’t belong together. The one’s that do belong together, don’t have the same name. Mike was so engrossed in his role, that that’s what he was sending me!” When Barris proposed that Cope write the character of Berger, he said he didn’t have the attention span for that. He only wanted to write the fragments!

The wonderfully funny and erudite conversation was thoroughly enjoyed by all who attended the event, and those who have read the book vouched for its excellence!

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Liesl Jobson tweeted live from the event using the hashtag #LiveBooks

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