Friday, March 25, 2011
FEATURED AUTHOR: Diana Duff
Lonely as a child, I wrote stories from an early age and could lose myself in writing. My parents were divorced, living in different parts of Africa, and I lived with my grandparents. People travelled for miles to see their world-famous gardens and the river - where Spenser was reputed to have written his Faerie Queen on its banks. Above all, it had a ghost known as the Foxy Woman, who haunted the avenue at dusk. A banshee was said to have wailed in the stableyeard at the approach of a death and there was a cave where a hermit had lurked for years. All this was grist to a childhood's mill.
I went to Kenya when I was 18 and immediately fell in love with it the moment I landed. There I met my father whom I had not laid eyes on for 10 years. Later I met Robin - we married and our children were born in Kenya. Never wanting to leave Kenya, Fate intervened, and we were posted to Tanganyika (now Tanzania) where we were confronted with the boredom of city life and Big Business socialising. Then my husband bought a boat and shipped it to the sea and we sailed and sailed.
The wheel turned full circle and we were posted to Johannesburg, where I was born and still live, near my children, with my dogs, Sabba and Ruffy.
First, I wanted to capture the essence of the vanishing Anglo-Irish childhood. Ann Morrow, in her book Picnic in a Foreign Land, described the Anglo-Irish as a people ruled by the fairies, ruined by curses, and riding like Genghis Khan. They had, she wrote, 'an aristocratic lack of earnestness' and an endearing dottiness which made life an adventure. They were out-of-doors people, one suspects because of the freezing discomfort of their houses and castles! Being Anglo-Irish, I can handle bitter cold and damp easily, to this day.
Next I wrote about Kenya when it was still a British Colony. A paradise, peopled by characters with a huge sense of freedom, although change was coming and the colonial days drawing to a close. During the Mau Mau rebellion we lived in Kikuyu, in the heart of it. When the rebellion ended and Kenya gained independence, the original amazing rapport between black and white was still there and remains to this day. I never go to Kenya without feeling I have come home to happiness, even knowing the colonial days are thing of the past, when amazing characters stalked the land and no one talked politics.
The third way of life, which thankfully has gone forever, was the transfer to South Africa, arriving slap bang in the middle of apartheid, with its draconian laws, which cut off wihte people from social contact with Africans. It left one totally isolated from the heartbeat of the country. The grandeur and space of this beautful land where I was born, was marred by the feeling of volcanic pressure building up. Revolution was around the corner - but change came peacefully with independence, and the days of repression are gone forever.
How did you start out your writing career?
I started writing children’s fantasy stories for The Kenya Weekly News … and I wrote a sort of Famous Four-type book when I was about eleven, all about girls at boarding school.
I wrote a few scripts for Radio Eireanne in County Cork . Nothing dramatic, just stuff about living in Tanganyika as it then was, descriptions of dhows, and Persian rugs coming down from the Oman to Zanzibar on the dhows – just a few programmes. They brought the recording stuff down to me once, when I had a cold, which I thought was fantastic!
What did you learn while writing this book?
I think what I learned when I was writing Leaves from the Fig Tree is that you have to edit furiously. Take a red pen and just scratch out stuff that is too long winded.
What did you hope to accomplish with this book?
What I wanted to accomplish with Leaves was to bring together three totally different ways of living … some of it gracious; some, like the Mau Mau bits, fairly terrifying; some of it like the time of apartheid – unreal, totally abnormal. Describing life as a protected white, for instance, knowing but not knowing that terrible things were happening. Mosstly hidden. The gracious bits were
the Irish bits. Living in a beautiful Gerogian house on 20 aces of garden. All three entirely different ways of life, which were vanishing and I wanted to put them on paper … to record them.
Which character did you have the most fun writing about?
The character I had the most fun writing about was the Foxy Woman. She governed our lives - everyone believed she actually existed! There were those who claimed to have seen her and others who would not walk down the lane at night.
What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?
I think receiving letters from abroad – from people in other countries – who said they had had the same sort of life as I had, either in Ireland or Kenya . I was amazed they had taken the trouble to contact me via my publisher. That is what surprised me – strangers telling me my book was in the Book Club or how much they had enjoyed reading it.
What aspect of writing do you love the best, and which do you hate the most?
The aspect I like most is bringing various characters to life. The aspect I hate most is rewriting, after I have spent hours on a chapter, and on rereading it, seeing sadly, that is has to be done again.
What are three things you wish you’d known before you reached where you are now?
That I should have had the courage to send manuscripts to publishers earlier on, so that I could have learnt from my mistakes.
That I should have persevered instead of not finishing manuscripts … and that one should write about situations one knows through daily life – not airy fairy ones that one likes the sound of!
Can you give us one do and one don’t for those aspiring to be a writer?
If you want to be a writer, DON’T show your work to other people not in the writing field!
What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?
I wish that non-writers would understand that writing isn’t a walk in the aprk. You don’t just sit down and turn it on like a tap and it just flows.
If you could be a character from any book you've read, who would you be?
It would have to one of the Curzon sisters in Anne de Courcy’s book The Viceroy’s Daughter because it portrays a fascinating vignette of high political levels during times of Emergency in England, in a way of life that has changed out of all recognition. It is a life style of witty conversations, glittering balls, Tom Mosley and the Windsors … Elinor Glyn, the Mitfords and Chamberlain … glamour … and the high life of the Twenties before the Second World War brought down the curtain with a tragic swoop. Who wouldn’t like to be that carefree, thinking life like that would go on for ever?
If I were to choose a character from a work of fiction, I think I would like to be the girl who had that wonderful chocolate shop in Joanne Harris’s book Chocolat.
When you're not writing, what do you like to do in your spare time?
When I am not writing, my hobbies are semi precious African gemstones – I collect them and sell them. I like to spend time with my dogs and as I am Gemini and Geminis like to communicate, I spend far too much time talking on the telephone talking to friends!
What do you do to interact with your readers?
I interact with my readers when they write to me, or come to see me, answering questions about the people in my book … where Nico (adopted son) is now, or Maggie (his mother), or what has happened to AnnesGrove and the gardens. Many want to know if I still have contacts in Kenya .
The question which makes me feel guilty, is ‘when I am going to write another book?” !!!
Our theme for this month is Resources On The Net. What are your favorite resources on the net.
I am afraid that I know almost nothing about the internet – without family, friends and the publishers to do things for me, I simply would not know where to start!
Oprah always asks, What do you know for sure?
Oprah always asks 'what do you know unequivocally and for sure?' What I think for sure is that our universe was created by the Great Creator. People ask what came first - Mind or Matter? Scientists and astronomers say Matter created the universe. I disagree. I know for sure is was the work of a Master Mind.
Another belief to which I hold fast is that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. No one should have power without having to answer to what they do and why they do it.
I know for sure that family and friends are the most important possessions you have. They are wealth in themselves.
Can you give us a sneak peek of your next book?
I am doing battle with a book about gems, set in Africa .
How can readers get in contact with you? (mail, email, website)
The easiest way, I think, would be via Rebel ePublishers – firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or Rebel Publishers, P.O. Box 6927 , Cresta 2118, Johannesburg , South Africa . I don’t have email or a website – I bash things out on an old typewriter. Letters, I write by hand.
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