Q&A: Nick Mulgrew on ‘A Hibiscus Coast’

Much of the novel takes place among a community of white South African expats in New Zealand. Was that the starting point of the story you wanted to tell and if so, what drew you to them as a subject?

I’ve always wanted to write about white South Africans living in New Zealand precisely because I was once a white South African who lived in New Zealand. It was as simple as that. I also loved the idea of writing something set in the late 90s. It was a terrifically strange time for South Africa and most South Africans; even as a young child I experienced a sort of cultural whiplash. Our media and politicians were telling us everything was New – as in New South Africa, you know – but if you peeled back the veneer, so much was still so old and rotten.

The importance (both symbolic and practical) of land is a key element of A Hibiscus Coast but the land under discussion in the novel is in New Zealand, not South Africa. Land ownership and the historical theft of land is obviously a huge issue in SA, but your novel encourages SA readers to remember that issues of access to land are pretty universal, albeit with very different politics and histories in different countries. Were you writing about land in New Zealand specifically with a SA readership in mind?

I was writing about land because land is our universal concern. For all their differences as modern nation states, It’s no co-incidence that South Africa and New Zealand both have significant populations of people who live in precarious and vulnerable situations: both countries have a history of dispossession by (predominantly) British settlers, and either imperfect or non-existent ways of addressing that dispossession today. As such, they’re countries in which colonialism isn’t historical; it’s a process that’s still very much in effect.

What gets lost in the “debate” about land — and I use scare quotes here because my belief is that many people who get involved in debates over land reform do so in bad faith — is that land is a predicate for human society, and for individuals’ security and comfort. And yet, the societies we live in continue to deny so many people access to land. What are the forces that continue to drive this ongoing dispossession, and why do societies continue to allow these forces to operate? It sounds very academic, but that question was something I kept on coming back to while I was writing this book — how do these forces act in our everyday lives, even in domestic settings?

Mary is a wonderful character at the heart of the novel. She’s not perfect – nobody is – but despite being sent from SA by her parents as a young almost-adult to join this community of expats in New Zealand, she manages to define herself to some extent outside of the group into which she’s been thrown. She is a very complex character, beautifully drawn, at the heart of the novel. She seems as a character to represent possibilities – the possibility to grow, to change and she adds a hopeful tone to the novel which would otherwise be missing. Tell us a little about the genesis of Mary and how difficult she was to write?

I wasn’t thinking about this while writing her, but Mary’s a bit like South Africa in the 1990s: full of potential, but too wracked by trauma to fully grasp the possibilities and opportunities in front of her. She was easy to write, though. Her world is the world I grew up in, and in such a world, growth and change is the only possibility of escape. Ultimately, privilege is a trap of ignorance, and I wanted to write about someone who wanted, and probably needed, to struggle free from it.

[…]

The Book Lounge: Something Special

Read the entire interview:

The Book Lounge’s Something Special – Q&A: Nick Mulgrew on A Hibiscus Coast

‘Book of the Week’ at The Book Lounge (15% discount until 19 May): A HIBISCUS COAST by NICK MULGREW

A Hibiscus Coast retails for R290, but purchase the book at The Book Lounge before Wednesday 19th of May and receive a 15% discount – pay only R246.50! The Book Lounge is also offering free delivery on this, within 20km of the shop.

Click on the above image to purchase A Hibiscus Coast through their online store, or request an invoice (booklounge@gmail.com) for EFT. Please include your delivery address and contact number if you would prefer delivery.

You can even get a ‘signed’ copy. Nick signed and sent us a few signature stickers from Edinburgh. Get them while stock lasts …

The Book Lounge Staff Recommendation
 
It takes so much skill to write a novel like
A Hibiscus Coast that deals with so much trauma and grief, whilst still being warm, light-hearted, and at times even hilarious. Nick has woven these two vastly different places – Hibiscus Coast in KZN, and The Hibiscus Coast in New Zealand – together in such interesting ways, with metaphors around land, ownership, and dislocation. This novel does a beautiful job of illustrating how things can be both difficult and full of joy at the same time.
~ Jess

The Book Lounge – Karavan Press Pre-Order Specials

For the whole of October, if you pre-order either of the below titles, you will receive 20% off the retail price! The Book Lounge will also deliver free of charge within 20km of the store, and will arrange signed/dedicated copies as requested. Both books will be published early November. Click the cover images to pre-order on The Book Lounge website, or send them an email to request an invoice.

Let It Fall Where It Will by Lester Walbrugh

The Book Lounge pre-order special: R224

“A thrilling debut … gritty and intimate. Walbrugh’s prose, whether in the Cape vernacular or standard, illuminates a diverse world with subtlety and wit.”

— Zoë Wicomb

Lester Walbrugh is from Grabouw in the Western Cape. His acclaimed short stories have been published in, among others, Short.Sharp.Stories’s Die Laughing, Short Story Day Africa’s anthologies, New Contrast and most recently, Hair: Weaving and Unpicking Stories of Identity. He has lived in the UK and Japan and is currently back in his hometown, working on his first novel.  

Let It Fall Where It Will is Lester Walbrugh’s debut collection of stories. Set in the Cape and Japan, the stories showcase the stunning versatility of the author. Ranging from witty to poignant, they capture a fascinating diversity of voices and fearlessly explore contemporary topics of identity and sexuality as well as South Africa’s deeply troubled past. A few employ magic realism to great effect. The book’s epigraph and title were inspired by Adam Small’s poem, ‘Die Here het gaskommel’. 

die Here het gaskommel 

en die dice het verkeerd geval vi’ ons 

daai’s maar al 

Death and the After Parties by Joanne Hichens

The Book Lounge pre-order special: R256

“If you have loved, lost or grieved … then this book will resonate deeply. Searching for a new place in her changed world, Joanne Hichens reminds us that especially in our darkest moments we need to embrace our vulnerability in order to find strength. Tender, courageous, compelling.”

— Tracy Going, author of Brutal Legacy

Joanne Hichens, author and editor, lives in Cape Town. She has edited numerous short story anthologies, including Bad Company, The Bed Book of Short Stories, Hair: Weaving and Unpicking Stories of Identity, Bloody Satisfied, the award-winning Adults Only, Incredible Journey, Die Laughing and Trade Secrets. Her crime novels are Out to Score (co-written), Divine Justice (soon to be published in the United States), and Sweet Paradise. Her YA novels, Stained and Riding the Wave, were both shortlisted for the Sanlam Literature Award. 

Joanne Hichens lost, in quick succession, her husband, both her parents, and her mother-in-law – two deaths anticipated, two coming as the worst kind of shock. In this memoir of grief and recovery, she writes with honesty and humour of death, our ‘constant companion’, and the stumbling journey through the country of grief. By turns searing and sparkling, her account gives compelling insight into the losses that stalk us all, while also celebrating the mainstays of life – friendship, family, and the memories of those we love and lose.

Shadow Flicker by Melissa A. Volker launched at the Book Lounge

davIt was quite a while ago that Melissa A. Volker and I sat at Jonkerhuis, discussing over cake and coffee a version of the manuscript that would eventually become her novel Shadow Flicker. During that conversation, I mentioned my dream of becoming a publisher. I also told her that I’d loved her novel; that it needed some work, but that I was convinced it would be published one day and that she should not give up on it… Over the years that I have known Melissa and her writing, I have also been telling her that one day I would be attending her launch at the Book Lounge.

Shadow Flicker has been published, and last night, this beautiful novel was launched at the Book Lounge like I have always known it would be. What I could not have predicted was that I would be the publisher launching it with her, and that it would be a first for both of us. But we all know that the best stories are full of unexpected twists and turns, and that they have satisfying endings. And this one is only a beginning, for Melissa and for Karavan Press.

Shadow Flicker launch at Book Lounge2

The Book Lounge was packed for the event last night, the warmth of the welcome palpable throughout the evening. Melissa was in conversation with Jacqui L’Ange, the author of the exquisite The Seed Thief.

Shadow Flicker launch at Book Lounge3‘I’m usually not a romance reader, but I gobbled these up. These are eco-romances. But they are also thrillers. They are eco-romance thrillers,’ said Jacqui, coining a wonderful term that describes Melissa’s work.

‘I would like readers to understand the issues without having to listen to an environmental lecture,’ Melissa explained. ‘If you package it all into a good story, you can get the word out.’

And a good story is what Melissa tells, in A Fractured Land and Shadow Flicker. May there be many, many more. For her and Karavan Press!

‘I hope that my writing makes people smile,’ Melissa said. It does. Thank you!

Shadow Flicker launch at Book Lounge4