I've know Lauren Beukes for a while now. I first encountered her short fiction in Something Wicked magazine and often read her articles. She has recently had great success with a speculative fiction tale—Moxyland—in a South African setting, painting a rather grim, distopian view of Cape Town a few years from now. She has kindly spared me some time from her busy schedule to chat about her writing.
Where did the idea for Moxyland spring from?
The original short story which became the novel was inspired by the hush-hush underground Lucky Strike parties and how brands were finding more devious ways to connect to consumers and creating a generation of sponsor babies.
But when I started writing the novel, it veered into neo-apartheid, cool advances in bio-tech, graffiti culture, AIDS, the art scene, virtual lives, alternate-reality gaming, soccer, the schism of poverty, corporate interference in government, apartheid’s insidious Special Branch police unit and their double-agent askaris, Wouter Basson’s dodgy medical experiments and issues of identity. Basically, I took everything I’m interested in and squeezed it in wherever I could.
Was it difficult finding a publisher for such obvious speculative fiction in South Africa?
I was very lucky, although it had a rocky start. A maverick young publisher Michelle Matthews wanted to start a new cult contemporary lit imprint for Struik and had already laid claim to Moxyland when the imprint fell through.
So, I took the manuscript to Jacana, who publish the most interesting books in South Africa: smart, playful, experimental fiction and hard-hitting non-fiction. The publishing director, Maggie Davey read the manuscript on the plane on the way to the Frankfurt Book Fair and by the time she landed, I had a book deal!
Tell us more about this deal with Angry Robot.
My agent was shopping the book around to literary imprints (we had some awesome rejection letters) when my friend and author Sarah Lotz got wind of HarperCollins’ new SF/F and WTF imprint about to launch. We contacted Angry Robot and they got back to us in record time and Moxyland became one of their launch titles. They’re an amazing, passionate bunch. Great to work with and excellent drinking companions.
How was the Moxyland ebook with its soundtrack received?
It was the first time anyone had released an ebook with an embedded soundtrack (and player) so there was a lot of great publicity. I’m hugely indebted to Electric Bookworks who figured out how to do it and to African Dope for helping me put together an official future-sound-of-Cape-Town soundtrack with their exceptionally talented artists.
Who was your favourite character in Moxyland, and why?
I had the most fun with Toby. He’s such a charismatic, amoral dodgy bastard, like the spirit of Long Street personified.
What is it about a South African setting that appeals to you and what do you think will appeal to foreign readers?
That old adage, write what you know? I know Cape Town, maybe better than a lot of people because journalism has given me an all-access pass from six-star guest houses frequented by topshelf politicos through to the the most desperate poverty and violence-stricken areas in the townships.
South Africa is a remarkable place, especially considering all we’ve come through. We like to live like our history never happened, but those roots are deep and treacherous and they’re still gonna trip us up for years to come. It’s an inspiring (and often devastating) place to live, with the mash of culture and identity.
We’re a country in the process of becoming. Becoming quite what, I don’t know, but I hope to hell it’s not Moxyland. I think foreign readers will find the strangeness appeals, the uncomfortable mix of first world and third world. It’s a place we haven’t seen represented that often in science fiction (District 9 aside).
Do you think local publishers will be more receptive to genre fiction any time soon?
I really don’t know. There’s a proven dedicated market for genre fiction, so I’d like to hope there will be. It depends on how open-minded publishers are and if it makes good business sense. But considering the top sellers of the moment are all high fantasy (Twilight, Harry Potter, Dan Brown), there’s certainly the possibility.