|Spud Madness | The Interview|
|Thursday, 28 June 2007 18:00|
John van de Ruit, author of the hugely successful Spud, and its sequel, Spud – the Madness continues… is as down to earth as it is possible to be after having sold over sixty thousand copies of his first novel, and being hailed as a South African literary phenomenon. He seems, more than anything, amused by the fuss, amused and delighted that his imagination and his sense of humour reach such a wide audience.We chat to him about writing, his rise to literary fame, and living and working in Durban.
1. When did you first start writing?
I began writing whilst studying drama at University. Back then I was hugely inspired by the absurdist school of playwriting. I became intoxicated with the idea of creating a warped view of society by dumping literary conventions on their head and doing the opposite of what was expected and required.
Being a playwright taught me some huge lessons not only about writing, but about the necessity of failure in the creative process. I love the freedom of prose and the feeling of being an author, but those ten years in the theatre have given me a massive advantage.
2. Which author first inspired you to start writing?
My real inspiration is playwrights. Writers like N.F. Simpson, Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett made me want to write, and more importantly made me want to find my own distinctive style. Later the work of Joe Orton introduced me to the idea of manic farce that is unrelenting in its pace and merciless in its savagery and humour. I would rather watch an Orton play performed live than view anything on film or television.
3. What do you love most about writing?
The feeling of losing yourself completely in what you’re creating. It’s like the G-force of a jetliner in take-off, coupled with the knowledge that you built the plane with your own hands, and you’re also the pilot.
4. Why do you think Spud has been such a success?
It’s not an easy question to answer because this was the same Spud that used to be a pile of papers sitting in my drawer. It’s easy to forget that just being published was my goal.
On a superficial level, the book is very funny and the characters are both larger than life and at the same time weirdly familiar. More than that, I think the integrity of the story affects people and they believe in it and want it to be true.
Perhaps it’s also challenged the conventional ideas of what a quality South African novel really is.
5. How do critics / the public feel about the sequel?
So far they have been very generous in their praise. I think most readers realize that The Madness Continues… is the second step in Spud’s journey to manhood, rather than a typical sequel a la Hollywood. I have no interest in repeating myself and I will only create two more Spud books and never return to him.
I am aware that some people may resent the book’s success and resist it because of all the hype. I think that’s par for the course and I accept that.
6. What do you think Spud would think of all the attention?
In his diary he would write about how his inner thoughts have been sold to the highest bidder and how he has now been fatally compromised as a human being. Secretly he would think all the fame and attention was “wickedly splendid.”
7. How do you feel about comments that you’ve found a place in SA literary history?
That’s hugely flattering but perhaps a tad premature after just two books. To be honest, I’m not really sure what I feel about that. As an old man in my rocking chair I’ll probably look back with immense pride and satisfaction, but right now I’m staying in the moment and attempting to avoid dining out on all the hype.
8. What are you going to do with the rest of your life?
Good question. The most exciting thing about being an artist, no matter the discipline, is the lure of the unknown. The last year and a half has been electric because nobody saw it coming, least of all me.
I can’t tell you where I will be in six months, let alone six years. All I know is that I will always write and I’ll always work on being better at my job. I hope that I’ll be happy and laughing, too.
9. Any advice for young aspiring authors?
Be tenacious. Be proud of your achievement whatever the result. And remember that writing is a languid love dance between concealing and revealing.
10. Why do you live in Durban?
It’s my home. It’s where I was born. It’s a part of me
11. What do you love most about Durban?
The Indian Ocean. The mix of cultures. I also love its stately ordinariness. Durban is a gentle place but it never stops evolving.
12. Any one favourite spot?
The harbour. (It makes me feel real emotion for some unexplained reason.)
13. Do you feel young to be this successful?
I do. Particularly this kind of success as an author. I feel hugely privileged to be 32 years old and to completely own my life and my time. It’s a treasure.
14. What is the meaning of life, according to John van de Ruit?
To leave a footprint.