|An interview with Tom Eaton|
|Wednesday, 13 August 2008 17:00|
Author of The Wading (Penguin Books).What sparked off The Wading? Was there a seed or an obsession that got you started writing?
I often start bits of fiction at the end: an image or a more complete climax sticks with me for a few weeks or months, and then I try to work out how to arrive at that final image. With The Wading I had an image and a conclusion in mind, a particular fate for Muller (one of the two main characters). That conclusion disappeared during the rewrite of the novel, which improved it, but I was happy with the process up to that point, so the rest stayed.
As for the tone and mood as a whole, I've always enjoyed quiet decay, when the natural world takes back spaces that have been abandoned by people.
Cape Formosa was more or less intact in my mind from the outset. It's a conglomeration of many places - the Overberg, images I've seen of the Caribbean, parts of South America, and perhaps the South Pacific. I've always associated those places with a comforting decay, where people make do but are ultimately being quietly shunted to the sideline, and where each summer finds the beaches an inch further inland, and the weeds a foot taller.
I think Cape Formosa's history is South African only in that it is a history of colonial divisions and a rigid class structure. Our history has its own specific and tragic eccentricities, but I think in general our experience has been replicated in the Caribbean, South America, across Africa, and south-east Asia.
Cape Formosa has a historical legacy similar to South Africa's in that nobody seems to want to talk much about the past, and that people become defensive when they do, but I think that the Cape's residents are probably more comfortable with their history than we are with ours.Did you submerge yourself in writing The Wading, or work on a few projects at the same time?
I wrote it as part of a degree while I was also working full-time. It was my only fiction project at the time, but I don't recall being submerged in it, as I was pulling silly hours in my job, and more or less squeezing in time to write whenever I was in the mood or had the energy. I did however smash out the last 30 or 40 pages in one night. A lot of those have ended up being cut, so it was probably just an unconscious effort to get the thing over with; but at the time I recall it was fairly emotional, and I was all over the place when I finished, just before dawn.
When I rewrote chunks this time around, I tried to savour the writing process as much as I could. When it's going well there is no better feeling, and it's always over far too quickly.When did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
I'm still not entirely sure what it means to be a writer. When people ask me what I do, I tell them that I write, not that I'm a writer. It seems too formal a description for my life, which is really a haphazard mixture of sloth punctuated with enormously diligent and massive production, excitement, boredom, procrastination and good intentions that come to nothing.
I've also always been suspicious of people who introduce themselves as "writers" or "artists", because those titles too often serve as a front for a profound lack of skill or a sad lack of output.
But to answer the question, I think I was in high school when I first began hoping that I would be able to make a limited living by writing, and at the moment I'm slowly figuring out how to indulge the habit while still remaining part of the human race.What do you love most about writing?
That's impossible to answer, but when it's going well it is an almost physical sensation - a fullness, or an alertness.Do you have any recurring themes in your work?
I don't think I've written enough to reveal any recurring themes. I suspect I'm always drawn towards the end of things, whether a human life or a landscape or a society, but it's hard to judge.Which (if any) author first inspired you to start writing?
I wanted to write before I could read, which is probably an ominous early sign of a crashing bore. As I started reading more and more, it wasn't so much a realisation as a confirmation - yes, this is what I want to do. I can't name names, mostly because I don't remember them - it was generally stuff with titles like "The Bowmen of Crecy" and "Tank Commander on the Somme!" and "What Now For The Highland Friends?".What books are on your bedside table at the moment?
None. There's a wooden frog puppet and a box of Panados on my bedside table.Do you consider yourself a Cape Town writer?
I can't answer that because I don't know what a 'Cape Town writer' is. Also I'm always suspicious of those sorts of labels, as they tend to come laden with nonsensical baggage. Some people want to believe that writers in Cape Town are more aesthetic or "poetic" (whatever that means) because they happen to work near a mountain. This is almost as silly as wanting to believe (as many do) that writers in Cape Town are colonial relics suppressing pathological racism while their counterparts in Johannesburg are liberated Africanists who have managed to break free of all historical influence.
I don't think Cape Town has influenced me much. Like anywhere it has nooks and crannies that are very pleasing, but as a generalised urban space it is fairly mediocre. For me, a great city is one that cares slightly more for its pedestrians than its drivers, and Cape Town is at best indifferent to pedestrians and at worst openly hostile. However, I have been greatly influenced by other places and landscapes. Most contribute nothing more than a mood or a memory of a mood, but those are the sorts of things that stay with me, and seep through into a piece of writing from time to time.
Keep your head down and let trained professionals worry about the meaning of life.