Deon Meyer was
born in the South African town of Paarl in the
winelands of the Western
Cape in 1958,
and grew up in Klerksdorp, in
the gold mining region of Northwest Province. Deon
wrote his first book when he was
14 years old, and bribed and blackmailed his two brothers into reading
were not impressed (hey, everybody is a critic ...) In 1994 he
first Afrikaans novel, which has not been translated, "simply because
was not good enough to compete on the international market. However, it
wonderful learning experience". All later novels have been translated
several languages, including English, French, German, Dutch, Italian,
Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Russian, Finnish, Czech, Romanian,
Bulgarian. SHOTS’ Les Hurst gets to shoot the breeze with
LJH: What was
the supply of crime fiction like, say, twenty years ago for Afrikaans
Was Dutch crime fiction popular – with authors such as
Baantjer and Jan Willem
van der Wettering? Was there a good supply of crime fiction written in
Afrikaans then that we don’t know about in Britain?
Alas, we had no access to Dutch authors back then, but British and
American crime fiction was freely available. As for the Afrikaans
there was nobody working in the genre for almost twenty years. I was
to publish, back in 1994.
LJH: You list a
lot of modern thriller writers as your influences.
Were you aware of the older writers such as
Tom Sharpe and James McClure who were expelled from the RSA in the
McClure wrote the Kramer and Zondi novels, a series of eight police
set in a fictional Trekkersberg, and Tom Sharpe wrote a couple of
set in the Republic too.
I read – and loved – Tom Sharpe, as his work was
very much available. McClure’s
work was harder to find, but he is still revered in South Africa as one of our pioneers.
LJH: Were you
reading John D. MacDonald, Ed McBain, John le Carré, etc,
whom you name on your
website, in English or Afrikaans? Do you think it makes a difference?
I read them all in English, as they were never translated into
even if they were, I would probably have stuck to the original, as
get lost in translation, although I believe story is an international
Thus, if the story works, the translation will also work.
different protagonists of your books, Lemmer, Mat Joubert, Zet van
know they are only one step above the bottom. Tiny Mpayipheli in Heart
the Hunter seems rather better, but then he is a psychopath.
What is it
that attracts you to men struggling with failure? Or do they just seem
typical of modern heroes?
Most protagonists in crime and thriller fiction seem to be wrestling
demons. I just find writing (and reading) about such characters is much
interesting than would be the case with well-balanced individuals.
LJH: On your
website you talk about writing ‘stories’, but your
work is also heavily
plotted. Do you make any distinction between inventing a story and
events, the mysteries, and the unravelling?
Not really. I do very little ‘plotting’ before I
start on a novel, but I do
have the basics of the story in my head. Story structure is the big
me, and I try to assess structure as I go along.
LJH: There is a
Deon Meyer style becoming apparent: those struggling protagonists are
example, while in Blood Safari Lemmer knows that
Emma Le Roux has
enemies, but he finds the police against him, too, which also displays
something you’ve done a number of times with your use of
relationships – not just goodies against baddies, but one set
that there are at least two other groups out there who are out to get
first. Do these triangular plots help to maintain conflict in your
story, or is
it an accurate depiction of the confusions in post-Apartheid South
I’m always at pains to explain that my books dramatise the
situation. There are very few ‘confusions’ in my
country today. It is a
dynamic, stable and wonderful country, and although we have problems,
working very hard to solve them. Those triangular relationships are all
conflict, as conflict is the mother of suspense.
LJH: How do
your local readers feel about the way you use real events? In Blood
for instance, you fictionalise the wildlife reserves, but you include
of Samora Machel pretty much straight. Has that ever provoked any
Readers over here seem to like it very much.
can go to your website and see photographs of the places featured.
some of the journeys featured, and you’ve held many of the
jobs featured, too.
Does that make you a hyper-realist writer? It certainly makes you
I’m not sure that I’m hyper-realist. My philosophy
is that, if I am going to
write about a place or a job, for instance, I owe it to the reader to
homework thoroughly. Lazy research mistakes usually means a loss of
LJH: So far
you’ve written about the new South
Africa, and the
(mostly criminal, many political) left by the old RSA. Do you think
characters – as you have done – will be travelling
Every time I visit wonderful cities elsewhere in the world, I seriously
consider the possibilities. Perhaps ...
LJH: Or do you
think there is still a lot of crime to come home?
I never use true crime. It takes out all the fun of inventing my own.
crime at home was a necessity for crime authors, the many excellent
writers would have been in real trouble.
LJH: In an
incredible coincidence Frederick Forsyth, long term reporter on Africa, was in Guinea-Bissau during
the recent assassinations. Then,
more extraordinarily, the method used (a trip-wired bomb under the
rather than a rocket-propelled grenade through the window) has
its complexity, that South American drugs gangs are now taking control
states through murder. John Le Carré has been writing about Africa recently,
too. So, finally, do you
think that Azania will be
able to keep out those other
threats? Do you think that you’ll be able to keep them out of
I don’t know about Azania, but I can tell you that organised crime has
inroads in South Africa, as it has in most
European countries. It has become an international problem. And I
won’t be able to keep them out of my books.
Thank you for
giving Shots your time.
for the opportunity.