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lime Books & Spoken Word Interview: The Girl Next Door

Lime interview - Books & Spoken Word

The Girl Next Door

words by

Tricia Wombell

Reporter: Tricia Wombell
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In June, Irene Sabatini won the Orange Award for New Writers 2010 for her moving book The Boy Next Door. 

We caught up with the Zimbabwean author.

Congratulations on winning the Orange Award for New Writers Prize 2010. The Boy Next Door is a thoroughly moving book. How has life been since winning the Orange Award New Writers Prize?


I\'ve been lucky in that I was already well into my new novel when all the madness of the Award took over. It is essential for me as a writer to have that creative space where my characters and the story can completely breathe. When I\'m not writing I\'m doing the next best thing- reading.


Did you plan to become a writer?

I have always wanted to write, to tell stories, right from the days in Bulawayo when I was a devotee of the wonderful Public Library, and where books, stories took me away from life in a small, sleepy town, especially during school holidays. 


What inspired the book\'s theme of an interracial relationship in Zimbabwe?

The genesis of book was two pronged: a suggestion from an editor that I write about growing up in Zimbabwe during the 1980s and 1990s, and a phone call I received from Bulawayo in 2007 about a fire that had broken out in the neighbouring house of my childhood home. The two came together as I sat in front of the computer, and typed out that first line, \'Two days after I turned 14 the son of our neighbour set his step mother alight,\' a line which seemed then to come from nowhere.


How did you set about developing the main character, Lindiwe?

Lindiwe\'s transformation was an organic process; there was no conscious decision to give her a particular voice or to shape her character and personality. Once she was there, sitting on that veranda reading her Sue Barton book, where we first set eyes on her, her voice took over. It\'s wonderful when readers come to me and tell me how much Lindiwe\'s growth from childhood to womanhood rings so true, how her voice changes from this naive teenager to this sophisticated woman. In a way, I can\'t take too much credit- she was such a vivid and delightful presence.


The ambivalent relationship between mother and daughter is pretty much unbearable. How did you cope with creating it? 

Yes, I have had quite a bit of feedback about this relationship; one reader said they were traumatised by it, especially its climax. In one way you could describe Lindiwe\'s mother as a religious zealot, strict and unforgiving in her beliefs. She is also very much the wronged woman, and you can see where her attitudes spring from - as a form of self-protection, to preserve her dignity. Only at the end, does Lindiwe, set up some distance between them and starts referring to her as \'my mother.\'


We learn so much about Zimbabwe through Ian. Is he based on someone you knew? 


Ian is this wonderful mystery to me. His voice was so loud and clear to me. I could literally \'hear\' him. No, he is not based on someone I know. I think that he is some kind of organic combustion of all the white boys I came across while growing up in Zimbabwe. 


His career as a conflict photographer is based on real life, can you tell us why you chose that career for him?

I read The Bang Bang Club while I was still in Zimbabwe long before Ian came to mind. This memoir, written by two war photographers who chronicled the highly volatile 1990s in South Africa, stuck with me.

Notting Hill carnival is Europe\'s biggest street carnival. Please share a memory of a carnival experience you have had (doesn\'t have to be Notting Hill if you\'ve never been). 

In my youth I went to Crop over in Barbados which celebrates the harvesting of sugar cane. I enjoyed watching the \'jump up\' and the Party Monarch on the beautiful and windy east coast.

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