Lauren Beukes – interviewed by Bruce Sterling

In the first of our interviews with Webstock ’12 speakers, we asked Bruce Sterling to interview Lauren Beukes. Lauren was excited enough about this to tweet with the hashtag #AlsoholyshitBruceSterlingisinterviewingme.

Here’s the interview. Thanks to both Lauren and Bruce.

Bruce: Since you’re a South African writer from Cape Town, you must get all those South African Writer cliche’ questions from your many foreign interviewers. Why don’t you tell us about a few of those? You don’t have to actually answer them.

Lauren: Ha, actually no-one’s really made a big deal about that. Or not unreasonably so. They usually ask me about other South African writers, which means I get to list my favourites (some of whom are friends). Best stuff I’ve read lately: Siphiwo Mahala’s wonderful African Delights, Deon Meyer’s edge-of-your-seat thriller, 13 Hours, Diane Awerbuck’s Cabin Fever, full of perfectly beautiful and fractured short stories and SL Grey’s incredibly disturbing consumer horror, The Mall.

Bruce: If somebody in distant New Zealand has pretty much never heard of “Lauren Beukes,” what do you think they should wise-up-to first?

Lauren: The best place to get a sense of me is on Twitter. Also, if my Wikipedia profile is still stating that I’m a kraken-wrestling zeppelin pirate queen, that’s not *entirely* true. [Ed: sadly, it’s not]

Bruce: You seem to be into a lot of creative work that isn’t award-winning futuristic South African cyberpunk thriller novels. Stuff like kid cartoons, techno-art, political satire, TV scripts, music and comic books. What gives with all that? Is that like your “transmedia strategy”?

Lauren: I love the idea that it might have been part of a grand tactical plan rather than lucking into some very cool things along the way. I’m a brilliant “managed procrastinator”. I’ll do anything to avoid writing a new book, including documentaries, comic books and kids animated TV shows. And it’s a nice balance. In 2009, I was writing a cute pre-school show for Disney about a little princess and her dragon friends by day and going home to write dark messed-up fiction about a magical criminal Joburg underworld by night. It suits me to vary my projects. It means I don’t get bored. I had a day job as a freelance journalist for a very long time and then got into TV script-writing, documentary making and, for the moment, I’m now focusing entirely on comics and novels.

Bruce: I hear you “directed” a TV documentary recently. With what, gaffers, best boys, lighting and all that? That sounds like a lot of hard work.

Lauren: Ha! More like a skeleton crew running around trying to catch up to our subjects, three hopefuls in the run-up to the Miss Gay Western Cape beauty pageant. I was really lucky to work with a brilliant experienced crew, including DOP, Nick van der Westhuizen, editor Izette Mostert and my husband, Matthew Brown who produced and did some of the editing, all on a ridiculous schedule. The trailer is here, if anyone wants to check it out.

Bruce: One of your novels has its own techno soundtrack compilation. Would madame care to expound on that?

Lauren: Again, I wish I could say this was part of some strategic brilliance on my part, but it just seemed like a cool thing to do. When I finished writing Moxyland, I approached African Dope Records, which has always been the future sound of Cape Town to me, and asked them if they’d consider doing a soundtrack to the book. They were a bit taken aback, but the idea intrigued them and they signed on to do a CD and digital release. HoneyB and I handpicked tracks from their catalogue to match the mood of the book and Fletcher of Krushed & Sorted did the final mix. And then we did it again for Zoo City, with HoneyB pulling in extra tracks for that authentic Joburg sound, with kwaito and disco soul and electronica from GhettoRuff and KaleidoSound as well as a selection of artists from Dope’s list.

Bruce: Webstock has got lots of web-geekery going on. Why don’t you entice the readers with some thrilling descriptions of the personal hardware set-up that you use every day? For instance: Ever find a word processor you actually liked? Me neither.

Lauren: I use Word. I know that’s sacrilege. But Pages doesn’t do the stuff I need it to do and I just can’t get into Scrivener. It feels like the time I spend learning how to use it and adjusting my brainspace is time I could be spending writing. The most important software I use is Freedom to lock me out of the Internet for set durations so I don’t mess around. Otherwise, Kindle for travel reading, iPhone for Twitter and email and entertaining my three year old and an iPad 1 for reading Wired and wasting time I should be spending writing (or learning to use Scrivener) by playing Plants vs Zombies.

Bruce: So, what does that three-year-old eat? She looks pretty lively. I can remember dietary preference being a major power-issue at that age. 3.

Lauren: Oaties! It’s a less sugary generic of Cheerios. And sometimes, if we’re lucky, plain yoghurt, spinach, crumbed chicken, fish fingers, bacon and carrots dipped in tomato sauce (but never more than three). It is a big power struggle. And she’s very, very stubborn. And smart. And often outwits us.

Bruce: You sure are super-active on Twitter. And you commonly tweet stuff like: “Was the US military drone virus caused by pilots playing Mafia Wars?” You wanna explain Twitter to people who still think it’s all about tweeting one’s lunch?

Lauren: Partly, it’s about finding cool curators of interesting links that wouldn’t normally cross your input field (although I suspect most Webstockers would have already picked up that particular one, which was from BoingBoing). You turn up some great stuff that I never would have found on my own, so does William Gibson, Charl Blignaut, @gammacounter, @theremina and @joeyhifi, among others I follow.

It’s an open conversation, a way of engaging with intriguing minds, of having cool random strangers engage with you, in a way that’s not weird or invasive (apart from that guy who was all “Yo, ‘sup, read my shit! I’m an awesome fukin writer.” by way of introduction.)

Bruce: Besides trips to other nations of the southern hemisphere, what comes next for Lauren Beukes?

Lauren: I’m hard at work on my new novel, The Shining Girls, about a time-travelling serial killer, which is due out in early 2013, and a twisted take on Rapunzel for Vertigo’s Fairest mini series, a spin-off of Bill Willingham’s brilliant and epic Fables, which should be out around August 2012.