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Charlie Human's Apocalypse Now Now Launched with Lauren Beukes at The Book Lounge

Charlie Human

Apocalypse Now NowBokveld binnekortIt was a wedding (of weird characters, literary and real), a funeral (for genre writing’s bad rep) and an unholy baptism (i.e. the launch of Charlie Human’s Apocalypse Now Now) all in one sitting.

The independent Cape Town bookstore The Book Lounge was fuller than it has been for many a night as eager readers arrived to celebrate. The new author was in conversation with the publishing phenomenon and maverick author Lauren Beukes. Present in the audience were many top South African writers. Sarah Lotz and Savannah Lotz (aka Lily Herne), Henrietta Rose-Innes, Rachel Zadok, Greg Lazarus and Helena S Paige, to name a few, came to welcome the new kid on the block.

Charlie Human and Lauren BeukesHuman said that while doing the creative writing programme at UCT, and trying to be a “real writer”, he’d done all he thought he should: “Staying up late, drinking lots, playing solitaire. I was writing a novel that was far more serious than this book, aiming to be imbued with heavy social meaning but no adjectives. Somebody broke into the house and stole my laptop. Goodbye 30 000 words.” Even though his novel was was backed up on hard drives and CDs, they were all in the same place and fell into the hands of the thieves as well. “So, put your stuff in the cloud, kids, that’s the lesson to be learned.”

Human said that losing the efforts of a year was terrible but there was an upside to it. “When I sat down to write again, the stuff was dark and sarcastic. I’d had enough of trying to write ‘good’ but bloodless prose.” By that point Beukes was his supervisor. She “got” what he was doing but had plenty to say about about his “horrible sentences”.

Reflecting on the MA experience, he said, “It pushes you towards a certain type of writing. I was being edged constantly towards something a little different to what I truly wanted to write.” He said the vague feedback sessions left him with the feeling that he wasn’t being heard. “Before Lauren came along, I didn’t feel as if anybody either liked or engaged with the story I was writing.”

Beukes was quick to interject: “I ripped you to shreds, left you crying. Then you submitted the MA. Two people marked the manuscript. The feedback couldn’t have been more different. One was glowing, with comments like ‘stellar’, ‘a great story’. The other: ‘It’s like watching several B-grade movies all at once’.” Human’s response to that? “I thought, isn’t that quite cool? I’d do that.”

Human and Beukes also discussed the learning curve he underwent as he engaged with the publishing process. “A whole new set of skills come into play there,” he said. “My agent nearly dumped me because I’d sent the MS out far and wide. He said, ‘How can I represent you if you’ve already sent it everywhere?’ but fortunately we came back from that.”

Beukes quizzed Human about the source of his narratives. He reflected on the odd urban folklore that goes out everyday in South Africa in tabloids like Die Son. “We walk past headlines like ‘Tokoloshe steals my baby’. You have to consider this combination of ideas as highly creative. I find myself thinking, ‘Wow! Somebody needs to write about that’. We have an amazing mythology with these weird and messed up interlinked narratives. Somebody needs to do justice to them.”

As part of his research he read Credo Mutwa. “Apocalypse Now Now has nothing on Mutwa,” he said.

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Liesl Jobson (@LieslJobson) tweeted from the launch using #livebooks:

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