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Penguin SA

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“My Imagination is Like a Bed of Glowing Embers”: An Interview with Marita van der Vyver

Marita Van der Vyver

A Fountain in FranceMarita van der Vyver is one of South Africa’s most prolific and diverse writers.

Despite the fact that she lives in France, Van der Vyver has achieved success across genres in both English and Afrikaans. From children’s fiction to cookbooks, columns in women’s magazines and autobiographical stories, she finds inspiration in her world on both sides of the equator.

Her latest book, A Fountain in France, tells the story of Van der Vyver and her husband’s decision to install a fountain in their home in the small rural town of Provence, where they live with their children.

The author recently visited South Africa to launch A Fountain in France at The Alliance Française in Cape Town.

Read our coverage of the launch here:

Penguin Random House did an interview with Van der Vyver about the autobiographical aspects of her writing, what she misses most about her home country, and what it is like to be a fairly famous author in a remote part of France.

Read the interview with Van der Vyver:

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You have had a lot of success with both your novels and your columns, what is it like to put down large parts of your personal life in your autobiographical work?

Marita van der Vyver: It’s not so bad if you don’t live in the same country as most of your readers! But this goes for my fiction writing too – I feel much less vulnerable and exposed in France where I can live a quiet anonymous life. Nobody watches me in my little village. Nobody wants my opinion on literary matters. Most of my French acquaintances have never even read my work.

In your book you discuss the way that you fictionalise your characters, even those that are real people like your family members. How do your husband and children feel about featuring prominently in your work?

I used to always ask their “permission” or tell them what I’m writing to test their opinion – until I realised that I was more worried about their privacy than they were. Most of the time they feel quite flattered and amused by what I write. Once again, this is mainly because we live in France. If we lived in South Africa among most of my readers, my writing would probably have been very different.

You have had so many books published, what are the different challenges of fiction and autobiography?

Autobiography is “easier” because the story is already there; in fiction you have to invent everything from scratch. But autobiography is also more restraining exactly because you work with real people, places and facts that have to be respected; you don’t have the exhilarating freedom of fiction.

You draw your inspiration for this book from real life, but where do the ideas come from?

I’ve been writing a monthly column for a woman’s magazine in South Africa for nearly a decade, so I suppose it’s become a permanent state of mind. Absolutely anything can be a spark for my next column about my life in France. But once again, the same goes for fiction. I’ve been writing fiction for 30 years, so by now my imagination is like a bed of glowing embers that can be sparked into flames by just about anything.

A lot of your work is grounded in South Africa but you live abroad in France and write increasingly about life in France. What is your secret to staying relevant to a South African audience?

I visit a few times a year, I read South African magazines and newspapers, I try to keep up with local fiction and, maybe most importantly, most of my friends and family still live in SA.

Some of your work is quite nostalgic; would you ever consider moving back to South Africa?

My partner and I are dreaming about doing this swallow thing once all the children have left home and he has retired. Six months in France, six months in SA, that would be the best of both worlds for both of us.

Translation is a fascinating thing and something on which there is a lot of debate, especially with regards to the potential loss of meaning and nuance. How have you found the translation process with regards to your work?

Oh, it’s pure pleasure when you have a translator like Annelize Visser! I’m so happy that she could translate A Fountain in France because she was the translator of my previous “autobiographical” French book, Where the Heart Is, about 10 years ago. So there’s continuity in the translation process. And more recently she also translated my latest novel, Forget-Me-Not Blues (in Afrikaans Die blou van onthou), and did it brilliantly.

What is your favourite thing about living in France?

Food, glorious food.

What is your least favourite thing about living in France?

The eternal strikes and never-ending complaints. But then again, I’m thankful to live in a country where everyone has the right to strike and complain!

Living abroad, what do you miss most about South Africa?

Lots of things that start with a “B” – beautiful beaches, beskuit (home-baked rusks), boerewors, my best buddies – and one thing that starts with an “A”: Afrikaans, my mother tongue. I never knew how much I loved it until I landed in Europe.

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