An Honest Imagining: 2015 Barry Ronge Fiction Prize Shortlistee Masande Ntshanga Talks About Writing The Reactive
Published in the Sunday Times
I’ve always wanted to write a novel about Cape Town. I also knew that I wanted it be something personal, but imagined.
I remember thinking that at the beginning. It still took me another two years to arrive at the point at which I could draft it, though. I only had the themes and the setting, to begin with. I knew I wanted it to be a contemporary novel set in Cape Town and for it to move across different sectors of the city, but I didn’t have access to the story. That was perhaps the most instructive part of the process for me. I learnt that I had to pull back, in the end, and become less controlling in order to allow the work to come out the way it was meant to come out.
To allow for more honesty, in other words. For this book, in particular, which is about a transitional period in the protagonist’s life, I needed, similarly, to take stock of what was happening in my own. I began to evaluate what was happening around me, as well, and in the end, I discovered that in order to write the kind of book I had in mind, I would have to undergo a similar transition.
Having once tried to write similar stories at arm’s length, and having watched them not succeed as a result, I knew that I would have to be more involved with the novel. I moved out of a flat in Cape Town, where I wasn’t doing all that well, and went to back to King William’s Town, where I took up in a small cottage in the yard of my brother’s house.
It was there, within that relative isolation, that I began to consider what I wanted to do and why. In coming home, I’d discovered that so much human activity was based on survival, or this idea of imposing a permanence over life. I wanted to reverse that, to have a character who wasn’t in opposition to his mortality, and in doing so, to explore what else that character might find as motivation for living.
Full 2015 Barry Ronge Fiction Prize shortlist