“I was a child during the state of emergency so in this specific passage, the story became personal” – a Q & A with Trade Secrets contributor, Linda Daniels
Linda Daniels has worked for many years as a print and radio journalist in the commercial media field. In 2014 she entered the not for profit space as a trainer.
She works with young people who use media as a platform for expression and dialogue in the communities in which they live.
Joanne Hichens, curator of the Short.Sharp.Stories Award and Linda recently discussed Linda’s story, South Africa’s violent past, humanising apartheid perpetrators, and the wobbly process of writing fiction:
Your story, ‘Mr X’, uses atrocities of the past as a point of reference. The reclusive and mysterious Mr X has many secrets, which are revealed over time. What was the inspiration for creating this character?
The story and the creation of Mr X was an attempt to identify the people who had quietly slipped through time… from – in his case – supporting Apartheid as an assassin into democracy; the ordinariness of getting on in years, faithfully tending a garden and being someone’s neighbor, etc. I was struck by that privileged continuum of life which followed anonymously, and without atonement or justice for his victims.
The reader is led to imagine that perhaps Mr X is simply a warped pervert, but he is more ‘evil’ than that. Is his neighbour, the young woman whom he watches, ever aware that something is amiss? Do people have a sixth sense about evil?
The neighbor has a sense of duty that she has imposed on herself to be polite not only to him but in her general interactions with people. She’s young and working things out. But she is also uncomfortable around him. She has no evidence for this feeling, but you know she is also distracted by her own life to give it too much thought. He is a bit abstract to her.
Did you have Mr X work in his garden as a way to humanise him?
I really struggled with this because I wanted everything about him to be bad! But as I began writing, he turned out to be a keen gardener. And a really attentive and focused gardener. For me, his fixation on keeping his garden alive and thriving and beautiful represented the conflict between his now and then. It is in his garden that he suffers his most vivid flashbacks to his inhumane past.
The flashbacks to apartheid violence are very real. Are these scenes from the imagination? Or based on reports?
I was a child during the state of emergency so in this specific passage, the story became personal. I remember feeling scared and confused. Aspects of the scenes described are real.
Were they difficult to write? How did you put yourself in the shoes of Mr X and bring back his memories?
I had done a bit of research on the topic and this had helped to write Mr X’s memories. It felt uncomfortable writing from his perspective. I felt compelled to write it nonetheless so stuck it out and kept writing… I can’t say I slept well! I was so relieved, when I finished writing this story! He was such a difficult character, a character I didn’t like.
After an act of violence, a poignant line reads: ‘Then, a woman – always a woman – releases a plangent wail, an unyielding siren.’ Is it routinely (now and then) the women who are witness to violence?
The description was really about the ways people had to, and still do, organise amongst themselves in communities to survive. In the scene described it was the women who had organised themselves to mark the deaths of the young men and they did it in a way that was pretty powerful. These young men were the children of the community – not just the children of particular mothers – and the cry was signaling that.
Is Mr X, in the final equation, a victim himself?
I’ll leave that up to the reader. Though I resisted this outcome when I set out to write the story.
This is your first published short story. Are you inspired to write more?
For sure. I have to write. I have always entertained the idea of writing fiction but never pursued it until recently when I began sending my work out. It’s still a wobbly process, as I write in between raising a young family and a full time job. Writing represents a space of freedom and I can’t help but do it.
As a new voice what writing Trade Secret would you like to share?
Try not to hold on too tightly to an outcome of a story idea, sometimes the writing process itself can take you down a path you might not have considered. Be open to the possibilities of where your characters may lead you.
- Trade Secrets edited by Joanne Hichens
Find this book with BOOK Finder!
» read article