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Interview with Margaret von Klemperer
Just A Dead Man
They say the easier it is to read, the harder it has been to write. Is this true of Just A Dead Man?
Well, for a start I’m glad it was easy to read! I don’t think writing anything is easy, and I certainly hit a couple of sticky patches. But I did enjoy the process – particularly with hindsight, of course.
How did the idea come about?
I was walking my own dogs in the area where Laura and Daniel walk her dog in the book and my two rushed off into a bush, barking and sniffing around at something. I thought – “What if it’s a corpse?” – which it wasn’t, mercifully. I probably have a morbid imagination. But it gave me the initial idea for a story that grew from there.
Isn’t the title a misnomer given that we know more about the [first] dead man than what could stand on his ID – we know the cause he fought for, his vocation, the names of his children, background of two homes, etc?
No, I don’t think so. It’s a quote from what Daniel says to Laura after he finds the body and she asks him if he recognized it. At that stage we know nothing about him. But perhaps it also says something about how cheap life can become in circumstances where greed plays a role. The victim is diminished.
Is it true that first books are almost invariably autobiographical?
If you ignore the fact that she’s a schoolteacher, Laura Marsh could easily pass for the alter ego of the journalist who authored the book.
How much of Margaret constitutes the character Laura, if at all?
All characters must contain something of the author, otherwise how would we be able to imagine them? There has to be some point of connection, however slight. But no, I don’t think there’s anything autobiographical about it. Laura isn’t really like me. Though I have been known to shoot from the hip …
The university town has been a good setting for the plot, a fertile ground of sorts?
Maybe. It offers a good cast of characters. But Just A Dead Man is set in a Pietermaritzburg of the imagination, not the real actual place. Maritzburg is a place I know, and so it seemed obvious to draw on it for a setting. But you can’t really say something happened in a specific area – I changed the geography to suit the plot wherever I needed to.
With Tiger Woods, Julius Malema, training for the Comrades, isiZulu – not Zulu – and xenophobia, among other notables, the book is as current as today’s newspaper. Is contemporary South Africa a boon for fiction?
Oh yes. No-one could call it a boring place to live and there’s plenty of material to draw on. Crime writing is big here at the moment, and obviously it mirrors the society. But I did want a bit of added humour. We can’t live all the time in a pall of gloom.
The trophy wife, moniker included, is such a believable character. Do you have any idea how much the reader is going to love her?
She’s not a huge character – I put her there more for a bit of humour than to advance the plot. I hope people will enjoy her because she was fun to invent. And I guess there really are people like her out there.
Does the ending not leave room for a sequel? Two lonely adults, surely the good inspector will have to overcome his grief and develop a love interest? This could very well have planted the seed for an Inspector Adam Pillay series [of novels]?
Several people have asked me if I’m planning a sequel, and I was quite surprised. I thought at the end of the book that that was it. Laura and Adam could now be left to sort out their own lives. I’ve never wanted to write about a series character – I have a feeling I might get bored with it quite quickly. I want to explore other situations, other people. But maybe I’ll feel differently in a while.
Is life as a full-time writer beckoning?
I very much hope so! It has taken me a long time to get started, but I don’t plan to stop any time soon.
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