Edinburgh is such a wonderful city and at Festival time there is excitement round every corner. I went up from London on a flying visit to hear Hodder’s South African bestseller Deon Meyer talk crime fiction with Scottish author Gordon Ferris in a conversation expertly moderated by literary agent Jenny Brown. The enthusiastic audience included Deon’s own agent Isobel Dixon of Blake Friedmann, the eponymous Carole Blake herself, and Ian Rankin, who will himself be sharing a stage with Deon later this year, I believe, in Cape Town.
It was an amusing and enlightening evening. At one point, Deon wanted to overcome the impression that writing about crime must be easy if you come from a society so full off crime as South Africa. He said that as a tourist, you would have no greater chance of encountering crime in South Africa than you would in Scotland. Gordon raised a rueful laugh when he said that may not be too much of a recommendation!
On a more serious note, Deon said he didn’t feel an explicit responsibility to represent the whole of South African society to the world, but that he enjoyed meeting members of the police service from many different ethnic backgrounds in the course of his research, and trying to portray the way they work together in his fiction. Most violent crime in South Africa, he reminded us, is drink or drug related and involves people related or known to each other - the same rather tawdry tale as in the rest of the world. It’s the novelist’s aim to make his fiction a bit more exciting than the average ‘real’ crime, but to remain true to human behaviour.
Gordon spoke very engagingly about his two bestselling series of novels, set in Glasgow in the immediately post-WW2 period, and certainly made me want to read them. With their milieu of the Glasgow Jewish community, it will be interesting to compare them with the late Campbell Armstrong’s Lou Perlman novels, a couple of which I edited when I was at HarperCollins. I’ll be writing a little about Campbell soon, incidentally. It was heartening to know also that Gordon had read Hodder’s Night Song of the Last Tram by Robert Douglas as part of his research, and I greatly enjoyed meeting him.
The two authors, whose work is set so far apart in both time and distance, found much common ground in the way they make stories that come out of social situations and both gave every indication that there are many more exciting novels still to come.
Later at dinner with distinguished Edinburgh booksellers Claire Leach of Blackwell’s , Marie Moser and Cat Anderson of the Edinburgh Bookshop and Stephen Gourlay of Waterstones, Deon talked about the films he has been making in South Africa. He has directed Last Tango, an Afrikaans-language film based on one of his own short stories (despite speaking perfectly in English, he says he can only write in his native Afrikaans) to considerable acclaim. Furthermore, various options that have been taken out by big studios on the novels for international movies. Fingers crossed that we see Dead Before Dying on the big screen before too long, and Deon back here for a longer visit.
Deon’s novel 7 Days is published in paperback on 24 October 2013.
You can follow him @MeyerDeon and www.deonmeyer.com
Photo: Deon signs books for fans after the talk