HC Maree is amongst one of the most talented authors I have had the pleasure of reading. Her novel The Prodigal is a literary beauty comprising of passages that could make you weep, masterful prose, intense detail and memorable characters. So when I had the chance to interview her I couldn’t let it go to waste. I wanted to know the mind, person and the story behind the The Prodigal, one of the books which made it to my end of year Top 5 Best Books of the Year list last year.
This is what happened.
.Why did you start writing?
As a form of expression, I guess. It started with school essays that I discovered I loved writing. Writing them was never just a project. I found them to be something to enjoy and get lost in. I remember one in particular, when I was asked for 300 words. I handed it in after the lesson, but continued writing at home in what became my first novella.
What would you say is your favourite part about the writing process? What is this thing that makes you get lost in it? Can you even tell what it is?
I think it’s the indefinable process of entering an alternate form of consciousness. It’s escapist. I get so involved in writing that I lose a sense of who’s around me. It happens a few minutes into the writing process, especially as the characters start to emerge, share their personalities and drive the plot.
Is it also a process of also getting to know them better? Your characters that is.
Definitely. Like meeting someone for the first time. At first you notice their physical attributes, their tone of voice, their demeanour. As your discussion continues you start noticing how they react verbally and non-verbally to your questions, the things they shy away from, subjects that get them animated. When you see them again the discovery of small idiosyncracies evolves, as they would in ensuing chapters.
Would I be wrong to assume your experience of your characters is very vivid? You make it sound like it.
I think you’re right. Perhaps that’s how I personally experience them. I see them in my mind’s eye, everything about them, and how they think. Sometimes when I write I feel I’m identifying with the character. It’s funny but I’ve found myself reacting to a real-life comment by thinking, “Daniel (a character in The Prodigal) would have replied to your question this way ….” I have to smile at my own involvement.
The Prodigal is your first book, how has been the experience of releasing it?
Bitter-sweet at first, as I started writing it as a way to assuage the effects of empty nest syndrome when my only child left home for university, four hours from home. Thirty thousand words later I considered, for the first time, publishing the book. I have a journalistic background, but I’d always wanted to write an actual novel. Now it’s done I’m happy as a lark. One ticked off my bucket list.
How long did it take to put The Prodigal together?
About two and a half years. I wrote it in nine months, but edited it mercilessly for months before I was finally happy with the quality, and confident enough to release it to a new set of eyes. Finding a publisher and going through additional editing and typesetting added another nine months to the process.
The Prodigal is breathtaking, so picturesque, the prose alone could cut diamonds. The whole time I was reading I asked myself one question “How long does it take someone to write so well?”
Do you know?
How long did it take you?
Thank you so much, Sandy. I’m not sure I can answer, except to say that anyone who feels the urge to write should put down in words what they truly feel. I have read exquisitely written books, written so simply, in words that tore at my heart. ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ by Ernest Hemingway is the perfect example.
Do you like paintings? Your book is like a painting in many ways and you do reference the art in the book. It also made me wonder if other forms of art have influenced your writing.
I love art – in many forms. I come from an artistic family so grew up surrounded by it. My mother is a renowned artist and although I entertained thoughts about becoming a classical pianist I left that to my daughter.
That is lovely. What do you think of the rise of the self-pub book? Is it a good thing or bad thing?
Tricky question. I love that self-publishing allows for greater leeway for writers to get their work out to the world through the big A and other self-publishing houses. At the risk of conjecture though, I think authors carry a responsibility to ensure their work is the best that it can be before they self-publish. I’ve read some really great self-published books that should be receiving a great deal more success. They just have a mountain of competition and sadly, never get noticed.
Should we expect more work from you? If so how soon?
I’m hoping to complete my second novel by May next year, if all goes well, and should have it published by late 2017. It will be Daniel’s story, by popular demand, as I’d thought of writing something completely different.
That is exciting news. I look forward to reading it. The best writing advice you could give?
Use the small moments in your day to write, as three free hours seldom exist. Certainly not in my days. Twenty minutes every day equals a chapter in a week. And consider writing as you would a day job – attend to it every day.
Thank you. H.C, thank you for sitting down with me and doing this. It has been real. All the best.
It’s been my pleasure entirely, Sandy. I enjoyed every minute. Thank you.