Lauren Beukes is a writer that probably needs no introduction to many of you who will read this blog. She’s a South African speculative fiction writer, and Broken Monsters is her fourth book. She has won like a gazillion awards and is the envy of writers around the country (and world, and possibly the universe). Her other books are
- Zoo City
- The Shining Girls
Before Broken Monsters I had readMoxyland and the Shining Girls.Beukes also did the Masters in Creative Writing in UCT and Moxyland was the book that she completed there.
Moxyland was set in Cape Town and it was generally a very cool plot (espionage, anti-Government activity). She came to speak to us while I was doing the MA and one of the things she said that stuck with me was that fiction writers who live in South Africa should be grateful, because the news here can sometimes be so ridiculous that we have so much material. She also said that speculative fiction (the new fancy word for science fiction) doesn’t necessarily have to be out of this world weird, but can also be reality with a few twists. Moxyland pretty much fits that bill. It felt like the things that happened in the book could easily happen in real life in the future, and reminded me a lot of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.
The Shining Girls felt more to me like a crime thriller than a sci-fi. It was set in the USA instead of SA which was a sad move away from home content, but probably a necessary one in terms of Beukes’ market. It was a gripping story and it is quite graphically violent. Beukes also took the opportunity to use her fame and talent for good, hosting a charity art auction with art inspired by the book to raise money for the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. Some other really exciting news is that Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company has bought the television rights to the story so we may get to see it on screens soon!
Broken Monsters “a paranormal crime-noir” is her latest book. You can watch the book trailer here. Also set in the USA, it follows the story of Gabi Versado (a homicide detective), her daughter, and the failed artist Clayton Broom. Strange bodies start appearing around Detroit, and it is Versado’s duty to find out who is leaving them there, and what they have to do with all the mysterious doors around the city. It’s a complex story that you know, right from the beginning, is going to end strangely.
The characters are a strength of the text – each one has their own challenges and capabilities which make them seem more real and rich to the reader. As the Mail and Guardian notes “her female protagonists defy casual stereotyping” and it’s great to see so many female characters solving things and showing both competency and compassion.
I think as a writer what someone can really learn from Beukes is pacing. The chapters are the right length to keep you reading one more than you planned to without feeling like the book is holding you hostage. The action is paced well with plot-building chapters so that you’re desperate to find out more.
Beukes also uses place and space really well to build suspense (e.g. the party scene and the side of the road scariness) but also to enhance the humanity of the characters. I have never been to the USA, never mind to Detroit, but place and space was well described in Broken Monsters, so much so that it felt like an additional character that reflected back onto the protagonists, and helped to reveal things about their past and future (if they were lucky enough to have one). It also seemed like a place you might not want to walk around alone at night in.
Another thing to learn from Beukes as a writer is that you must make an effort to develop a brand, a website, and truly show case yourself. I think for a lot of women the idea of promoting yourself feels kind of weird because we’ve been programmed to stay out of the limelight, or to spend more time promoting others than ourselves. Beukes shows us that it’s time to start celebrating our own talent, as we rightly deserve to do, and her website is a great example of how you can showcase your work. Lauren is often on twitter, and often engaging.
I really enjoy speculative fiction and I think we’re really lucky in South Africa to have such a strong culture of it, and particularly such talented female writers like Beukes.