Today I’m super excited to welcome Australian contemporary novelist, T.M. Clark to my blog.
Tina and I have been talking about an interview for a number of months now and I finally got around to drafting up her questions and sending them off to her publicist, so be prepared for a slightly longer interview as we have a lot of ground to cover!
Born in Zimbabwe, Tina completed her primary school years at boarding school in Bulawayo, but on weekends and holidays, her time was spent exploring their family ranch in Nyamandhlovu, normally on the back of her horse. Her teenage years were totally different to her idyllic childhood. After her father died, the family of five women moved to Kokstad, a rural town at the foot of the Drakensberg Mountains in South Africa, where home was the boarding school hostel. In winter she walked to school in the snow and could never get warm, and in summer she sweated having to wear an impractical, but smart, blazer on the same trail.
She began writing fiction when she moved to the UK while being a stay at home mum to her two sons, following a suggestion from her husband Shaun during a trip to Paris, and she hasn’t looked back.
Now living on a small island near Brisbane in Queensland, Australia, Tina combines her passion for story telling with her love for Africa. When not running around after the men in her life, she gets to enjoy her hobbies, which include boating, reading, sewing, travel, gardening, and lunching with her friends. (Not necessarily in that order!)
Passionate about Africa, different cultures and wildlife, most of Tina Marie’s books are set somewhere on that ancient continent. My Brother-But-One, first published in 2013 by Harlequin, Mira, was nominated for a Queensland Literary People Choice Award in 2014. Shooting Butterflies was published in 2014 and Tears of the Cheetah in November 2015.
Tina also runs the CYA Conference in Brisbane, helping others on their journey towards publication.
Please feel free to pull up a stump and get to know her and her world of writing a bit more.
Before I continue though, I’d just like to thank Morey Media, for making this interview possible.
Tina, it’s great to finally have you here. Congratulations on the recent release of Tears of the Cheetah.
Thanks Marcia – so glad we got this together at last and are chatting in a Q & A! Awesome!
Tell us about your childhood.
In one word - Idyllic.
Although I grew up during a bush war, I had immense freedom as a child, to explore my world around me, to befriend both the owners and the workers on our farm and next door farms as well, and to make many of my own decisions. Although boarding school consumed too much time, and I was in the city during the week, weekends always began when my dad would fetch us in the milk truck, and we would stop for coke and hot bread at the petrol station. Nothing better than hollowing out the bread loaf!
My senior years were a little different, and took a bit of adjusting to learn how to do everything, like the washing, ironing and cooking (which we had never done ourselves… except pancakes where we would try and stick them to the roof!) But I guess you could say in the holidays we had the largest house in town when it was only us girls and my mum in the hostel.
What made you want to become an author? Could you tell us about your motivations as well as the journey?
I think being an author chose me, not the other way around. Apparently I was full of stories as a child, we had a cast of characters for Easter in our home, and there is this horrible man called Mr Suck-a-thumb who was going to cut of my baby sisters thumb that she sucked (and I think she still does…) that came out of my imagination, so changing from telling stories to writing them down, took a few years! Ultimately, I think that it’s the fact that there are characters and stories running through my brain all the time, and by writing them down, giving them a voice, they are happier than just all being jumbled inside my brain…. (Now I sound like a loony!)
I’m sure you’ve been asked this question many times before, but why cultural novels about South Africa? Is it because you’re writing what you know? Or is there a deeper connection?
Why not? In a way it is writing what I know, but I still do a heap of research into the traditions of the cultural mix that is southern Africa. Many of the myths I know from living in both Ndebele, Xhosa and Zulu dominant places are mixed in with modern influence, so I often need to decipher what is myth, legend or just part of local custom of living in that area.
But there is also a deep connection to the land, the animals, the people. One that even though I have lived away for nearly 18 years, I still feel strongly. I’m an African, my parents were both born there, as were their parents. My father’s family has pioneering certificates, showing our ancestry back to the time of ox-drawn wagons and explorers in Southern Rhodesia, and my mothers side arrived on the Haidee in 1850. I’m proud of my heritage, and want to share that love of Africa with others.
Like My Brother-But-One (my review here) and Shooting Butterflies (my review here), I thoroughly enjoyed reading Tears of the Cheetah (my review here). Can you please share your version of the story with us?
In my words – not the official blurb: A race against the annihilation of the African cheetah through the eyes of those who love them, and will do anything to save these majestic cats, and who will use their resources at their disposal for the good of the African Cheetah. Mackenzie comes to South Africa and is trying to escape her past, and she falls in love with Cole, who is the owner of the Cheetah Rehabilitation Centre. There is an unscrupulous villain in maNtuli who is part of the plot to remove live cheetahs from Africa. What prevails is a thriller ride that goes from the Drakensberg mountains, through Kruger, into Mozambique and touches on the fabulous Reed Festival in Swaziland. But most important in this book, is that the guardians of the cheetahs are devoted and they will do anything to save their beloved cats.
You’re now a thrice published author so could you give us a bit of insight into the research you’re required to carry out for your novels? What did this research entail for Tears of the Cheetah?
Each novel is different. I started Tears of The Cheetah back in 2008, then in 2010/11 I put more resources and time into a better plot with more research, more details. I actually spent a week visiting Emdoneni Cheetah Rehabilitation Centre and lodge (check out the photo of Shaun and I with one of their cheetahs), and the cheetah handlers there were really helpful and so knowledgeable.
I also was in contact with Vincent van de Merwe, the Cheetah Metropolitan Coordinator, Carnivore Conservation Program, Endangered Wildlife Trust ( www.egt.org.za) for the more technical side of the numbers of cheetahs, where the releases and breeding centres are and who was successful etc. I also trawled through hours of Youtube videos that people had taken, from zoo’s and private collections, making sure I had small details right.
Something I’m constantly fascinated about is your choice of Titles for your novels. How do you come up with these imaginative appellations?
Finding the right name for my stories is one of the hardest parts of writing for me! My stories always start with a title, and it gets changed along the way, as I write the book, as I’m editing, something will pop and them I know that it’s the right title…. My Brother-But-One, that was a single line in the book, and when Fiona Brand read it, (during a mentorship) she went – that is the essence of this book… the sort of Brother-from-another-mother angle, and Singita, which was its working title at that time changed. Shooting Butterflies went through a few too, and finally when Shaun and I were talking about splitting it up into the stages of the butterflies, that title popped. Tears, well that one was easy – although my publisher did change it from A cheetah to THE cheetah… and it was better… Titles are important to me, so I’m constantly on the lookout for lyrical words that have meaning within my books.
Like you, I am a former South African, which makes it easy for me to relate to your novels and I think I’ve read more novels set on the Continent of Africa since I arrived in Australia than I did in our former homeland but, in saying that, what would you most like your readers to take away from your stories?
That although Africa as a continent is a violent place, there is still such beauty there, and so many hopeful, honest, hardworking and beautiful people still call Africa "home". Visit – spread your wings, it will amaze you.
What challenges did you have to overcome in getting your first novel published?
The fact that I had been targeting the wrong genre for years, was a hard thing to accept, but once I knew that I wasn’t a category writer, and expanded my books, wrote the whole story, I was actually really lucky to find a publisher quite fast. I had pitched it to publishers and agents before, when it was still too green, and not ready to see the world, and I had many rejections from that time, but on the day I pitched to Haylee Nash (then acquiring editor at Harlequin, Mira), I had also pitched to a different publisher who wasn’t interested but Mira pretty much accepted it straight away. I know that being in this business so long helped me with getting this book in front of the right editor at the right time.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Write the story of your heart.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Put your bum in your chair and write the story of your heart.
What’s a typical working day like for you? When and where do you write? Do you set a daily writing goal?
Nothing typical in my life… some days I can write 7k, other times I can go for weeks, even months and write nothing, if there is something else happening. (CYA Conference time I generally write nothing for 3 months). But depending where I am in a book as to how fast the story is flowing out of my head and through my fingers, a book typically takes me about 3 months to draft and then editing take me about the same time...I need lots of edit time for Shaun to make my sentences into words that people will understand… I am still inclined to put in double negatives (like you do in Afrikaans) and sometimes have awkward sentence structure.
Have you already started working on your next manuscript? Am I allowed to ask for a hint of what to expect?
I’m working on my next one, which I’m hoping to have finished by the end of this month... . It's different again (no use writing the same thing over and over…). Working title is Child Of Africa, but that is sure to change again… as it doesn’t pop 100% - so still looking for its final title…
The brief synopsis is:
Joss and Peta need to uncover what is happening in their district, to protect not only the animals, but the people too, in a hostile environment where the political situation is volatile and war vets are aligned to whomever pays them the most to make trouble. Their lives are about to be changed forever.
Now that the proverbial formalities are over, it’s time for the fun part of the interview!
Wahoo – fun stuff!
Pizza or Pasta?
If you had a book club, what would it be reading and why?
Mmm …. Under the Spanish Stars by Alli Sinclair (released this month). Before its publication, Alli and I chatted so much about it on messenger that I couldn't wait to introduce it to others! The joys of having author friends - you talk about their characters like they are real, and you can’t wait to meet them!
Give us three good to know facts about yourself – be creative.
I haven’t killed my family with my cooking – yet.
I haven’t burnt my house down with my bad/forgotten cooking - yet!
I hate, loathe and detest that I have to watch what I eat now, because as a youngster I could eat anything and not get fat! So not like that today…
What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that?
How do I decide who to kill in a book?
If someone is bad, or does something I don’t agree with, or they are mean to my kids, generally they will land up dead in one of my books. It’s really therapeutic killing off someone in fantasy world that you can’t kill in real life!
Although I killed my first fan in a book in Tears Of The Cheetah, she never did anything wrong to me, except take my son's side! But she really loved the idea of being killed off and even provided her final words in the book.
If you could ask your readers a question, what would it be?
Who would like to die next in one of my books?
Tina, it’s been an absolute delight having you drop in. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy day to join me but before you go, would you mind giving us a sneak peek of Child Of Africa?
Its been awesome coming on your Q & A Marcia – thank you for having me. And it would be my pleasure to share a bit of Child of Africa with you. Please remember that this is unedited, so yes, there probably are mistakes in my punctuation, and sentence structure. This is the beginning of chapter 1.
"Zimbabwe – South Africa Beit Bridge Border Area, December 2012
The deluge came in waves.
Peta pushed on the lever for the wipers again, but they couldn't go any faster.
‘Oh for the mother of God, why now!’ She cursed. ‘Get out of the way moron!’ She yelled, breaking for the person walking across the bridge, even though she knew he couldn’t hear her with her windows up. She wiped the condensation off the inside of the windscreen as the ventilation was totally inadequate for the summer storm that raged outside her bakkie.
The person walked slowly.
She hit the hooter, but all that sounded was a pathetic blurp… then that died.
‘Come on Nguni, just get us home,’ she patted the dashboard. ‘Just get me over this godforsaken Beit Bridge, through the Zim side of customs and then we are on the home stretch. I promise you, I’ll have Tsessebe look at you when we get home to the reserve…’
She laughed aloud that she was once again talking to her sisters bakkie, okay technically speaking it belonged to Joss, but he hadn’t claimed it, and eighteen months had passed, so she had gone and fetched it from Cape Town. Bringing it home.
He might have given up everything to do with her sister, but she hadn’t.
She never would.
Courtney would have been reminding her that she was stark raving mad, that one day when the car spoke back, then what was she going to do.
Tears filled her eyes.
Eighteen months and still the anger boiled like a pot of sadza deep inside her.
She missed her.
Despite their ten-year age differences, growing up in the Zimbabwe bush together, they were the best of friends, not even men and distance could sever the closeness. Only death had ultimately managed to separate them.
‘Dammit Court,’ Peta wiped her nose with the back of her hand, and dug for a tissue in her open brief case. She glanced back towards the road, just in time to swerve to avoid the person who had his suitcase on his head as a raincoat, and who’s walking across the bridge was getting slower and slower.
If she decreased speed anymore she might stall, and then she knew she would be in trouble. She wound down the window.
‘Suka pangisa!’ she shouted, and hit the side of her door as if herding cattle, move your ass.
The figure turned around and she instantly saw her mistake.
‘Zama uku xolisa,’ the man threw back at her, his Ndebele as perfect as hers, despite his white face previously hidden under the case.
Try saying please… Oh boy, she had put her foot in it this time.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she called out in English. ‘Do you want a lift?
‘I’d rather walk, it's a beautiful storm,’ he called as he continued on his way. Something about him was familiar.
Just then a huge bolt of lightning struck close by, and the street lights on the bridge went off.
‘Oh dandy,’ she said, ‘now to get through customs in the dark, this is going to be interesting.’ She wound her window down again. ‘Well if you are not going to have a lift, the least you can do is to please use the foot path, and get out of the middle of the road, I need to pass.’
The man stopped, he put his case down by his feet.
‘Lady, you –’ he never got further. ‘Peta is that you?’
In the dark she could see even less of him, and if she hadn’t already known he was white, she wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference now as they had stopped in the middle of the bridge.
‘My apologies,’ he began, ‘I though you were someone I once knew-’
‘Yes it’s me. But who the hell are you?’"