Diane de Beer
It was Deon Meyer and his publicist from Jonathan Ball, Anika Ebrahim, who decided that the Richmond Boekbedonnerd, the annual book fair in this tiny Karoo town, would be the perfect fit for the launch of his latest book, Seven Days.
They put together a crime bus of journalists and competition winners and travelled from Gauteng to experience one of the country’s most fascinating book affairs.
Discovering and developing his dreams is something that Meyer, the gentle giant of crime writing, probably most enjoys following his success as a crime fiction novelist.
But that success didn’t come overnight.
Many people have followed his lead since signs of his success became visible, but he’s quick to point out that it takes years to reach this level.
“One of the joys as my books started reaching an international market was meeting international crime writers,” he says.
They all urged him to simply keep writing. That’s how you build a following.
Writing this latest book, Seven Days (Hodder&Stoughton, R210), was a tough ask, says Meyer, who spent much of the past 18 months travelling the globe.
Most of the writing of the Afrikaans version (which is then translated) happened in France, a hotel room in Houston and finally in San Francisco.
Meyer needed some serious energy surges following that and he took off this past year to explore different avenues and to recover some of his remarkable enthusiasm.
Taking time out for Deon means writing two movie scripts, one of which starts shooting at the end of November, with a possible release in the 2013 July holidays.
That’s the plan, but Deon knows these things don’t always run smoothly and much can go wrong.
A huge movie fan, with many directors like the Scott brothers in his sights, he has always wanted to direct a movie.
He compares it to writing, because he has that picture in his sights, but the material he uses for movies is more suited to the medium.
The working title of his first directorial attempt is Die Laaste Tango and stars Antoinette Louw and Louw Venter.
“I’m terrified, because this is new territory.” Yet knowing Deon, when he says he’s done his homework, that’s exactly what has happened. For the current novel, he spent time with the Hawks in Cape Town and went around long before the book was published, singing their praises.
He is in fact quick to praise anything good about his country. Having travelled widely, especially this past year, he is amused that other countries are no better or worse off than home.
Newspapers, he says, are notorious at printing bad rather than good news.
His books show the same positivity about the country, even though he doesn’t turn a blind eye to the corruption or anything else he might want to criticise. He’s good at sketching a realistic country, people we recognise and grow accustomed to and telling a darn good yarn. “It has to come from the heart,” he says.
The story is the focal point. Once he has that, he considers which of the characters will best fit the tale. “You can’t do it any other way,” he says. “It will be forced and readers will spot it easily.”
That’s also why he has such a loyal following. They know he is always ready with a smile and know that Deon has their interests at heart. None of that would have mattered, though, if he wasn’t telling a good story and telling it well. He was the first one to truly tackle the crime genre in Afrikaans and, he says, he is still growing his Afrikaans base. “It’s good to know they haven’t reached saturation point yet,” he says.
But travelling with this kind man for a few days, it’s fascinating to watch him handle the fame. Writers in this country are less recognisable than, say, a David Kramer or a Vusi Mahlasela, but still, we were on our way to a book festival and he was sharing the bus with fans.
He’s not someone who hogs the stage, but he’s always available to anyone who approaches him to ask a question about one of their favourite characters, like Bennie Griesel or Mbali Kaleni. He talks easily about his books, where he wants to go with his novels and what he next has up his sleeve.
At one of the two talks he hosted in Richmond, he read the first two chapters of the new book and fans will be thrilled that it is another Bennie Griesel-driven thriller.
Bennie was a sideline character when he was first introduced and because he was a drinking cop with a problem, when Deon started using him more seriously he had to cope with the cliché he had created.
But that is this writer’s fast food. He loves a challenge and is always experimenting with different forms and trends in any new novel.
For those who haven’t yet had an introduction to this fine crime writer, Seven Days is a perfect introduction. It gives a good idea of the kind of stories he writes and will have you scuttling back to the bookstore for his back catalogue.
He has it pat, and internationally they are fast discovering his charm.
He recently picked up the M-Net film prize, which rewards books that can be portrayed most vividly on the big screen, for this last novel. It seems he can do no wrong.
And once you get to spend some time with him, meet his exquisite wife Anita, and hear fellow writers like Mike Nicol rave about his easy style, it’s good to know he’s living the dream life.
The other thing one also spots very quickly is that he is constantly slipping away to work – whether it is answering e-mails or adding another chapter to his latest book, he takes his writing extremely seriously, and it shows.