By BRUCE DENNILL
Eric George de Jong’s African memoir Running Dogs & Rose’s Children tells the story of Eric and his wife Jenny and their plunge into parenthood when they adopted three siblings from the children’s dying mother. The new family set about living happily ever after in their rambling farmhouse outside Harare. But ever after proved short lived as Zimbabwe’s small window of stability closed in on them quickly when Robert Mugabe unleashed a war on white farmers and opposition party members, launching an era of economic, political and social turmoil which eventually saw the family fleeing the country for fear of being killed.
How do you know when an idea is worthy of developing into a book? With songs or other shorter formats, you can get to a point of knowing if something will work relatively soon, but getting several thousand words into a manuscript and then deciding it’s a waste of time is far more frustrating.
For me, binning a manuscript, or parts thereof, is near impossible. Consequently, I have a cupboard full of works in progress on file, but I focus on the one that has the most legs and stands out the most. I’ve seized upon humour as a stand-out quality in a book that is in short supply.
When you do decide that a theme or story is worth exploring, how do you go about unpacking that?
I’ve experimented with lots of apps and have read lots of ‘How To’ books on how to construct a plot, but I generally decide to go forward with one page that includes the beginning bit, the middle bit and the end bit and then fill it in from there.
Research: how much do you do, and how detailed is it? And how much of it is internet-based, given that fact-checking may not be a priority on many websites?
Fiction allows you the freedom to make stuff up. And if you do get something wrong that will upset sensitivities, alas…
How much planning do you do before beginning in earnest? Do you have to know where you’re going to end up before you start?
Sort of, but I’m happy to follow my nose. I’ve decided things will be more interesting and or entertaining if I land my characters in trouble and then try get them out of trouble.
If the hundreds of memes about writing are to be believed, sitting down and actually putting words on a page is perhaps the toughest part of the job. What are the distractions you battle with the most when trying to work?
Apps and ‘How To’ books. Shortly followed by the real world, work, dogs, cats, bloody chickens, politics, war veterans, wives and grandchildren – not necessarily in that order.
Daily goals: what, for you, is an acceptable daily target, in terms of word count or the quality of what you complete, be it a sentence, a paragraph or a chapter?
First and foremost, I set a target of four hours spent on my book per day. To do this, I need to be up and busy in front of my screen by 4am. In terms of word count, I aim to bank 2 000 words a day.
If writing books is not your full-time job, how does completing a project fit in with your other duties?
Writing is now my full-time job. Previously, my noble intention was to block off days in the week in which to write and work my day job around those blocks. But that hardly ever worked. Which is why God invented 4am.