Invisible Strings by Naledi Mashishi Q & A
- What inspired you to write fantasy fiction ?
A: I’ve always loved fantasy. As a child the first books that I read were the Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling and I went on to read some of the Redwall books by Brian Jacques and the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. So I’ve been exposed to fantasy for pretty much my whole life. But what inspired this book specifically was a novel named The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. That book got me interested in magical realism as a genre and I decided to try to write short stories in this genre. So I wrote a bunch of ideas and one of the ideas I had was of a little girl with healing powers whose powers end up getting used by a pastor. When I thought about the idea I realised that a short story format would be too restricting and it would have to be developed into a longer novel and that’s how I ended up with the novel I have today
- Did you have a ritual when you were writing the book?
A: I don’t have a specific writing ritual. What I do before writing anything is plot it out. So I plotted out the beginning and end before I started the novel and then when I started the actual writing process I would plot out a chapter in my head before I started writing it. But there would be times when I got stuck, so if I got really stuck I would have a glass of wine and that would help with the creative process. Sometimes I would need to take a couple of days from writing just to problem solve and get the creative juices flowing again. But I wouldn’t say there was a specific thing I did before I started writing. I just sat down and did it.
- Which character in the novel reminds you of qualities that you possess?
A: It would probably be Thato. When I was a kid I was also a very weird kid who was very much in my own head and in my own world. My family also thought that I had gifts and could see dead people and I can’t remember if I actually could. I think her sense of curiosity and desire to help people is pretty similar to how I was as well as a child. So I think that the character most similar to me is definitely her
- You wrote most of Invisible Strings during quarantine/ lockdown, what did you discover about yourself during the writing process?
A: I wrote the entirety of my first draft in 2019 and then when I sat down to work on the second draft in 2020 I realised that it was a big mess. I had left chapters out and there were characters that needed to be entirely reworked. So I spent 2020 doing that and lockdown gave it a bit of an interesting dimension. On the one hand I had more time to write because I wasn’t going out and I wasn’t commuting to and from work. So I expected it to make the process easier but I guess living in the uncertainty of the pandemic made it a lot harder. So I struggled a lot to write my second draft. I think one of the things I taught myself was self motivation. So on the days when I really didn’t want to write I’d have a whole internal argument and say ‘you have to go and write’. And I would sit down and write a paragraph. I learned that this expectation I’d put on myself to write about 1,000 words a day was not realistic so even if I just wrote a sentence that was progress. And that’s how I ended up finishing my book.
- Writers generally have an idea of what the journey of each character is but sometimes things take a turn. Which character surprised you in terms of development and personality trait?
A: I think that all the characters surprised me in different ways. I think the one that surprised me the most was Solomon. When I started the book I just broadly wrote down who the characters were, what their motivations would be and just gave very broad strokes of the type of people they would be. I only got the details when I was writing. I saw Solomon as being a certain kind of person but as I was writing I really got into his thinking process. I started adding details like him being so traumatised by his father’s alcoholism that he would never touch alcohol at all and that became a big part of his character. He took a lot of twists and turns and so did Kgethi. When I wrote the first draft of the book I realised she was a raging bitch and I needed to make her a bit more sympathetic. So I started adding more of a conscience to her and making her feel more of a sense of guilt over the worst things she’d done and she ended up becoming someone who was a lot more grey by the end of the novel than she was when I started it.
- Can you give us a glimpse of what to expect in the book?
A: The book is a fantasy so if you’re into exploring fantastical stories in a South African context you can definitely expect that, especially during Thato’s point of view chapters. I also explore how people use religion as a way of gaining power and money as a major theme of the book. It also does touch quite heavily on integenerational trauma, particularly trauma that families experienced back during apartheid and how that trauma continues to affect them to this day