JW: I’d like to start by asking, have you always wanted to be a writer? And where did the idea of The Benny Griessel novels come from?
DM: Growing up in the blue-collar neighbourhood of a gold mining town on the African highveld, it never occurred to me that becoming a writer was even possible. I wrote, as a teenager, because I was in love with stories. Then, life happened, and I only got back to writing in my thirties when, as a single parent and sole breadwinner, I hoped to earn a little extra by selling short stories to magazines.
It was never my intention to write a series based on one character. As a matter of fact, in the early part of my career, I was adamant that it wouldn’t happen. I wanted the freedom (and pleasure) of creating new characters for every book. I firmly believed that the story should always be paramount and should determine the characters.
And then came Benny Griessel. By accident. He was a minor character in an early novel (Dead Before Dying), created for a single, important scene in which I needed a drunk, alcoholic cop. He was supposed to come and go in a few pages. I created him on the fly, named him after the son of one of my favourite teachers at high school, and thought that was it.
The problem was, that he made things happen on the page. I liked writing to him! He did not want to go away. And by the end of that book, I know I had to bring him back again. Two novels later, Benny got his own book.
After that, he just kept coming back.
JW: Having only just read your latest novel The Dark Flood (although I have bought the previous 6 Benny Griessel novels to read during May!), one of the main things that stood out for me was your obvious love of your home Country. With such a chequered past, do you think it’s important to write about REAL South Africa?
DM: That’s a great question. I don’t think any writer is smart enough to paint the full picture of this wonderful country in all its multi-faceted complexity. For instance, what is real to me, would be far removed from what is real to someone living in a township in a remote area of KwaZulu-Natal or the Limpopo province.
What I try to do, is to see my country through the eyes of my characters (an enriching experience) and allow as much of their reality as the story and the conventions of crime fiction allow.
Furthermore, South Africans are the first readers of my books. My hope and aim is to write with an honesty about our country that they would find credible.
JW: Who would you like to see playing the parts of Benny Griessel & Vaughn Cupido if The Dark Flood were to be turned into a TV series? (I could SO see this happening!)
DM: It just so happens that there might be a casting call in the next few months (I’m not at liberty to divulge more at the moment). So, voicing my preferences at this time would be unfair.
However, when TRACKERS and DEAD BEFORE DYING were adapted for television, I learnt how the awesome talent of actors to make a character come to life very quickly put paid to personal preconceptions. So, I have no doubt that whoever gets the job, Bennie and Vaughn will be perfectly cast.
JW: As a child growing up, were you an avid reader or was television your thing? Do you have a favourite childhood book or television programme?
DM: I was a voracious reader from a very young age. (The Apartheid regime was terrified of the power of television, so we grew up without it. And when we finally got it – when I was seventeen – the content was strictly controlled.)
There are so many favourite childhood books, many of them in my mother tongue of Afrikaans. One author I’m sure most Britons of my age will know, Is Enid Blyton. I still believe her Famous Five and Secret Seven series laid the foundation for my love of crime fiction.
JW: Which book, that you read in 2021, has been your favourite?
DM: I relished Bill Buford’s brilliant Dirt. Exceptional writing about one of my favourite subjects (food) in one of my favourite cities (Lyon).
JW: Do you have a favourite Author? Or a favourite book of all time?
DM: The late, great Ed McBain remains my favourite of all time. His Ten Plus One is the perfect crime novel, I think.
JW: What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Convincing Marianne to marry me. Being a dependable parent to all our children. Writing the last sentence of every novel. Mastering a dual-purpose motorcycle in the soft sand. And finally sort of coming to grips with the intricacies of the golf swing.
JW: If you could go back in time, to one historical event, to witness it, what would it be and why?
DM: Being in London on May 8, 1945, to witness VE Day.
The Second World War has fascinated me from a very young age, perhaps because it was so influential in the lives of my parents. I’ve read all the great works about the war, including everything by Anthony Beevor. In my teens, I read and reread the escape stories of Richard Pape and Paul Brickhill. It inspired me to major in history at university. The war shaped my world, more than any other event.
JW: If you could invite four people to dinner, living or dead, who would you invite and why?
DM: Marianne and I would love to invite Nelson Mandela, because he is the greatest South African of my lifetime, and he was a wonderful storyteller. Ed McBain, to ask advice from. My late father, was the best raconteur I ever knew. I still miss him every day. And Stellenbosch chef Bertus Basson, to make sure the food is sublime.
JW: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
DM: My father said: “Find something you really love, and then work very, very hard at it.”
JW: What is something you are passionate about aside from writing?
DM: My family (including my grandson Matteo!). Mountain biking, golf, travel, cooking, Springbok rugby, reading, movies …
JW: Are you currently writing another book?
DM: I have started a new Benny Griessel and Vaughn Cupido novel. I’m still looking for the right title, though.
JW: Many Thanks must go to Deon Meyer for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions.
You can buy The Dark Flood HERE
Deon Meyer’s Official website HERE