Please tell us, who is Mike Nicol?
He's this dude who used to be a surfer until the size of the waves convinced him that maybe he didn't have the strength for surfing any longer. Other than that he started life as a journalist and now works as an online creative writing teacher and an editor for various publishers. He is also known to have published novels and first did so in 1989, although since 2010 he has taken, with much enthusiasm, to writing crime thrillers. He has also published some works of non-fiction, including a short biography of Nelson Mandela, and in the distant past published two volumes of poetry. He lives on the side of a mountain with views of False Bay where the whales come to breed each spring. There are snakes in his garden. Now and then, when they're passing through they sometimes try to enter through his front door.
Cape Town is the ideal setting for a crime novel. It is a city of great beauty - wild beaches, a mountain in the middle of the city - and great riches. It is also a city of poverty and shame. After all it was a city founded on slavery and then the racial policies of the apartheid governments removed coloured people - people of mixed blood - onto the windblown sandy Cape Flats beyond the city limits. There poverty is endemic. Cape Town is also now the murder capital of the country - thanks to the gangs that infest the Cape Flats where streets often resemble war zones, and to a high incidence of domestic killings. This contrast between the beautiful and the ugly, the rich and the poor, this paradox, makes it an intriguing city as the setting for crime fiction.
‘Payback’ was published in 2008. This book was published with us in 2015. I have no idea why there was so much time between these parts (and the next 2 parts) in the Netherlands/ Belgium while in Germany and England it is a bestseller. Do you have any idea why that is?
All books have their own lives in various countries. I think luck plays a huge part. Maybe too if a book gets a reputation elsewhere it encourages publishers in other countries to read it. I'm just thankful De Geus are publishing the three.
In part one ‘Payback’ it goes from drug trafficking, arms smuggling, hit men, project developers, diamond robbery to corrupt agents and officials. Reality, fiction or a nice mix?
It's all fiction but of course it is founded in the city's reality. I am witnessing a society creating itself and that process is both inspiring in some forms and downright depressing in others. The awful part finds its way into the fiction because for me fiction is about exposing the underbelly of society, the rottenness in the system, the corruption in the politics and in business dealings. And crime fiction is so good at doing this: it is satire, social commentary, and, I hope, fast-paced storytelling all in the same package.
You show a nice contrast between the loving husband and father on the one side and on the other side a hard criminal. Has this been a conscious choice to process this aspect in your book? To make it more ‘human’?
Oh, indeed, yes, a very conscious choice. I wanted Mace Bishop and Pylon Buso - the two main characters - to be both hard men and family men. In a way this mirrored our society as we moved from a period of armed struggle into a period of trying to establish a social contract, a form of values by which we could all live more compassionate lives. The pressures on Mace and Pylon - as on the society - were and are daunting. In many instances we are bleeding - as Mace bled.
‘Killer Country’ is the second part of the trilogy. How do you actually start to write such a trilogy? Do you already have a general idea how things will develop or does this come while writing?
I had no intention of writing a trilogy. When I worked on Payback it was to be a standalone. There was no follow-up planned but when I got to the end and Sheemina February walked off the page I knew I had to follow, and this led to Killer Country. But as you know the books work in and of themselves - they are their own stories - but there is an arc narrative that involves Mace and Sheemina that links the books and runs through them. Nevertheless by the time I finished Killer Country I had no idea what would happen in their story in the third book.
In September part three ‘Black Heart’ will be released. Many readers will look forward to this. Are you already working on a new book or any other project?
Yes, I'm busy on another book. Writing is an integral part of my life and I couldn't imagine not having a book brewing in the background. In fact I try and write every day. After Black Heart there are two other books Of Cops & Robbers - which features two new characters - and Power Play - which features Krista Bishop, Mace's daughter from the trilogy. Later this year my publishers in South Africa will bring out my latest book, Agents of the State (back to the characters from Of Cops & Robbers one of whom is a surfer dude and the other a hotshot gorgeous lawyer), and that will appear in the UK in February. I have only just finished reading the proof pages so the book has not been made available for sale elsewhere yet. Just so that you know where I am headed: I now believe that the biggest crime in South Africa is being committed by government so I am heading into the world of espionage.
For someone who doesn’t know your books: give us a good reason why they should read them?
To pass a couple of entertaining hours, I would hope.
In your books you use a lot of humor. Do you have a sense of humor?
If I were to tell you that the main character in Of Cops & Robbers is in his thirties, has wild blond hair and is extremely attractive with a well-toned body and was modeled on me, would you call that a sense of humour? Or delusional? Humour is important in books, I reckon. The reader needs a break from the suspense and the violence, and when characters are being funny the reader has an opportunity to breathe. After all crime fiction is just a hair's breadth away from pastiche and so you need a sense of humour to write it.
Do you have a writing ritual?
Sort of. It happens between 6am and 8am. After that I have to do the sort of work that earns money.
Do you find that there are typical books for men and for women?
I really have no idea. I know that more women read crime fiction than men but then more women read than men. At least in the English speaking section of the world.
You wrote among other things ‘Mandela: the authorized portrait’. Furthermore you have written novels and poetry. The difference between these books and crime fiction couldn’t be bigger. What do you prefer to write or do you see everything as a challenge?
I still enjoy writing non-fiction but good projects don't come along all that frequently. I really really enjoy the crime writing. It is great fun and it allows me to examine my society, as I've mentioned. Unfortunately the poetry has disappeared - or rather it has become the prose, because I still believe it is impossible to write prose unless you've written poetry. Poetry teaches the value of the individual word and the rhythm of one word with the next - the music - that is so essential to good prose.
If I am well informed you give online writing courses. How does it work because I can’t image how it works?
It works very easily, actually. The organisation that contracts me for the creative writing courses has a website and there are modules of instruction released on this website each week for ten weeks. There is also an online forum each week where we discuss topics - the format here is not dissimilar to Facebook posts - and then every two weeks the students have an assignment to complete. There are no marks awarded on the course and the intention is to supply solid feedback and to expose students to the various techniques that go into creating fiction. I also run a private masterclass with a colleague and on that we supervise a bunch of students (25) for nine months. We use Google Drive and Facebook to run this masterclass and those two apps work very effectively. And of course the nice thing is that the commuting time is no longer than it takes to walk to my desk.
You have an affection with Germany; tell us please?
Germany has been very good to me. I have had residences there in Berlin and Essen and I've been there frequently on author's tours. In addition they are dedicated and knowledgeable readers and they - like you in the Netherlands and Belgium - read crime fiction without any put-downs. In the English speaking world, crime fiction is seen as a genre and therefore not up to the standards of literary authors.
How important do you think social media is such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram,..?
I think social media is good fun, and writers should give it attention. But it is just part of a mix which includes blogs - becoming ever more important - and then print media, radio and television although television is more focussed on the celeb authors.
We always ask several questions whereby we like to know the person behind the author a little bit more. Feel free to answer these questions
What’s your favourite food and what food do you absolutely dislike?
Macaroni cheese wins hands down. And I absolutely dislike - loath would be a better word - gem squashes - they have a pithy yellow interior and bring back childhood mealtime horrors about not being able to leave the table until every disgusting forkful of the gem squash had been swallowed. The thought of that stringy texture makes me gag. Even now, writing this.
If you could meet anyone, alive or deceased, who would you like to meet?
My grandfather. He died two weeks before I was born.
What is the hardest thing that you have ever done?
Speak or remain silent?
And the last question: If you could draw or paint any environment where you have been, which one would you draw or paint?
The green world below the surface of the sea.
Meanwhile, two of our members are reading ‘Killer Country’. It could be that some questions will follow as a result of this. These will also be send by mail.
Anita (one of our members) has already the following question for you: The covers of your books are different from country to country. Which cover of all the books do you like the most? (You may add a photo)
Nothing like putting me on the spot. Probably Killer Country in the French version.
I thank you very much for your cooperation.
Karin Teirlynck - Team ‘De Perfecte Buren’