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Memories | Ghosts

When my agent phoned with the news, I was half out the door, on my way to a group exhibition featuring several friends at a gallery in the trendy Kloof Street strip.

“Congratulations! You’re a Mulholland author,” my agent said.

“…” I replied. It’s a terrible thing being a writer and having the words go AWOL.

I got into my car and drove down to the gallery and fought for parking and wandered up, slightly dazed with the happy. It took me about fifteen minutes to actually get in to the gallery, past the crush of people spilling out onto the kerb, getting tangled in flurries of conversation.

It was waiting for me.

I didn’t see it at first. I checked out Andrew Sutherland’s dreamy landscapes and Paul Senyol’s graffiti-inspired playful mash-ups of text and imagery and was drawn across the room to the FEAR.LESS works, striking wood-cuts of garden variety weapons as a meditation on crime in South Africa by Daniel Ting Chong and Jordan Metcalf. A broken bottle. A knife. A gun. A spark-plug for the classic smash-and-grab at traffic intersections.

And then I turned around.

Black and white ink on birch ply. A monster with too-long arms plucking seed pods from a slit that runs from its chest to its belly, peering into one that lights up like a projector, discarded pods scattered around its feet.

It’s called “Memories | Ghosts”. It’s by my friend Jordan Metcalf. He says I shouldn’t ask him to explain what it’s about. I told him screw your artist’s intention. I know exactly what it’s about. Which is why I had to buy it.

It’s the simplest, most elegant answer to that squirm-inducing question authors get asked: “where do you get your ideas.” The answer is that they’re inside me, already, waiting to come out. But I still have to sift through them to see which ones work.

And it’s exactly what happened with the novel Mulholland bought, THE SHINING GIRLS. The truth is I’ve spent the last few months working on something else entirely. An apartheid thriller interrogating the nature of evil, set in the early 90s about witchcraft murders and assassination squads and Satanism and missing girls with pigtails and freckles.

I had it all worked out. I’d done my research, interviewed real-life cops and I had the story all worked out, ready to roll. Only it wasn’t. Rolling. More like crawling. Painfully. Like a drunk on his knees over broken glass.

And then on the plane, on the way back from WorldCon, I started writing the idea that had been nagging at the back of my brain for over a year. A time-travelling serial killer. Impossible to trace. Until one of his victims survives.

Ideas develop in my head more like photographs than seed pods. My subconscious takes snapshots of all kinds of interesting things. I have a vague idea of what that will be and I have to work at developing it. With MOXYLAND, it was Toby’s voice, all slick and cocky, talking about a girl with nanotech injected into her as part of a new-fangled brand ambassadorship and how much that would piss some people off. With ZOO CITY, it was the image of a girl going to a brokedown cupboard in a tenement slum with Joburg’s minedumps peeking through the dirty windows and pulling a sloth out and onto her back, both burden and the possibility of redemption.

THE SHINING GIRLS started with the idea of a man, striding across the grass with a plastic toy pony that hadn’t been invented yet in his pocket, to give to a girl with crazy hair and scraped knees so that she would recognise him when he came to kill her years later.

Writing it came easy. Like watching a film, projected into my brain. Like “Memories | Ghosts”. I put everything else aside. It paid off.

The apartheid thriller will wait for me. I’m not ready for it yet. In the meantime, I have this to finish, and then something about dreams and maybe a western in between. All those other seed pods ripening in my chest.

LAUREN BEUKES is a writer, TV scriptwriter and recovering journalist. For the sake of a story, she’s jumped out of planes and into shark-infested waters and hung out with teen vampires, township vigilantes, and AIDS activists among other interesting folk. When she’s not tutoring her baby daughter in practical ways to take over the world, she also writes books, short stories, magazine articles and TV scripts. William GIbson wrote of MOXYLAND, her first novel: “”Moxyland does lots of things, masterfully, that lots of sf never even guesses that it *could* be doing.”  ZOO CITY, Beukes’ second novel, was the recipient of the 2011 Arthur C. Clarke Award, was short-listed for the 2010 BSFA Award for best novel, the 2011 World Fantasy award for best novel, the 2010-2011 University of Johannesburg Creative Writing Prize,the M-Net Literary Awards, the Nielsen’s Booksellers’ Choice Award 2011 and long-listed for South Africa’s Sunday Times Fiction Prize 2011. Mulholland Books will publish her next novel, THE SHINING GIRLS, in Spring 2013.Visit Beukes at www.LaurenBeukes.com.

Click here to see more of Jordan Metcalf’s art.