Michel Rands is a Prophet: “There are some Stories that only you can tell”
Born October, 1938 in Johannesberg, South Africa Michael Rands is very successful for his writer. He graduated from University of Cape Town with an MA in Creative Writing in 2006. He has an enviable resume; He has already published a novel and a non-fiction book. He has been working on his new novel, provisionally titled “As Dark As It Gets” the past twelve months.
Much of this time has been spent in artistic residencies in United States. I met him in one of these residencies, called Art Farm, in the heart of Nebraska. Art Farm has been receiving artists since 1993. We had been drinking and chatting a lot about literature and struggling to accomplish our dreams, which involves constructing a solid career in our contemporary and hard times. Being a young writer on the rise, Michael has much to share with his fellow writers and lovers of the writing process.
Art Farm Nebraska, the artistic residence that you have been living at during the past weeks, is the place that you have been writing your second novel. Can you tell us about it and how it has impacted your writing process?
Art Farm Nebraska is an interesting artist residency situated in rural Nebraska, USA. There are many different kinds of artists staying here at the moment – especially visual artists and writers. Most people come here for about a month, but many stay on for 6 weeks, or even 2 months. A place like this is fantastic for getting lots of writing done. There are few distraction – or rather, only distractions that you create for yourself – and so you have plenty of time to think and work. It’s also good to be in an unusual, new environment, surrounded by other people working on creative projects. Even if the artists don’t share their work every day, we still have conversations and discuss our working strategies and share ideas. I am working on a novel at the moment. I have been working on it for close on a year now. At this residency I have been re-writing large sections of it and changing the structure somewhat.
As for my schedule: six days a week (usually) I wake up and go straight to my studio where I sit and right until my mind is burned out. I have been spending about 4 to 5 hours writing in a session. In that late afternoons or early evenings I’ll do another session, usually reading over the work I did earlier and making corrections. Some days are really good; some days are slow. But it’s important to keep to a regular, daily schedule in order to make progress.
Before Art Farm, you spent some time in other artistic residences. First in I-Park in East Haddam, Connecticut, and after that in The Kerouac Project in Orlando, Florida. After Art Farm, you will travel to Wilkesboro, North Carolina, to attend to Blue Ridge Napping Institute. How have the residences been influencing in your process and schedule of writing? And, what is the difference between these experiences?
Each residency has been great in a different way. I-Park was a communal experience. There were 6 artists from around the world – I was the only writer. We each had a room and a studio. Everyone was pretty serious about their projects – there was a lot of focus – and though I only had 4 weeks there, I managed to get a huge amount done. I wrote a rough first draft – by hand. It was something like 750 A4 pages. Much of that never made it to even the second draft, but it was important as it helped me form many of the ideas and situations that I’ve carried over to later drafts. The characters also started to come to life during that time. After that was the Kerouac Project. That is a fantastic residency. Each year they bring 4 writers to the house. Each writer stays there for 3 months, living and working in the house where Kerouac wrote the Dharma Bums.
During that time I worked on moving the novel from a very rough first draft into a more structured and edited second, and then third draft. It changed a lot during that time. Now, I am at Art Farm in Nebraska. The novel is undergoing even greater changes than I had imagined. During the previous drafts I moved away somewhat from my original vision, and now I’m working on bringing it back. It’s a long process, but I think each step is vitally important. No writing is ever wasted, no time is every lost, because you are always learning something, always getting one step closer to achieving your objectives. I think it’s really great to have had the chance to write in so many different places, as I’m sure the surroundings and the people I’ve interacted with have changed the writing somewhat. As for the next residency – it’s in North Carolina. It sounds fantastic, but I’ll have to wait and see.
You also write non-fiction. Is there a difference in the writing process when writing non-fiction in comparison to fiction?
My first work was a novel called Praise Routine Number 4, and recently I completed working on a non-fiction work, Kamikaze Economics – A story of Modern Japan. In between I worked on a book called the Yamaguchi Manuscripts – it was an economic satire, showing the development of economics and the monetary system through an amusing story. Each type of writing has different challenges. I think as far as non-fiction is concerned, in my experience – and my experience is pretty limited to be honest – but in my experience there is a very definite and structured way to approach it. You know what you want to find out, and you know what information you need. Of course, as you start doing research and asking questions, you realize that you need to ask more questions and do more research. But basically, there is a definite framework in which you are working, and it is clear when you are getting close to completion, and it is clear when the work is done and serves its purpose.
As for fiction, I find it very elusive. It’s extremely difficult to know when you are finished. You can write a certain draft, and then re-write it and re-write it and re-write it and re-write it and on and on… You get the point. Each time you do a new draft you focus on a different theme and emphasize one thing over another. So you have to learn to be very disciplined. Once you know what you are trying to say, stick to it, and don’t allow yourself to drift too far. Also, you have to choose a point and then stop, or else you could keep going for the rest of your life and never do anything else.
What do you think about the contemporary South Africanliterature? Can you tell us about some talented new writers?
Pre- 1994 – or what we call ‘the old South Africa’ we didn’t have many well-known writers. In fact there were probably just a handful or writers who were getting published. Also, most of the writing was in some way influenced by the politics of the time – that being the Apartheid regime. Post 1994, or what we call ‘The New South Africa’ has seen an explosion of exciting and interesting writing. There are so many authors now, writing in so many different genres, that it’s difficult to know which names to give. Still the most famous is probably is a man called J.M. Coetzee, he won the Nobel Prize for literature, and his writing is brilliant, I think. At the moment one of the best-known writers of the younger generation is Lauren Beukes, she has achieved international success with her novels.
They are a mixture of sci-fi, fantasy and thriller. There are some good crime writers in South Africa like Deon Meyer, Mike Nicol and Margi Orford. Writers like Niq Mholongo, Sifiso Mzobe, and Kgebetli Moele write some pretty gritty stories that deal with some of the more difficult aspects of South African life. Sally Partridge writes in the YA genre – novels for teenagers. The man who supervised my MA, Etienne Van Heerden writes across various genres, and his books are always interesting. There are many, many more good writers I could list.
How do you think a tool like Widbook can help new writers? Do you have any tips for writers who are just beginning their careers?
I think a site like this that helps writers connect with other writers is very important and useful. Especially when you are starting out it’s good to get feedback from other writers and from readers. Advice…? If you really want to be a writer then you will write. I think that’s all there is to it. No matter what else you do in life you will always feel uncomfortable if you’re not writing a lot. Some writers may write a book in their early twenties and become millionaires overnight. These people are, however, the exception. That won’t happen to most people, and it’s important to recognize that and not be discouraged by setbacks and difficulties. Most authors who have made it have stories about all the rejection letters they received, about the bad reviews they got.
If you really want to do it, then you have to try not take any of that personally. Just always look at how you can improve your writing, think about always getting better and creating work that will be exciting and meaningful. It’s important to read lots and write as much as you can. You must sharpen your technical skills, and this you can only do by reading other writers and getting feedback on the work you do. You may want, at some point, to study writing formally, or otherwise join a writer’s group, apply for online courses, send your work to readers, and so on. Also remember each person in the world has a completely unique mind, and there is some story that only you can tell. Keep writing till you find what that story is. And then find another, and then another. Good luck!
The art of Michael Rands:
An audio comedy horror show: http://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/show/thecrystalset/id/2403565
By Jr Bellé