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Joanne Hichens


Out To Score – crime fiction (Published by Umuzi, a South African imprint of Random House) (co-authored with Mike Nicol)

Cape Greed – crime fiction (American issue of Out To Score – published by Minotaur, an imprint of St Martin’s Press) (co-authored with Mike Nicol)

Bad Company – an anthology of crime-thriller fiction stories by South Africa’s crème de la crime (Pan Macmillan) compiled and edited by Joanne Hichens

Hobbies and favourite books/authors:

I live in a seaside suburb of Cape Town called Muizenberg and swim most early mornings in the sea. It’s wonderfully refreshing and helps me to get ready for the day ahead. And of course I love reading – mostly crime and thriller fiction. I’ve read all sorts of crime fiction, from Agatha Christie when I was young, to the more contemporary hard-boiled authors like Elmore Leonard and Bill James. (And of course I scoff chocolates when I’m reading, which could be considered a hobby!)

When it comes to novels for young people, I’m a fan of Mallory Blackman and Stephenie Meyer – both spin a fantastic yarn!

When you started writing and why?

I had always wanted to write, and was lucky enough to get onto a creative writing Masters programme at the University of Cape Town about eight years ago. I don’t believe one needs a degree to write, but committing to the course really threw me into the deep end, as I had no choice but to deliver a novel by the end of my two years part time study. That novel is now in my bottom drawer – I suspect a good number of first novels are lurking in various writer’s drawers! – but I’d love to get it out and rewrite it. I’m not sure why I wanted to write. I just had this overwhelming desire to write a book, and finally tried my hand at it, only to discover writing is a bit of an addiction – I want to do more!

How and where you find inspiration?

I find inspiration from life around me. Often there’ll be an article in the paper, or a snippet of TV news will tweak my interest – for instance a story on a mother abusing her child - and I’ll start playing around with the idea. I’ll wonder what the young mother’s life was like, why she was driven to do what she did. What if, I’ll ask myself, something terrible happened to her when she was young? The small seed grows to something larger I’d like to explore on paper, through the writing. Inspiration too, comes through the writing. The more I write, the more the ideas flow – it’s like turning on a tap. I don’t wait around to be inspired – if I only worked on days I felt good, I’d get very little done!

Although the main aim is to be entertain with a gripping story, I also do feel it’s important for me to comment on society in some way in my writing. Often my starting point is finding out about something that’s happening in my world, in South African society, that compels me to tell a story about it – maybe it’s an attempt to try and understand our world a little more.

How you go about research?

I tend to write my story first and use my imagination, fleshing out the action and characters, discovering more about the story as I go along, and then I’ll go back to the first draft and add the correct details. I’ll either ‘phone people I know – for instance when I’m writing a crime novel, if I want to know anything about guns or police investigation, then I’ll call up one of my contacts on the police force.

The Internet is of course a fantastic source of information and I seem to be turning more and more to the Internet. Though often I do research the good old-fashioned way – I go the library. Recently I had to find out more about the diamond trade, and I found great books in my local library. And of course, if I research a setting, what better way to do it than to visit the place I’m writing about?

Creative writing tips:

Just do it! And remember, writing a novel is like any other job. You have to pitch up on your chair everyday – or at least most days! – in order to get the job done. Someone one said writing a novel is like eating an elephant. And how do you eat an elephant? One piece at a time!

Another important tip, is to believe in yourself. Each of us can write, and we each have a story to tell. Learning the craft takes time and practice, but if you want to do it, you can! The more you write, the more you discover what it is you actually want to write about, and the kind of stories that intrigue you.

Writing projects you are currently working on, including anything you’re doing not intended for publication:

I’m working on the sequel to Cape Greed, called Cape Hate, which I’ll be finishing in a couple of months time, I hope!

And I’m about to start editing a short-story collection with the theme of BED, with contributions from a number of South African authors, which promises to be interesting. These are both adult novels, but I would love to write something more for the young adult market, specifically around eating disorders.

I also write a column, called From the Hip, for a web site called Crime Beat – this is geared towards promoting South African crime fiction.