In her latest novel, Critical But Stable, celebrated author Angela Makholwa delves into the realities of those who hide behind a perfect facade. Set in the world of an exclusive social club where “Keeping up with Khumalos” is do or die, this page-turner proves why Makholwa has garnered such a wide and loyal readership.
What inspired the plot of Critical But Stable?
I wanted to write a book about long-term relationships… how dynamics change between couples; how relationships are sometimes tested to the limit and how couples navigate their way through these tumultuous moments. As a crime writer, it was inevitable for me to throw a spanner in the works, hence the dramatic start to the novel which features a young man looking down at the dead body of his married lover.
You started out as a crime journalist and then transitioned to writing novels. Was that always your plan?
I always wanted to be a journalist because I had this idealistic vision of making a difference in the world… I actually wanted to be a war correspondent and I thought covering crime could be a stepping stone towards that kind of career, but I somehow developed an entrepreneurial urge and so left journalism to go into public relations. I eventually started my own company in 2002 but my crime reporting followed me into this world when I got a call from a serial killer whose case I had covered as a journalist. He wanted me to write his life story, but we didn’t see eye-to-eye and I eventually abandoned the project. A few years later, a publisher convinced me to fictionalise the story and that’s how my debut novel Red Ink came to life.
You’re credited with writing the first South African crime thriller with an African female protagonist. Did you feel any kind of added pressure with breaking new ground as black female yourself?
If there’s any pressure, it’s all inward. I like pushing boundaries and I can never sit still so I’m always trying out something new. I’m working on something exciting that is linked to Red Ink. It’s early days so I can’t divulge too much at this point except to say that fans of the novel will be thrilled to hear about the project once it’s gained enough ground.
Why the fascination with crime?
I am a South African, so crime is something that unnerves me and disturbs me as it’s burnt into the fabric of our daily lives. When something makes me feel uncomfortable, I want to confront it instead of allowing it to paralyse me. So, writing about crime provides me with some form of catharsis.
Is it important to you to be an author whose work doesn’t fit into one particular category?
I think artists today struggle with categories because there’s a freedom in the way that we express our art. I believe that we’re a new and different type of society that provides the space for people to be more than just one thing, which is quite exciting and liberating. It feels like rules are being broken and the world is ready for this type of artist.
Tell us more about your dedication to promoting access to books and a love of reading in townships?
We need a nation of readers so we can advance in this knowledge economy. It’s frustrating that young people in the townships and rural areas are always on the backfoot. We still have the same problem in these schools as we did ten or twenty years ago. I’m involved in two NGO’s to assist in whatever small way that I can. Recently, our NPO, African Child Foundation, went to schools in Limpopo to spread the love of literature by performing prescribed English texts for learners to enhance comprehension.
Book Launch: Nicolise Harding
Book Cover: Pan Macmillan