NOVELTY FICTION – You have published a number of stories across different publishers and platforms. If someone wants to familiarize themselves with your work, what books and stories should they read first, and why?
ABIGAIL GEORGE – If you want to start at the beginning, then I suggest begin with my poetry. That is who I am. I am a poet first and foremost, but the language in the short stories speaks of the despair and hardship found in family life. My first three books Africa Where Art Thou, Feeding The Beasts and Winter In Johannesburg are available in the Kindle Store. My short stories are often bleak. In the Winter stories and the poetry in the Africa book, I write about political figures, love and romantic entanglement. The stories speak to people about a woman who has had a rather difficult upbringing. There is a sinister and dark unhappiness in her childhood that threatens to sabotage the discipline, will and faith she has for herself. She cannot face up to her own loneliness. There is an upheaval in her relationships. There is the strained mother-daughter relationship, the shadow of a father, the sister who has "made it," landed in Europe and made what seems a success of her life, but the sister is distant. Maybe the stories are successful since they aim for depicting the reality of a woman who has a lacklustre life, who has missed out on certain opportunities because of ill health, opportunities for a happy life, happy relationships with others because of a grim childhood filled with a neglectful mother, who abandoned her daughter to the wolves of the world. In most cases, in most stories, perhaps in all of them, the mother chooses the other daughter. The other daughter grows up, is sometimes happy, sometimes unhappy, dramas play out in her life, but she isn't damaged or deeply wounded by it. The middle daughter somewhat makes a success out of her life.
For someone who is interested in shorter introspective pieces, I would direct them to my blog. My characters are not happy people. They are almost always dissatisfied with their lives to a certain degree, and try to find a way out. But I do try to write life and soul into my characters. Jean Rhys, Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, and Vanessa Bell are real-life people. They have transformed me. Writing stories about their lives transformed me. All women are happy or unhappy in their own way. It can differ from individual to individual to varying degrees. Life taught me that, as do my characters and the women in my family. If you want to start with my life, begin with The Scholarship Girl.
NOVELTY FICTION – Your stories are often written in a subjective style that focuses on your female main character's point of view. She debates her life, values and relationships – as opposed to others debating her. Does your main character always hold the moral high ground, or can she be partially to blame for things not working out?
ABIGAIL GEORGE – Of course, the main female character's to blame, I reason. There are times, moments when she is tough, strong and mentally fit. The writing, my writing about her, restores her, her senses, energies; her powers are reinvigorated by love or work, overshadowed by her love, her relationships and work in these stories. If her life worked out, if there was a balance in her life that counteracted the bad stuff, the mistakes she makes in her thinking or over-thinking, in her simplifying the complicated nature of her relationships, not finding lasting happiness, she could attain that moral high ground but she fails to. So much unhappiness is hard to bear and cope with, but the protagonist in these stories finds a way, she finds her way, and it's the natural inclination to accept her lot in life, to show up for her life and to believe it will get better. That things will change. I think this state of unhappiness, this general display of not being in your personal comfort zone, reveals a deep yearning for acceptance, for truth and trust on the part of the reader. Accept me, the protagonist asks and says: If you do, I will offer you up truth. Trust me, the character asks.
NOVELTY FICTION – We recently published your short story entitled “Clarissa, Hector and Septimus Redefined.” Clarissa is 15, her male friends 1-2 years older. Clarissa is unhappy with how she was treated by them. With such a modest age difference, is exploitation even possible, or is it a matter of simple seduction as in “All is Fair in Love and War”?
ABIGAIL GEORGE – I think that there's submission, there is the individual who submits, and dominance and who plays what role in relationships. There is both exploitation and seduction in this story but varying degrees of both. At the end of the day, was Clarissa taken advantage of, was she genuinely loved and cared for by her male friends, was she the naive wallflower, events just playing out around her in her environment, and afterwards did she play the damsel in distress? This is what I am wrestling with as the writer. Clarissa is a toy, a plaything, and these situations can turn dangerous. Is she desired? No, she's toyed with, and the dangerous part comes in when she's discarded. She can't deal with that. It's too much for her to handle. She's rejected. When you're loved, it's different. You move differently in the world. She suffers. I don't think the boys are aware of this suffering, they are not aware of their cruelty and that their treatment of her is a game. It is nothing but a game to them. She is being used. Poor Clarissa, she means nothing to them. She badly wants attention. She badly wants to be desired. Neither of her male friends love her. She wants to be seduced. She has no understanding of the self, no understanding of her ego, and no understanding yet of the guilt trip. Her identity becomes a fractured identity. This is what happens to young girls, the loss of innocence in the developmental stages in these types of relationships. I think she wants to be corrupted. She is willing to engage in this behaviour, so therefore she wants to be corrupted. She wants to do away with childhood and childhood things and the nature of all of that.
I don't dislike Clarissa. I also don't feel sorry for her. If exploitation takes place, it's mostly her fault. In these situations, girls are supposed to know better. Already we know that there is no strong male father figure in her life. If there was, she would care more about herself and not have placed herself in this situation. This attempt of hers to want to please her male friends, to seek acceptance from them... I have to ask myself: what exactly is her motivation in the scheme of things, why does she care so much about their validation of her? Life doesn't treat girls like Clarissa very kindly. Not only do these young males reject her, she's also rejected by society and her mother. I think she's willing to be taken advantage of. The males are more interested in their own inner life world, anyway. She's confused and tragic in the sense that she is not the femme fatale. This is not the Disney high school fairytale ending. This is what happens when you don't understand what it means to be abandoned and you are not wanted in the male language.
NOVELTY FICTION – In your forthcoming short story “The Waking,” Mariel struggles to make sense out of her parents' behavior and blames them for creating a disharmonious family. If, hypothetically, she had confronted them, would they have been able to explain their behavior, or is it a lost cause?
ABIGAIL GEORGE – No, to me, for me as the writer, there would be no confronting them. It would be a lost cause. In my own relationships, sibling, parent, other confrontation was always a lost cause. Mariel would get absolutely nothing out of it. Her energy would be wasted on confronting these two individuals. I sometimes wonder why people have children in the first place, and to me it is this: they want someone to look after them in old age, or they want to be happy. They think having a child is easy, raising a child will be easier for them than it was for their parents. So, I am really fighting with my parents in this story. I am saying to them: you people thought this would be easy. It wasn't. I am angry at myself for my poor decision-making over a lifetime. I am confronting myself as Mariel confronts herself in the kitchen eating apple crumble. The house empties itself out of people, and she has a decision to make. Does she stay or does she leave? To live, how to live, is not the easiest decision to make in the world, and how do you make your way in the world after rejecting the one half of the people who raised you?
NOVELTY FICTION – Your writing style tends to be poetic, colorful and filled with delicate surprises. Some of your writing can be fairly abstract, such as lengthy streams of consciousness. What authors and poets inspired you to write like this, and what else have you done to develop such a distinctive style?
ABIGAIL GEORGE – I would say that it comes from the queen of stream of consciousness writing herself, Virginia Woolf. I think it started in high school. The building of my own technique and particular style came and was developed from myself reading widely, reading with a purpose in mind. I was heavily influenced by the confessional poetry of Anne Sexton, all of my English teachers in high school and the novels, then especially the poetry I was reading at the time. It started in high school, but even before that I aimed high – or rather, my mother aimed high for the both of us. My mother introduced me to speech and drama classes with Miss Marjorie Gilbey; and so the foundation was set in stone for the rest of my life, I believe. I received a kind of training in all my future writing from Miss Gilbey. I was acting on the stage, her stage, and I would recite poetry and monologues back to my mother and Miss Gilbey, but it was preparation for dialogue, conceptualisation, characterisation, and laying the groundwork for narrative.
NOVELTY FICTION – Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
ABIGAIL GEORGE – As a writer, I find that I tend to have a lot of issues with self-doubt and insecurity and that inevitably finds its way into the behaviour, the mannerisms and adverse childhood experience of my female characters. The males wear a kind of armour to protect themselves from the indecision of the woman, the fragile woman, the sad woman, and she's always complicated. Her relationships are always problematic. If you look at my poetry, the short stories, the writing itself, I take on the difficult subjects of loneliness and fear, and anxiety plays itself out with ripple effects in tandem with depression. The depression hangs like a cloud across the page. I think that although my characters might not find happiness, they do reach a certain level of satisfaction in their own lives. I have made it thus far, so I'll keep on going, is what the character tells herself inwardly. The female character overcomes her adversity, and she endures, she struggles, she encourages herself, and therein lies the triumph, but she survives through instinct alone sometimes. She finds her way.
Read Africa. Write Africa. Buy books. Invest in them. I have reached a point in my life where I buy books every month. Educate yourself by reading everything you can. We all have the power to do that. African writers, and writers in general, should read and read what is coming from the continent. As for writers in Africa, I believe we should be more supportive of each other and we should read one another's work. I hope Novelty Fiction's readership supports my books. They all speak to the lonely heart, the lost, the vulnerable and the dazzling heroine who doesn't wait upon anyone to save her.
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