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Michele Rowe Discusses the Challenges of the Dreaded Second Novel at the Launch of Hour of Darkness at The Book Lounge

Michéle signing at the launch

Michéle signing at the launch

An hour of delightful conversation took place at The Book Lounge in Cape Town earlier this month when novelist and filmmaker Michéle Rowe launched her second book, Hour of Darkness.

The author was joined by the owner of the bookshop, Mervyn Sloman, in a discussion that crossed the spectrum from hilarious banter – “This book is seriously good shit!” – to an in-depth and serious exploration of the evolution of the narrative process.

Together, Sloman and Rowe took the guests through an account of how the book was written, the ethics of representing others’ lives in fiction, the murky side of the police and the almost inexpressible challenges of the dreaded “second novel”.

Sloman mentioned that Hour of Darkness is set in the context of Earth Hour as it takes place while people in Cape Town are protesting against global warming. He described the book as a pacy read, with an intricate, issue-driven plot. He noted the way she had escaped the stereotypical trope of the grieving widower-alcoholic-workaholic-maverick cop “who wouldn’t last a day in the real world”.

“At the centre of the novel is the wonderful character, Detective Percy Jonas, who featured in Michéle’s debut novel, What Hidden Lies. She’s flawed. She makes some really crap decisions along the way, but she’s written in such a way that the readers are desperate to cover her back the whole way through,” Sloman said.

Sloman praised the “fullness” of the characters as Rowe created them. She spoke about the challenge of getting under the skin and into the head of the characters she wrote. “I like to jump into the subjective view, then to move out to get the objectivity, telescoping in and out. When I’m in the characters’ skin and head, they come to life,” she said.

To do that effectively, Rowe undertook a lot of research with real police officers. She mentioned one detective she interviewed who liked to talk about himself, describing him as a narcissistic sociopath. “He was a great cop. He deserves medals for his human rights observation. He was open, speaking freely about his work. He took me along, gave me good access to his life,” Rowe said.

Rowe reflected on the way police officers don’t use the mental health facilities available to them. She said, “Cops tend not to get debriefed. They don’t want to be seen as having mental health issues, yet they all do.” She mentioned the sense of becoming a sort of therapist to one of the men she interviewed. “I wasn’t judging him. I was there to listen, to make sense of his job. It went smoothly, but he is a frightening individual,” she said.

“It’s not easy being in the police. They are 60 percent under-resourced. There’s lots of racial tension between the coloured and black cops. It’s a tense situation. You feel compromised because they tell you things in confidence. They have a very difficult job. I wouldn’t advise any woman to do that job,” she said.

Rowe reflected on the culture of using force in the SAPS and the interrelated psychological profiles that are drawn to the job. “There’s something enticing for powerless people to put on a uniform and represent the state. The kind of people who are attracted to that kind of power usually have problems of identity and power. They’re often troubled people,” she mused. “In South Africa, particularly.”

Soon enough, the conversation moved to less gloomy topics and Sloman read a hilarious extract from the book. Those who attended the event thoroughly enjoyed Rowe’s take on the literary temptation of elaborate but turgid descriptions of fynbos. They toasted the success of Detective Percy Jonas and her creator with a glass of Leopards’ Leap wine, while queueing to get their copies autographed.

Originally published on here.

View pictures of the launch here.