He is currently the South African author whose name is on everybody’s lips. Irna van Zyl managed to speak to the thriller writer in between book launches, TV appearances and awards ceremonies.
Deon Meyer is a very busy man. In the last three months he won an award for his latest Afrikaans book, Prooi.
His TV series Trackers filled our screens for eight weeks on Sunday nights to great acclaim and unseen publicity for a South African author, and his lastest book in English, The Last Hunt (the translation of Prooi) was published just in time for the holiday rush.
How does it feel to be so famous, I ask him.
Uncomfortable, he admits. “An author does not belong on TV in front of the cameras. An author is a bit of a voyeur, and if you become recognisable, it takes away your ability to observe and to listen.”
On top of all the publicity comes the wave of social media attention, he says. It’s not that he is against the publicity – Deon Meyer has always been a very patient and polite interviewee – it’s the time that seems to dissipate that worries him.
“The spotlight is much sharper and bigger than anything I’ve experienced before.”
We chat in the boardroom of a content–media agency – an environment he knows well from a previous life when he was a consultant on the brand strategy for a well-known motorcycle brand. Not that he even owns a motorcycle anymore. He has exchanged the faster ride for a different one.
Now he and his wife, Marianne Vorster-Meyer, are known to cycle with their mountain bikes in the Stellenbosch area, close to their home.
“The sensation is the same. To be out in nature, in the veld and on a dirt road, focused on your environment. It’s also so much quicker to get exercise on a bicycle than the kind of trips I used to take on my bike.”
Back to television. Is it a threat for books?
Deon Meyer believes the visual medium can’t replace books, but the two have a symbiotic relationship. In the end he regards himself a storyteller, no matter what the medium, but he admits that with the series Trackers, which was aired on M-Net at the end of last year, working with a bigger team of experts lifted the story to another dimension, and was very gratifying.
Part of the book is set in the beautiful city of Bordeaux in the southwest of France. I wonder about his love for the region and where it started.
More than ten years ago, he went to the suburb Gradignan southwest of Bordeaux, to the biggest paperback festival in Europe, and in the process, he spent a couple of days in Bordeaux. He fell in love with the city and has been back many times.
In The Last Hunt his character Daniel Darret lives and works in Bordeaux when he receives his commission to act as hit-man once again. This time it is the corrupt president of his country that is his prey.
I ask whether more books will be set in Bordeaux in future.
Meyer just smiles. “Maybe.”
Does he know how a story will unfold once he starts writing it?
He has at least one potential ending in mind when he begins writing a book, Meyer says, but that doesn’t mean he can’t change it. In the writing and research process it’s all about making choices and having options to make those choices.
In The Last Hunt he knew he had to merge two stories: the one of Daniel Darret in Bordeaux and his hit-man mission, and that of detective Benny Griessel in Cape Town that is investigating the death of an ex-cop on Rovos Rail.
He quotes the author EL Doctorow who said, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way”.
Says Meyer, “The nice thing about writing is that you are not always sure what is going to happen on screen or paper, but you trust the reader inside you to lead you to the best ending.”
His books often have a link with reality, and even more so in his recent novel.
“I see myself as an ambassador for our country, especially when I am being interviewed overseas. Media interviews in the Netherlands and other European countries are often more than 50% about politics, and so, with all the corruption it became a personal embarrassment for me. I was furious.”
He said emotion motivated him to write the book, and he thinks it’s a good thing, because if the author feels the emotion the readers will, and that will keep them involved with the story.
What does he do on an aeroplane?
He reads and he sleeps, but especially sleeping is important because he often has interviews within three to four hours of landing on the other side.
Where in the world would he like to go if he could choose?
To a city where he has been before, like Madrid with its incredible food and the wonderful Reina Sofia Museum. Rome, because his daughter lives there. And always New York, one of his favourites.
The cities Deon Meyer would like to show Marianne are New York, Berlin and Prague, and Marrakech because of his recent love of Moroccan food.
Lastly, I ask Deon Meyer advice for new thriller writers.
“Read, read, read. It is actually the only thing. For years you need to focus and immerse yourself with the best that is on the market in order to educate your internal reader.”
The taste of your internal reader is what will help you to make the right choices, he says. “But also read as wide as you can.”