Janita, thanks so much for agreeing to an interview with EXPOUND – and congratulations on the recent release of another great book – Grey Magic.
Today, however, in honour of the Woman’s Edition, we’d like to talk a bit about another of your works – The Underachieving Ovary.
- Tell us a little bit more about your memoir. Where did it all begin? Was this already taking shape in your mind as you were living through it, or was it something which happened much later?
I was taking notes. I’m always taking notes. I had a little black book: a pain diary. Also, I was keeping my friends and family updated via email, and seeing as the news was almost always bad, I tried to add a few laughs to the mix. My step-mom told me that she’d started forwarding the mails to her friends, and that they were always asking for the next chapter, as if the updates on the health of my babymaker was some kind of bizarre Netflix series. That’s when I thought that maybe the story was bigger than me, and began putting it all together.
- The Underachieving Ovary certainly isn’t for the overly sensitive. You’ve been blessed with beautiful children. Tell us a little more about Endometriosis and how it can be overcome.
Endometriosis basically means snarled-up baby-making gear. In my case, I have diaphragmatic endo, which means that the rogue endometrial tissue attached to my diaphragm swells and bleeds every month, damaging the cells around it, causing lesions, inflammation and the sincere desire to saw my arm off. A combination of surgery, drugs, and then finally pregnancy alleviated my symptoms. Luckily, I still have my two arms.
- In a bar once, I overheard one woman telling another that her vagina looked like a stab-wound in a gorilla’s back. That night, I laughed and sobbed and laughed and sobbed. Your book has called a vagina by every possible name under the sun. What’s the funniest term for vagina you’ve ever heard?
Baby cannon! I laughed and cried, too, because I was infertile and/or quite possibly drunk.
- The Underachieving Ovary holds no punches. It’s surprisingly blunt and brutally honest. Is there anything you found too honest to leave in there, something which didn’t make the cut?
My gimlet-eyed editor cut over 20,000 words of the manuscript. I’ll let you fill in the (vagina-shaped) blanks. But seriously, no. I thought the passages that made me cringe while I was writing them was probably the stuff that would strike a chord. That just-shucked vulnerability is the thing that allows you to connect with readers on a deeper level. But I do admit to holding one hand over my eyes when I clicked ‘publish’.
- Most people prefer to keep their private lives as private as possible. Yet, you laid yours bare upon the page for the world to see. Was that something which ever concerned you, or are you a tell-all kind of person by nature?
I’m the polar opposite of a tell-all person, but at the same time I’m honest, and probably a bit more direct than most people are comfortable with. An agent once told me that she found the intensity in my work ‘alienating’ (I think she was talking about the Angry Vaginas). But besides this candid style of mine, you can’t destigmatize something like infertility by sugarcoating it, right? Best to put it all down, even if it makes you squirm.
- I used to live in Johannesburg for many, many years, and always found it incredibly difficult to write there. Most of your works are based around the city of gold, how does Johannesburg inspire you?
Jozi is like that person at the party with gold teeth and knuckle tattoos. He reeks of whiskey and expensive cologne, talks too much, and has perfected the accidental body brush. He may not be the most pleasant person to talk to, but damn! He’s got the most interesting stories to tell.
- Who are the women who inspire you, whether in life or in writing?
Authors who inspire me are Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, Sarah Waters, Barbara Kingsolver, Sylvia Plath, Gillian Flynn … (I could go on forever).
And I’m currently stalking Joanna Penn, who has pretty much taught me everything I know about indie publishing via her podcast The Creative Penn. She’s the reason I’m writing and publishing more than ever before – and earning dollars in my sleep.
- Aside from being an accomplished novelist, you’ve been doing pretty well as a radio drama playwright. Which of these was your first, big passion, and tell us a little more about the latest play?
Novels will always be my first love, but I enjoy writing for radio because it’s all action and dialogue. My most recent play is a really fun one called ‘The Baron’ and it follows an intrepid young adventurer and a talking lemur (Marcus Pointdexter) as they negotiate the dangerous Kingdom of Moldavia to oust the incompetent and money-grubbing king. It’s like Princess Bride but with velvety prose (and some goblins and mermaids).
- You’ve just released Grey Magic – the story of an eccentric modern-day witch who has been accused of murder. Tell us more about it?
Raven Kane is an eccentric, hexing-and-texting witch with a world of problems, including an annoying neighbour, a mischievous coven, and a murder charge. It was an experiment in magical realism. A burnt-out witch, I thought, would be fun to write. I tried a new device where she has this inner voice antagonising her, which adds another layer to her conflict. I was lucky with the launch: it made it on to Amazon’s Hot New Releases and is still a bestseller in Dark Comedy.
- What’s next for JT Lawrence?
World domination of the literary variety: more words written, more books published, and more readers nabbed. Specifically I’m working on the sequel to my edge-of-sci-fi thriller ‘Why You Were Taken’ which will be launched in May 2017. It’s been optioned for a radio drama adaptation, and I’m planning to complete the trilogy before the year is out. I’ve commissioned Stuart Bache (who has worked with greats like Stephen King and Le Carré) to design the covers for me. Watch out, 2017, I’m coming for you! If all goes according to plan it’s going to be one hell of a year.
Interview by Jason Mykl Snyman, Fiction Editor for EXPOUND.