Virago published Lauren Liebenberg's wonderful debut novel The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam in 2008 to great success – it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for New Writers. And this year we were delighted to publish Lauren's second novel The West Rand Jive Cats Boxing Club.
Here Lauren tells us what inspired her to write this new book:
The West Rand Jive Cats’ Boxing Club is my quarry of Africa’s boiler-room; Johannesburg. The city, in all its greedy, gold-encrusted glory, is fertile soil for any writer, but as it’s my city, I found myself drawn to root around in its ugly past – from the almost gothic horror of the mines, to the heaving slum-yards, septic with pimps and shebeen-queens, tsotsi gangsters, street musicians, and the Prophets of Zion. I let the sheer rudeness of the city foment my jive cats and then juiced them up with the pop cult of the fifties.
The birth of rock ’n’ roll jumped out and slapped me across the face; I couldn’t resist infusing the story with the grinding pulse and sweaty, feral sound of the new music that first defined and set apart the great swell of baby-boomers. And I was seduced by the sordid theatre of the ring. My jive cats are mostly forged from borrowed memories and I was struck by how often those I interviewed reminisced about boxing. Something as primal as the fight game is ripe for poetic metaphors for fear, cowardice, courage and redemption – classic elements of a coming-of-age novel, and I shamelessly exploited the grip that this oldest and most visceral of sports has on us as I sought to recapture the angst and bravado of youth.
This is somewhat ironic for someone who has always found pugilism repugnant, and who has long reviled this dirty, grasping city where someone wants something from you everywhere you go. But perhaps that is point of writing, and of reading too – to shift perspective.
Having quit my ‘real job’ in banking, all the ego-bruising rejection I endured trying to get out of the ‘slush pile’; the editorial purgatory; to the sting of bad reviews (which is like accidentally eavesdropping on a conversation about you in the smoke room where everyone agrees that you suck), has all been worth it, because as a writer, I get to live a secret double life. For over a year, in my head, I was also a twelve-year-old boy in 1958, a place that to all intents and purposes no longer exists. My duet of dance and the fight game allowed me to thrum once more with the raw energy, the reckless swagger and the hopefulness of youth. It is the ultimate escapism.
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