I’ve done quite a bit of Zooming, over the past few months, enjoyed and learned from every meeting and webinar, whether a Daily Maverick event, where in-depth, unbiased eye-opening information from scientists on Covid-19 is shared, to laughing with Louise at Schalk Bezuidenhout’s Lockdown shows, to workshops and writer’s events and launches. I’ve shied away from Zoom yoga and Zoom chefing… maybe one day… but they’d require a little more input from my body the whole point is to relax. You don’t have to take out your car. You can stay home, and wear your pyjamas, or your old track pants you really wouldn’t be seen dead in, but also, you don’t have to make small talk beforehand at a venue, or scramble for a seat. It’s another ‘space’ where I can be me, sprawling on my couch, with my glass of wine, the sound on mute, with the video off, only my first name, Joanne, there on my little icon showing in the corner of the laptop screen as we kick off. I’m one of 30 or 250 participants, many as anonymous as I am.
At the Zoom launch of Deon Meyer’s The Last Hunt (hosted by Exclusive Books and Cape Talk’s Pippa Hudson), there he was seated in his writing room, from where he works in Stellenbosch. Of course, always keen to catch up with Deon, I listened closely to the book stories, but I found myself close to the screen, peering behind him, checking out his desk, wondering what I could glean from his actual physical work space. I saw a French dictionary, piles of books, and CDs on the shelves. I saw a silver red balloon printed with the words ‘I love you’… a Valentine’s token from his wife perhaps? Ah there’s a story… I couldn’t make out the blurred photographs. The space was tidy. (Unlike mine, in which my grandmother’s ball n claw dressing-table – an excuse for a desk – and the floor, is covered in notes and to-do lists; books are strewn completely haphazardly on the bed, and my chair is an old dining room thing, straight backed, with a torn upholstery seat which looks as if various guests have had sex on it over the decades.)
I brought back my wandering mind. Deon said he needs quiet, he closes the door, keeps things dim, so he can focus entirely on the unfolding story. ‘Build up the momentum. Keep up the momentum. Get into the book. Keep things happening… Some days you will reach your target, some days you don’t. Writing,’ he emphasised, ‘is a life-long learning experience.’
For die-hard Deon Meyer fans, here’s more:
There was a time Deon Meyer actually gave Zuma the benefit of the doubt as president. ‘But look what happened,’ said Deon, referring specifically the The Last Hunt. ‘My anger drove the story which brings to the fore the evil of State Capture. Emotion, anger, is good. If you feel strongly about something, that emotion will drive your novel.’
And of course he wrote Fever, in which the world is floored by a Coronavirus more virulent and deadly than even Covid-19. ‘My research showed that so much evidence has pointed, for years, to the fact that a pandemic is in the making, but the information was largely ignored.’
He shared that perhaps Arnold Vosloo might play his well-loved cop Bennie Griesell in a future movie, and that the Karoo is a landscape he loves, a place of story, from pre-history to now. ‘Story is embedded in the land and resides in the people.’
One thing I love about Zoom meetings too, are the comments rolling in on the sidebar, often really pertinent stuff which no-one would say aloud in a real-life event:
‘Hey, Deon, how would Bennie cope with all the lockdown bans?’
‘Alcoholics need their smokes…’ said Deon. ‘Benny wouldn’t be too happy.’
And this classic:
‘Deon looks good! Has he lost some weight?’
Deon replied immediately: ‘Thanks, I’m delighted!’
A Zoom meeting a couple of nights ago, with crime writer Peter James, interviewed by Mandy Mandi Friedman, also taught me things… make sure you have your dop ready as you don’t want to have to run to the kitchen and take precious moments uncorking a bottle and so risk missing out on a word. Make sure you go to the meeting a little early so that you don’t start sending frantic messages like, what’s the F*&#ing password, and I can’t hear a thing! Then thinking oh no, I’m late, I bet I’ve missed the secret. (This is a recurring theme… Big Time FOMO…) I swore out loud and was quickly muted by the host.
I learned that Peter James’s working space is clinical, his colour scheme is grey. He has a good writing chair, looks like it supports his back. A couple of helmets of British Bobbies (one apparently who was shot, but not fatally) sit on pedestals behind his desk. As the creator of the cop Roy Grace, he spends a lot of time on patrol with his neighbourhood police. He’s seen murder first hand. He’s done jury service, astounded by the bigotry of some jurors willing to find a man guilty before a trial has even started. (In England! …becoming more tarnished with every truth revealed…) He intermittently sipped from a red and white striped mug. Coffee I assumed, although I liked to think he was enjoying something a little stronger. ‘Live and breath the characters,’ he said of fiction writing. ‘Did you know I’m a Rock Star in Russia?’ he looked puzzled. ‘It’s my biggest territory.’ And for the best writerly caution, Zoom into the sign on his desk that warns: ‘Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel!’
What I learned too was that Mandy Friedman’s mother is either a crime fan or loves Mandy so much she won’t leave her side… ‘I’m from Hove too,’ she waved to Peter James. ‘Go back in your box, Mom…’ said Mandy (with the greatest of affection) at one stage. Oh and Mandy has a human skull in her hallway… she’s skull and bones mad, loves anything supernatural. ‘In another life I could have been a forensic investigator.’
Of course I still ‘go’ Jo-Anne Richards’s and Richard Beynon’s All About Writing’s webinars, gatherings of like-minded people talking passionately about craft, whether screen, travel or fiction writing.
I wondered with lockdown easing if Zoom meetings would be a thing of the past, or at least less popular, as ‘normality’ kicks in, but no, they’re here to stay. As long as we can’t get together for events, Zoom has its place.
The down side of Zoom book launches? You can’t buy books via Zoom. But you can order a book with your Uber Eats, or buy a book online for delivery.