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Jonathan Ball

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Yes, a seventh book is in the making – Michael Sears at launch of Dying to Live

Last night Melville’s Love Books played host to an array of sunshine noir – yes, that is a genre! – fans at the launch of the sixth novel in Michael Stanley’s Detective Kubu-series, Dying to Live.

This popular series, set in Botswana, revolves around the enigmatic detective Kubu, who, along with a new recruit to the Botswana CID, Samantha Khama, solve grisly and perplexing murders.

Michael Stanley consists of two authors, Michael Sears and Stanley Trollop. As Stanley is currently based in the US, Michael was in conversation with Eugene Ashton, the managing director of Jonathan Ball Publishers.

Eugene and Michael covered many topics during their discussion, ranging from the writing process (“sometimes we’re just sitting around, throwing around ideas … usually with a bottle of this,” Michael responded, pointing to his wine glass), to how the first book came about (“After three years and throwing away a lot of words, we had a book!”)

According to Michael, a seventh book is in the making…

He assured the audience that Kubu will not be killed off (unlike our Nordic friends who enjoy the odd death of a main or secondary character), and that both he and Stanley had decided on a seventh book ever since the publication of the first book in the series, A Carrion Death.

Michael stated that a publisher once told him that one cannot make money until you’ve reached your seventh book, which motivated them to start writing. With zest.

The conversation took a serious turn when Eugene mentioned the recent, ugly tendency of cultural appropriation, asking Michael how he and Stanley go about creating plausible characters which aren’t of European heritage without demeaning them or reverting to stereotypes.

Michael honestly responded that he cannot speak a word of Setswana, and emphasised the importance of accuracy when writing about a cultural group which differ from your own.

“All you can do to protect yourself from that [appropriation] is to ask locals to read the manuscript and pay very careful attention to any advice.”

Michael added that writing is about stretching yourself and that the series has added to Botswana’s cultural literature.

Their decision to include a female character was to exercise their ability to write out of their own borders and a need to introduce the tension of Botswana’s predominantly patriarchal society.

An audience member asked Michael about conflict which might arise from co-writing, and how one goes about avoiding head-bashing.

He replied that both he and Stanley have to remind themselves that it’s always about the book. They often critique one another heavily in the margins, yet Michael adds that it’s easier to write as two authors, since neither he nor Stanley feel personally insulted as what they’ve written isn’t necessarily what they would write as individual authors. They often ask friends to read their manuscripts, and rely on their criticism and comments.

The discussion ended with an anecdote which had the audience in stitches.

A few years ago, Michael attended an international crime writers conference in Minneapolis, where a friend introduced him to a student who apparently was a huge fan of the Detective Kubu series.

Said fan probably made the literary faux pas of her life as she bounded up to Michael, gushing that she “loves the series! I had no idea you were two people! Who’s McCall and who’s Smith?”

*Cue all round genuine belly laughs*

 

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