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Jacqui L'Ange

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Jacqui L’Ange’s ‘The Seed Thief’ is The Next Big Thing

Thank you to Consuelo Roland for tagging me in ‘The Next Big Thing’. If you haven’t come across it before, it’s an exercise in self-promotional positivity, and an invitation to talk about your most recent writing work, or work in progress, through a set of standard questions. Then you pass the baton on to a handful of other writers, who’ll do the same in a week’s time. And so it rolls…


What is your working title of your book?

The Seed Thief


Where did the idea come from for the book?

I was interested in exploring the links between Brazil and Africa, and the obvious route was slavery and the sea passage between West Africa and Bahia. Somewhere along the way a seed presented itself as the perfect cross continental time capsule. So a lost seed became the vehicle for the story, and linked the historical practice of colonialism and slavery to a modern-day method of appropriation: control of genetic resources and bio-piracy.


What genre does your book fall under?

Literary thriller or ecological fiction.


Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

My characters for The Seed Thief are so real to me; they look the way they do, which is to say, like themselves. It I were to put Hollywood faces to them, they would become different people.


I know this because it happened to me when I wrote a film script a few years ago (Murmur) and was involved in the production of the movie. Before we went on set, the characters looked a particular way in my mind. Once we started shooting, they started to take on the actors’ characteristics. It’s a wonderful process, watching actors bringing new dimensions to written characters. But when I try to remember what the characters looked like to me pre-movie, I can hardly conjure up their images…


Having said all that, while writing an earlier draft of The Seed Thief I told my partner that I thought Maddy, the narrator and protagonist, was a little like Ellen Page (of Juno, Inception, Whip It). He had a different picture of her in his head, but that’s the way she is for me. Maddy is small and slight and dark-haired. And she has great knees.


What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A young botanist in search of an endangered plant gets caught up in a parallel world of Afro-Brazilian spiritualism, and finds out some home truths, where she really stands, and what she is prepared to sell out in order to survive.


Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency? 

I will be seeking agency representation.


How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I wrote the book as part of an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Cape Town. It should have taken me two years, but it took three because but I fell ill in the middle of it and had to take some time off. I found that it’s not a bad thing to put a project on a back burner and let it simmer for a while. I’m currently editing the manuscript so will probably have to add another year onto that total by the time it is ‘finished’. (Almost there now…)


What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer, Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, or TC Boyle’s When the Killing’s Done.


Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was convinced that I was going to write a book about the sea. I’d had an idea for some time to write something with the deity Yamanja – the Yoruba and candomblé orixa, or goddess, of the sea – in a cameo role. Yamanja is still there, but so are a lot of other orixas who confuse the hell out of my rational-minded protagonist. I liked the possibilities of putting someone into a situation that throws them completely off-kilter, and seeing what comes up out of that.


Researching the botanical aspects of the book I became fascinated with seed banking, and came across some incredible stories of botanical survival against all odds – many of them found their way into the book.


But I think my original urge was to re-connect with one of the places I grew up in (Brazil), in a way that felt new and interesting. On a trip to Brazil a friend of mine suggested I visit Salvador in Bahia. I became fascinated with how African the city is, in a uniquely Brazilian way.


These days so many people are displaced, or come from, or live between, many places, and I also wanted to explore what that does to our sense of where we belong. My initial working title for the book was ‘In Transit’ – part of the story takes place with Maddy stranded in an airport transit lounge. I think it’s a state a lot of people relate to…


What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

If I tell people The Seed Thief is about bio-piracy, they tend to look cautiously baffled. If I tell them it is about sex in Brazil, they lean in for more. It really has a good dose of both.


And now to pass on the love … ‘The Next Big Thing’ has been pinging around the blogosphere for a while, so a lot of established writers have been here, done this. But I think its true value is in introducing new names that are not yet, but have the explosive potential to be, big literary news.


I was privileged to find myself in a hugely talented (and immensely likeable) bunch of writers in UCT’s creative writing programme. Many of them are already doing big things: Aoife Lennon-Ritchie has just started a literary agency and will share her latest work next week. Melissa Siebert is a journalist with an explosive story that I can’t wait to read more about – I’ll be guest hosting her blog post here next week. And Michele Rowe is a scriptwriter whose thriller What Hidden Lies won the 2011 Crime Writer’s Association Debut Dagger for its opening chapters – before the book was even finished! Roll on, and power to your virtual pens…


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