Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Niki Malherbe is a law lecturer, researcher and writer in Cape Town. She released her debut work of non-fiction, From Courtrooms to Cupcakes, in April 2014, which narrates her humorous journey of enlightenment from lawyer to mother of four children. Having worked in the corporate world of tax, investment banking and law as a tax attorney and later qualifying as a conveyancer, she has been lecturing law part-time for the last ten years, in order to spend more time with her four children. She writes non-fiction in her spare time.
From Courtrooms to Cupcakes is available online from:
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
As a young girl, I was fairly meticulous about keeping a daily journal. Though much of my professional work involved writing of a sort, it was only when on maternity leave with my first-born child that I started writing and journaling again, primarily to keep my sanity! After leaving the corporate world, I dabbled in a few writing projects (published in Cosmopolitan magazine) but in 2011 I enrolled in an online creative writing course through Random House/Struik in partnership with UCT which was the catalyst to completing my memoir the following year. After submitting my manuscript to the few local publishers in South Africa and receiving encouraging feedback but no firm offers, I decided to self- publish and launched my book.
My break (if one could call it that) came when an independent bookshop in Cape Town offered to re-launch the book and this, together with social media and favorable marketing, has brought it into the public eye. When the bookshops, especially the “big bully” of Exclusive Books finally ordered some of my books, I felt like I had really made it!
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
Since publishing my first book last year, I am frequently asked when the sequel is being released and would love to see it completed by the end of this year.
However, I am currently working to deadlines from an academic publisher on a commissioned work which is relevant to the legal profession as part of my research position. One of the courses I teach is professional ethics for lawyers and as a result of recent significant changes in legislation pertaining to the legal profession, much is about to change—hence the project.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
I am lucky enough to have my own desk in a study upstairs in our home which has beautiful views over our garden and beyond onto the vineyards of the farm below. I am particularly lucky however, when I am able to locate my laptop on the desk underneath all my unfiled papers and accumulated mess. It makes writing a lot easier.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
Whilst on lecturing sabbatical this semester, I am able to write most mornings until about midday when I leave to do school lifts and extramurals—otherwise only on the mornings when I am not lecturing. Afternoons and evenings are entirely devoted to mothering and domestic drudgery and I have promised my husband that I will not spend every night in the study anymore—as I apparently have done over the last few years. Unfortunately, this is usually my best time with few distractions.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
It varies. I tend to scribble a lot in notebooks (often in the car waiting for children) or manage a few pages on my laptop when I feeling more disciplined or ordered in my thoughts. When I feel overwhelmed with the chaos of “just getting words down on paper”, I start to structure a framework and theme and chapter format. And then start again.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
I find it impossible not to. I feel compelled to express thoughts and events that hover around my head. I am also terrified of forgetting things and so, for me, writing is remembering.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Mostly those close to me, either in conversation or conduct. I love to observe and listen to people in action and watch how they respond to situations. As with most writers, I also find enormous inspiration from other authors and try to dissect what it is about the way words can be placed next to each other to form a beautiful sentence.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
My biggest challenge is to be able to find hours of uninterrupted time to write, especially when the house is full on a weekend.
Time spent on social media (especially as a new writer) also takes away crucial writing time and though I know it is essential, I find it quite frustrating and time-consuming.
WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU HAD KNOWN WHEN YOU STARTED?
That the real challenge of writing (apart from incredible discipline and dedication to finish the manuscript) is not publication as much as getting proper distribution. Most people struggle to get publication (especially as a new author) though self-publishing or ebooks afford alternative options of getting your book out there. However, bookshops seldom order self-published books and so trying to get into the bookshops is incredibly difficult. And then, if by some chance, an order is placed, it will only be for a few. This makes it impossible to compete with established authors and big publishers. The average book-buyer is more inclined to notice a book when it’s one of a huge pile since it seems popular and worth buying; marketing and good distribution is thus essential to get you going properly. Writing more books, of course, is the next step!
WHAT IS YOUR ARTISTIC OR PROFESSIONAL VISION?
I would love to see the sequel to my first book traditionally published, though I will just continue to write regardless! International publication at some stage would also be very satisfying.
The traditional publishing industry in SA is extremely small and as a first-time author, it is very difficult to break into. Like life I suppose, right place, right time is often the case! However, self-publishing has an unfortunate stigma too and I’m not sure that I will feel entirely satisfied until I am traditionally published. For me, a printed book is magical.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE AUTHORS?
Alexandra Fuller, Rachel Cusk, Joanne Fedler, Anita Diamant, Jeanette Winterson, Susan Henderson, Elif Shafak are a few that come to mind.
WHICH FEMALE AUTHORS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Thank you, Niki Malherbe!
— Nicole Melanson
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