Qarnita Loxton – An Interview

Qarnita Loxton photo credit Retha Ferguson 2019
Qarnita Loxton – photo credit Retha Ferguson 2019

Qarnita Loxton was born and lives in Cape Town. She has practised as an attorney, studied psychology and worked as an executive coach. Her first novel, Being Kari (Kwela 2017), was longlisted for the 2018 9mobile Prize for Literature and shortlisted for the 2018 Herman Charles Bosman Prize. Being Lily followed in 2018. Being Shelley is the third book in the series.

We first met IRL on a panel at Franschhoek in 2017 (amiright or…?). Do you remember the woman who fell asleep in the front row and gave us both the giggles? Were we really that boring or was it the free Porcupine Ridge vino?

Qarnita signing Pamela Power’s copy of Being Kari at the Franschhoek Literary Festival 2017
Qarnita signing Pamela Power’s copy of Being Kari at the Franschhoek Literary Festival 2017

Yes! That woman was so close we could’ve reached out to touch her nodding-off head. I don’t know how we managed to keep going without laughing or shouting ‘wake-up!’ I admired her a little though … it was the Friday after lunch session, hot as hell in the Barrel (the venue’s name was something like that? (It was the Elephant and Barrel I do believe) and she was an older lady clearly in need of a snooze. She probably didn’t want to waste a ticket and just decided ‘hell with it’ and napped right there in the front row. Got to love that.

You have finished three books in this trilogy in record time (I hate you). Talk us through the books. 

Qarnita Loxton photo credit Retha Ferguson 2019 1
Qarnita Loxton – photo credit Retha Ferguson 2019

The series revolves around a group of four women friends who live in Cape Town – Being Kari (2017), Being Lily (2018) and now Being Shelley (2019). Each book deals with a different situation relating to a particular friend.

Being Kari is a novel about Kari du Toit, who lives in a fictitious gated estate in Eden on the Bay, Bloubergstrand, Cape Town. From a middle-class Muslim family in Walmer Estate, Cape Town, she has not had any contact with her family for ten years. Her husband Dirk, a thirty-eight-year-old from an Afrikaans family, is a one-word texter, a practical lawyer.

In a Valentine’s Day apocalypse, Dirk confesses to a one-night stand and Kari receives news of her grandmother’s death. Kari returns immediately to her childhood home. The novel tells of the events over the five weeks she spends in her family home. Apart from the Dirk Disaster, Kari wants to reconcile with her mother and must confront her reasons for leaving home. Being Kari is a story of reconciling old beliefs and new beliefs, an old life with a new one.

Being Lily tells of Dr Lily De Angelo, who is getting married to Owen Fisher. She is going Bridezilly and her biggest concern is where to go on honeymoon. Lily suspects her parents would prefer a richer, taller and tanned Italian over tinted Capetonian Owen. But Lily doesn’t care, she believes that her wedding will be the start of her happy-ever-after, one they’ve agreed will not include babies.

The day Qarnita received her author copy

Then Owen’s ex, Courtney, shows up on Valentine’s Day with her mini-me teenage daughter Chiara, who could be Owen’s. Everything keeps going pear-shaped for Lily when Courtney and Chiara move in. Owen also seems a bit too happy at the thought of being a dad. Lily wonders what happened to their decision to commit to love and marriage, but not the baby carriage. Being Lily explores what it means to live, love, and commit in changing times.

In Being Shelley, Shelley Jacobsen is in her forties and feeling trapped in the coffee and décor shop she opened with her best friend. Meanwhile her husband, Jerry, is consumed with Jewish guilt since having their twins, which reminds Shelley that she will always think of herself as the ‘shiksa’ to his family. She meets Wayde Smith on Valentine’s Day and hires him as a barista.

To her the sexy twenty-two-year-old smells like a Pina Colada Coconut Vanilla Dessert, exactly the smell of the holiday she wants from her life. Is it so wrong that Wayde with his brown skin, abs for days, and beachy hair skimming his shoulders makes her feel young? Can’t a woman be friends with her male employee? Shelley is tired of fighting with Jerry; she just wants some fun. Question is whether the fun will stay harmless?

Most of us have family members we hope will never read our books (for me it was my parents and all other hectically religious aunties and uncles), who is that person for you and why?

Rather than any particular aunties and uncles, I was quite nervous about very religious people reading Being Kari. The novel itself is written in a very light-hearted style and does not promote any religious viewpoint but does deal with the protagonist’s reconciliation of her religious past with her non-religious life. I did worry a little about how that would be received. More personally, I really wanted my mom to like Being Kari as it was my first novel and her opinion was important to me. Sadly, she died suddenly a few months before publication and I never got to give her a copy. (So sorry, my darling)

And on that theme…how do you feel about writing sex scenes? (Personally, I’ve read sooooo many Mills & Books, I have no problem with them)

I have a very high cringe factor! I think I could write sex scenes but likely there would be quite a few people I would not want to make eye contact with if it was published. It definitely would not be the extract I’d choose to read at a book launch!

Did you plan to write a series from the get-go or did you just decide you weren’t finished with the characters?

I didn’t plan to write a series and it’s exactly as you say – I got so involved with the characters that after Being Kari I decided that I wasn’t done with all the friends. I kept thinking up stories for them. 

Tell us about your journey to getting published. Talk us through both your lowest point (when you were on the bathroom floor ugly crying) and your highest point (cracking open the prosecco).

Launch of Being Kari
Qarnita Loxton and Pamela with launch of Being Kari

After I wrote Being Kari I spent nearly a year submitting and waiting on responses from two publishers. My lowest point was the response from the first publisher who had sent it to an external reader – who absolutely hated Being Kari. I asked to see her report and she truly disliked everything about the book: content, style, language you name it she had a problem with it. I sucked it up, took some of her criticisms on board, and re-submitted but still got negative feedback. Luckily for me, Kwela (NB Publishers) loved Being Kari and became my publisher. That has absolutely been my high point. I ran around the house laughing like a fool when I got that email. Kwela has been brilliant. I haven’t looked back.  

What’s the thing that surprised you the most about being a published author?

The amount of work that happens behind the scenes to turn a manuscript into a book is astounding. Editing, proofing, lay-out, cover design, marketing etc. I have new respect when I go into a bookstore and am surrounded by books – I realise just how much work and energy it took to get those books there.  

About your writing process (sorry but I really do want to know): do you write thousands of words a day, 200 words a day? How does it all come together for you? Are you a plotter or a pantser?

When it comes to a specific project, there will be a long time when I think about it more than I write (fine, you can call it procrastination…) but I think about my characters and the story I want to write for ages before I actually write a word. I’ve been writing with Mike Nicol and Claire Strombeck’s Masterclass Program which runs for a year at a time and there is a monthly deadline of between 8 and 10k words.

Launch of Being Lily at Love Books Jozi in 2018
Launch of Being Lily at Love Books Jozi in 2018

I just write as much as I can. Some days it will be slow and only a few words come out, other days there will be a few hundred words. I always review what I have written the day before so it’s a continuous editing process. I am a planner – but the plans are broad and details emerge as I write. When I’m not on a project I still write something every day, sometimes it’s as basic as writing words of gratitude for things I experienced during the day. The act of writing keeps me sane (I LOVE this.)  

What’s next for you?

I have an idea for Dianne, the last of the friends in the ‘Being’ series, and I have been doing research around it. I want to start working on her next year. After that, who knows?!

Advice to aspiring writers (not ‘go and get a proper job’).

Not everyone will like what you write. Deal with criticism constructively and move on.   

Any book recommendations for this upcoming festive season?

I’ve got The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, Deon Meyer’s The Last Hunt and Sally Andrew’s Tannie Maria & the Satanic Mechanic waiting for me on my bedside table. All have had fantastic reviews so I’m excited to get stuck in.

Where can we get your books? Should they be read in sequence?

My books are available at all good bookstores (please ask them to order if they don’t have stock!), online from Loot and Takealot, and then also as e-books on Amazon Kindle and Kobo.

Thank you so much for taking part in #FridayReads!

I ADORE Qarnita’s sense of humour and I think her books make great gifts. Why not buy all three for someone special in your life? Remember #signedbooksmakethebestgifts #ReadSA

Pamela and Qarnita
Pamela and Qarnita