Richard de Nooy – image by Keke Keukelaar
Richard de Nooy made valiant attempts to avoid writing by studying journalism and psychology for nine years and then working as a tableware salesman, bouncer, data-entry typist, journalist and cartoonist. His first novel won the University of Johannesburg Prize for Best First Book and was later published in Dutch. He wrote his three subsequent novels in both Dutch and English, because he is a masochist. He grew up in South Africa, but has lived in Amsterdam for the past 30 years. He is currently rounding off the English version of his fourth novel, which was published in the Netherlands earlier this year.
What got you into writing?
The more pressing question is: how does one get out? Regrettably, the answer is: impossible. It’s a terrible, unkickable addiction, much like smoking. You try it at an early age, just for kicks, and before you know it you’re writing two packs a day. I tried to take my mind off it with other things – drawing cartoons, drinking to excess, online gaming, promiscuity, emigrating and having children – but the need to write kept tracking me relentlessly. So here I am: writing every novel twice, flashing my works online, even dabbling in poetry. It’s tragic. Don’t do it kids. Just say no.
What inspires you?
Writing allows me to explore the world from innumerable perspectives, through the lives of the characters I create. You basically get to be the god of your own universe, which appeals to my delusions of grandeur. At other times it feels like I’m a human sponge, unconsciously absorbing the world around me. It’s almost as if I need to expel these waters of life from my brain occasionally. I’ve never experienced writer’s block, but I am all too familiar with idea overload.
What makes you write even when the nights are long, your fingers ache and your eyes droop?
Deadlines. I get up at 5am on weekdays to write, otherwise it would be near impossible to get things done. Fortunately, I can survive on 5 hours’ sleep a night and a half-hour nap in the afternoon. That’s one of the minor perks of being a freelancer working from home. Sleep is terribly overrated. People often tell me I’m shortening my life expectancy by sleeping too little, but they usually start scratching their heads when I tell them I’m extending the midsection of my waking existence by about three hours a day, compared to people who need eight hours’ sleep. That’s 15 hours a week and 60 hours a month. It all adds up. I’m also acutely aware that the last part of our lives, the part most people want to extend, is neither very pretty nor very exciting. So here I am, typing this up at 5.30am.
Are you a traditionalist (print) or a new-wave (e-book)?
My publishers seem keen to earn money any way they can, the crazy buggers. But I think most writers will confirm that there’s something very special about actually holding the damn thing in your hands, breaking its bloody spine and ripping out the pages where you invariably find a typo or three. Seriously though, it still feels like a huge honour when a publisher is willing to actually print something you’ve created. It makes the dream come true, in a sense.
Do you have a publisher or did you go the self-publishing route?
I have a publisher in the Netherlands and one in South Africa, but I want more – I need more – publishers. I suppose you could compare it to being alone in a little rowing boat called Ambition or being in that rowing boat with other people. The latter has the advantage that you’re all pulling together, and if the going gets tough, you can eat the weaker crew members or use their body parts as bait. Hang on… What was the question again?
What do you aspire to achieve if you haven’t already and how can ‘we’ help?
I’d really like to find a small, enthusiastic publishing house that operates throughout the Anglophone market, staffed by Valkyries and/or Vikings who can row like the clappers. Writing a bestseller would be lovely, but it would be nice to just earn a modest income off my writing, allowing me to feed myself and the people I love, without having to resort to cannibalism.