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Short Sharp Stories

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Die Laughing Teaser: Q&A with Greg Lazarus

Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 8.57.55 AMGreg Lazarus is the pen name of husband-and-wife writing duo Greg Fried and Lisa Lazarus.

Lisa is a psychologist and freelance writer. She has Masters degrees in educational psychology and creative writing, and a higher diploma in education. She has written for publications including Men’s Health, Femina, Shape, Cosmopolitan, Cape Town’s Child, Psychologies, and Mail & Guardian. Lisa tutors Magazine Journalism, Feature Writing and Memoir Writing for SA Writer’s College.

Greg is a philosopher at the University of Cape Town, where he teaches various topics, including the history of philosophy and the philosophy of mathematics. Currently his research is in social choice theory (which deals with methods of reaching collective decisions) and in connections between mathematics and theology.

The couple have written two novels, Paradise, and When in Broad Daylight I Open My Eyes, as well as a memoir, The Book of Jacob: A Journey into Parenthood. Their short stories have appeared in various anthologies.  

 

Firstly, congratulations on being the 2016 Short.Sharp.Stories Awards winners! What does this win mean to you?

Thank you!

This prize is wonderfully motivating. Writers frequently scribble away at their projects for years, often with no clear recognition at the end. Even publication may not bring many readers. Ideally you want to get most of your satisfaction from doing the work itself, but an external nudge now and then really helps.

As twice-published writers with Short.Sharp.Stories, what do you feel is the value of the project? And the value of writing short stories?

Short stories immerse you in a new world instantly. Unlike a novel, there can’t be a very long build-up; soon you have to be in the middle of things. Rapid immersion can be shocking and bracing – and after a good short story, you almost always want more, but you can’t have it. It’s a teasing art form.

Short.Sharp.Stories in particular helps to dispel the stubborn prejudice that SA literature is worthy and dull. Each year the anthology exhibits a range of themes and styles in SA fiction.

When it comes to DIE LAUGHING, what is your take on humour SA- style?

The incongruity theory of humour says that situations involving the unexpected, odd, unusual or out of place are funny. That’s not always true: when the two of us watched Ghostbusters, we definitely didn’t laugh when that monster came out of the mist in Sigourney Weaver’s fridge. But it can be funny to watch mismatched things rub up against each other, and South Africa provides endless examples.

Did this sentiment inspire your story?

Absolutely. Our story is about Ilhaam, a passionate and brilliant schoolgirl who has an extensive knowledge of the Koran and a confidential problem involving love, and Gary, a rather pompous philosopher of mathematics and a man with his own secrets. These characters might not usually come into contact. But that’s an attractive thing about SA: we’re not a homogenous society, and when you meet people who seem unlike you, there’s an opportunity for a strange kind of reckoning.

Greg, seeing as you are a lecturer in philosophy at UCT were you the model for Dr. Schiff?

Like Dr Schiff, I’m interested in the philosophy of mathematics, but a friend of mine says I have more in common with Ihaam, the mystically inclined schoolgirl. My great grandfather was a blind rabbi from Jerusalem who lived in a cave and offered counsel in exchange for bags of grain. (At least, this is what my mother tells me.) I have more sympathy for his way of life than is perhaps expected from a person living in suburbia.

As Jewish writers focusing on Muslim issues, how did you research the content, specifically around Ilhaam, the young teenager asking about love?

Some time back we became interested in the relationships between Muslims and Jews. We decided we might like to write a novel featuring characters from these religions. As part of our preparation, we spent time with a number of generous and thoughtful Muslim teenagers. We met some young people who had qualities – brilliance, bookishness, spiritual passion – that helped inspire us when creating Ilhaam. Ilhaam also drew from some of our past acquaintances, though primarily from our imaginations. She’s a singular person, of course, rather than an attempt at a composite representative of any group.

Are you expecting or have you had any criticism for attempting to write from this perspective?

We haven’t seen criticism, but who knows what may come? These are sensitive times. Also, it’s easy to disapprove of authors for their choice of characters and themes: if they stick to what they might be expected to know, one can call them limited; if they explore other areas, one can say they are appropriating. But our view is that no areas should be barred to authors who are willing to do some inquiry and to exercise an empathic writerly imagination.

The email exchange is a wonderful way of gaining immediacy. As a writing duo how did you split up the writing? For this particular piece did one of you take one character and one the other?

We talk a lot. Whoever feels more inspired does some writing, then passes it on. And once we’re done, we edit and edit until it feels like polished work from a single sensibility rather than fiction written by a committee.

As for email, that’s a fun medium – it allows for a rapid series of exchanges with total flexibility in length and style. Ilhaam tries to write formally, but her exuberance keeps breaking through. Gary keeps a stiff tone except for one email, sent in error, which is very different indeed.

What’s next for you on the writing side?

We’re at work on our fourth book, which features an eerie philosophical institute and a man accused of murder. His defence is that a dead woman made him do it.

And if you could offer one short-story writing tip what would it be?

Create characters who make sparks together.

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Screen Shot 2016-08-22 at 9.00.45 AMBook Details:
Editor Joanne Hichens
Foreword Evita Bezuidenhout
ISBN / EAN 9780994680518
Publication date July 2016
Buy the book here!

 

 

 

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