Q&A with Eva Mazza

Author of Sex, Lies Declassified and Sex, Lies & Stellenbosch.

by Ezekiel Kekana

Eva Mazza announced herself into the South African literary industry with a riveting and scandalous debut novel titled Sex, Lies & Stellenbosch. The novel received much love from many South Africans and even the conservative Stellies residents managed to get a copy of the book. Following the success of the novel, Mazza followed that up with a sequel titled, Sex, Lies Declassified. In this exclusive interview with EW Blog editor, Mazza talks about her relationship with her publisher, Melinda Ferguson, writing the two books and whether there’s enough literature on feminism and gender-based violence.

Question: You and Melinda Ferguson produced yet another book together, how is it working with a literary giant like Melinda?

Answer:

 

Melinda is driven and passionate about what she does. She juggles a whole lot of balls be it editing, workshops, publishing, writing. She’s a car journo, she’s a cigarette rights freedom fighter, she’s a partner to Matt and she’s completely hooked on work – so you’d expect her not to have too much time for you. But she always makes time for her authors and actually, she makes them feel extremely special. She is bat shit-crazy but fun. She has a nose for what will sell – so thank goodness she had a sense that my novel would perhaps be marketable because she doesn’t normally publish fiction.

Question:  Sex, Lies Declassified is your latest novel, did the success of the first novel put you under pressure to do a sequel or it was always in your plans to do so?

Answer:

 

We left a ‘loose-end’ in the first book (although the book has a definite ending) just in case Sex, Lies and Stellenbosch became a success and readers would want more. I was under pressure, deadline wise to get it done in a year but very excited that there was a demand for more.

Question:

 

 

 

Stellenbosch residents are known for their opulent lifestyle and their conservative nature, what kind of feedback did you receive from the residents of the town following the release of your debut novel, Sex, Lies & Stellenbosch?

Answer:

 

I don’t think the residents of Stellies are as conservative as they are made out to be. There definitely is a conservative group (one journalist was horrified by the sex scenes and the fact that I had not mentioned the oak trees). Probably the book has been ignored by those who disapprove. I am so grateful that the response has been overwhelming and positive in Stellenbosch and I am excited to say that it is a best seller in Exclusive Books Stellenbosch (which sadly is closing down due to the impact of the pandemic), just a week after the book was on the shelves, so that speaks volumes. I have a very supportive network of friends, some of whom I haven’t met, but we are friends nonetheless through social media.

Question:

Jen is a central character in your first novel, take us through the process of how the character came about?

Answer:

 

Well, I was on the cusp of 50 along with many of my friends. In life there are phases that we all tend to go through at certain times and turning fifty is a biggie. It’s the new forty because women seem to start families later and don’t seem to age as they used to. But the ‘mid-life’ crisis is a thing for both men and women. Women particularly feel vulnerable at this time, especially if they have spent their lives rearing children and supporting husbands, which is an honourable and very difficult choice they sometimes decide to make. Many of my friends were succumbing to these crises, be it their husband’s (or wives) having affairs, the empty nest-and-now what syndrome, the restless I-need-to-hurry-up-and–make-something-with-my-life angst, nobody-will-want-me-so-I’ll-stay decision… so I was inspired by this. I don’t think it is relegated to only one race group or to one area, it’s a universal thing and Jen was that universal character who walks in on her husband in a compromising position with another woman and suddenly she is forced to decide what to do – and when you are not financially sound, when you feel there isn’t much going for you and your choices are limited, your decision to go or stay becomes a difficult one. This situation transcends colour, class or creed. This story just happens to be set in Stellenbosch and Jen’s shackles are golden – but they are shackles nonetheless.

Question:

 

 

Despite finding out that John was cheating with Frankie, Jen wanted to still stay in her marriage, what advise do you have for women who stay in loveless marriages just for financial security?

Answer:

 

I don’t have advice really. It’s an individual choice that is often complicated by many factors. What I do advise women (I have four daughters) is value yourself, you are definitely equal to anybody, male or female, treat every human being with respect and expect the same from them. Try to be as financially independent as you can be, and even if you do decide to be the one who holds back on career, make sure your foot is always in some working door that will generate an income for you if you need it.

Question:

 

 

Patriarchy was among some of the themes in your first novel, do you think there’s enough local literature written on how to dismantle patriarchy and misogyny in the 21st century?

Answer:

 

Yes, we have some very fiery feminists in our midst, one of them being Pumla Dineo Gqola who I think is at the forefront in this country when it comes to literature on the subject. Then there’s Kharnita Mohamed whose book, Called to Song is launching soon. But besides books on the subject, we have so many stories of GBV in our country which exposes patriarchy and toxic masculinity and which forces us to confront it daily (be it in the news or through our own experiences). Fiction too, creates stories for women about these very issues, and this is why the value of women’s fiction should not be underestimated, especially the message it conveys to readers about these very issues. 

Question: Without giving much, how is Jen’s character developed in the new novel, Sex, Lies Declassified?

Answer:

 

Jen is a stronger more sexually confident woman. She has grown from her tumultuous year and a bit since she found her husband with his wine rep; she has found love and she (and the reader) has bought into the idea of a happy ending. But the question is, is there ever a happy ending? There are pockets of happiness in our lives that come in phases – and generally we can at the end of our lives perhaps say, ‘yes, we had a happy life’ but life sends curve balls – and in the beginning of Sex, Lies DECLASSIFIED, we find Jen restless. So, her journey is not complete. She is not as fulfilled as we expect her to be. She is still discovering who she is and what she wants and her resolve for authenticity is even stronger now. She is much more determined to find what really makes her happy despite the guilt of family, lover and friends’ accusations that she is being selfish.

Question:

What inspired you to write about the ‘secrets and lies’ of Stellenbosch?

Answer:

 

My friend’s husband had been cheating on her with her friend under her nose (she was not from Stellenbosch) there was a woman who I had met briefly whose husband had been so deviant and had led such a duplicitous life that it was hard for her to actually believe his behaviour never mind accept it; and then of course there was ‘that wealthy businessman’ who owned horses and had Stellenbosch eating out of his hand – and was flaunting his girlfriend at polo matches… the question arose, if all of us knew, how did she not know? And if she did know, why hadn’t she left him?

Question: If you were to invite three South African authors for wine tasting in Stellenbosch, who will it be and why them?

Answer:

 

Three authors for wine tasting? I’d have to make sure they drank, but most writers drink. It would be Jackie Phamotse as I’ve promised her a tour of Stellies’ wine farms and we have always supported one another. I’d like to get to know her better. I would definitely have Qarnita Loxton around too, because we get along famously and I love her writing and we can bemoan how the literati view our genre of fiction in this country. I would love to meet Angela Makholwa, I must say I picked up her book The Blessed Girl at the airport a few years ago and her writing inspired me as did the topic which again speaks volumes about patriarchy, exploitation of younger women etc … and can I have one more at the table? Zakes Mda, he’s a playwright and an author and from what he has written he is a champion for the cause. He’s a legend. And we need a rose amongst us thorns.

Question: What advise will you give to young people who would like to pursue writing as a full-time profession?

Answer:

 

I say go for it. Just don’t be despondent if you do need to juggle writing with another career – it’s not quite as profitable as one would hope. But if you’re good you can do many related things that will add to your income such as writing workshops, editing, script writing – so try to be as diverse as you can be.

Question:

Which book are you currently reading?

Answer:

 

I am currently rereading Sex, Lies Declassified as I need to start on the third book in the trilogy, and I have just finished The Gold Diggers by Sue Nyathi.

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