Welcome to Jean McNeil and the blog tour for her novel, Fire on the Mountain which was released on 15th February by Legend Press.
Hello Jean. Thank you so much for joining me on Novel Kicks today. Your latest book is called Fire on the Mountain. Can you tell me a bit about it and what inspired the story?
Hi Laura, thanks very much for your interest in the novel and for your questions.
Fire on the Mountain is a contained and intense story about masculinity and desire. It focuses on three men: Pieter Lisson, a celebrated writer in an unnamed post-colonial country who has never quite found the fame and acceptance he might have experienced had he been a more ‘serious’, political writer; his son, Riaan, who lives in the desertified north of the country, and Nick, a British (although he has grown up all over the world) NGO worker, who comes to stay with Pieter and his wife for a few days and ends up staying for four months. He and Riaan develop a wary friendship, then a much closer mutuality, and finally their relationship is transformed into something neither of them every would have expected.
The inspiration for the story is the landscapes of southern Africa, in particular Cape Town, where I lived on and off for years, and Namaqualand, the Kalahari and the Namib deserts. Another inspiration was the years I spent gaining professional safari guide qualifications. This wasn’t a completely masculine environment, but the sort of masculine consciousness I encountered in men in southern Africa fascinated me. Strength and an awareness of vulnerability are both needed to survive in the bush. You have to be intuitive and attuned to other creatures. It’s a way of life that creates a different kind of man than I had encountered elsewhere. I wanted to try to capture that in the novel.
If you could drop into the life of any fictional character which one would it be and why?
My characters are me and I am them, so I do live their lives. Like Pieter I am a writer, and like Riaan I know the African bush. Like Nick I’ve worked in NGOs and international development. I consider that I live all their lives, simultaneously.
What’s your writing process like – from planning to edit.
I write quite quickly, meaning I can write a novel within a couple of months if I really put my mind to it, as well as working. But then I tend to rewrite very extensively, doing at least 12 drafts, adding and subtracting and crucially getting the structure right. Because I’m a fast and intuitive writer I rely on sane, intelligent people called editors to help smooth out contradictions and fill gaps. I wish I could be more methodical, punctilious, perfectionist, but I’m just not. Thank god for good editors…
Do you have an writing rituals or routines?
No, I can write anywhere and at any time. I do like to be able to see the sky as I’m writing. My flat in London has a good view so I can stare at seagulls and the Shard.
What’s your favourite word and why?
Aha, tough one. There are so many choices… Orphic, probably, as in musical, but also a tinge of the quality of underworld, or submerged – from Orpheus. Closely followed by heliotrope.by