Subscribe to our Newsletter

click to dowload our latest edition



‘Besties’ gone bad: Schimmel’s new domestic noir



Joburg author and lawyer, Gail Schimmel’s, new novel, The Finish Line, is hot off the press. The SA Jewish Report spoke to her.

Just as soon as the fanfare about one of your novels dies down, another seems to be published. How do you keep doing it?

Over the past few years, I’ve managed to bring out one “Gail Schimmel” book a year, if we count Chasing Marian, which I wrote with three friends. This is mostly down to the rather slow process of publishing – it takes about a year from finishing a book to publication – and the fact that I need to write.

I’ve written eight novels as myself over the past 15 years, and I write cozy mysteries with Kate Sidley under the name “Katie Gayle”. We bring out two of those a year, and we’re working on our tenth book together!

Having said all that, I’ve had a really strange writing year, and I’m not sure we’ll see a new “Gail Schimmel” in 2025.

Are your novels similar in theme or genre?

My own books are all so far more or less definable as “domestic noir” – the dark side of domestic life. Some are a bit more “thriller”, some a bit less, but they all look closely at ordinary lives and then throw in a twist or two.

Can you sketch your process of writing?

I start with the idea, usually a “what if” moment that sometimes comes quite suddenly and sometimes has to be thought about for a while. I usually know where I want to be in the middle of the book and at the end, but not exactly what will happen in between. And then I write. I try to write 500 to 1 000 words a day when I’m in writing mode. The reality is that the only way that one gets a book out is by sitting down and writing until it’s done. I’m quite a clean writer, which means that my first draft is close to what I’ll give the publisher, but obviously there’s a process of editing and fixing after writing.

Are your books ever autobiographical, if so which ones and in what way?

The answer to this is a resounding no, except for the fact that they are set in my city, Johannesburg, and mostly explore the type of people that I know.

What sparked the idea for The Finish Line?

The idea for this book is unfortunately completely linked to the first big twist, making it impossible to talk about! This is definitely one of those that came from a “what if”, and quickly grew into a full idea. All I can say is that I was standing in the middle of my garden thinking, “Oh G-d, imagine if …” and I suddenly thought, “Wait, this is a book idea!”

In this book, rivalry within female friendships is an abiding theme. What made you want to write about this?

I’m a bit obsessed with the theme of friendship, and often friendship gone bad. Women’s friendships are incredibly important to us, and when they go bad, it’s completely heartbreaking. But at the same time, one doesn’t always go into a friendship as carefully as a romantic relationship, so, just like with romantic relationships, one can make really big mistakes.

Are there familiar themes and personalities that come through in your books? If so, what are they and why? If not, how do you constantly come up with new, unique characters and themes?

There are some similarities. Friendship is definitely a big theme for me, as are lies and betrayal. Someone once vaguely described one of my books to me, and I couldn’t actually work out which one she meant!

But my characters are always new, although sometimes maybe the same type in that I focus on middle-class Joburg women, but I try to give them all their own unique feel. For example, Brenda in The Finish Line is a woman who never feels like she fits in, a feeling that maybe makes her react badly in some situations.

There are so many different people in the world, so thinking of different characters is the part I find easiest!

Have you found a typical reader of your books? What’s he/she like?

My books appeal to women more than men, although many men love my work. But other than that, I’m pleased to say that I seem to have fans of all ages and races and from all over the world.

There are many who are captivated by your books and can’t wait for the next. What do you believe draws them in and keeps them there?

Because they explore the dark side of the ordinary, they could happen to any of us. Mostly, they involve personalities that you recognise and situations that you might have been in. And then they go pear-shaped, and the reader might feel, “Oh no, this could happen to me!”

How have your books done internationally?

The cozy mysteries, writing as Katie Gayle with Kate Sidley, are hugely successful. This is a weird and very specific genre – think Murder She Wrote.

With my own books, it’s been up and down. The Accident, which was published as The Aftermath overseas, did really well. But one of the lessons of that experience was that with writing, you’ve never really “made it”, and the last few books haven’t been published internationally.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *