Megan Choritz finds Lost Property in a Joburg past
Actor, director, and playwright Megan Choritz has just launched her first novel. The SA Jewish Report catches up with her.
How would you describe yourself?
That’s an interesting question. I’m creative. I write, act, and direct plays, and I improvise. I guess you could say I make things up. I also teach, sometimes, reluctantly, and I’m a vegan. That’s one way of describing myself. I’m also a 58-year-old rebel, with a big mouth, big opinions, and big energy.
Describe your novel.
Lost Property tells the story of Laine, who suddenly finds her marriage over after discovering something hideous about her husband, Mark. In therapy with Graham (not his real name), she goes back to her childhood, remembering growing up in Joburg under the influence of her complicated parents, Merle and Larry, and her nanny, Dora. This is against the backdrop of the craziness of apartheid. Laine needs to come to terms with her past in order to heal, but it’s the appearance of a small, fierce child, Tina, who unexpectedly brings an unusual kind of hope.
What inspired you to write it?
I couldn’t help it. The story started growing, then developing, then pouring out of me. It’s as if I was the vessel for it to be made. The other – more practical – side of it was that I joined an online writing group called deadlinesforwriters.com during lockdown, and progressed from writing short stories to deciding to write a whole novel. It was a fantastic, empowering, and eye-opening process.
How did you come up with the story?
I don’t know. I know that sounds crazy, but I started somewhere, and it just manifested. There were times where I had no idea where I was going until I had written the section. There were times when I sat down with an idea, and something else totally unexpected happened. And then there were times where I was amazed that I had even come up with what I had put down.
Are there elements or characters from your own life? If so, which?
All the feelings are real and come from my own life, but I’m not saying which parts of the story do. My lips are sealed. People are so curious about what’s true and what isn’t. I always say, if you believe it’s true, then it is.
This may be your first novel, but far from your first writing experience. Tell us about your other written work.
I have written a lot, mostly stuff that’s in one of a million files on my computer. But I have written lots of plays, lots of industrial and corporate theatre, hundreds of short stories and poems, thousands of theatre and movie reviews, a published children’s book called The Big Bird Battle, an as-yet-unproduced screenplay, and I’m currently doing a rewrite of another novel.
How different is the process of writing a play to writing this novel?
The sitting, agonising, thinking, procrastinating, doubting, and then celebrating, editing, and deleting are all the same, but plays are quicker to write. Also, a play usually has a central theme or message, and a novel is quite messy and untameable. It’s hard to get your characters to behave. And time is an impossible thing to keep track of.
Describe your novel writing process.
I did research when I came up against a situation that needed backing up. But mostly the story is so much of what I know to be true – opinion and lived experience. I tried to write something every day, and produced roughly 1 300 words a week, with the help and support of the writers’ group. We read each other’s work, and I gave and was given feedback, which was brilliantly helpful. By the end of the year, I had a novel. I was lucky in that just more than halfway in, I gave what I had to my best friend, Melinda Ferguson, who just so happens to be a publisher, hoping to get her feedback. She loved it. She doesn’t usually publish fiction, but she said she wanted to publish this. So that was a clear goal to work towards. And an amazing gift. It’s pretty hard to get a novel published.
What message do you want your readers to get from the book?
I don’t think there’s a singular message, but I hope the book has a moment of messy redemption. Things never turn out perfectly, humans hurt one another, but sometimes, against all odds and in the strangest of ways, we can heal and love.
What do you love to read?
Ooh, the list is long and varied. I love fiction. Kazuo Ishiguro is my favourite. And Martin Amis. And Stephen King. And Margaret Atwood, and Lauren Beukes. And Colin Cotterill and Yewande Omotoso and Ben Elton and Carl Hiaasen and Charles Dickens and Jane Austen. And Melinda Ferguson. There are so many more, but that’s who I’m thinking about now.
In the world of theatre, the past few years (especially over the pandemic) have been devastating. How did you get through them?
I wrote. And went to therapy, first online, and then in real life, and then I wrote some more. This novel is a product of that. Getting back into theatre was very emotional. It was a resurrection. But my feelings about theatre have shifted since I wrote this novel. It’s still my lover, but I’m not desperate for it like I was before. It feels much healthier this way. It’s ironic.
What are you working on now?
I’m rewriting a different novel, one that almost got published, but then the COVID-19 pandemic happened, and it was turned down during that time of uncertainty and fear. It’s quite strange going back to it because it’s a pre-pandemic story, and during the worst of the pandemic, it made no sense at all. I couldn’t imagine the world ever going back to a “normalness”. And yet, here we are. As if it hadn’t really happened except for the scars. Suddenly, the story is viable again.