Q&A – Barbara Adair’s Words on the Times for her novel, ‘WILL, The Passenger Delaying Flight…’ (Modjaji Books)

In a dystopian world that has served up an imperfect future, Adair breathes life into the limbo and emotional baggage of her characters as they travel across the world. Karabo K. Kgoleng – broadcaster, public speaker, writer

Recently we caught up with Barbara Adair for some of her Words on the Times – a Q&A set originally inspired by Clémence Michallon’s set of interviews in the Independent with authors whose launches have been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Adair’s novel WILL, The Passenger Delaying Flight, is one of the latest releases from Modjaji Books.

Colleen Higgs – founder of the feminist indy – started Modjaji in 2007 to provide a platform for innovative, exploratory and serious writing by women. Speaking as part of Zaza Hlalethwa’s recent Mail & Guardian article ‘How a pandemic took the book industry online’ from the small publisher’s perspective, Higgs talks about books, particularly newer releases, as being “…in a kind of limbo. Even though the books managed to make it onto shelves before the lockdown, without book reviews and launches they received very little public attention.”

In a later Twitter reflection on the article, and clarifying the extent of the risk and precarity her press faces, Higgs refers her comments specifically to Adair’s book: due to be launched in Joburg at Love Books and Cape Town at The Book Lounge in mid-March, WILL instead comes out into the #Covoid.

In the spirit of connection and solidarity prompted by these amplified circumstances for the books communities now, we are delighted to be able to share Barbara Adair’s Words on the Times. Adair discusses the cancelled launches, as well as what’s been heartening, and other possibilities for support for WILL – a text which, in keeping with Modjaji’s range of experimental releases, is “innovative in form, self-conscious and self-critical” and a book that challenges conventional assumptions of what “good novels” should be…

AiW: Can you tell us a bit more about your novel and the ways that our current experience/the COVID-19 pandemic has affected your plans?
Barbara Adair: A man, Volker, he is German and is travelling from Frankfurt, via Paris to Namibia. The book is about the 24 hours that he spends in the airport where he encounters many different people who are as transient – some metaphorically, others actually – as he is. There is a trans woman, a person with dwarfism, a pornographer, a child trafficker, a murderer, etc. The characters move into and out of Volker’s life, as they do the reader’s, so the message is – don’t invest in any of these people for they move into your life and move out of it as quickly as the people who walk or run past you in an airport.
The book was going to be launched in Cape Town and Johannesburg ….. then the virus – so the launches, both of them, were cancelled.
I was unhappy, it would have been fun, a celebration, a way to get the book out, all the things that launches are. But then I figured well, the lockdown does not affect me as it does others,  I am not hungry, I don’t live in one room with seven others, so get over it. I can make the book happen another time, and in the meanwhile try to get the word about it out.
It is an apposite book for now for it is about travel, moving from one space and into another, which now, we cannot do.

AiW: In what ways are you working now that you weren’t before?
BA: I am working as I was before. I mainly work from home, so nothing much has changed. The work that I do with Wits university is now done online, we consult on writing through email. But I am working harder as there is nothing like a coffee with a friend, or a quick lunch down the road, to distract me.

AiW: What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in this time?
BA: My friends, and my lover.
I live alone, so have no physical contact with my friends or my lover. But what has happened is that we now talk a lot on the phone. It is almost as if the art of telephone conversation has been reinvented. As has the art of listening. I hate video calls, or skype/zoom meetings, it feels absurd, I can’t touch the person on the screen, it is discombobulating. But I enjoy the sound of a voice. So there is a lot of aural contact. For hours ideas are swapped and issues debated, there is agreement and disagreement, and as we cannot see each other we need to listen more carefully. Listening is important, and now, I am doing it more than I ever did before.

AiW: How can our communities support you?
BA: Communicating with me, reading my book, talking books with me, enjoying swapping ideas.

You can share your book thoughts and ideas with Barbara by writing to us, and we can also join the conversation! – by email (africainwords@gmail.com); with a Tweet @AfricainWords (#WILLthepassenger); or commenting here – below – on the site, or on Facebook. You can also find Barbara via her website: www.barbara-adair.co.za.

And while Modjaji’s online store may have had to close while South Africa is in lockdown, they send all hopes for a safe and peaceful time – “be calm and read books!” – redirecting the (book) love to a visit to African Books Collective – http://www.africanbookscollective.com/. ABC offer many titles as ebooks, and is where you can buy WILL, The Passenger Delaying Flight..., support Modjaji and other independent publishers, and spend some lockdown time browsing a range of independently published books to boot.

Barbara Adair is a novelist and writer. In Tangier we Killed the Blue Parrot was shortlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Award in 2004. Her novel End was shortlisted for Africa Regional Commonwealth Prize. She contributed to Queer Africa and Queer Africa 2, and her writing, particularly her travel writing, has been widely published in literary magazines and anthologies. She is currently working with the Wits Writing Centre at the University of the Witwatersrand. 

‘Barbara Adair is one of South Africa’s most original writers. In WILL, the Passenger Delaying Flight, her voice is comical, dark and wittily allusive. Enigmatic from beginning to end, the novel (set in an airport) never goes where one expects. The narrative is tightly woven; yet still it soars, borne aloft by its own imaginative charge and linguistic richness.’ David Medalie – Writer and Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at University of Pretoria

‘Adair is an accomplished writer with the ability to transport her readers into seductive and, at times, dark worlds she skilfully conjures.’ Barbara Boswell, Professor of English University of Cape Town and author of Grace, a novel.

For other AiW Guests’ Q&As for our shared experiences of now – please see the blog category Words on the Times…

Categories: Conversations with - interview, dialogue, Q&A, Words on the Times

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