Up close with Cape Town-based author Qarnita Loxton
Her ‘Being’ series is reminiscent of ‘Sex and the City’, giving that same salubrious dose of feel-good endorphins that comes with a group of women who are there for each other through thick and thin.
Qarnita Loxton’s Being Dianne, launched in 2021, is the fourth book in a series about the lives of four feisty friends (Kari, Lily, Shelley and Dianne) – the stories of their loves and losses, and the way in which they have each other’s backs when the rubber hits the road. It is reminiscent of Sex and the City – giving that same salubrious dose of feel-good endorphins that comes with a group of women who are there for each other through thick and thin.
In Being Dianne, Dianne is struggling to navigate her relationship with her daughters, particularly the elder one, Kate, who has become withdrawn and seems to be harbouring a secret. Dianne’s first post-divorce relationship has fallen apart. She meets a younger woman, Faye, on Tinder. The prickly thing is that the only people who know that Dianne is bisexual are her friends in the awesome foursome group. And while Faye seems to be planning the wedding cake in her head, Dianne, on her side, is nowhere near ready to commit.
The Being series started with Being Kari, which was published in 2017, a year after Loxton’s mother died. “It was a bit of a midlife crisis. I was a lawyer and when I had my first son, I quit my job to start consulting. I found that I needed more – something challenging and creative. I did an online creative writing course and it opened my mind as to what I was able to do. At the time, I had come to realise that female friendships were a big part of my support system. They told us on the writing course to write about something that would sustain us for a year, so I decided to write about the friendships between women.”
While Being Kari is centred on the narrative of how deeply nurturing the friendships between a group of women can be, it also has a sub-theme of the difficulties entailed in intercultural relationships, drawn from Loxton’s experience of being in an intercultural marriage. “Most first novels are a little bit autobiographical. I am married to an Afrikaans man and I am from a Muslim family. The idea of two cultures coming together was part of the inspiration for the first book,” she says. And so, like Loxton, Kari is from a Muslim family. When she marries Dirk, a 38-year-old Afrikaans lawyer, her family severs ties with her. But on Valentine’s Day, in a bombshell plot twist, Dirk tells Kari that he has cheated on her. Distraught, Kari returns to the fold of her family, forcing her to contend with rekindling her relationship with her mother and brother.
Loxton had not initially planned to write a series, but found that after finishing Being Kari, the characters were still “in my head”. “It grew organically from there. It sounds pretentious to say that the women came to me with their stories, but it did sort of happen like that. I felt driven to tell their stories, because they were each such strong characters to me, I felt an obligation to write them,” she explains.
Being Lily was published in 2018 and by then, writing new chapters of the series was a sort of escape: “The books have sat with me through some very hard times. They were a bit escapist in that way, they fed me and kept me going,” notes Loxton.
Being Lily is the story of confident, “together” Dr Lily De Angelo who is about to marry Owen Fisher. They plan to sail into the proverbial sunset with a solid agreement between them that they will not have children. Then Owen’s ex, Courtney, shows up on Valentine’s Day with her daughter, Chiara; they have no place to stay and thus have to move in with Owen and Lily. The penny then drops that Owen could be Chiara’s father.
Two years after Being Lily, Being Shelley, which follows the story of fortysomething Shelley Jacobsen, was released. In this “episode”, Shelley’s life with her husband, Jerry, is mundane and predictable; she loves Jerry, but when she meets 22-year-old Wayde Smith, she’s intrigued. Shelley hires Wayde to work at her coffee and décor shop, because, well, why not? Until things heat up and the chemistry between them suddenly makes Shelley’s dress accidentally fall off. (Spoiler alert: This really does happen, and it’s a definite highlight!)
Being Dianne, the last book in the series, was a lockdown baby. “Writing Being Dianne in lockdown saved me. I struggled with not having contact with people and worried about my family getting sick. I would get up early and write, it was the thing that kept me sane. Writing the book made me feel as if I was in a different reality, one in which I had control. It felt like something that belonged to me alone and it gave me a sense of freedom, a safe space where I could pull myself towards myself,” she recalls.
The idea for Being Dianne was inspired by a chat in a school WhatsApp group when parents were talking about what are appropriate topics for children to talk about. Loxton explains: “It struck me that, as parents, we police our children and we have this disconnect from them – their lived reality is not the same as ours. Increasingly, parents are not able to talk about the issues that matter. Dianne is bisexual, but she has not been able to come out to her family. I wanted to have a character who learns through her children – based on my own experience of learning through my children.”
Being Dianne deals with issues of racism, identity and sexual orientation. It’s a commentary on diversity and the acceptance of others. “I’m not an activist in the sense that I am not confrontational, but I do express how I experience the world through what I write. I’m not the person who will broadcast a message with a loud hailer, but writing is a way of expressing my views. Sometimes laughter is a mechanism for expressing what’s real. When somebody is shouting at me, I can’t hear. But when somebody gets me in a less guarded moment, it makes a bigger impact.”
In this way, all the books in the Being series are skilfully crafted in touching on social issues. Humour is used as a device for opening up our prejudices as a society and Loxton’s writing plants seeds to help readers think about important topics. “The only way we can build empathy is to see the magic in the diversity in our country and city. You don’t have to travel very far here to see something completely different from what you know. I also wanted to write for my generation. Many people in my generation struggle with those who are growing up now – they have a different take on the world, especially when it comes to gender and identity. I wanted to bring the two worlds together, because I think that the conversation needs to happen,” she says.
Loxton recently received the Philida Literary Award, established in memory of South African novelist, essayist and poet, André Brink. The award recognises writers who are consistent in publishing works of excellence. Loxton’s work is certainly worth watching. DM/ML
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