Modern History From A Different Perspective
♦ Tripwire’s contributing writer Tim Cundle just spoke to John Carlin, writer of graphic novel Mandela And The General, out now…
TRIPWIRE: Where and when did the idea for Mandela and the Generalfirst materialise? Did you know Oriol Malet before you started work on the book and how and when did you become involved in the books creation?
JOHN CARLIN: It materialised about 18 months ago. My publishers wanted a story that summed up Mandela. I suggested this one. They bought it in one minute flat. I had no notion of Oriol’s existence prior to doing this book.
TW: What was it like working with Oriol Malet? Was it an easy working relationship and is it on that you’ll return to at some future date?
JC: It was a great working relationship! He got the spirit of South Africa and the book’s two protagonists immediately. We developed what I was told by my editor was an unorthodox way to do business but it worked for us. We never had a cross word or even a disagreement. It was fluid and productive from the start.
TW: Being intimately familiar with this period of South African history, how difficult did you find it translating what is a vastly complicated time into the limited space that you had with Mandela and the General?
JC: Not very. Thanks to the excellent guidance of my editor and to the fact that I have worked on a number of film documentaries I picked up the tricks of this new medium (for me) fairly swiftly. In terms of the vast complication of that political time, Oriol’s pictures told thousands of words.
TW: I’m guessing that the book is based somewhat on your own experience of meeting and talking with Constad Viljeon? On a personal level, what did and do you think of him, political ideology aside, as a person?
JC: I not only respect but admire him. He is a man of honor and integrity, in capital letters. HONOUR and INTEGRITY.
TW: As historical accuracy plays a major part in the books narrative, what kind of research did you do beforehand and how did you approached writing the book? Given that you experienced the period first hand, did that make your research easier or harder? Why?
JC: I did not do too much research. I had it almost all in my head and when I had to check details all I had to do was refer to my articles during the time I was a correpondent in South Africa, between 1989 and 1995. I know the South African story well from first-hand experience and from the many books I have read. It’s the easiest research I’ve ever done!
TW: And, given the subject matter of the book, did you have any personal difficulty being dispassionate and factual about apartheid?
JC: I am an old hand at this. Not difficult at all. But dispassionate is not the word I’d choose to describe my feelings about apartheid.
TW: Do you know if Viljeon has seen the book, and if so what does he think about it? Was he involved in the creative process at all?
JC: I doubt he has seen it yet. No, he was not involved. I drew from that memorable conversation I had with him, and from reporting on him back in the early nineties, covering his speeches and press conferences and so forth.
TW: What has the reaction to Mandela and the General been like so far?
JC: So far, damn good. Let’s see if people buy the book now!
TW: How do you feel about the book now that it’s out there? Do you see it as historical chronicle, a factual narrative about correcting the mistakes of the past or something else entirely?
JC:I feel very proud of the work Oriol and I did. I think it’s a good, accessible rendering of a fascinating period of history and of two exemplary men. That’s my opinion, but it would be, wouldn’t it?
TW: What are you working on at the moment and what’s next for you John?
JC: I’m making film documentaries. Possibly a book too, a prospect I am busy exploring right now. More for now I cannot say.
Mandela And The General is out now from Plough Publishing
Here’s our review of the graphic novel too