Paige Nick needs no introduction. As a Sunday Times columnist and prolific novelist, you're guaranteed to have read her or read about her at some point. Her writing is light, warm, funny and often deep without getting too serious or self conscious about it. Pick up any of her books and you'll find an instant escape, with relatable local characters that make it feel like home. Interviewing Paige was like speaking with an old friend. She has that magical quality of making you want to tell her everything. In fact, if it hadn't actually been her interview, I probably would have spilled my whole life story, with all the juiciest, unedited, inappropriate bits. I can see how she's had such success in writing about sex and love. So get a cup of tea (or glass of wine if you're having that kind of Monday) and hang out with our friend Paige.
You're an incredibly prolific writer with a lot of titles to your name. So many titles, in fact, that you could fill most of somebody's Christmas list. I thought it would be fun for me to list all your books and you answer who they would suit best:
- Death by Carbs: Whether you're a banter or a not banter, I think you'll enjoy this book. Whether Tim Noakes is on your hit list or on your Christmas card list, you'll find it a fun read. It's a cheeky, satirical poke at banting. (Buy it here)
- Dutch Courage: Buy it for anyone who's thinking of becoming a stripper in Amsterdam. No no I'm joking. It's perfect for anybody who wants a fun, quick, easy read that will transport them to another place in the world, whether you've been to Amsterdam or not. If you've been to Amsterdam, it's fun to stick your toe back in the country, and if you haven't, it takes you to a country you've never been to before. It's a nice Christmas holiday away if you're stuck in Cape Town or Joburg or anywhere in South Africa. (Buy it here)
- Pens Behaving Badly: For anybody who's ever been a fan of my Sunday Times column, anybody who's ever written into a newspaper or a magazine or even Trip Advisor. It's for anybody who's written a crazy letter or anybody who has a morbid fascination to look into the lives of crazy people. Actually, the interesting thing is they're not all hate mail and they're not all love mail, and they're not all crazy. The one guy who wrote to me quite regularly was a school principal. So it's a very interesting, diverse list of people. The other nice thing about Pens Behaving Badly is you don't have to read it from cover to cover. Pick it up and read a column at the time. (Buy it here)
- This Way Up: This is for a slightly younger reader, maybe a young woman in her 20s who wants to go out and experience the world. Again, it's also a fun beach read. (Buy it here)
- A Million Miles from Normal: This is my first novel. I've had the most feedback on this novel where people, mostly women, from 20 to 35, will stop me and tell me how much they loved it. Women in the advertising, PR and digital world will see their lives in it a little bit. Of all my books, it is the one that will appeal most to women. (Buy it here)
- Girl Walks In Series (of which you're the Paige in Helena S. Paige): That's easy. Any guy who would like to get laid. Each of the three books in the series is so full of sex, that any woman who reads one of these books will instantly want to have sex. Men can buy it for their boyfriends, gimps can buy it for their gimpesses. There is every imaginable kind of sex. (Buy the series here)
Give us a brief summary of what Dutch Courage is about?
Dutch Courage is set in a strip club in Amsterdam, where all the strippers are celebrity impersonators. The hero is a woman from South Africa who goes over to Amsterdam. She thinks she's going to be a Rihanna impersonator at a karaoke bar, but when she gets there she realises she has to work in a strip club. She's living in the house next door to the strip club with all the other strippers so she's immediately catapulted into this crazy life and has to figure her way out of it.
Tell us about the spark for Dutch Courage?
I wrote a weekly column for the Sunday Times for four and a half years (I still write it once a month). I decided I wanted to write a column about going to a strip club. So I dragged two girlfriends to Mavericks, which is a gentleman's club in Cape Town. I started to do some research and discovered that next door to the club is an apartment building owned by the club and all the girls from outside of Cape Town live together in this apartment. I became completely obsessed with the idea of all these women living together from different countries. I started to imagine their lives. When their lives started to invade my mind, I knew it was more than a column. What if they don't like each other's cooking? What if two girls who don't like each other share a room? So I phoned the guy who owns Mavericks and asked him if I could move into the house, even for just one night, I so badly wanted to be in there. He got so close to saying yes, I said, "I'll pay you, just tell me how much you want. I'll sleep on the couch, you don't have to give me a bed. I just want to see." Then I think he Googled me and saw I was a Sunday Times columnist and abruptly said no.
Who was the most memorable character you came across in your research?
I travelled to Amsterdam and I went to The Prostitute Information Centre as a starting point for my research there. The woman who runs it is really amazing. She used to be one of the girls in the windows in the Red Light District, so she wasn't a stripper. She was a prostitute. You always wonder what strippers and prostitutes do when they get older - well she's in her mid to late 50s and she's running for Councillor and runs The Prostitute Information Centre. She knows the whole life but now runs it from the outside. She runs tours of the Red Light District and has always got a pot of soup on the stove so any of the working girls who want something to eat can always come and get a meal. She was an absolutely beautiful woman and super smart. I thought she was amazing. The other person who stood out for me was a woman I interviewed in Cape Town. I actually got to her through a guy I know who went to the club and started falling a little bit in love with her. He would spend R60 000 to R70 000 over a weekend, just paying to be with her. I was fascinated by this. Yet when I met her she turned out to be the most ordinary woman I'd ever met. It was a Thursday morning and she was in tracksuit bottoms, she had her hair pulled back. Then she said to me at the end of the interview, "I have to go to Pick n Pay now and do my shopping." It was so real. So at night she's this person who is paid R60 000 for someone to spend the night with her but she's just the most normal girl in the world who has to go to Pick n Pay and buy oranges, Tampax and Sta-soft like everybody else. She was the first woman who became so real to me. They weren't just strippers anymore. They were real women who have exactly the same lives in the day as us.
As you said, every woman comes with her own story. What did you want to explore about our shared experience of womanhood through the setup of strippers living together?
Maybe...judgement. We have such opinions on who people are, which are based on very little. There's a story in the book where a woman comes to the club with her coat over her pyjamas and smacks the stripper because her husband's in the club. She's not just angry with the husband, she's furious with the stripper. OK fine, but this is bizarre, because it's not the stripper. She's not luring him in and paying him to be there. He's choosing to be there. We make these judgements that they're not real people. My discovery - which is so obvious [laughs] - is how real they are and how normal they are.
I think females do that often, where they demonise and objectify the other woman...
I think men do that as well. Men sometimes see a piece of meat. We're actually the sum of our parts and not just our parts. I was also so moved by how smart these women have to be to make it. It's such a hard job. Not only do they have to be physically fit, because it's incredibly gruelling on your body, but they also have to have a lot of street smarts, and they have to be great actresses so they can make the most disgusting men believe that they love them. Women are so incredible, they are so multi-faceted.
Why do you prefer a light-hearted tone for your writing?
Before I wrote my first book, I had an idea for a serious novel in my head. There was no humour in it at all. I tried to write it for about six years, and I didn't get past 10 pages. Then I did a writing course. On the first day we did some writing exercises. The next day, the facilitator asked if anyone had an idea for a novel. I put up my hand and told her my idea, to which she said, "But everything you wrote in the exercises was funny. It doesn't feel like your novel is your voice. It doesn't feel like it's natural to you to be so serious. So for the next exercise just put that aside and write about something else." It was during that exercise that I came up with the idea for Rachel Marcus in A Million Miles from Normal. As soon as I followed my own voice, the writing was so much easier. It just fell out of me. The most important thing a writer can do is write until you find your voice. Once you get it, it's such a relief.
You're clearly quite disciplined as you have a regular output of writing. I don't get this idea that you're musing in a cabin somewhere in the forest and you produce something every 10 years. How did you establish that discipline in your writing life?
A lot of writers ask about my output, because it is seen to be quite high, but I don't have kids, I don't have a husband, I don't have pets and my plants are all cacti. I actually live a pretty selfish life without any dependents. I can write whenever I want to write. If I wake up at 4am in the morning and I can't get back to sleep, I'll just write. I think I'm very fortunate that way. Also, my day job is writing so I really just write all day and all night, and I'm a bit of a loser because I get into these zones where I don't want to do anything else. I just think it's making the time. A lot of people will say they don't have the time, but I always think there's 10 minutes here and 20 minutes there. You steal time from your life. I think I'm a bit of coward and writing is an escape from life. I don't actually have to participate in life if I'm writing. I can just sit with my computer and make time disappear in my own world. I'm also lucky in the sense that I have the column, advertising and the books, so I always have a variety of writing challenges to solve. It must be really hard for people who are only writing books, because where is your escape from how hard it is? You get to use a different writing muscle.
You took a different approach to marketing your book. Why do you think new marketing tactics are important in today's literary industry?
I think we're all struggling, regardless of whether you're a literary or a commercial fiction writer. I'm in advertising as my day job, so I'm always thinking about marketing. I think we need to try some new things and see what sticks.
In your campaign you really connected a lot with your readers, so it seems like the readers are out there and the writers are producing amazing writing. It's just to get those two groups to meet somehow...
I'm going to keep trying until we figure out how to do that. I'm also in the school of writing a book, putting it out there and moving on. I can't dwell on whether Dutch Courage was a success or a failure - I need to focus on my new thing. The danger is that you can become quite depressed. Death by Carbs I co-published because I wanted to try something different, and it was very successful. I'm going to keep trying new things until we find a way out of this. Somebody said this to me today and I believe it to be true: sales of paperbacks are up, so that's something.
What is the one thing you've learned about sex and humanity in your time as a sex columnist?
People love to talk about sex. When I tell people what I do, people instantly tell me three great stories. It's the funnest thing you can talk about. Except my parents, they don't like it so much. Oh and also, deep down we all want the same things.
What excites you about the current South African literary landscape?
I think we've never had such talented writers. We've reached a critical mass of incredibly talented writers. South African writing is a wonderful surprise. Yewande Omotoso's new book is such an original concept and a wonderful surprise - I've never read anything like that before. And we recognise stuff in these stories because we're South African, so that's beautiful. Lauren Beukes is going to bring out a new book soon and I'm so excited to see what it is. Steven Sidley has one coming out next year that I'm so excited about. I think you could only read South African books and never go hungry for anything else.
What is the one word you've written that you never thought you'd put on paper?
Hmmm I don't think I have one because I write a sex column. I think more than that I didn't think I'd write a sex column. That kind of happened by accident. There was scene I never thought I'd write. In A Girl Walks Into a Bar, a guy wants to wee on her in the shower and I never thought I'd write anything like that. How do you ever think you're going to write something like that!
Interested to read Paige's new book? You'll find it on Amazon and at any local bookstore.