INTERVIEW WITH RIZéL DELANO
What inspired you to write this book?
I was inspired by Tin Hinan’s legend when reading how, in 1925 AD, archaeologist Byron Khun de Prorok, with support from the French army, discovered Tin Hinan’s tomb in Abalessa near Adrar of the Ifoghas, the ancient capital of the Ahaggar, or Hoggar region of Algeria. Byron Khun de Prorok discovered a well-preserved female skeleton in a burial site, possibly a dwelling converted to a tomb, dated to the second half of the fifth century (450 AD). In 1933 archaeologists made a more thorough investigation which revealed the skeleton of an unusually tall woman about forty years old, her skull was closely related to the Pharaonic type and was deformed in her lumbar and sacral areas. It was decided and confirmed that the skeleton belonged to the famous first Tuareg African Amazon Queen Tin Hinan.
How did you come up with the title?
I thought Tin Hinan would be difficult to read and switched to the one word spelling of her name for easy reading. I chose the leading character’s name – Queen Tin Hinan – as title (Hinane) as all the other high-roller-money-making titles were taken [grin], so I chose one that would capture interest.
How much of the book is realistic?
I would say everything is realistic about it, or was at the period in which the book plays out. I did a lot of research and stuck to the truth, and what was relevant, as far as possible.
Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Most of the characters are based on people I’ve met before or still know. I believe that we learn so many interesting things about people around us when we look closely, and it was easier to keep an image of a specific person in mind when writing about him or her, but obviously the characters evolved much from the basic models I chose and ended up as different people. Some emotional experiences and feelings are based on some of my own experiences, or what I’ve learned from life from others.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Finding time to finish it and balancing it with other writing projects in order to still earn an income.
Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
Yes apart from the historical facts and incidences that are portrayed in the novel, I’ve learned a lot about having patience and how to persevere. If something is important enough you will move worlds to obtain it, no matter how long it takes or what you need to sacrifice. This book was worth many sacrifices, when my friends went out having fun, I wrote, when others went on holiday I wrote, when most had a Sunday relaxing afternoon, I wrote.
What was one of the most surprising things you’ve learned in creating your book?
That our minds are far more powerful than what we could ever imagine. Also characters can sometimes even surprise the author (their creator) and do things totally unexpected.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
Oh yes plenty. Read the book, read between the lines and think about what you’ve read or what I didn’t write, listen carefully to my thoughts while I wrote it, let’s see if you pick up on them. I believe my thought energies of the time of writing and pondering, still cling to the words.
What is most inspiring about the book? Meaning why should people read it?
The book illustrates how we can derive much inspiration from nature around us and the warrior within each of us. It shows how to tap into available resources and build a rewarding life upon that. Elizabeth Hardwick once said, “The greatest gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination.”
That’s why people must read this small piece of legend what could have been real history. But most of all, I write to enrich people’s lives. As a writer, I’m making visible what, without me, might perhaps never have been seen or known.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
No. I researched the subject very carefully over and over and planned the outline meticulously. It was actually a screenplay at first which helped a lot with the plot and character development.
Tell us a little bit about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you go with that particular image/artwork?
I designed it. The idea is to showcase Hinane with the two personas, one of queen where she has to lead a life demanding authority and responsibility, and the other as warrior that portrays her free and daring spirit. Although she mastered both, she remained torn between the two personas, when she was the one, the other was pulling and vice versa. The photos illustrate her accomplishment of developing the trading routes across the Sahara and her totem animals which were her constant support. For some the cover might seem busy but I wanted to break away from the normal type of covers we generally see in bookshops. Let’s see how it pans out.
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing the story to life?
There were not a lot of facts available on the legend of Tin Hinan per se. The Tuareg in ancient times were not record keepers like the Romans, so there are no accurate accounts of affairs. The challenge was to stick as far as possible to historical facts and elements or events of the time to stay relevant. Mentally – it’s taxing to write, constantly having to concentrate and be creative, so I need a lot of healthy brain food and keep physically fit to make up for all the time in front of the laptop screen.
Which characters will you find hardest to part with?
Hinane for sure. She’s still with me every day, giving me strength and inspiration.
Who is your favourite character from your book and why?
Amezwar, Hinane’s husband. He reminds me of the good, solid, quiet and dependable type, someone to ground Hinane. And me [grin]. He’s like having a rock to cling on to in a rough storm.
How about your least favourite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
Tuberon. He reminds me of weaknesses we all have. We can all overindulge at times and sometimes act out of character for personal gain and pleasure, and then react totally irrational about the outcome – which we off course created ourselves.
What other books are similar to your own? What makes them alike?
I can’t think of anything right now, but when I decided to write it at first, Gladiator the movie, or the epic genre came to mind. I thought at the time the story of Tin Hinan could make a great movie. I still think so and will work towards finding a producer for it. Although six years ago a Hollywood producer told me it will cost around US$350million to produce Hinane and advised me to write the book instead, for the time being. So we will see about that [wide grin].
Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?
The book is for people with an open mind and active spirit. People who would like to know more about culture, history, about northern Africa in the 5th century and also how Christianity influenced people’s lives at that time. Also for people who are not scared to explore their own minds to find the truth. And off course, anyone who wants entertainment!
Will there be a there a sequel or series?
How long did it take you to write this book?
Seven years from concept to publishing it online in October 2013. I had a lot of other work to deal with in the meantime and wish I could have had this done years ago already…
How about a snippet from your book that is meant to intrigue and tantalise us:
Hinane drew bow and arrow, turned in the ride, nocked and aimed. The arrow left the bow swiftly and hit the one with the gaping teeth in the neck. His eyes flared when the arrowhead pierced through to the other side, dragging with it small bits of flesh as he tumbled from his horse.
Hinane continued the charge with the remaining three following closely on their heels whilst preparing to fire the next arrow. But when Burn stumbled against a rope trap tied between two trees, the two women slumped into the earth with the bow and arrow flying from Hinane’s grasp. Burn rose on fours in an instant, standing befuddled while Hinane rolled onto her side, then on one knee searching for Lunja with flashing eyes, her heart pounding thick in her throat.
What books have most influenced your life most? Why?
Wilbur Smith’s River God. I think it was written with so much skill and creativity, he is truly a master of the written word. I wanted to write like that and it prompted me to learn more and more about the craft. River God was adventurous and exciting. I struggle to find a book as equally entertaining.
If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Wilbur Smith again for sure. His command of the English language is superb, a true wordsmith as they say.
Who is your favourite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Bryce Courtenay. I just like his style as I like Wilbur Smith’s off course. Then there is also Gary Jennings.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
No not really.
What do you think makes a good story?
Good characters and realistic events delivered with bare honest emotion and insight.
Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
I do a lot of research for clients and sometimes an idea is sparked off from a tiny piece of info, or even a word or two.
Who is(are) your muse(s)
My three teddy bears. Collectively I call them the Buksies. They are also the main characters in a children’s book I’m planning to write in two years’ time. They are exceptional companions and access a part of my brain which I can’t. They come up with the most outrageous ideas, which work very well [wide grin].
Do you see writing as a career?
Absolutely. I’ve been writing for the past 23 years. Started in business writing in PR and reputation management and as the years past made sure I can write anything for any application. But I’ve learned writing fiction gives me the mind’s freedom I so crave.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
It came naturally from a young age and I can’t really recall something specific now. Maybe the day when I wrote an invitation to a company’s yearend ball for all its customers and clients… My client was delighted and I discovered I have a knack for storytelling.
What are your current writing projects?
I’m in the process of writing many things – fiction and non fiction.
Is there anything else you find particularly challenging in your writing?
No. For me it’s all pure enjoyment and enrichment. The only challenge is to get peace and quietness around me when writing, which has been and still is the hardest part. I need to buy a farm somewhere far away from the crazy busy life we live in.
Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Yes and no. It depends what I’m writing and how much info I still need to source.
Do you ever experience writer’s block?
Never. If you work according to an outline and plan with carefully laid out possibilities of what characters might do, or events that can occur, you never experience a time when you don’t know what to write.
How many books have you written?
One creative nonfiction on a travelling trip from the Zambezi River source in northern Zambia to its mouth in Mozambique. We did it on BMW HP2 motorcycles with three backup vehicles. The trip took five weeks and was one of the best trips I ever undertook. I wrote various other travel articles though, one which I changed into a mini book, a trip I did from Durban in KZN to Blantyre in Malawi, hitchhiking through Mozambique and Malawi.
Have you ever hated something you wrote?
No. Hate is a strong word in this context [grin]. When I don’t like something or a sentence I change it until I feel it’s right.
What is your favourite theme/genre to write about?
Historical fiction no doubt. And then action, adventure, crime, thriller, mystery and sensual romance.
What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?
Write write write. From dusk till dawn. My daily job is also writing for clients and corporates so I’m constantly in front of my laptop and my schedule doesn’t really change at all. I don’t think I would function well if I have to go to an office every day. We waste lot of time on the road, time in which people could be more productive and deliver better work. I’m lucky I guess to work from home with no stress at all. I make time for physical training every morning, and I walk a lot to keep my brain free from cobwebs.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
Hmmmmm can’t think of any. Except maybe discuss the next scenes with the Buksies in which we explore several outcomes [grin].
Can you remember one of the first things you wrote? What makes it memorable?
I wrote many things, except poetry, so it’s difficult trying to remember. My first article I ever wrote for publication was an article on Trust which was published immediately by True Love Magazine. After that I wrote so many articles that got published I can’t remember them all.
Have you ever stepped out of your comfort zone and discovered a whole new genre of writing? How did it turn out?
Yeah erotica. I’m quite good with that [naughty grin]. I was surprised actually how easy and fun that was. I think we all have fantasies sexually, and writing about it is almost as exciting as the deed itself [blushing with a chuckle]. I think women should relax more on the subject and really explore that part of their beings and love themselves for it.
What, in your opinion, is the hardest step in creating a masterpiece?
The constant discipline every day to write. Many people want to write a book, but it takes discipline, healthy habits, patience and time.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
A correspondent (journalist) and videographer in times of war. Danger excites me. It still does. Now for the thrill I will sit in the bush, and wait for an elephant or rhino to approach and see how close I can get to take a photo or record a video.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I used to consult often with clients on corporate communications, but I now try to only consult in writing techniques and storytelling. I would like to travel more in future. As a hobby, I produce videos and short doccies.
What does your family think of your writing?
Most of my family is deceased; I only have a sister in Australia, a brother in Zambia and my son who is a curriculum developer in online education, a lifestyle consultant on physical wellbeing and performance regarding health and movement. I don’t think my brother and sister even know what I do for a living. We are scattered and each does his/her own thing. But my son is very supportive. I have many friends who are simply awesome fun and sometimes give me moral support.
Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I can recall one very special ones. Carol Carter, who has always been there for me in times of need, no matter what it was. She lives in La Lucia close to Umhlanga in KZN and I love her company.
How do books get published in today’s industry?
The traditional way is still very difficult to break into as around every corner and under every stone is a writer who wants to get published in print. The competition is fierce. But there are many online market possibilities with the emerging of eReader apps on mobiles and tablets. So it is getting easier in digital markets, but to get it printed and distributed, remain a challenge.
What is up for your future?
Another book, maybe travel and documentaries.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
No. Just do what you feel you have to do. Write what you feel you want to write. And be what you feel you have to be.
Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Enjoy Hinane. If you going to unfairly judge the book by its cover or this interview, you might miss an amazing story [wide grin].