Interview with Hawa Golakai, Author, The Lazarus Effect

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She’s young, beautiful, intelligent but has a very a complex mind.  She’s the author of an award winning crime/thriller book, titled the Lazarus Effect, which has been nominated threes times for its outstanding suspense and best fiction crime of first novel of the year. The Lazarus Effect was nominated for three very prestigious awards, namely the Sunday Times in South Africa, the University of Johannesburg debut book prize and the prestigious Wole Soyinka African fiction prize.

Hawa Golakai is now the a fresh name ringing amongst South African writers and she’s one of those who is very proud of her Liberian heritage, which she displayed in her first novel with Voinjama Johnson, her main character, being a Liberian. In 2010, Hawa lunched her debut novel that turned out to be a master of genre.

By profession, Hawa is a clinical immunologist and has practiced for several years before following her dreams of becoming a writer. She obtained her BSc in Molecular and Cell Biology in 2004-2005 at the University of Cape Town with honors. Besides writing, the young author is also passionate and enjoys her spare time indulging in the culinary arts, inventing new things and creative designs, as well as gardening. Her message to any aspiring writer is, “in anything that you do, you have to have a lot of determination and self-confidence. Always persevere, be honest with your work and always be ready to take criticism. Be diligent and basically send your work around as much as possible.”

And for the first time LIB Life was fortunate enough to steal some of the author’s time away for a little tete-a-tete about her novel, and her up coming work. Enjoy!

LIB Life: Thank you for taking up and time to have this chat with us.

Hawa Golakai: Thank you LIB life for inviting me. It’s my pleasure to be here and you know what so great about written media, you’re always relaxed (laughs).

LIB Life: So Miss Golakai, tell us a little about yourself, professional and education wise.

Hawa: Well education wise, by profession I’m a clinical immunologist an so I study infectious diseases, mainly TB, HIV, and other tropical diseases that are prominent in Africa that’s where I did my bachelors with honors and master’s degrees in and I practiced for several years after completing that. So that’s what I am by profession but I also consider myself as a writer by profession because I’ve been writing longer than I’ve been a scientist.

LIB Life: And at what point did it occur to you that writing was your thing?

Hawa: Well, I would say somewhere maybe in my late 20’s I started to take writing seriously; I had never considered it as a profession before that. I think usually a lot of African kids, if they have any artistic inclination, their parents tend not to really take it seriously because the market for artists won’t be serious.  So you’re always told to have a degree in order to make a living out of it. So that was the same case with me, I never really took my writing seriously even though I have been writing since I was a kid. And then in about 2009 I decided to take one of my manuscripts I had been working on and decided to flesh it out into a full novel.  I completed it and 2010 it got accepted for publication and it came out this 2011 and from there on off I decided this was something I really enjoyed and it give me satisfaction, you know, beyond my career as a scientist.

LIB Life: I’m a little curious, looking at you, you really don’t strike me as one with a criminal mind or even one who would hurt a fly!  So why did you chose to write a crime fiction novel?

Hawa: well I’ve always as a child been obsessed with crime, how things work, due process, death, those were things that I was never squeamish about.  I was never a girl who ran from blood, like animals and all that stuff.  I used to love messing with all sorts of living creatures and I think writing crime is like a bridge between what I do as a scientist and what I do as a writer because I like to tackle things that other people may find fearful; but to present it in a way that they may actually see that it’s not really fearful but it’s actually more like a part of daily life. So crime really is a cross cutting in any society, I don’t care where you live in this world. Crime is publicist and I think with the way the world is now, crime is becoming a fascination for the public. So I think writing crime for me now, it gives me a lot of satisfaction personally and also knowing that there’s a huge readership in the area of crime now because people are getting more and more interested in how the law works, and how people who tackle crime work and how forensic scientists work. The whole process of crime has now gotten to be sort of a sensation globally. And I always read crime, it is my favorite genre, and you know they always say, write what you know. And so, for me, that comes easily.

LIB Life: Interesting. So can you please give the readers a little synopsis of the book?

Hawa: Okay, the book is like you said, a work of crime fiction and the main character is a Liberian. Yes, her name is “Vee Johnson” —actually, Voinjama Johnson. You will actually have to read the book to find out why. She is a Liberian like a lot of Liberians who are living in the Diaspora. After the war, she was displaced and she now finds herself living in South Africa. And she is in like, I’m sure a lot of women have been through it, what’s call the rough patch in your life, relationships issues, issues with work, issues with finances, she’s really been through a lot and because of the situation that she’s in personally, she has a case that came across her desk and, I forgot to mention, that she is an investigative journalist, she works at a magazine in South Africa in Cape Town. And so she has a case that she kind of stumbles upon and she begs her managing editor to follow this. And so the story is really about this young girl who had gone missing two years prior to you opening the book and this child was declared a missing person.  The case went cold in the process and so Vee decides that she really gets personally involved in the story and she wants to find out what really happened to this little girl, and the story unravels with her getting more embroiled in the little girl’s family: all the people who could have had a part in how the girl got missing, did she actually go missing, was she killed or did she get another life somewhere else. And yes the story is more and more complex until you actually find out what really happened to this young teenager.

LIB Life: Wow! That’s really interesting. I also learned that you are developing a new project, which is likely to feature protagonist from the Lazarus Effect, Vee Johnson. Tell us about it.

Hawa: Yes I am! You see I’m really proud of this character because it’s like we’ve come a long way together. I think every character you develop is in some way a mirror of you and she’s my favorite, which is why she got to be in the first book (laughing). Oh yeah, she’s a very strong, driven woman and I think on the whole many women from different walks of life will relate to her.  When the first book came out I and the publisher, we both enjoyed the idea that this is a series. The Johnson series. And so it is natural for me because I have quite a few books that I would like to develop with her in it. So it’s quite natural for me that the second book further develops a story and features her new adventure that she goes on in this world.

LIB Life: ok, so have you come up with a title? And when should we be expecting your released it?

Hawa: (laughing) You can never reveal the title of a book before publication. That’s me being superstitious. We’re expecting it to be out hopefully this year. The name, sometimes it goes through so many hanging heads, with editors, the writers, so the name really doesn’t really come out till the final blueprint but before then, the title is always a working title.

 LIB Life: What are some of the challenges that come along with being a writer especially an African writer?

Hawa: Well I think it would be some of the problems you find in general in undeveloped countries like the issues of literacy. A lot of women, they have the dreams to write but you need a back ground of education or some form of education and that’s something a lot of people still don’t have – a platform of elementary school education. But when you’re young, whatever you’re good at its something that people should encourage in you and that’s another thing.  As Africans, we need to really engender that form of pride and motivate our children, regardless of what the child wants to do, I think we should support it. Because like I always say to people, the world had enough problems without having your families not backing you in pursuit of your dream. So we need to really pay attention, if you see a child has a gift, you should nurture that gift in your child because, I mean, there are African writers – men and women — who fought against the odds but now they are household names in Africa. And these people came up in a time where the colonial perception of Africa was such that nobody could really bring anything positive out of this continent, so definitely no literary genius can come and these people really broke all the odds.

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