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Heart-Wrenching Interview with South African Journalist, Dorothy Knight

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Knight's latest book, Death and Innocence, was released this week by Damnation Books.

Q: Based on your career as a Journalist, what prompted you to explore fiction writing?

Fiction writing was always to me just a natural extension of journalism. Before writing an article, I did immense research on my subjects, and often found very interesting tit-bits that unfortunately had to fall by the way-side as newspaper articles seldom exceed 500 words. These fascinating tit-bits had to be told, and as I jotted them down every night, they formed into many different stories in my mind. Of course I added colorful tails, big floppy ears and curly horns. As one of my first editors said to me many, many moons ago: “Never let the facts stand in the way of a good story.”

Q: Do you feel that writing fiction complements your life as a Journalist? Please give details.

I don’t do much journalism any more. I have done it for 27 years and feel at his stage that I have seen, done and written about it all. I started out as a Political Journalist, which was very exciting as I worked for the left wing press that hammered the old Nationalist government. It was great fun trying to outsmart the Security Police at the time, but one gets older and when one has children, one tend to run out of steam sometimes. The last decade or so I did investigative journalism, anything from crime syndicates, gun smuggling, child pornography rings and we even once penetrated a notorious cult and closed it down. I do get asked from time to time to write the odd piece, which I only do if the subject interests me.

Q: Your life has been spent in South Africa, and there are many hardships in that region of the world. What if any positive impacts have you had from a life spent in South Africa?

Like most bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young journalists, I thought I could change the system and expose it all. We couldn’t despite the proverbial pen being mightier than the sword. The system is just too powerful. We could change some things within the system though. We, Frans van der Merwe, one of my mentors, and I, managed to put enough pressure on the ANC government to build schools, fix hospitals and restore clinics and voiced the stories of many people through our articles. Sadly we could not tell everyone’s story, nor could we solve everyone’s hardship. We did what we could to help but a handful in this land of hopelessness.

Q: Is there any censorship where you live that limits or has limited what literature is available to you?

How many pages have you got for this answer? Under the Nationalist government we were severely censored. The Security Police would come into the newspaper offices and literally cut our copy to pieces. Or they would break in and destroy our offices – smash our computers and once even set the office alight. They would terrorize us journalists by cutting our tires, hack all our conversations and wake us up with Alsatian dogs in the early hours of the morning and search our homes. But there were bad things as well. I mainly remember that we used to laugh at this harassment –some male journalists were badly roughed up but the worst that ever happened to me was when a huge policeman slapped me so hard my teeth rattled.

When the ANC government came to power some twenty years ago, all these censorship laws were dropped and things seemed to go well for a while. Then we journalists started hammering the ANC about the increasing crime statistics, the corruption and the mismanagement of public funds. This prompted them to write a Secrecy Bill – which they are currently trying to pass through our parliament, but they are failing to get a two-thirds majority.

There is a huge public outcry against this Bill as it would restrict the journalists immensely in our struggle for Freedom of Press. Journalist would not be able to write anything about the government without the copy being checked by the ANC government before being published. It brings back so many fond (?) memories of being a journalist under the Nationalist government. More information on this can be found on the web pages of the Mail & Guardian (South Africa) newspaper.

Q: If you had to save one book from a library during an apocalypse, which title would it be and why?

Definitely Billy Bryson’s Down Under. This book still makes me laugh out loud. Bryson is hugely funny.

Q: Your writing is very succinct, and at times, brutal. However, that is the nature of the environment the characters live in, and unfortunately, a reality in some parts of the world. What emotional conflicts did you have transitioning the horrors of reality in South Africa into a novel?

I thought that the staccato style writing would fit in well with the crime stories that I write. It is done deliberately as I wanted the impact of my words to be as fast and piercing like a gun shot. And yes, my stories are brutal. Much like life in South Africa. Our crime stats are staggering and increasing; and the government seems unable to stop this wave of transgressions.

About ten days ago a six week old baby girl was raped by her 24-year old uncle. But sadly she is not the only one. As a journalist we dealt with it almost daily. My new novel, Death and Innocence, deals with this subject. I cannot tell all the heart rendering stories I had tried to comprehend, but I can make the world aware of these heinous crimes against little girls. When I write about this, I sometimes have to stop, light a cigarette, take a huge sip of my cold coffee and breathe deeply to compose myself. Some images just don’t want to vacate my memory.

Q: Tell us where readers can find you on the internet or in retail stores.

My books, Cannibal Man and Death and Innocence are both available from Amazon.com, Kalahari.com; Damnation Books and locally from Exclusive Books.

Readers that would like to make contact with me can do so on knight.writer.dorothy@gmail.com or on my blog: knightwriterdorothy.wordpress.com

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