A Quickie with Marilyn Cohen De Villiers

Tell me about your latest book and why we should read it?

Deceive and Defend is the third book in the Silverman Saga trilogy. On the one hand a murder mystery and courtroom drama; on the other, an examination of such controversial subjects as journalistic ethics, incest and mental incapacity. While it ties up the loose ends from the earlier books (A Beautiful Family and When Time Fails), it can be enjoyed as a stand-alone fast-paced read, set against contradictions and conflicts of contemporary South Africa.

If someone was to write your life story what would the title be?

It’s never too late.

What’s the strangest fan question or request you’ve received?

A woman, a total stranger, sidled up to me in the lift at my local shopping mall and whispered: “Please tell me who Alan Silverman (A Beautiful Family’s main protagonist) is. I was also abused and I’m sure I can help the family to deal with it.” She became quite agitated when I told her that Alan Silverman did not exist outside the pages of my books. When the lift doors opened, I fled.

If you could co-write with anyone in the world (alive or dead) who would it be?

I can’t choose only one, so I’m going to name three (and my choice will probably change tomorrow):

Louisa May Alcott – for writing a story that inspired my love of reading.

Leon Uris – I lost count of how many times I reread his books. He introduced me to holocaust literature although my favourite of his books is “Battle Cry”, which has absolutely nothing to do with the holocaust.

Jane Austin – for the way she made what are essentially parochial little romance novels into inciteful social commentaries with brilliant female characters that dance off the page.

Tell me something nobody else knows about you (yet!).

I once failed a creative writing exam in primary school (aged about 11). The teacher said I had “an over-active imagination” as a result of reading too many photo-story magazines/comics. I loved those comics!

Finally please recommend 3 books that you have recently read and tell me why you’ve chosen these.

When Breath becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi. My mother passed away late last year and I found this moving and insightful memoir by a doctor who was facing his own mortality, strangely comforting. He touched on issues that are very close to my heart – and which may inspire my next novel.

The Dovekeepers – Alice Hoffman. I wish I’d read this book before I visited Masada, the mountain fortress in the Judean Desert and the scene of one of the last (and futile) stands by Jewish survivors of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. This beautiful, haunting book weaves an incredible tale of love, courage and tragedy, bringing the ruins, little more than piles of stones, to life.

Still Alice – Lisa Genova. This is a remarkable book that deals with a truly difficult subject without becoming mawkish. I loved the way the story is told from Alice’s perspective, as she finds herself disappearing into the void that is Altzheimer’s Disease. It moved me as few other books have.

Who is Marilyn Cohen De Villiers?  I was born and raised in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs, the youngest daughter of an extraordinarily ordinary, happy, stable, traditional (rather than observant) Jewish family. After matriculating at Northview High School, I went to Rhodes University in Grahamstown where I served on the SRC, competed (badly) in synchronised swimming and completed a B. Journalism degree. This was followed by a “totally useless” – according to my parents – English Honours (first class), also at Rhodes.

With the dawning of the turbulent 1980s, I started my career as a reporter on a daily newspaper, working first in the news and later, the finance departments. During this period, I interviewed, among others, Frank Sinatra, Jeffrey Archer, Eugene Terre’blanche and Desmond Tutu. I caught crocodiles; avoided rocks and tear smoke canisters in various South African townships; stayed awake through interminable city council meetings and criminal and civil court cases – and learned to interpret balance sheets. I also married my then news editor, Poen de Villiers, who passed away on 15 March 2015.
After the birth of our two daughters, I ‘crossed over’ into Public Relations with its regular hours and predictability. My writing – articles, media releases, opinion and thought leadership pieces and so on – continues to be published regularly in newspapers and other media, usually under someone else’s by-line.
The unexpected death of a childhood friend and colleague in 2012 spurred me to take stock of my life. A few months later, I started writing A Beautiful Family. This was followed by When Times Fails – and part three of the Alan Silverman saga will hopefully be released in 2018.

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