Lauren Beukes discusses her career, fantastic South African writers, and her latest project, “Marvel’s Jessica Jones: Playing with Fire”

"...Journalism gave me a backstage pass to the world and inside other people’s heads. It taught me an eye for detail and dialogue and different perspectives. I wouldn’t be the writer I am without that foundation..."

Lauren Beukes is an Arthur C Clare Award winner from South Africa. Prior to her career in fiction, Beukes cut her teeth as a journalist; a background which has given her fiction a sense of realism and emotional authenticity few authors can claim. One of her latest projects take into the Marvel Universe as she and others co-wrote the audio drama, Marvel’s Jessica Jones: Playing with Fire (App Store, Google Play) . Wanting to learn more about her career and her latest works, I was able to interview Beukes for ScifiPulse.

You can learn more about Beukes by checking her homepage and following her on Twitter at @laurenbeukes.

Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some stories you loved experiencing? Are there any you enjoy revisiting?

Lauren Beukes: I loved Greek mythology and fairy tales, and when I was about ten or eleven, tore my way through the comic series, ElfQuest, which my mom recommended to me. It’s been a joy to revisit some of that with my own eleven-year-old kid, although I’d forgotten how much sex there is in the later issues of ElfQuest. I’ve tried in vain to get her into my 2000AD collection and the Ballad of Halo Jones, but she’s just old enough to be resistant to things I like because I’m the tragically uncool mom. We have loved watching She-Ra together though and it’s been so wonderful to see the series evolve with awesome queer characters.

Yanes: When did you know you wanted to be a professional writer? Was there a moment that this goal crystalized for you?

Beukes: When I was five years old and I found out making up stories was a job you could have. I was sold from that moment.

Yanes: I’ve been lucky enough to interview writers from South Africa and other African nations. As a result, I am aware that there is a lot of great content being made in South Africa. With that said, what are some South African stories you think the world should know about?  

Beukes: Mohale Mashigo who writes SF, fantasy and horror short stories that are uniquely South African takes on old tropes. Check out her collection, Intruders. Charlie Human’s bonkers fanstasy sci-fi, Apocalypse Now Now is a hellava ride. Cat Hellisen is doing intriguing things with fantasy and horror, Fred Strydom is straddling lit fic and genre, and in straight up literary or crime there are too many to mention – and I’m going to get in trouble.  The Johannesburg Review of Books, which, disclaimer, I’m on the advisory board for, is a really good place to start, maybe with Rémy Ngamije’s short story, The Neighbourhood Watch, which is up for the Caine Prize.

Yanes: As a former journalist, how did you transition to the world of fiction? Are there some fiction writing skills you think journalism helped you develop?

Beukes: Journalism gave me a backstage pass to the world and inside other people’s heads. It taught me an eye for detail and dialogue and different perspectives. I wouldn’t be the writer I am without that foundation. I always wanted to write fiction, but looking back on the novel I wrote when I was 17, I’m very grateful I put in many hundreds of thousands of words in journalism first.

Yanes: Your latest project is Marvel’s Jessica Jones: Playing with Fire. What was it about this project that appealed to you?

Beukes: She’s such a brilliant character, but it was also the opportunity to work collaboratively with a kick-ass team, which is one of my favourite things. Other minds are amazing! The process was a delight, an exhausting delight, but so inspiring to riff off each other’s ideas. It was an honour to work with these extraordinarily talented people.

Yanes: Though Jessica Jones has been around since 2001, Krysten Ritter’s unique portrayal of the character is what most people know of. How did Ritter’s performance shape the way the character was depicted in Marvel’s Jessica Jones: Playing with Fire? Were there certain elements of Ritter’s performance you wanted reflected in this story?

Beukes: We were specifically writing the comic book version of Jessica rather than the TV version. So of course, Ritter’s performance was in the back of our minds, but we were going back to Brian Michael Bendis’ original comics and also making her our own.

Yanes: Marvel’s Jessica Jones: Playing with Fire was written by team that included you, Else Sjunneson, Zoe Quinn, Vita Ayala, and guided by Julian Yap. How did this process differ from your normal experiences? 

Beukes: Nine hours a day over three days in the writers’ room breaking ideas was exhausting but so rewarding. It’s like being trapeze artists as opposed to a solo performer. You catch each other, you help the story soar to greater heights. Everyone had a unique voice and perspective and when we got stuck, we were all on it, sparking, working through it. It’s much richer and more interesting because it was a collaboration.

Yanes: How did writing for an audio story differ from your other projects? Specifically, were there certain writing challenges unique to audio storytelling?

Beukes: I’m used to writing for animation and all my books are in audio, so it wasn’t an alien process for me. It did mean we had to break up long stretches of dialogue, which isn’t my first instinct.

Yanes: When people finish Marvel’s Jessica Jones: Playing with Fire, what do you hope they take away from the experience? 

Beukes: I hope they enjoyed the serialization and the different voices coming together to tell one compulsive story that’s absolutely, essentially Jessica Jones.

Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?

Beukes: My new novel, Afterland, is out July 28th. It’s very strange to have post-pandemic book coming out when we are still living through the turbulence of a real one and will be for a while yet. But it’s less about the pandemic and more of a pulp road trip novel about a mom and a son on the run across America in a world where most of the male population have died. (And yes, I’m going to head this one off right now – it does share the same basic DNA as Y: The Last Man as well as a long history of other men-are-dead SF dating back to the 1900s).

Remember, you can learn more about Beukes by checking her homepage and following her on Twitter at @laurenbeukes.

And remember to follow me on twitter @NicholasYanes, and to follow Scifipulse on twitter at @SciFiPulse and on facebook.

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