SA author spotlight: Elana Bregin

I’ve got something a little different on my blog for today. As most of you know, I’m more a fan of YA fiction than anything else; and as such, tend to focus my content around anything that’s Young Adult orientated.

However, every now and then I’m asked to host a post that breaks away from what I normally focus on, and today’s post is one such feature. 

Thanks to the lovely Kelly from It’s a Book Thing (who was unable to feature the post on her blog this week), it’s an absolute pleasure to welcome South African author, Elana Bregin to my blog today.

As part of a group of authors who recently attended The 16th Time of the Writer festival, where authors from all over the world participated in discussions and writer panels, Elana has been tagged by Jo-Anne Richards, who was the blog tour’s last stop, to answer a few questions about her book,  Survival Training for Lonely Hearts.

Before I hand the reins over to Elana, who gives a brief introduction and answers those burning questions about her book, here’s some more information about Survival Training for Lonely Hearts.

About the book:
Kate is a burnt-out South African editor at the busy Centaur Press publishing house; over forty and lonely, she is driven to searching for love on the Internet like so many other overworked professionals.

There she encounters the full spectrum of mid-life manhood, from the perilous to the pathetic to the promising.

The challenges of finding a belated soulmate among the men of the apartheid generation pose not a few conundrums for Kate – chief among them, the realisation of how impassable are the gulfs in outlook between the men who cross her inbox and her own personal non-negotiables.

She goes on some dates, accumulates some bruises, and has her eyes opened to a few things about herself along the way. But it is the collision with her own baggage that proves to be the most daunting encounter of all.

The coming into her life of a young African dog is the catalyst that forces her to some painful realisations: in order to find the intimacy she longs for, she first has to deal with her own destructive patterns. She loses her heart, finds her mojo and, as in all good quest journeys, discovers that the map is not the territory.

Part wry romance, part social commentary, Survival Training for Lonely Hearts tracks the complexities of modern living in South Africa, caught between the collateral damage of the old and the emerging configurations of the new, across divides both personal and political.

Through the experiences of Kate, the online dating milieu and kaleidoscopic interchanges of the book publishing world become an exploration of the broader issues we all face.

Over to Elana

I was thrilled to be tagged for this week’s blog episode of the Next Best Thing by the stunning Jo-Anne Richards, having just spent a memorable week at the Time of the Writer Festival 2013 in her company and hearing her read excerpts from her potent new novel, The Imagined Child.

For newby converts, the Next Best Thing is a circulating set of questions that give writers and other wordsmiths the chance to blog about their latest ‘word pet’.

I’ll be passing the baton on to fellow writing talents Nthikeng Mohlele, Diane Stewart, Jill Nudelman and Sally-Anne Murray, to tell about their own current Next Best Things in next Monday’s blog posts.

What is the working title of your book?

The original title was ‘The Company of Dogs’, which for me summed up the essence of what I had in mind when I first wrote the novel. It’s through the company of dogs that Kate, the protagonist in the story, begins to finds her heart again.

The company of dogs represents the safe comfort zone that we all cling to and in which she would happily have remained for the rest of her life … had fate and her author not had other plans!

The title was changed to Survival Training for Lonely Hearts because the publishing team felt the former title was too amorphous and didn’t give the sense of gritty romance that is one of the books key aspects.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

It came partly from real life, in that I was freshly in mourning for a young dog very similar to the one in the story (in fact her picture’s on the cover!). 

I’d had to put her to sleep after a long battle against liver disease, and I was so traumatised by the loss of her, thinking about all the ways that she’d changed me, by opening up the loving, caring parts of myself that I’d closed off. 

The story really began there, and then evolved into it’s own fictitious journey, looking at things like lovelessness, and the daunting aspects of online dating for over-40s, and the difficulties of finding true love in a society as wounded as our South African one.

What I’m really exploring is how the country and it’s politics and it’s historical divisions and ongoing racism gets between us as people and turns what should be a pleasant social evening out into an ordeal of unbridgeable differences.

What genre does your book fall under?

I suppose you could call it ‘intelligent romance’, well marinated in social commentary! Because it’s a love story at heart, people tend to fling the label ‘chicklit’ at it.

But it has a much broader appeal than that, male as well as female, and a serious intent, which is to examine through the lens of romance where we are as a society, personally and interpersonally, in South Africa now. 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Sandra Bullock would be first prize for the role of Kate (but she’d have to learn to speak proper South African!). The male lead is more difficult – but I’d have fun auditioning!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Burnt-out, lonely, 40-plus editor goes online in search of Mr Right, and discovers that the road to love leads straight through her own painful baggage.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It’s been published by Pan Macmillan, who are just great to work with.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript? It was a 5-year marathon, squeezed into 3-week holiday bytes, which kept running out at the crucial moment. It took so long in fact that I despaired of finishing and threw it up at one point to write a shorter novel, Shiva’s Dance, in between.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I’m no good at comparisons …. It’s like asking me who I think I look like!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My dogs inspired me. Hope inspired me. And South Africa definitely inspired me – the things about it that I love as well as the things that give me pain.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

It has a really irresistible hero (I know, because I made him!). I’ve also been told it gives a view of South Africa that is loving and life-affirming, rather than the negativities this country is so often in the news for.

Thanks for stopping by on the blog Elana.

For more information about Elena, you can head on over here.


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