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Pat Fahrenfort

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Spanner in the Works Joins the Next Big Thing

Spanner in the Works“The Next Big Thing” is an international game where writers share the news of their latest project. Liesl Jobson tagged me recently. It seemed the obvious way to kick off my new Books LIVE blog by answering the ten questions doing the rounds:

What is your working title of your book?

Spanner in the Works. It is a title that wasn’t really my idea. I had the pleasure of having Antjie Krog help me through the process and we googled the word ‘work’ and came up with the title. In most jobs I’ve had, I considered myself to be a spanner in the works.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I kept journals of my work experiences for a number of years and wasn’t able to make sense of some of the experiences. It was only when I finally registered for a social science degree at the University of Cape Town that some of the courses placed my situation into perspective.

For those of you who read Spanner in the Works and wondered why I wrote it, I thought I’d throw some light on the question. As a closet historian I usually record interesting events. My journey in the workplace fell into that category. My intention was never to go into print. Why would anyone want to read about my menial tasks let alone getting someone to visualise how I did them?

However, various factors contributed to being published. When I realised that I hadn’t the talent for marriage my circle of friends changed – mostly friends who had completed their schooling which made me feel insecure. I went back to school and then to university majoring in Industrial sociology and it was that course that really got me excited about labour issues.

My courses provided me with the analytical tools to make sense of my situation but my situation was by no means unique. I realised that other people, especially women had and still have the same experiences but never talk about it. Maybe they will do so now having read Spanner.

Ultimately, of the 46 years I spent in the labour market, I had 18 months’ real job satisfaction which was being part of writing of South Africa’s new constitution. It was time to attempt getting into print.

What genre does your book fall under?

The book is an autobiographical labour history of my 46-year journey in the workplace in which I tell the history of the country during the apartheid years through work. For example the classified ads specified jobs with headings such as “Fair-skinned coloured”; “Well spoken coloured”; “Coloured of sober habits” – the list of titles is lengthy.

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

Leonardo DiCaprio because he has the ability to adapt into any situation and makes one feel like any role he undertakes is him. Meryl Streep because I can see her as my mother. Penelope Cruz because she is gutsy, funny and serious

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Basically the book deals with how I’ve had to overcome adversity in all the jobs that I’ve had as well as in my life.

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

It has already been published and there is no way I would have entertained the thought of self-publishing.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

This is a bit of a tricky question. I merely kept the journals and had never thought about publishing it and so I worked in fits and starts over a number of years on the manuscript and finally got going on it about five years ago.

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

I have not really come across a book that deals with the issues of work in the way that I did. Someone told me that it has never been done.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I consider myself to be a closet historian. I’ve always made a point of recording interesting and uninteresting moments in my life. When I did my final project which was on women in the workplace I was asked to deliver it at a conference entitled “Roots and Reality”.  A former South African revisionist historian, Professor Shula Marks was a guest at the conference showed a keen interest in my story and spoke to me about Italian working class women who documented their stories. Moreover, my studies as an undergrad provided me with the analytical tools to tackle my situation.

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

I don’t think that my story is unique. There are many women who experienced and continue to experience problems in the workplace similar to mine but never talk about it.

* * *

And now the blog rolls on to Larissa Shmailo, poet, Russian-English translator and editor.

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