“Fat Chance” by Malla Duncan was recommended to me by a friend. Not usually a friend of humorous crime fiction I reluctantly followed her recommendation and was pleasantly surprised to find a book that made me laugh a lot.
We are in Italy and are following the investigation of a serial murder of fat women. Besides the police detectives there are a group of colourful fat women doing their own snooping amongst the suspects
The sense of humour really worked for me, I thought those characters were brilliantly chosen and the solving of the murder was cleverer than I had anticipated.
This is a great beach read, highly amusing.
“This delightful, witty story moves at a spirited pace, with Malla Duncan’s talent for description transporting the reader not only to the warmth and beauty of the Amalfi Coast, but into the middle of a great mystery.”
“I absolutely adore this book! It’s witty, intelligent, humorous (I laughed out loud often), suspenseful, has twists and turns, is set in Italy (who doesn’t love the Amalfi Coast?), and is without a doubt well-written. The details, the setting, the characters, the story – all fantastic.”
What made you decide to be a writer? Have you always written?
Writing began for me at the age of seven when I wrote a poem because it popped into my head. Once I had discovered the joy of creativity and power words can give you, I was hooked. I wrote screeds of poetry after that – inspired oddly enough by the great war poets of the 1st World War – Sassoon, Brooke, Owen. I eventually wrote my first short story at the age of seventeen and achieved publication in a local magazine when I was nineteen.
I think one desires to become a writer rather than decides. They say writing is a drive that shows itself at a very young age. Often it’s a hankering for something you’re not quite sure of – then gradually this feeling hones to a compulsion that sees you spending chunks of time by yourself with the people in your head. You don’t always see an end – you just want to conquer the characters – to bring them out whole and vibrant on paper in a way that makes them seem real and memorable.
How did you come up with the idea for Fat Chance?
Fat Chance grew out of desperation. I had written children’s books, horror, women’s thrillers – and struggled for years with agents and rejection. Finally I thought I was writing the wrong thing. I needed to try a new genre. Friends told me: ‘Write something funny. You can do funny.’ So I chewed that over. Then I thought that people also like recipe books. Imagine combining funny and food! What a combination! (Been done before, I know, but I was overwhelmed by the magnificence of my idea.)
Then I expanded possibility by adding murder as a factor – this book was going to spoof all those formulaic thriller novels out there. Yes! Once I got to this point I knew I would combine murder and recipes. Couldn’t be better. Then Marsha pushed into view: one of those rather overpowering characters who nurse all sorts of secret doubts about themselves. When Milly joined her, equally large but rather timid, I knew I had a novel.
I lined up a recipe designer and we were off! Except the designer was never able to get around to those puddings – so the recipe part was ditched and ‘Fat Chance’ was born as a comedy murder mystery laced through with the universally identifiable problems of food and fatness.
Which character did you most enjoy writing?
Characters are like babies – once you’ve brought them out they’re pretty much with you for the rest of your life. I’ve always believed that your characters shouldn’t be anything like you as the author – they should be entirely different. The writer is simply the vehicle through which people and situations are brought to the reader’s attention.
If I had to choose a favourite character from one of my books, I would choose Ilsa Joubert from ‘Deep As Bone’ – my first psychological thriller. Ilsa is a dark little number, somewhat sly and underhand, a plotter and manipulator who doesn’t really let you know much about her – it’s only looking back over the book that the pieces fit together. And yet the great thing about Ilsa is that you can’t help liking her. I liked her in the beginning when she seemed good, then I liked her when she got bad, and when she got really, really bad – liked her even more. I’m probably as puzzled by this as the reader.
Tell us about your other books.
‘Deep As Bone’ was my first adult book of any substance that I actually completed. A London agent loved it but was unable to sell it. Many new writers don’t realize that just cracking an agent is not the end of the story – the agent then has to sell your book to a publisher and goes through all the difficulties that a writer experiences in trying to attract an agent in the first instance. Most publishers are wary of unknown names and wary of books that are too ‘unique’ – books that don’t have what they consider follow-up value. Many publishers will say that they want ‘something different’ but not so different that the writer cannot write at least six others in the same in look, feel and tone.
‘Dark Sanctuary’ became my next offering but was – as everybody had feared – completely different in feel and tone. I deliberately cut the writing to short and snappy, a modern thriller tone because I thought that way I would be more engaging and acceptable – but I was still unsuccessful because by the time I had finished with the rewrites the agent requested, I had a different book altogether – and nobody was happy.
‘Catchee Monkey’ was my third offering – an ambitious book that wanted to capture a sense of neurosis in the main character, a touch of paranoia which would add beautifully to the mystery: is she right about her husband trying to kill her – or is she just plain nuts? But now the agent didn’t like the characters – who granted were somewhat dark and irritable, but to my mind very much reflections of real life. So at this point agent and author parted ways, a tad distressed.
Since then, I have gone on to write humorous books for African children – the Miki series. There are few books out there for African children at affordable prices. I also began a fantasy series for children The Shadow Garden series and Book I is on all sites as ‘The Vampire Castle’. I also wrote in 2012 what I consider my last thriller offering: ‘One Night’ written exactly the way I wanted to do it and a book that I was happy to publish straight to the Net.
How have you found the experience of self-publishing? What were your highs and lows?
Self-publishing has been an exhilarating experience. I absolutely loved it – loved being able to write without interference, enjoyed the learning curve on formatting, thoroughly adored deciding on my own covers. That said, for any kind of success you have work at marketing continually – otherwise your book is going to hang like a lightless star in cyber space. It’s all about keeping traction on social media – and of course, writing the right kind of material that is popular on the Net. I would never advise people not to self-publish – it’s one of the great joys afforded to writers – but be prepared for disappointment. Not many people make money with ebooks. Those that do are lucky. I don’t think there’s a secret magic formula – but what I do know is that any clever person who comes up with a way for self-published writers to connect more successfully with readers, should be dipped in gold.
What is your advice to new writers?
If I had to mention all the things I’ve learnt over many years of writing, I’d fill a book! So I’ll just offer a couple of pointers on key aspects I’ve struggled to master:
1) Your point of beginning is key. Where in the story will you begin? How much back story are you leaving yourself to write? How will you get that across without spending pages talking about the past? Really good writers always have an intriguing beginning. They also manage to lay scene and character and back story neatly in about three pages or less. Or they cleverly interlace the back elements into the current text. This was for me, the most difficult part of novel writing to get to grips with. Often I would be at chapter four and suddenly realize that the beginning was entirely wrong and needed to be redone from a different point in time or point of view. It’s nothing to panic about – but as you gain experience and confidence, you will develop a ‘nose’ for this and it will get easier. Eventually, I found the prologue structure extremely helpful in laying out a snippet of back story that would ‘lead’ the rest of the book without cumbersome explanations.
2) Your reader is not stupid. Readers pick up the elements of the story, scene and tone very quickly – so don’t tell them the same thing twice. Every page should introduce new information that takes the story forward. That goes for dialogue as well. There is nothing worse than pedestrian conversation – kills a novel stone dead. Everything your characters say must be relevant to the story. If you don’t keep tight control here, your characters can wander off into idle talk and it’s really difficult to bring them back. Don’t waste space on the page. Add behaviour and description into conversation – this develops characters as they speak – ie: He wasn’t smiling but there was a cheeky glint in his eye.
3) Writing is always about the re-writing. Get to like editing because initially it’s going to be about two thirds of your work.
How do you handle criticism of your work?
Fortunately, most of the feedback I’ve had so far on my writing has been positive. But there’s hardly a writer out there that doesn’t get the nasty little one star from time to time. I got a one star on one of my books because it wasn’t for free! So no matter what you do there’s always someone who might not like your story or your style – or who, for that matter, may just want to hurt you because you have written something really good.
As a copywriter, I learnt to take criticism in my stride otherwise I couldn’t have done my job. But criticism is also good. If I do feel a reader has a point, or enough readers come back with the same complaint, I will always look at my work again and try to rectify the problem. All writers should only have one aim – and that is to continually improve. Readers who take the time to connect can be very helpful. I for one, am very grateful to those who take the time to give feedback.
What are you working on now?
Several things fill my head at any one time. At the moment I’m considering Book II of The Shadow Garden series as Book I ‘The Vampire Castle’ is selling so well. I’m also in the middle of a paranormal murder mystery that I might continue soon. And of course, I’m looking at a sequel to ‘Fat Chance’.
Tell us one weird thing, one nice thing, and one fact about where you live.
I can tell you that in one statement: Table Mountain. I live in its shadow. The weird thing is that I never get used to it. I look at it in wonder every day. It has been an inspiration to much of my writing in all sorts of ways: moody under cloud it’s good for mystery; draped in misty wraiths it’s good for dark fantasy; and clear-cut against the sunset just makes the imagination soar!
Malla Duncan lives in Cape Town and writes across a range of genres from women’s thrillers ‘women-in-jeopardy’ to children’s fantasy, romantic adventure and humor for African children. Her thrillers focus on ordinary, flawed women in extraordinary circumstances. Fast-paced for intrigue and tension, her novels are geared for readers who enjoy mystery and suspense.
You can find Malla at Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/vi…
You can join Malla on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Malla-D…
Follow on Twitter: @MallaDuncan
Find on Amazon: http://tiny.cc/tshiyw
author, comedy, Fat, Italy, Malla Duncan, murder mystery, overweight, South Africa