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Dinner and Murder with Lauren Beukes, Author of The Shining Girls

One of the best parts about working in the book industry is that one gets to meet great authors, and sometimes have dinner with them. Last night Exclus1ves went to dinner with Random House and Lauren Beukes, and we celebrated the launch of this year’s most interesting book (in this bookseller’s opinion). We were also able to bombard Lauren with plenty of questions, and get a great deal of insight into the making of the novel, which involved more research and meticulous planning than most military campaigns are likely to get. Like this murder wall. (Even the Joey Hi-Fi book jacket could be the basis of a thesis.) Visit Lauren on her Books Live blog for more details.


Briefly: In Depression-era Chicago, Harper Curtis finds a key to a house that opens on to other times. But it comes at a cost. He has to kill the shining girls: bright young women, burning with potential. He stalks them through their lives across different eras, leaving anachronistic clues on their bodies, until, in 1989, one of his victims, Kirby Mazrachi, survives and starts hunting him back.

The Shining Girls started as a tweet, and the tweet only lived as long as it took to write the idea down. The tweet contained a single idea – what about a time-travelling serial killer? – which Beukes spun out into a novel spanning a century and discussing crime, history, philosophy, architecture, violence and baseball. (There’s more there, to be sure.) She set the novel in Chicago and across the 20th century to be able to incorporate her knowledge of Chicago into a wide discussion of broader 20th century issues. She had briefly lived there before, and returned to do research, aided by friends found on Twitter. Her research included going through old cases with a cop, visiting historical sites with a historian who also ran a ghost tour and some sneaking around the Congress Hotel (which makes its way into the novel.) The novel is a must for crime readers: it is a bloodless, bloody book that is a triumph of research, as each murder is set in a different decade and detailed through dress, language and location. In order to research everything from language to location to dress to history, Lauren had the help of two researchers, one here and in the US- the latter had named his company after a character in Moxyland. They dug up amazing bits of research, including the story of the glow girl. Lauren listened to podcasts and watched YouTube videos, doing a great deal of research into serial killers to base Harper on.

One of the major impetuses of the novel is to really look at what violence of women really means – a fuller understanding of what it means for a life to be cut short, and the ripple effects of violence through a community, through a family. She didn’t want the violence to be gratuitous  but she wanted it to be visceral. Her research is evident here: one of the influences on the book is Anthony Altbekker’s Fruit of a Poisoned Tree – one of the murders comes from the opening chapters of that book. She also read South African murder cases and the letters from families, and some of the lines from those letters appear in the book.


Lauren is about to set off on a world tour to promote Shining Girls, which will be published in sixteen countries, though South Africa will be the heart of the launch. The Shining Girls is one of those rare books – it is speculative fiction of the highest order, encompassing the landscapes of history, time and human behaviour, and a profound exploration of violence.

And, you know, time travel. Roll on April 15th!

More About Lauren (find her on Tumblr too!)
Lauren Beukes is an award-winning novelist who also writes comics, screenplays, TV shows and occasionally journalism.Her new novel, The Shining Girls, about a time-travelling serial killer is due out in Spring 2013. Her novel, Zoo City (2010) which the New York Times described as “an energetic phantasmagorical noir” won the Arthur C Clarke Award and the Kitschies Red Tentacle. She is also the author of Moxyland, a dystopian consumertopia thriller and a non-fiction, Maverick: Extraordinary Women From South Africa’s Past.

As a screenwriter, she is currently adapting Zoo City for South African producer Helena Spring. She’s previously worked on the satirical political puppet show, Z News and the travelogue of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: The South African Story.

She’s written on kids shows for Disney UK, including Mouk and Florrie’s Dragons and was the showrunner on South Africa’s first full length animated TV series, URBO: The Adventures of Pax Afrika, which ran for 104 episodes from 2006-2009 on SABC.

She made her comics debut with All The Pretty Ponies, a short for Vertigo’s Strange Adventures. She is one of the contributing writers to Fairest, a spin-off of Bill Willingham’s Eisner-award-winning series, Fables. Her arc, The Hidden Kingdom, a dark Tokyo twist on the legend of Rapunzel, with art by Inaki Miranda is out in trade paperback in July 2013.

In 2010, she directed the documentary Glitterboys & Ganglands, about Cape Town’s biggest female impersonation beauty pageant. The film won best LGBT at the San Diego Black Film Festival.

Book Trailer for The Shining Girls

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