Masha du Toit is a Cape Town-based writer and artist who specializes in fantasy and science fiction. The Sister series, the Crooked World series, the Linked World series, and her most recent book Ray and the Cat thing are just a few of her incredible works. I had the opportunity to have her as my mentor while writing The Rescue as part of the FunSza fellowship, and I got to ask her a few questions about herself and her writing
Masha describes writing as a tremendously entertaining game that she will never be able to win. “an infinite puzzle that keeps growing more complex and surprising.” She was fascinated by writing from a young age, one of her earliest memories being writing a letter for a spider in her garden, nothing more than scribblings on a piece of paper, but her creative journey took a turn of its own, driving her into a career in visual art. She returned to writing in her mid-thirties, experimenting with short stories, a moment she says was like “discovering a secret chest full of treasures.”
Growing up in a book-loving family, her passion for science fiction began when she was very young. In an interview with CJ Shane, she says she loved started reading the genre even though she was too young to understand most of it, owing to how her older brother made the books he was reading sound so fascinating.
Dick Francis, Jane Austen and Sarah Paretsky are examples of some of her writers many of whom have influenced her work, while writing the The Babylon Eye from the Linked World series Emma Bull, Garth Nix and Tad Williams as some of the people whose work strongly influenced her.
She also draws inspiration from her life experiences ” I try not to be too obvious about it, but I draw a lot on my personal experience. A lot of the time I am not even aware that I am doing it But often it’s on purpose. ” for example the cyber dog from The Babylon eye , Miestje was partly influenced by her late dog Anastasia. An important aspect when it comes to her writing is writing about her own world and culture “I will sometimes base my characters on real people, and use details of things I’ve noticed in my own surroundings when building up a scene. ” but also making sure that fans from other parts of the world are still able to understand.
The world of science fiction is extraordinary, with anything and everything being possible, the idea of a floating ships in space from We broke the moon and a cyberdog that’s part cybernetically enhanced killing machine and animal can be mind boggling and need quite some research and detailing.
Masha describes science fiction as the very idea driven her writing process usually starts with a character idea. The alternate worlds and technology are built around that “for example, in We Broke The Moon I started with the idea that I wanted to write about a young person who leaves their family to find their feet in an unfamiliar setting, surrounded by strangers and a very different culture. In order to make that possible I had to come up with the two very different space ships in the book, including the Korf ships.”
One of her favourite things about writing is getting to know her characters, seeing characters change and evolve from what she had planned at the beginning. In my most recent book, there is a character called Wren, who is not human. She’s a sort of ghost who has been trapped in a house for more than a century. When I was figuring out how she would have spent her time, I realized that she loved reading, and had read the handful of books she had access to over and over again.
As I was writing a conversation between her and another character, it came out that she’s particularly fond of Jane Austen and also Count Dracula. That fact became important for the plot later on in the story, as Wren’s understanding of the world was influenced by the books she loved.”
Advice for writers
“I would say, follow your passion. While it is good to ask for advice, any advice that makes you feel like giving up on writing, is bad advice for *you*, even if it might work for someone else.
People are different, and have different amounts of energy, money, and time, so something that might work for someone else, might not be helpful to you. Give yourself a chance to figure out what kind of writer you are. The only thing to remember is don’t be boring!