For Books’ Sake Talks To: Joan De La Haye

16th Oct 2012


Joan De La Haye writes horror and some very twisted thrillers. She invariably wakes up in the middle of the night, because she’s figured out yet another freaky way to mess with her already screwed up characters. Joan’s interest in some seriously weird stuff is probably one of the reasons she writes horror.

Born in Pretoria, South Africa, Joan is the youngest of three children raised by parents in the Diplomatic service. Joan was educated abroad, finally completing her education in Vienna. She speaks three languages, is qualified in clinical hypnotherapy and also has a diploma in Fine Art and Creative Design.

FBS: In your psychological horror novel, Shadows, Sarah is a young woman who has to turn inward for her strength. At first a passive victim, she has to become pro-active in the fight for her psychological survival. Does she symbolize the changing role of women in society?

JdlH: That’s actually a very interesting point. I didn’t even think of that. I must admit, I don’t really think about those sorts of issues when I’m writing. I’m simply trying to tell a story. I leave seeing the deeper meanings in my work to other, far more intelligent people.

FBS: Like the charismatic Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, the demon Jack is a delicious anti-hero. Who is Jack and what does he represent to Sarah?

JdlH: Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed him. He seems to be everybody’s favourite. Jack is a demon with a very human side. He represents all of Sarah’s fears, especially a fear of losing her mind the way she thinks her father did.

FBS: In his Memories, Dreams and Reflections, Carl Jung speaks of spirit beings as both creations of our unconscious (the anima and animus) and as separate entities. Is Jack a real demon or a creation of Sarah’s unconscious? As a character, is Jack purely a creation of your imagination or is he based on a particular mythology?

JdlH: It’s up to the reader to decide if Jack is real or not. They also have to decide for themselves if Sarah is completely nuts or if she’s sane. I didn’t base Jack on any mythology or other character. He just stormed his way into my unsuspecting mind and wouldn’t leave.

FBS: The horror in Shadows is, at times, unflinching and reflects a harsh view of the nature of humanity. Are we doomed? Is there hope for us in the future millennia?

JdlH: Just as Sarah struggles, but manages to overcome and survive, I think we, as a society, can survive and overcome the obstacles and our baser natures. We just have to want it enough.

FBS: There is a scene of sexual violence in Shadows, which reduced me to tears. Did personal experience underpin this, or any other scene in Shadows?

JdlH: Yes. I was raped and used the writing of that scene as a way of exorcising that experience. It was very cathartic, even though it was incredibly difficult  to write.

FBS: Your own independent company, Rebel e-Publishers, first published Shadows. But the re-issuing of Shadows, as well as the release of your new novel Requiem in E Sharp, has been with independent press Fox Spirit, based in the United Kingdom. What were the challenges you faced in independently publishing your own work? Why change to another independent press?

JdlH: I left Rebel a few years ago. I found it difficult to be both a publisher and a writer. As a publisher my own writing was pushed to the back burners and I had to focus on other writers books. I had to make a decision. I chose to be a full time writer rather than being being a full time publisher. It was a tough choice, but one I had to make.

Publishing is a tough industry and I trust Adele from Fox Spirit to take care of the publishing side of things while I get to do what I’ve always wanted to do – Write!

FBS: What makes a good story? And, if a person should read only one horror story in their life, which scary story is that? 

JdlH: That’s a tough question. There are so many intricate things that make a story good. It has to flow. The characters have to be believable. The plot has to be engaging and exciting. It has to draw the reader in from the very first line and not let them go until the last word. A good story has to leave you breathless and begging for more.

As to which horror story someone should read – that’s also a tough one. There are so many really great horror novels to choose from. I’d say read Misery by Stephen King. It got me hooked on horror.

FBS: With two Nobel Literature Laureates (Nadine Gordimer and JM Coetzee) in our history, South Africa has a strong reputation in literary fiction that focuses on political and social imbalances. Lately, genre fiction in South Africa is exploding, particularly the crime, horror, sci-fi and romance genres. How big do you think South African genre writers are going to be internationally? And what do you think has caused this welcome addition of genre fiction to our literary scene?

JdlH: Genre fiction has been big internationally for quite some time. South Africa is only just catching up now. We’ve been a little slow, but we’re making up for lost time. The only limit to how successful we can be is the limit we set ourselves. South African writers can compete with the very best of the international writers, we just have to stop thinking locally. It’s a big world out there. 

FBS: In Shadows, Sarah’s cat Gypsy is a strong support for her. If you had to choose a pet for yourself, which would it be: a dog or a cat?

JdlH: I love both cats and dogs. I have a Siberian Husky called Tolstoy as well as the real Gypsy, who seems to be attached to my lap. I couldn’t choose between them.

FBS: Since Shadows, you’ve been busy with other books. Tell us about them (and do we meet Jack again?)

JdlH: I have two other books out at the moment. A serial killer thriller, Requiem in E Sharp, which is set in Pretoria. And Oasis, which is a zombie novella, also set here in South Africa. I’m busy working on another novella called The Race. It’s too early in its development to go into detail, but I can say that there are swords involved and lots of blood.

Fans of Shadows have demanded that there be a sequel. I get a lot of requests for more Jack, so I guess at some point I’m going to have to satisfy those demands. It should be interesting having Jack running around in my mind again.

Joan’s novels are published by Fox Spirit (UK), and if you’d like to learn more you can read an excerpt from Shadows or purchase any of her titles here.

Judy Croome