Writer in Residence: Margie Orford at the University of York

Margie Orford (John Tinley Writer in Residence) © Imke van Heerden
Margie Orford (John Tinley Writer in Residence) © Imke van Heerden

At the beginning of the summer term, the University of York welcomed the queen of crime fiction, Margie Orford, as a John Tinley Writer in Residence in the Department of English and Related Literature. In addition to running weekly writing workshops at York, Orford also gave lectures on “Writing Violence: Ethics and Aesthetics” at both York and Cambridge, lectures in which she explored the ubiquity of violence in the socio-political and her role as a novelist in South Africa. Citing the prevalence of crime, interpersonal and structural violence in South Africa, Orford argued that crime fiction, which only emerged as a genre after the transition, “seemed to offer a way to contain…fear and to make sense of the obliterating chaos of violence”. With regards to this, the crime novel functions as “a way of interpreting the society upon which it focuses its lens”. Her analysis thus revealed the “links between crime fiction and a liberal democratic order”.

Margie Orford giving a lecture at the University of York ©Imke van Heerden
Margie Orford giving a lecture at the University of York   ©Imke van Heerden

In her own fiction, Orford emphasised the destabilisation of narratives of the “swaart gevaar,” as conceived of during apartheid, in order to interrogate the meaning inherent in acts of violence. Her examination led to an interest in gender-specific interpersonal violence, as exemplified by the Oscar Pistorius case in particular, violence which begs the question of “why men are so violent towards women, why they hate us so”. Orford’s interest is, however, by no means limited to the interpersonal. During her reading from her fourth novel, Gallows Hill (2011), for example, she also highlighted her “search for the origins of the violence that endures so persistently in the present”. Orford also provided both the contexts and readings of her novels: Like Clockwork (2006), Blood Rose (2007), Daddy’s Girl (2009), Gallows Hill (2011) and Water Music (2014).

*Margie Orford is a prolific crime thriller writer from South Africa. She was born in London, raised in Namibia, and currently lives in Cape Town. Orford is also the Executive Vice-President of PEN South Africa, a patron of Rape Crisis, the Children’s Book Charity, and the Little Hands Trust. Visit her website: http://www.margieorford.com for further details on her activities and books.*

– Thando Njovane

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