On Researching Ritual Murder

It’s been about a year and a half since I started writing Strong Medicine, but the idea for the story has been on my mind for a lot longer than that. The book is finished now; read, re-read, edited, rewritten… After all this time with a story like this under my skin, I feel almost lost without it.

That’s not to say I’m putting this one in a drawer to gather fish moths and dust. I’ve been hard at work querying and hopefully this story will find someone as passionate about it as I am who will help me bring it to you.

In the meantime, however, I feel like I need to talk about how this story came to be, and to do that I need to tell you a little bit about Strong Medicine.

Erin returns from work to her worst nightmare: Her 9-year old daughter, Lindsey, hasn’t come home from school yet. It’s almost dinner time and nobody has heard from Lindsey since early that morning when she left for school.

Panic-stricken, Erin goes to the police station to report the disappearance.

Erin discovers that her daughter has been kidnapped by an inyanga, a traditional healer who uses human body parts to create medicines (muti).

I’m not going to tell you more, because, you know, SPOILERS!

Shack-scene-2012
Die Antwoord provided a lot of inspiration while writing Strong Medicine

This is not a light topic. The truth is that in South Africa as many as 300 people are abducted every year so that their body parts can be used in traditional medicine. I was raised with constant warnings of not talking to strangers, because I might be kidnapped and “chopped up for muti”.

I suspect that most white South African’s of my generation were given similar warnings while growing up.

The terrible fact is that this is not just a scary story, it’s a very real danger for hundreds of people in my country.

You can hardly pick up a newspaper in South Africa without reading about a child being mutilated or killed, with body parts removed. Some of these children survive atrocious attacks. It’s terrible, heartbreaking stuff, and I wish there was something I could do to put a stop to the whole business.

As it is, the only power I have is the power to create stories (some might say it’s a blessing, other’s would say it’s a curse). So, I turned my mind to writing about muti murders in South Africa. And, after some magnificent brainstorming sessions with my good friend Jinx, Erin and Lindsey were born into my mind.

Shame.

I couldn’t just create two characters and make up a bunch of scary shit though. No. I had to research the truth about muti murders. I had to delve into the dark, bloody corridors of the internet where eye-witness accounts of torture, mutilation, and death, dwell in the shadows.

All the scary stories of my youth came back to haunt me.

While the specific events in Erin’s story are fictional, they are based on all-too-real events that tear families apart and leave children, hundreds of children, maimed or dead.

I have a folder full of disturbing videos, and a Pinterest board full of “inspirational” images. And every time I open either one I am struck by how important this story is.

Animal parts are openly used in muti.
Animal parts are openly used in muti.

I wrote this book to help bring the truth of this terrible cultural practice to light. But I also wanted to write the best possible book that I could, and I think I have done so. It was incredibly difficult at times. I have three small children of my own and writing some of the darker passages in this book left me in tears. I hope that my emotions transferred into my art.

Soon this book will find an editor who feels as passionately about it as I do, and when that happens it will be published. I hope that my work will make a difference to someone’s life. Somewhere.

Now you know what I’ve been working on since January 2014, and why. Maybe I’ll share some of my research with you next time.

 

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