By: Sandy Nene
How many books have you read this year? Well, I’ve only read one. BollyWood Blonde by South African creative Gene Gualdi. I am on a mission of reading as many books written by fellow South Africans, this year. I think I relate more to what they have to say and to their stories. Today I feature and interview Gene, I read her book early this year and after passing it on to a few friends to read, I had finally managed to interview this busy bee. Gene is so humble, and trust me, you get that from just reading her book. This is how our conversation went:
Where is Gene originally from?
I was born in Italy, but my parents moved me to a small town in South Africa called Bronkhorstspruit when I was four years old. I grew up on a small-holding with lots of animals. My father was the local dry cleaner of the town and I went to the local school there where we had an English class with seven children in it and one teacher. The class catered for all primary school English children. One teacher taught grade one’s up until grade seven’s. I did my entire primary schooling in that class. My grade only had two children in it. My cousin and I. I really grew up in a very small towm and a very protected environment.
How would you describe your childhood?
It was so unbelievably magical. I wrote a huge piece in the book about my childhood but it was cut due to word count constraints. The publishers told me that I should use the cut piece in a children’s book. I lived in a very nice house my mother made it very special. My uncle was mayor of the town for most of my childhood and his family lived next door alongside my grandmother’s house and other cousin’s too. We lived as if we were in Enid Blyton’s Magical Faraway Tree. Tree climbing was my best! Being Italian food and sitting at tabled for hour’s playing cards and eating while my father played guitar was the most precious time for our family.
Speaking of childhood; I read somewhere on your book that you went through a very hectic anorexic period. Take me back to the time, what was really going on in your head as you battled for your life, in and out of hospitals;
I was in and out of Tara from the day of my 13th Birthday. I think the huge change from my safe “cotton-wooled” upbringing and childhood to being put into an all girl’s school, DSG was too much for me. I was to do my high schooling years at DSg but if you read in the book what I went through at that school you will see that it was too much for me and my down to earth way. The girls were awefully cruel and bitchy, so were most of the teachers.
My only way to cry out for help was to hit my family’s most sensitive button…Food and eating.
It is very rare for a South African child to go through anorexia, were you also obsessed with losing weight or someone criticised your body?
As mentioned in the book, the PT teacher at DSG would make us undress and all stand in a row. She would poke and prod us in our underwear and weigh us weekly. She was obsessed and would make us come up and stand in front of the rest as she worked her way pinching prodding and pointing out our flaws. I was actually quite lanky and not at all overweight but she made me feel so ugly and kept saying we were pigs on the weekend when we went home etc. so it became a huge issue. I stopped eating at Easter and by July on my 13th Birthday I was skeletal and admitted to Tara.
I know for most people who haven’t read your book don’t really know what ‘Bollywood Blonde’ is all about, summarise it for the readers;
I would like to think that it’s a fun, exciting and extremely funny read filled with some suspense and drama. It’s very easy reading and I have been told by almost everyone that’s read it that it’s very hard to put down. I hope that is the case for whomever else plan to read it.
Its about me and my six years working in Bombay, in the film industry for six long years and how I came to being there and how I survived the huge change.
The story is exactly as it happened. The only changes are the names and some finer detail like Samson Night’s accident was actually a car accident, not a boat accident. I also say there’s a woman selling chiappatti’s on the peir with a shabby “Bakery” sign. The real car accident actually happened in front of a well known bekery in Bombay, called the American Express bakery. Also Bly Avibath has two children in real life, he is not crippled but very sickly in real life. These changes were made as the threats regarding those details had huge implications or so the real people said they would have so I changed where I could to assist me in court if they sued me.
Is there anything that writing this book taught you? What is it?
It taught me that you can do anything you put your mind to.
What books did you grow up reading?
The magic faraway tree by Enid blyton and the BFG by Roald Dahl
Growing up, did you ever think you’d be a writer?
In all honesty I really struggle with people referring to me as an author, and still now I cannot believe I wrote a book.Before starting this venture, I actually truly believed that there was no way I could write. From a very young age I had a very severe block when it came to writing anything. Because I spent a very long time going in and out of Tara during my high school years I got away with murder. During some of my exams, which I often wrote in hospitals I had someone write for me. At university I had a very dear friend, Jane Patrickson, who had her honors degree for Fine Art and English Literature. She wrote all my fine art papers the only ones I had to physically write were the year-end exams and still today I don’t know how I got through. I love to talk and be verbal and during my career I have avoided writing emails at all costs. I would always insist on telephone calls so when Melinda Ferguson approached me on behalf of Jacana I was in a state.
What are you currently reading now?
A bend in the river by V.S Naipaul
Do you have an idea of what book will you be reading next?
No, I don’t read all that much lately but I do fancy trying some of J.K Rowling’s adult books because I’m curious to see how they are in comparison to her Harry Potter master pieces.
Speaking of next; have you ever thought of writing your second book?
I would really like to write again, I’m just not sure yet what it’s going to be.
Or you have already started?
No I’m actually very tormented at the moment about it all but I’m trying to relax go fishing and see what happens.
Give me 5 of your favourite South African authors?
So sorry this sounds terrible but, I don’t have any, I’m not that well read…
I’ve read so many biographies but they are once off.
No I loved white tiger by Arvind Adiga but that’s about all. I have such respect for so many but I seldom read to have a specific author that I follow. I’m a film, photography and art book adorer!!
Remember I’m a artist and photographer so lyric’s from music are my greatest inspiration. To me there is no one better than Leonard Cohen. He writes amazing lyric’s.
What’s the greatest feedback you received from someone that’s read your book?
This sound really pompous but everyone that has read it has given me such amazing feedback and they all say they could not put it down.
If someone asked you to give them one reason they should purchase your book, what would you say?
To really be entertained! It took me six solid months to write, it could be read under a duvet with some great comfort food in a weekend and you will be transported into a fantastic world that will keep you gripped to the end. I know this from what everyone says.
What is Gene’s next big project?
All I know is that I want to change the book into a script and make a movie one day. I so desparately want to direct. I am also working very hard to get more photographic work in South Africa and I am working on a new painting and photographic exhibition.
I’m also leaving on Friday to be the photographer on a Bollywood film shooting in Cape Town for six weeks, despite the controversy caused in India about the book, I still get called a lot to work on Bollywood Film’s.
Has someone asked if you’ll ever make a movie out of your book?
Yes all the time. I am hoping Eric Mabius ( the actor from Ugly Betty who endorsed the book)is going to help me with some producer’s from L.A.
Your last words to the readers…
Phew… for a laugh please watch my video on YOUTUBE.