An Interview with Author Paula Marais

Under the Surface Paula Marais

I enticed Paula Marais, author of various romance, mystery, thriller and non-fiction books, to join me on the couch today by offering her Tanzania Peaberry coffee! Thank you, Paula, for taking the time to chat to me. Please sit down, get comfortable and let’s begin.

About Paula Marais

Paula Marais is the author of several books including her recent novel Shadow Self, which was longlisted for the Etisalat Prize. She has a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Cape Town and is an alumnus of Bread Loaf in Vermont, the oldest and most illustrious writing conference in the US. Paula lives in Cape Town and is addicted to travel, quality coffee and beautiful views. For more about her work see her website: or connect with her on:

What’s the name of your new book?
Under the Surface

Paula Marais
Under the Surface By Paula Marais

Tell us a bit about your book
In Charleston, South Carolina, a widow sets out on a global quest to discover the truth behind her husband’s past. Tracing clues to an event that occurred many years before, she’s learning that her husband’s success was built on deceit … and murder.
On another continent, Dr Jay Gifford is on holiday in Thailand mourning the loss of his brother. He doesn’t really want to be there, but he’ll make the best of things, as he always does.
Then, without any warning at all, one of the most catastrophic natural disasters the world has ever witnessed brings the widow and Jay’s two worlds crashing together.
Who is this determined young woman and will she ever find the mysterious man who can unlock her husband’s secrets?
Will Jay find his missing loved ones and his real self?
And in the face of human tragedy, is there still a chance for future happiness?

Give us an insight into your main character. What makes them unique?
In Under the Surface, there are two main characters. Jay starts off as a rather staid doctor, stuck in a rut with no real purpose. The widow starts as a shocked and bereaved young woman who has virtually never left home. Both will realise that the world and travelling can change you in indeterminable ways. The key to both characters is how they learn to adapt to a world that they didn’t ever think they’d encounter.

If you could choose ten words to describe your book, what would they be?
Energetic, literary, page-turning, tragic, romantic, mysterious, well researched, evocative.

Where do your ideas come from?
I have written different books from different ideas. Just the other day I went to a museum with my son and saw one label on an exhibit that inspired me. I often ask myself questions. How would I feel? Why would I…? I love research and as a journalist, I like to get it right, so a story where background research is required often inspires me. I also get ideas from travelling (I keep a detailed journal), from eavesdropping, from reading, from the people I meet…

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Writing with hopefully a few more countries under the belt (I’ve been to 83).

Have you always liked to write?
Yes, my first piece was published when I was 8 – in a major local newspaper.

What writing advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Have a very tough hide and don’t expect to make a fortune. That’s very unusual.

If you didn’t like writing books, or weren’t any good at it, what would you like to do for a living?
I love cooking – so perhaps a cookery blogger. Or a cognitive behavioural therapist – I’m a huge advocate for mental health.

What is your least favourite part of the writing / publishing process?
Self-editing. I am generally quite a perfectionist as I write, so I find it difficult to “fix” work later. And I hate chopping out perfectly good sentences that just don’t suit the plot.

How long does it usually take you to write the first draft of a book?
I usually take a year for a book. My novel Love and Wine was written quicker, but that’s my average.

What are you working on now?
I am working on a novel about the aftershocks of a murder/suicide in the Nambian Brandberg mountain foothills. It’s from the perspective of a young boy who loses his sister. My other novel, A Fish Out of Water, turns stereotypes on their heads – it’s an adoption story, with a twist. I’m finished it, but in the dreaded self-editing phase.

Why should a potential reader buy your book(s)?
As an observer of others, I have found that my readers love my descriptions of both scenery and character. I really get to know my characters and this is important for me as this is how I identify with a book. My novel Shadow Self, which won an award for its translation and was nominated for the top books in Africa (Etisalat prize) told the story from three different perspectives – a dad’s, a mom’s and their daughter’s. I loved the daughter, Sanusha; she said everything most of us would be too reticent or polite to say.

What’s the strangest thing you have ever had to research for your book?
I’ve researched illegal border crossings, been inside a prison, gone to court to watch a murder trial and even learnt how to make cakes with fondant icing. I love doing research. I get to ask about things that I’m curious about. One of the best parts about writing although one can get sidetracked…

Paula Marais

What’s an interesting fact about your book?
I’ve been to every place mentioned in Under the Surface – some of the writing in it includes writing almost directly taken from my travel journals.

Where did your love of books come from?
From my mother. She loves reading and we still like the same books. She is my “ideal reader” and my book Shadow Self was dedicated to her.

How long have you been writing?
Since I could pick up a pen.

What would the main character in your book have to say about you?
My main character would say that I am persistent, brave and caring. I let my characters talk and sometimes I don’t approve of what they have to say, but I’m not saying it, they are. (Something readers don’t always recognise.)

Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day?
I’m an editor, copywriter, homeschooling mother and proofreader.

Are your characters based on real people, are they imaginary or a combination of both?
My characters are usually imaginary with a touch of reality from someone I know. They might have X’s madness, or P’s generosity or M’s wild hair.

When you’re writing, do you listen to music or do you need silence?
I like the white noise of a coffee shop and the smell of coffee brewing.

Who are your favourite authors, and why?
Pat Conroy – his work is pure poetry.
Anita Shreve and Anne Tyler – I like the flow of their work.
Douglas Kennedy – for the way he can keep the plot going.
Wally Lamb – for his characters.
But I read most things and I love non-fiction as well.

What do you find most challenging about writing?
Finding my creativity when I am facing personal challenges, which is currently happening in my life, as my child is rather ill.

Where can readers go to discover more about you and your books?
Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter | LinkedIn | Pinterest | Amazon Author Page | Goodreads

Under the Surface is out now!
Available formats: ebook, paperback
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