Asylum – Marcus Low #blogtour


I’m thrilled to be on the blog tour today for Asylum written by Marcus Low and published by Legend Press. Many thanks to Lucy Chamberlain for organising the blog tour.

Barry James is detained in a quarantine facility in the blistering heat of the Great Karoo. Here he exists in two worlds: the unforgiving reality of his incarceration and the lyrical landscapes of his dreams. He has cut all ties with his previous life, his health is failing, and he has given up all hope. All he has to cling to are the meanderings of his restless mind, the daily round of pills and the journals he reluctantly keeps as testimony to a life once lived. And then there’s an opportunity to escape.


Marcus Low is a Cape Town-based writer and public health specialist. He completed a MA in creative writing at the University of Cape Town in 2009 – for which he wrote an early draft of ‘asylum’. He previously worked as Policy Director at the Treatment Action Campaign, an influencial South African civil society organisation that advocates for the rights and interests of people living with and affected by tuberculosis (TB) and HIV. He remains involved in public health policy both in South Africa and internationally. His novel ‘asylum’ was in part inspired by the incarceration of patients with drug-resistant forms of TB in South Africa circa 2008 – something he directly encountered in his work. He was born in Vryburg, South Africa in 1979.

1. Hi Marcus, thank you for agreeing to this Q&A session. Tell us a little about yourself and your background? I was born in 1979 and grew up in the last days of apartheid. For the last decade or so I have worked in public health in South Africa while writing on the side. I have an MA in creative writing from the University of Cape Town.

2. What can you tell us about your book(s)? My debut, asylum, was partly inspired by the quarantine of people with drug-resistant tuberculosis in South Africa circa 2008. While asylum is structured somewhat like an escape thriller, it is unapologetically bleak and literary.

3. What was the most difficult scene to write? The scene in which the protagonists escape from quarantine finally succeeds or fails never felt quite right until I rewrote it well into the editing process – when it finally fell into place.

4. How did you develop a taste for writing? I suspect the compulsion to write, rather than a taste for it, started with reading an awful lot of books in my teens. Being encouraged to write more by one or two kind teachers probably also played a part.

5. How do you think you’ve evolved creatively? In Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the father often says to his son “let’s take a look” when they see signs of life in an abandoned town or city. I’ve learnt the patients to sometimes wait and “take a look” with creative ideas or pieces of writing.

6. What is your writing Krptonite? The biggest problem in my writing life is self-doubt and imposter syndrome. The odd bout of depression also doesn’t help.

7. If you could tell your younger writer self anything, what would it be? I would tell him to write at least an hour every day and to read more widely. He would do only the latter.

8. How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader? I can’t think of my writing in these terms. The writing either works or it does not. If it works, I trust the reader will be okay.

9. What literary pilgrimages have you been on? When I find a writer whose work I love, I often devour all his or her books. In recent years I’ve been on such journeys with James Salter and WG Sebald. Earlier journeys with JM Coetzee and Fyodor Dostoevsky still resonate.

10. What advice would you give to aspiring writers? Try to tell the stories only you can tell. Write every day, but also take the time to rewrite and rewrite again. Don’t obsess about getting published.

If you would like to follow the Asylum Blog Tour, you can do so at the following dates:

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