When is a pod­cast not a pod­cast but a book? The man to ask is STEVEN BOYKEY SI­D­LEY who’s used his ob­ses­sion with this medium to turn it into a satir­i­cal novel of fic­tion in­formed by all-too-con­tem­po­rary fact

South African Country Life - - Author Interview - WORDS NANCY RICHARDS PIC­TURES SUP­PLIED Free As­so­ci­a­tion (R270) is pub­lished by Pan Macmillan www.pan­macmil­lan.co.za

“IOf his lat­est ti­tle, Free As­so­ci­a­tion, the polymath Boykey Si­d­ley ex­plains, “About five years ago I be­came smit­ten with pod­casts, those beau­ti­fully pro­duced im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ences on ev­ery avail­able sub­ject. I lis­ten to them for at least three hours a day in traf­fic jams or at the gym - Ra­di­o­lab, This Amer­i­can Life, The Skep­tics Guide to the Uni­verse. Might he pro­duce his own pod­cast one day? Not likely. “Not sure I’d be any good.” He did turn his hand to play­writ­ing, though, in tan­dem with his writer wife Kate. “But we nearly got di­vorced three times dur­ing the first page." Mean­time, be­tween books he bus­ies him­self with con­sult­ing and build­ing cryp­tocur­rency. Be­cause, well, why not. but what is in ev­i­dence is Boykey Si­d­ley’s re­mark­able abil­ity to de­liver se­ri­ous sub­jects like home­less­ness, schizophre­nia, death and de­men­tia in a way that is satiric, in­tense and of­ten hel­luva funny in a very twenty-first cen­tury way.

Then one day the ce­les­tial choir ar­rived on my shoul­der and said, ‘Why don’t you write a book about a pod­caster and his re­la­tion­ship with his pod­cast?’ And so, on Na­tional Podcasting Net­work, along came US-based Max Lurie welcoming lis­ten­ers to his Free As­so­ci­a­tion. And to quote the con­flicted, neu­roses-rid­den Lurie, 'It started as a lark, be­cause the uni­verse had de­cided I was a fail­ure as a nov­el­ist, and podcasting seemed like a way for me to es­cape a life of bit­ter­ness and re­gret.’

In no way should you search for similarities be­tween Lurie and his au­thor, Then one De­cem­ber, fol­low­ing a boozy heated din­ner de­bate with friends over the ve­rac­ity of sci­ence, he spilled his rage into an ex­tended email. Sobered, it mor­phed into his

En­tan­gle­ment in 2012. Not a man to waste words or mo­men­tum, En­tan­gle­ment was soon fol­lowed by two more nov­els,

Step­ping Out and Im­per­fect Solo. later at UCLA I shared a room with Rian Malan. I was mur­der­ously jeal­ous, not just be­cause he was good but be­cause writ­ing seemed like such a mean­ing­ful way to spend a life – pour­ing thoughts onto a page and in­flu­enc­ing pe­ple." never in­tended to be a writer, but it was baked into my child­hood.” His ‘deeply im­pas­sioned Amer­i­can mother’ fed the young Steven Boykey Si­d­ley books – Joseph Heller, John Updike, Philip Roth, Nor­man Mailer. “I was prob­a­bly way too young to ap­pre­ci­ate the depth, but I un­der­stood enough to go back to them years later.” Cou­pled with in­tense in­put from his jazz pi­anist-engi­neer-en­tre­pre­neur fa­ther and fam­ily din­ners sea­soned with de­bate and ar­gu­ment, there was no way that this Boykey child was go­ing to get away with a dull, dis­in­ter­ested mind.

And so it is that he’s ap­plied it in many dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. His career, sorry, ca­reers, have seen him as an­i­ma­tor, chief tech­nol­ogy of­fi­cer, jazz mu­si­cian, soft­ware de­vel­oper, video-game de­signer, pri­vate eq­uity in­vestor and tech­nol­ogy en­tre­pre­neur. He started his for­mal stud­ies in sci­ence at Wits, but trans­ferred to a Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Los An­ge­les (UCLA) post, which he stayed in for a fur­ther 17 years. He tells the impulsive story of how he popped back to South Africa for a fam­ily emer­gency, went to a party, met his now wife Kate and de­cided to stay. Back in the States, he quit his job as dig­i­tal ef­fects di­rec­tor at Dis­ney, picked up his sax and a photo al­bum, told his house sit­ter to keep the rest and came ‘home’ in 1995.

He’s full of great sto­ries. So how did the writ­ing of them start? “Truth is I had an English teacher who said I should write, and

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