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
“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