Mia Arderne is no stranger to writing as an expressive form, with an incredible reputation as a writer across journalistic publications, exploring identity politics and mental health. Her first novel manuscript—while unpublished—received recognition by being shortlisted for the Jacana Dinaane Debut Fiction Award in 2015. Reflecting on her literary background, Mia shares that she “worked as a columnist for Marie Claire and Cosmo for a while and I learnt the value and difficulty of making complex topical issues accessible”. She has also written short stories in AfroSF and Short.Sharp.Stories: Die Laughing. With all of this under her belt, the announcement of her first published novel Mermaid Fillet ignites a curiosity and an excitement.
Goddess: “Don’t be taken for a poes. This is particularly hard to remember when it’s year end. You’re defeated. You’re tired. You’re weakened. Don’t get taken for a poes. Not by those who wanna employ you. Or even those who love you. They will all try it. It’s festive. Stay wys”.
This excerpt already lets readers know the book is fast-paced and brazen. In this version of Cape Town, there’s a Goddess who casts raging red storms when female bodies are abused. This is the story of a network of wannabe gangsters, the search for a Tamagotchi and the smokkeling of mermaid tails. The book rallies together lovers of cheeky literary pursuits, advocates of sharing South African-inspired narratives and those who appreciate the fantastic as an invitation to experience the familiar and unfamiliar simultaneously. Mia’s description of classic cars also prompts charges of nostalgia and desire; pulling one’s own memories into the unfolding of characters and scenes. She describes the writing style as “Kaaps, magic realism, noir—I only Googled this word last week tbh but ja, that—and I take the piss out of ‘woke’ discourse a bit, so that style of writing features too”. This crime novel is unapologetic in its reflection on violence, how particular bodies are read, the experiences of women and taking chances.
It’s not for children. It’s probably not for your ouma. It’s not for anyone offended by strong language, explicit sex, gratuitous violence, blasphemy and complex dynamics with religion. But if none of these things offend you, it may be for you.
The presence of people and experiences growing up (immediate and peripheral) became inspiration for the development of the story.
Growing up, my neighbour was a kingpin. I always admired his Maserati and his Audi R8s. Also—unrelated—there was a predator in my early childhood life. He taught me how to create. A lot of it was sparked by a reckoning with that kak. And my mother. We have deep inter-generational conversations about identity, the universe, pain and bliss. I process everything with my mother. More broadly, the Northern Suburbs of Cape Town. It’s all inspired by the Northern Suburbs.
Sharing more on the title for the novel, Mia explains that it draws together three meanings: firstly, in the underworld that exists in the book, mermaids are commodities sold like abalone/perlemoen. Secondly, it represents the aspiration and the constant pursuit of the unattainable. Lastly, it symbolises depression. “My characters fall into a paralysis in which they’re unable to move from their mattress for so long that their legs splice together into one limb – like a mermaid’s tail”.
The Instagram account for the book includes digital tarot cards with embedded voiceovers embellished with a collection of character-specific emojis serve as introductions to those who live between the pages. These multimedia teasers mimic the visual and auditory productions that take place in our minds as we read, laying the foundations of personas while still leaving room for our own character mapping and emotional connections.