In Conversation with: Sara-Jayne King

My name is Sara-Jayne King, I was born 1980 in Johannesburg, South Africa, as the result of an affair, illegal under apartheid’s Immorality Act, between a white British woman and a black South African man. I was given up by my biological mother (because of my race) and adopted by a white couple in the UK. I returned to South Africa for treatment for an eating disorder and drug and alcohol addiction in 2007. Since then I have been on a journey of discovery about my identity, biological family and recovery from addiction. I am a journalist and radio presenter (I have radio show on Cape Talk) and writer. In 2107 my memoir Killing Karoline was published by the Jacana Media imprint MFBooks Joburg. 

Where did your passion for writing come from?

I guess it came from my love of reading. I have always devoured books and loved the written word and the joy of relating through language, I think it was inevitable that I would discover the beauty and catharsis of writing and realised from a young age the power it for introspection and connection.

How did you get into journalism?

After initially studying law at university, I was left with two choices – pursue a career in law or do something I thought I would be passionate about. I applied to do my master’s in journalism, got some work experience while I was studying and fell in love with radio. I’ve been lucky to travel all over the world and work for several excellent broadcasters. Before my current role as a presenter at Cape Talk I was with South African TV news station eNCA – I’m not sure I’m really made for TV! It has been a real joy getting back into radio. It’s my preferred medium.

How was the process of writing, Killing Karoline and how long did it take?

It was really a baptism of fire. Very difficult, extremely painful. I would write a chapter and then go to my therapist and cry on the floor for an hour.  I started writing when I was in rehab in 2007. Just a few thousand words. Then I met my publisher, Melinda Ferguson in 2015 and she said she wanted to publish me and that was it. I basically used writing as a form of therapy, I like to say I wrote myself into existence.

What do you hope people will take away from reading your book?

That it is possible to heal from one’s past. That we are stronger than we think we are. That we are ALL flawed. That black is BEAUTIFUL. That South Africa is a wonderful, but damaged country and that the reality of adoption for adoptees is far less ‘fairies and unicorns’ than the adoption ‘industry’ would like us to believe. 

Who has been your favourite person to interview so far?

I can’t possibly pick just one, there’ve been so many over the years! Boyz II Men were a real highlight, because I’m such a fan! They were all so charming and professional. Russell Simmons was very cool. Former ANC MP Makhosi Khoza is an absolute firecracker. Pearl Thusi is a dream and comedian Anne Hirsch, is hysterical. Maps Maponyane is a sweetheart. Beyonce is a nightmare (kidding, I’ve never interviewed Beyonce).

What have been the highlights of your career so far?

Honestly, my whole career has been a highlight. So few people get to do the thing that makes them happy, I am blessed in being able to combine all the things I love (talking, writing and travelling) and get paid for it. Long may it continue! 

What has been the recipe to your success?

Luck, and a little bit of talent!

How would you describe a typical day in your life?

There’s no such thing and that’s why I love what I do. There’s always someone new to interview, another story to tell, another chapter to write.

When are you happiest?

Swimming in open water, getting into a freshly made bed (preferably in a lovely boutique hotel with a view), talking to my dog, meeting people who’ve read Killing Karoline and hearing how it’s given them hope. Seeing my book in airport bookstores – that’s something I’ve dreamed about since I was a little girl.

What else do you get up to when you are not working?

I love to walk my dog on the mountain in Cape Town. Although CPT is the whitest city on the planet, and sometimes does not feel like it is even a part of Africa it has its redeeming qualities, like the incredible landscape! I’m also an avid traveller. Later this year I’m going to San Francisco and hopefully Bali and Australia after that. I will always have the travel bug. I’m also determined to do more of the continent in the future.

If you were to give something up for a year what would it be and why?

Well I gave up drugs and alcohol in 2007 and it was the best (and most necessary) decision I ever made. There are many things I’d like to give up completely (smoking, for a start!), but just for a year? Probably social media. To remind myself of a time before I felt compelled to tell the universe what I had for breakfast.

If you could change anything about yourself what would it be and why?

The older I get the more I’m able to accept my imperfections, but I’d love to rid myself of my procrastination, and I’m sure my publisher would too! I’m currently working on my second book (working title The Truth About Going Mad, out in 2019.) and often find myself rearranging my nail polishes to avoid writing!

What important lesson has life taught you?

The truth will set you free (and clothing stores are out to destroy you – buy what fits, pay no attention to sizing!)

What advice would you give to younger self?

You are enough, you cannot be all things to all people, to thine own self be true. Also, the numbers on the scale do not determine your worth.

What is the soundtrack your life?

More and more I think the soundtrack of my life is walking in rhythm to the beat of my own drum.

What are you most proud of about being South African?

I’m most proud of the fact that it’s something my father gave to me. We were reunited following the publication of Killing Karoline last year and he is the most wonderful man. He has embraced me with a love and acceptance I never thought possible. I adore him. It is still unfathomable to me that my biological mother would want to keep us apart.

What advice would you offer to young and upcoming writers, aspiring journalists?

Sometimes you will only be able to afford to eat rice. Oh, and pay your dues. At some point we all have to collect vox pops and get shouted at by politicians.

How would you like to be remembered?

As a bad ass black woman who never dusted her Pulitzers. 

Social media & website links

@thisisSJKing (Twitter and Instagram) @sarajayneking (Facebook)

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