Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Small stories, big writers: Best of Short Story Day Africa 2013 Interviews

I got tagged to take part in the awesome Short Story Day Africa 2013 Interviews series (yay) but I kind of felt like I'm not really the target market what with my not being a published author and all (boo). But the two-man team at SSDA (Rachel and Tiah) is doing great work with virtually no resources besides their passion, experience and network of Southern Africa writers and I've really been enjoying other people's interviews, posted on their individual blogs. So, here are my favorite answers:

Lauri Kubuitsile

What’s the most blatant lie you’ve ever told?
I’m fine. I haven’t been fine since 16 January 1964.

If someone reviews you badly, do you write them into your next book/story and kill them?
No, but that’s an idea. It’s been noted.

Rachel Zadok

If you could be any author other than yourself, who would you be?
Neil Gaiman. He’s like the rock star of writers.

Moira Richards

Have you ever killed off a character and regretted it?
No, but they sometimes crash a car into a tree to illustrate the depreciation of fixed assets.

Ernest Hemingway said: write drunk, edit sober. For or against?
Oy, so many more fun things to do when drunk…

Louis Greenberg

What’s the most frustrating thing about being a writer in Africa?
What’s *wonderful* about being a writer in Africa is that you can submit directly to publishers and most of them act in warm good faith and genuinely like their writers. There are various supportive communities and very little back-biting from other writers. The frustration is that writers who restrict themselves to Africa can only ever be hobbyists.

If you could go back in time and erase one thing you had written from your writing history, what would it be and why?
Only embarrassing love poems and letters from long ago. Related note to self: burn journals.

Judy Croome

Do you actually enjoy writing, or do you write because you like the finished product?

There are moments I adore writing; there is a sense of connecting to a world greater than this reality and it fills me with wonder. Unfortunately, those moments are rarer than hen's teeth and mostly I hate writing. I write anyway, in constant search of That One Fleeting Moment. I invariably hate my finished product, because it's always less than the ideal I had in my head.
Siphiwo Mahala

What’s the most blatant lie you’ve ever told?

Lies fill my fiction. I can’t think of any better one than others.

And my best:

Joanne Macgregor

Who would play you in the film of your life?
Ryan Gosling. I know, I know, he’s younger than me. Also, there’s that thing of him being male. But the boy can act!

Ryan Gosling? Really? Really? The LOLs. Google "Short Story Day Africa 2013 Interview" to see more.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Joanne Macgregor is super funny...

...She really is though. Before the Team Trinity YA panel debate a few weeks ago, I'd met her at a SCWIBI Gauteng event and she seemed nice enough. But at that Skoobs YA panel, I feel like Joanne really showed her true colours. I actually LOLed. So of course I asked her to do a Puku interview. I posted it this morning and I think it's full of more chuckles.

I have to admit that I haven't read any of her books (my bad) but this is only because they seem to be more on the side of Y than A. Nothing wrong with that, in fact I think we need more local books for the 9 - 12 set, it's just not my drink of choice. What I would love though is for her to take on something that reflects her unique and intelligent humour: regardless of whether that takes on the form of something for adults or another contemporary novel for teens.

The last bit of the interview was my favourite so consider it a spolier alert and head to Puku to read the rest:

What are you working on next?

I’m currently revising a YA romance which is a modern-day retelling of my favourite fairy-tale, and I’m 22 000 words into a new manuscript – a YA dystopian novel. It’s a real challenge because I have to imagine how the world and its people will be different after a cataclysm. If you know my writing, it’s a fair guess that amazing young women will still find time for hot young men while saving humanity!

As one does! What was your favourite book as a child/teen?

When I was young, we didn’t have nearly the range of awesome books that are available now, so I cut my reading teeth on Enid Blyton, like almost everyone else. Although I was already an adult when I read them, my all-time favourite books for children and young adults were the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling. I initially resisted reading them because of all the hype (I’m stubborn that way), but when I did, I fell in love and became something of a Harry Potter expert. As a writer, I admire the craft, the characterisation and especially the ingenious, intricate plotting over the seven-book story. No fair that I didn’t get an invitation to Hogwarts!

Read the rest

Monday, June 17, 2013

Can Themba Memorial Lecture, anyone?

I first read The Suit in high school. I think it was one of the first works in English by an African writer I had ever read. Before that, our English set works were almost exclusively British - with The Wave as the only exception in Grade 9. I didn't recognise any distinct African-ness in or about the story. I didn't appreciate the significance of Themba nor of DRUM nor did it dawn on me what it meant to have a short story by a black man being taught in a former Model C school, not even ten years after democracy. I just liked the story. It surprised me. I think if I read it tomorrow for the first time, it still would.

All this made me very excited to receive an email invite to the Can Themba Memorial Lecture. I was not aware that such a thing existed but it's pretty awesome that at least one of the writers of the great DRUM generation has not been totally forgotten - yet. Also nice that the organisers of this event have managed to pull out a big gun like Nadine 'I've got a Nobel prize bitch' Gordimer. If you're in Pretoria Friday night, pop in.

Join us as we pay tribute to one of DRUM’s legends, Can Themba, and celebrate the 50th anniversary of his short story The Suit, published by Nat Nakasa’s literary journal The Classic.

Date: 21 June 2013

Place: State Theatre Pretoria

Time: 19:00

Guest speakers: Author Nadine Gordimer, respected journalist and former Press Ombudsman, Joe Thloloe and academic Mbulelo Mzamane

Read more about this event

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Prizes, poetry and Paperight: this week in African publishing news

So this week in African publishing news: There's a new prize for new writers. Unfortunately, it's only for published authors and only for authors published by traditional publishing houses but it is a start and a start in the right direction, me thinks:

The Etisalat Prize for Literature is the first ever pan-African prize celebrating first time writers of published fiction books. The Prize aims to serve as a platform for the discovery of new creative talent out of the continent and invariably promote the burgeoning publishing industry in Africa.

By recognizing and celebrating writers and other members of the literary community across Africa, Etisalat plans to bring some much needed awareness and acclaim to the art of Fiction writing while also applauding and rewarding the efforts of those who have ventured into this genre in recent times.

also, AERODROME is launching soon. It's a new South African site that describes itself as celebrating words and people: "the people who write them, the people who edit them, the people who read them". I'm not entirely sure how it plans to differentiate itself from say BooksLIVE (besides with poetry and also by not being a corporate juggernaut) or Litnet (besides from being in English) but I'm intrigued. I'm even more intrigued about how it plans to make money. Last I checked, the margins in local literature are crazy tiny for publishers and booksellers. I have no idea what they are like for... book lovers? book-loving promotors? book-loving and people-loving book promotors? Like I said, no idea. Point is: they are now accepting submissions for poetry which whether it can pay the rent or not is pretty cool for those who still believe in poetry and hope it can find a place in mainstream publishing/book-selling once more.

Poetry Submission Guidelines

Poems can be submitted to poetry[at] as an attachment, either a Word document (.doc or .docx) or in PDF format. Poems should be single spaced and not longer than 30 lines. Please include your name alongside the title of each poem; if you are submitting several poems, please send them in a single document.

We will only accept poems that have not been previously published (with the exception of having been published on your personal website or blog). You will retain the copyright to your work, but by submitting to AERODROME you give us permission to publish your poetry online, in print and elsewhere.

And in more new writing/new opporunities news, The Paperight Young Writers’ Anthology has just come out!

Listen up – South Africa's youth are speaking! The Paperight Young Writers’ Anthology uncovers the next generation of South African writers and artists, compiling work of the highest quality from high school students from every corner of the country. This is what it means to be young, talented and South African in 2013. This is our next generation of artists and writers – in English, Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho and Afrikaans. Featuring a foreword by Niq Mhlongo.

Go buy this book. If you do and maybe some other people also get a few, more competitions/anthologies like this might be launched in semi-marginalised languages like Zulu and Xhosa and actually marginalised languages like Sotho. We need more opportunities like this: We need to find more representative voices and spaces for them to work and learn in literature. Especially when black authors still comprise only 209 of the 2274 royalties earning trade authors in South Africa. Ain't nobody got time for that.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Interview with SA Partridge over at Puku

There's an immense and untapped resource in local writers, illustrators and storytellers and that Puku should be doing all we can to promote their work and raise their profile. That you can't really get anyone to pay attention to you or your work without a publicist is kind of a shame. I think it probably gets even worse when you are self-published or otherwise with a very small publishing house.

Nonetheless, Puku will now run an interview with a writer, illustrator or storyteller every Monday starting today with SA Partridge. I've already received so many of them so I'm doing a little happy dance. Now to get the next phase of the project up and running so that we can do even more for this generous bunch.

Sally's new book coming out in Aug sounds kind of amazeballs:

Sharp Edges is my fourth book for teenagers. It's about six friends that attend a music festival in the Cedarberg, but only five come back. It's a story about friendship, and being young and in love. It's also about death, and how quickly things can go wrong. It also has a little bit of a murder mystery element to it.

I guess you could say the story was born when I went to a music festival and saw just how fearless young people are, and how hard they can party without any thought for the consequences. It's a great moment in time that I was really interested in capturing, but just like any of my stories, a little bit of darkness managed to creep in.

Read the complete interview

Monday, June 3, 2013

Incredible, Forgettable, Preventable: the YA Edition

Lately, I've had plenty of time for reading and things have definitely taken a YA slant. So: Another round of mini book reviews!

Being by Kevin Brooks

Verdict: Forgettable

Robert thinks he's just another teenage boy growing up in Essex, England, but a routine medical procedure gone horribly wrong throws all his ideas about who (or, more aptly, what) he is out the window. Cut open on a hospital operating table, the doctors and the men with guns who soon join them, look into Robert and can't figure out what they are seeing. Obvs, this freak Robert out and he goes on the run - as one does.

Cars are stolen, people are killed, Robert is hunted down by a powerful agency/secret society and this enemy could be anywhere. In between the fake IDs and kidnapping, Robert finds time to explore and nurture a first love with a pretty, kick-ass young lady - as one does.

Besides an anti-climatic ending, there wasn't actually anything wrong with Being. I was entertained, I enjoyed the rambling musings on what makes a person a person and what a 'being' might actually be and I'm a huge fan of Kevin Brooks because, well, Black Rabbit Summer. However, I was taken on a wild adventure where I ended up in much the same place where I started and for that, I'm afraid I'd forgotten Being as soon as I finished the last page.

Becoming Chloe by Katherine Ryan Hyde

Verdict: Incredible

Meet Jordy. He’s on his own in New York City. Nobody to depend on; nobody depending on him. And it’s been working fine.

Until this girl comes along. She’s 18 and blond and pretty: her world should be perfect. But she’s seen things no one should ever see in their whole life–the kind of things that break a person. She doesn’t seem broken, though. She seems... innocent. Like she doesn’t know a whole lot. Only sometimes she does.

The one thing she knows for sure is that the world is an ugly place. Now her life may depend on Jordy proving her wrong. So they hit the road to discover the truth–and there’s no going back from what they find out.
This deeply felt, redemptive novel reveals both the dark corners and hidden joys of life’s journey – and the remarkable resilience of the human soul.

This was such a lovely, hopeful book. It starts off ridiculously heavy and you just want to hug every one of the characters and take them home because they are too young to have such ├╝ber-sucky lives. But the thing is they may be young but they are hella resilient. Wrong-side-of-tracks Jordy finds purpose and direction in taking care of mysterious-but-definitely-bad-past Chloe. Together, each of them finally has someone to protect and look out for them. They encounter with a wide array of weird and oft not-so wonderful people including shop owners abusing their power, drug dealers trying to get lucky, doctors who heal not hurt, jerks who text and drive, old men and good dogs.

It's a feel-good kind of book. Not in a pathetic, placating way. It tackles tough issues unflinchingly, it does not spare the rod. But - when Jordy is trying to show Chloe that this world isn't always the ugly place she knows and that life and places and people can be beautiful too, you want to see it too and, by the end, you kind of do.

Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

Verdict: Incredible

Your dad finding you in the backseat of your older brother's best friend's car sans clothes is at best awks and at worst, well, end of life as you knew it. For Deanna Lambert it's definitely the latter. Sleeping with one 17 year old boy when she was 13 and didn't know anything about anything has given her a lasting reputation as the school slut and her father can still only barely look at her three years later. One mistake from her past defines her present and fuels her dreams to escape to somewhere where that night in the back of Tommy's car never happened.

The best kind of YA books are those that remind me of being a teenager but add some texture of my memories or some richness to my understanding of my 25 year old self. Story of a Girl is that kind of book. It has all the cringeworthiness, the high school politics, the family warfare, the angst, regret and twisty teenage logic you could ever want from contemporary teen fiction. It's also thoughtful, subtle and complex. Bonus points: there is no time for Twilight-style insta-love or HG-esque love triangles in the story. Yes, Deanna has a love interest. Yes, he has a girlfriend. But it's even more messy, and uncomfortable than it sounds and not for the reasons one might expect.

I loved the idea that one youthful indiscretion could echo into the future so loudly. People seem to have this idea that the things that happen when you are young can always be overcome, that they don't need to define you, that making mistakes is what you are meant to do in your teens and, don't worry, all will be forgiven. But it's not really, isn't it? And I loved that this book took on those ideas and let them play out for a young woman who was 16 going on 35 which was pretty much what I was like at her age - minus the car/slut situation.

This could easily have become a bitch and moan session. Deanna's angst could have been overblown for effect: I felt that this was one of the problems with another Zarr novel, Sweethearts, to be fair. Deanna could have ended up with some predictable choice between two good-looking but very different boys, her heart not knowing who to choose until just the right moment, the drama in the car forgotten because YA love fixes everything. Sara Zarr didn't let any of that happen. I was truly grateful and this book went straight into my top 10 YA list.