Wednesday 5 December 2012

Women Writers of Africa

From challenging political injustices to maintaining cultural values to making sense of the continent's great tragedies, storytelling in Africa is an ancient and revered art.

Recently, Cariad Martin, Interviews Editor of For Books Sake, agreed to highlight a series celebrating Women Writers of Africa.  

A webzine based in the United Kingdom and dedicated to promoting and celebrating writing by women, For Books’ Sake provides an intelligent, but irreverent, online community and magazine, featuring books by and for independent women.

Two passionate South Africans, @boomskilpaadjie (a.k.a Nikki Deiner, an ex Saffa now living in Singapore) and myself, set out on an exciting journey to interview ten Women Writers of Africa.

We read terrific stories. We met impressive women. And we realised that the well of writing talent in Africa is deep and rich and powerful … just like Africa herself.

Here are the lovely ladies we met (click on their name to link to their detailed interviews on For Books Sake):

Lauren Beukes (7th September 2012)

Described as Jeff Noon meets Raymond Chandler , the winner of the 2010 Arthur C Clarke award tells us what inspires and influences her writing.

Colleen Higgs (20th September 2012)

Poet and publisher/owner of the vibrant Modjaji Books (an independent South African publisher of numerous award-winning novels), Colleen continues the tradition of Modjaji, the Rain Queen, by making rain for African women. She tells us what the challenges of publishing women’s fiction are.

Yewande Omotoso (1st October 2012)

Is blood what bonds a family? Nigerian author Yewande talks of her award-winning debut novel Bom Boy (published by Modjaji).

Joan de le Haye (16th October 2012)

Thrills and chills from this multi-lingual author based in Pretoria. Joan tells us why she writes some seriously scary stories.

Henrietta Rose-Innes (1st November 2012)

Protégé of the great South African author JM Coetzee, Henrietta finds that “insects are beautiful creatures, but usually not in obvious or sentimental ways … they have an alien sensuality that is fun to write about.” Uh, really? Tell me more ...

Jayne Bauling (8th November 2012)

Multi-published and multi-award winning Jayne tells us why there isn’t much difference between writing romances and young adult novels. And she tells us a secret …

Novuyo Rosa Tshuma (14th November 2012)

Zimbabwean author Novuyo speaks to us (in one of her many languages!) about how short stories, social media and the Secret Service mix ... or not!

Lauri Kubuitsile (22nd November 2012)

Have you ever felt FICTION PRESSURE? Winner of Golden Boabab Prize and shortlisted on the Caine Prize for African Writing, Botswana author Lauri explains exactly what it is.

Dr Sindiwe Magona (29th November 2012)

Are you 23 and feeling like a has-been? You're not alone! Dr Sindiwe Magona shares with us how she went from unemployed domestic worker to a living literary legend who met Former President Nelson Mandela in her job at the United Nations.

Joanne Hichens (5th December 2012) 

Who writes the juicy bits when two authors collaborate? South African author Joanne tells us how two authors can write one book and why she thinks women writers of Africa are like rocks.

These ten powerful authors are the tip of the iceberg ... from South Africa's Nobel Literature Laureate, Nadine Gordimer to Mozambique's Lilia Momple, and Nigeria's Orange Prize winning author Chimamanda Adichie to Egypt's Nawal El Saadawi, the voices of Women Writers of Africa speak to the world with an infinite variety and extraordinary strength.  

Long may their voices be heard.

From left to right
Top Row: Colleen Higgs; Jayne Bauling; Dr Sindiwe Magona
Second Row: Novuyo Rosa Tshuma; Joan de le Haye
Third Row: Joanne Hichens; Lauri Kubuitsile; Henrietta Rose-Innes
Bottom Row: Lauren Beukes; Yewande Omotoso

Thursday 8 November 2012

Letter to a Young Writer in Nigeria

Dear Young Writer

I’ve been thinking about your email since I received it yesterday. I wonder what I must say to you? Perhaps it’s best if I just ramble around. Then, you can take out of what I say that which resonates with you, and you can ignore the rest! So here goes:

If you’re feeling you’re stuck in your writing career, the answer may lie in something as simple as taking a break to recharge your batteries. Sometimes a day is enough, other times you need longer.  

But, if you're depressed because you doubt your writing abilities, or you're losing hope and faith in writing ever being what you want it to be, perhaps you need to look deeper.

Depression is, I think, a price of being creative.  Think of Hemingway, Sylvia Plath and others – just look how many creative people (and writers) are on this list!

 No 14 is worth highlighting:

Joseph Conrad: Throughout his life, the famed author of Heart of Darkness struggled with depression grave enough to cause physical illness. Much of it came from pressing doubts regarding his writing prowess.

Sometimes when depression hits me — and it does, often, although I dislike talking about it as focusing on it just makes it worse — I withdraw from the world and from writing. The world today can sometimes be too much. Too much noise. Too much rushing. Too much anger and pain and fighting. Just too much of everything … so, I withdraw and try to re-centre myself. I console myself with the thought that if writers like Joseph Conrad doubted their writing prowess, well then, for the rest of us mere mortals, doubt will be our constant companion.

Here’s a good article on writers and depression I found  - it may help you too. The comments are worth reading as well.

So … why do you write? What makes you, Young Writer, pick up the pen and start another story when you’ve had another rejection or another writing disappointment?

I have two quotes that encapsulate why I write. Here they are:

Artistic talent is a gift from God, and whoever discovers it in himself has a certain obligation: to know that he cannot waste this talent, but must develop it. Be faithful to beauty and be faithful to goodness.  (Pope John Paul II, in 2004 to the performers of a Break Dancing exhibition)

and, my absolute favourite, the one quote that always pushes me to write on through every bad writing experience:

“Come,” says the Lord. ‘I will make a covenant between me and you. I, I will not measure you out any more distress than you need to write your books...but you are to write the books. For it is I who want them written. Not the public, not by any means the critics, but Me. Me!”

“Can I be certain of that?” asks the young writer Charlie.

“Not always,” says the Lord.     (From “The Young Writer with a Carnation” by Isak Dinesen)

I ask you again WHY do you write? 

I’ve learnt to accept that to be truly creative — to write from the heart and soul, rather than from the intellect and ego — there’s a price I have to pay.

That price is depression, which springs from the doubt and uncertainty that surrounds my writing progress. I struggle and struggle with my writing and my doubts about my calling as a writer overwhelm me. Why, I ask?  I don’t know.  Why, every time I get a break – and those breaks are few and far between! – does something happen that takes me away from my writing? How am I ever going to be heard or read or noticed in the multitude of voices that are now writing their own stories?  Why JK Rowling and not Judy Croome or a Young Writer from Nigeria?  Why do I write when, for every step I take forward, I’m pushed 100 steps back? Why am I always blocked in my progression as a writer? Why? Why? WHY?

Why do I even bother to write?

Although my faith is not conventional, I am a person of faith. Part of the blueprint of my personal faith is that I believe we've all been given at least one "soul gift" that is unique to us. We also, I believe, have certain "karmic lessons" to learn. 

Spending our time on this earth developing that "soul gift", or talent (remember the parable of the talents that Christ told?) and working to overcome our "karmic lessons" will be accomplished within the reality of our physical life, because it's through that earthly reality that our souls evolve and grow ever closer to the Divine.

The highly evolved soul called Christ was a Master Teacher when he lived here on earth. He was so close to God, to the Divine Spirit that rests beyond time and space as we know it, that— like Moses, Abraham, Mohammed (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), Buddha and all the great Spiritual Masters — he (and the other prophets) changed the world forever.

But even Christ had his doubts about his destiny. Doubt, after all, is the foundation of faith:

Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother   (Kahlil Gibrain)

Abraham's faith was tested with the sacrifice of Isaac; Buddha's was tested as he sat under the Bodhi tree and, on Gethsemane, Christ, too, had to face his doubts. He had to walk into the arms of the Roman soldiers with nothing but his faith to guide and reassure him that he was walking the right path.

Have you ever watched Jesus Christ Superstar, the rock musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice? It is a BRILLIANT rock opera, and there is one song, GETHSEMANE, which, every time I hear it, makes me think of my writing and my doubts about my writing.

Here is one of the best renditions of it ever and as you listen to the words, think about the struggle Christ had on Gethsemane, the struggle to overcome his doubt and move towards his destiny… 


That’s a big word.

I believe my personal destiny is to be A Writer. That's it:  A Writer. Not A Rich Writer. Not A Famous Writer. Just ... A Writer.

And so I'm very serious about writing the truth that lies in my heart and soul. My writing was vilified; I've had verbal stones cast at me. At times, my sensitive writer's soul felt crucified.

Christ discovered on Gethsemane that he had two choices: to die, or not to die.  I had to learn to approach my writing almost as Christ approached Gethsemane:  with the knowledge that the only thing I can control is my choice to write or not to write.

What happens after that lies in my destiny.

I have no way of knowing what that is.  I could become the next writing sensation. I could die in obscurity and, in two hundred years, someone will discover that, like van Gogh and William Blake, my artistic voice was ahead of its time. Or — and reality tells me this is the most likely option — I'll just die, my voice unheard, my books unread, except by a few like-minded souls.

If I accept that the ultimate result of all the effort I put into my writing is out of my hands, can I now sit down and write easily, fired up by faith?

Oh no.  My ego, or dark side, is still there, as large as ever, feeding my doubts, stroking my despair at the never-ending uphill battle that is WRITING and telling me to stop dreaming, to stop hoping … to just stop writing!

But still I write.

Will you choose to write?

Wednesday 19 September 2012

A Human Being Died that Night

For weeks she has lain there, in a thoughtful pose beneath the prison bars of a window high above her. 

‘Have you read Gobodo-Madikizela’s book on Eugene de Kock yet, Jude?’ my long-suffering husband asks. He’d read it on the plane to Cape Town. ‘You’ll find it interesting.’

‘Mmm,’ I mumble, trying to think of another excuse, another reason, not to hold “Prime Evil” in my hands. ‘I’ll get to it later.’ 

But still I resist picking it up and reading the first page. 

I’ve had enough of that sort of thing, I say to myself. I sat, night after night, listening, watching and finally weeping for their pain and my guilt at the stories blurted out in the television visuals of the Truth and Reconciliation committee in those early days of our proud New South Africa. I just want to move forward into the future, to honour the innocent dead by making my contribution to a society which offers “a better life for all”. To be just an ordinary citizen in a nation where everyone has an equal national pride that is as race-less and colour-less as it is passionate.

Until one day, a cold miserable day, when I’m warm and safe in my ironically white-and-black suburban house, and the wind howls and yelps outside. On that day I force myself to open the book and face what I have feared all along: the judgement of a fellow human being. 

A fellow South African. One who knows. One who lived through the same days and nights as I did, but in a way I had never perceived as possible. 

And so we finally meet – we three. A man, committing murder in my name. A woman, suffering under that cardinal sin. And myself, blind no longer and, with nowhere left to hide, more afraid than I have ever been, for who is to be judged and who the judge?

As I devour the short journey of less than two hundred pages; drawn hurriedly from paragraph to paragraph in a combination of righteous shame and not-so-righteous indignation, I’m left as exhausted and sweaty as if I’d taken a journey of a thousand miles.

Perhaps I had. For there – behind the white man beyond moral hope and the final praise-singing for a black woman who is moral hope – lay the best and the worst of me. 

Now, here I am. Writing to you, dear Pumla, in an attempt at the dialogue you state is so essential in helping this fledgling democracy of ours honourably fulfil the great potential she has shown so far and in which today, nearly twenty years after freedom came, we struggle with corruption, violence, lack of education, unemployment and other governmental failings, somehow worse than those of the apartheid government because *this* government all the people of our beloved country believed in and trusted. 

I do not know whether I write to you with a plea for redemption or as an act of justification. All I know is that my belief in this brave new world of ours is wavering. For, after reading your book, my heart and my head - my shame and my pride - are in conflict as never before.

On my travels through the pages of your remembrance, there are times when I weep for the insanity of a little boy who witnessed his father’s gruesome and unnecessary death. Where is that little boy today, I wonder, now that he’s grown to be a man?

There are times I fling your precious testament from me in anger as, despite your sincere attempt to remain non-judgemental, you subtly sneer at the apathy of collective white South Africa, that tribe of mediocre souls – of which I am indubitably one – whom, you feel, didn’t suffer as you did. While others cried and died in agony, I gaily lived my life, reaping the rewards of a social system I was too comfortable in to challenge, and too blindly obedient to question.

Then I gasp in awe at your courage; at the pride and strength you showed in rising above the humiliations of your own oppressed past. Still I snigger knowingly – and with some relief at this evidence of your own humanity which makes you appear less saintly – when I realise that your ability to transcend hate is not quite as evolved as you believe, for you are clearly unable to forgive Mr F W de Klerk, the last President of apartheid South Africa and another of our Nobel Peace Prize winners. The man who irrevocably opened the prison doors and who, although you might not like to acknowledge it, set us all free.

In your compassion and empathy for de Kock as a fellow human being, you seem to place such credence on the words of a man who chose to embrace his evil. How will you respond to my words, I wonder? Will you say: what has she, in her trivial, privileged life, suffered? What remorse has she shown? 

Or will your compassion and intellect allow you to clearly see into the mind and soul of an ordinary white South African, a single self with no claim to fame or infamy other than that I did nothing?

Let me state it plainly, so that it’s out in the open, not taunting me from the shadows in my heart. 

Unlike you - with your impressive and somewhat intimidating personal biography: your academic qualifications and international connections, your participation in the TRC, and the moral probity your black skin automatically bestows on the words you write like a badge of suffering - I am Nobody. There! In all humility, it is said bluntly and with no adornment. I am nobody and I did nothing.

And yet, with pride, I say to you, ‘I am also Somebody.’ Like you, a woman of many faces: a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a neighbour, a friend. 

What of those other women? Those other wives, daughters and sisters, also ordinary people and also ‘Somebodies.’ Why did I not cry out in their pain when young white men, young enough to be their sons, pushed hands up their vaginas? 

With every cell in my being cringing at the vicious, violent imagery of acts committed in my name, I want to ask you where are your stories of all the ordinary, white people, people like my parents, who did invisible good deeds, not because they were politically inclined (and therefore never got their names in newspapers,) but because it was bred in their very souls to always help those in need, irrespective of the colour of the person who was hungry or cold or being terrorized (do you even care that my mother single-handedly took on an AWB bully who was harrassing an old black man - now there would be a good story for you!) 

Can your justifiable pain not allow you to see that good people *did* exist during the time of your suffering, even if they were too involved in their personal struggle to rise above the poverty they were born into to take an interest in politics. Can you not see that, just like the new South Africans today, all these good ordinary people wanted was to give their children (lucky me!) a better life than they had had? 

At the same time, I want to resort to the age-old whine of ‘I didn’t know!’ Before I can voice that weak, pathetic cry I see, in my mind’s eye, the mocking lift of your eyebrow at those hollow words.

‘You really didn’t know?’ you ask politely, clinging tightly to your badge of honour as a victim. ‘Come, come, Judy! There are none so blind as those who will not see.’ Your unforgiving disbelief is etched deeply on your face as you say, ‘Our pain was all around you, in the townships and in the valleys; in the cities and in the villages. In every “whites-only” sign adorning the restaurants you ate in, the beaches you swam on and the buses you rode, our suffering was there for you to see. If you’d wanted to.’

All I remember is my white Afrikaner Father sitting around our table, eating and laughing with his black mine colleagues who, day after day, came to him with their cares, their fears, their desperate need for someone to help them with the minutia of a life lived far from their tribal homes. That scene was my childhood normality and I never questioned it, or whether it should be more or different to what it was.

So, with perfect hindsight, today I can only confess, ‘You’re right!’ 

Remorse slithers through me like an unwanted parasite in my belly. I do not know how to explain to you that the first time I knew how terrible things had been for you, truly *was* only as I sat listening to the perceptions and experiences of other ordinary souls like myself. 

Only they weren’t like me: they were black and they lived on the other side of my life.

My head sinks lower, the millstone of guilt becoming heavier and heavier with each page of your book I read. 

For I don’t even have the excuse of the cold-faced Afrikaner killer you portray so accurately and so empathetically – that I was a crusader for the apartheid values which he believed were good. I was raised in the Church of England. I’m Anglican and the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, of all people, was my religious and spiritual leader! 

And still I was blind.

Was it because, like the ordinary soul I am, I was too busy living my own life - draped in joys and fears and sorrows so unlike yours, but so real to me - to notice you were being so cruelly oppressed? Or was it because there is some inherent evil, some unacknowledged darkness existing within me? And how could the person I thought I was possibly be a collaborator to one of the two greatest human rights abuses of the twentieth century?

Why then, my apathy? Why then did I think that, when the time came for the ultimate measure of my humanity to be judged, I would have accomplished sufficient goodness to be considered a worthy human being when I had made no great sacrifices to eliminate the scourge of apartheid?

The fragments with which I shore up the illusionary ruins of my single self as a decent, honourable human being are varied and many.

Will the slivers of my perceptions from those apartheid days be enough to explain the ambivalence with which I finish reading your book and, closing it, think of a killer who, but for my lassitude, you accuse, could have been me? 

Your book, and the annals of world history, records only the inflexible dichotomy between good/evil or hero/villain, forgetting that the human condition is a continuum of many shades of grey. In those records for all time, the white South African face of Prime Evil is me, simply because I, a white South African of the same era, did nothing.

Will my memories be enough to refute that bond I do not want and yet cannot escape? Will they be enough to save my soul from the sins of apartheid? Perhaps. 

By sharing them with you am I saying I’m sorry that, as a somebody, I didn’t do something? 

Oh yes. 

Hindsight always gives one a perfect view of what should or shouldn’t have happened at that crossroads in one’s life when one has to make that pivotal choice on which one’s eternal destiny is built. Retrospection of what – in those exact same circumstances of my life – I, me or thee would, should, could have done, make it so easy for me to say now that I’m sorry I never did anything. 

Of course I’m sorry! If I’d done something – anything, no matter how small - just think how much easier my life would be now, as I sit contemplating your story on forgiveness. 

‘World,’ I would say, ‘Look at me! Just like Pumla I am a Heroine of The Struggle. But I,’ — and here I could smirk as virtuously as you do at times in your story — ‘am a white heroine! One of History’s righteous.’ 

But I didn’t, and I’m not, and instead I sit and grapple daily with the twin demons of shame and failure. 

Shame, because I was too weak to fight for what the world, and my awakened conscience, now tells me I should have fought for then. Failure because, in the recognition of the fact that at a specific moment in time when A Big Cause called to me and you tell me I should have answered, instead “I did Nothing”. 

And in the process of doing nothing I became somebody – something – I never thought I was.

So am I asking you to learn to forgive me, as you so heartrendingly learnt to forgive de Kock? 

When I have finished my discourse then, dear Pumla, by virtue of the misery of your black life during the apartheid years, you can - in your just and proper role as moral arbiter of the New South Africa - decide on whether it is your right to forgive, or not to forgive me, for my apathy and my blindness, and for my pedestrian inability to rise above the comfort and convenience of my white life during the apartheid years. 

Will I then be free of this weight on my soul?

Will I, redeemed and renewed by your gracious compassion, be able to sit comfortably around the log fire in my cosy lounge as I listen, watch and proudly participate in the creation of the myths and symbols of this New South Africa? 

Soothed and saved by your forgiveness, can I then gratefully allow my single self to, once more, become integrated with that mediocre, undifferentiated mass of ‘good people’ who sleep soundly at night, knowing that the future of their humanity rests safely in the hands of the wise and noble leaders they have voted into power?

If only forgiveness were that simple.

Thursday 13 September 2012

How to Write Dialogue like a Pro

At last I've found the time to listen to Writer's Digest University's On-Line Webinar HOW TO WRITE DIALOGUE LIKE A PRO I was supposed to attend in February 2012, but life interfered. Luckily, WD sends a recorded version which attendees can listen to for up to a year.

Multi-published author ELIZABETH SIMS conducted the webinar.  During the 90 minute programme, Ms Sims discussed the major points of what makes dialogue great. She covered topics such as:

*how to develop dialogue
*how to generate dialogue
*dialogue techniques
*how to craft dialogue to fit your characters

Below, I share the highlights of the webinar with you. If you find them interesting, and want to listen to the full webinar, you can download it from the Writer's Digest On-Line Shop

What is dialogue? Dialogue is a living part of writing and should be an author's servant

Fiction today: While the great classical tomes of the past were narrative heavy, today's reader wants a dialogue heavy story. Dickens is the exception: his stories were first published as serials in magazines, so Dickens used great dialogue to keep his readers interested (and buying the magazines week after week!)

Great dialogue:

*sounds real
*fits each individual character
*develops characters
*moves story forward

The paradox of dialogue: author's must write dialogue that sounds natural, but real life dialogue is often awfully boring when transcribed to a page

Study plays for dialogue tips: Speakers use tone and cadence to get meaning across in dialogue. Study the plays of Tennessee Williams, William Inge and Edward Albee for effective dialogue
The reasons people talk are myriad. People talk to:

*communicate neutral facts
*give warning
*keep from feeling
*avoid listening
*fill silences
*say 'I love you"

Can you think of other reasons people talk?

Develop sensitivity to ambient speech:

*watch out for opportunities (eavesdrop in a coffee shop)
*makes notes
*look for context of the speech you are hearing

Your goal as author is to listen to CONTENT and DELIVERY of speech and then use how real people talk in your own context.

Brainstorming dialogue:

*ask: what do I need in this scene? Do the characters really need to talk?
*become the character: leave your persona behind and delve into the emotions of the character who is speaking
*be irrational: people don't always act rationally and neither should your characters

If uncertain whether dialogue is needed, try some action instead.

Use dialogue to portray emotion: mix dialogue with action "I'm sorry" versus She groped for a response. "I-I'm sorry." Can you see the difference?

Make your characters sound different:

*use dialogue markers
*use distinct vocal characteristics
*consider sonic characteristics such as pitch (frequency of sound) and timbre (tonal quality of sound)
*use narrative and description or metaphors and similes to describe voices
*use habitual verbal markers such as contractions, elisions, ejaculations, slang and idiom

Always write for a perceptive reader- never dumb your dialogue down.

Punctuation in dialogue: a subtle but effective technique to enhance dialogue. Use your punctuation effectively.

Sundry other topics such as internal dialogue, foreign languages, dialects, and invented language (e.g. in sci-fi) were also discussed. The webinar ended with a Q + A session where Ms Sims dealt with real queries authors experience during the writing process.

If you struggle with your dialogue writing techniques, this webinar is a good way to learn how to write dialogue like a pro. If you are a pro, then this webinar will help you brush up your dialogue skills.

Free image from ClipArt

Monday 23 July 2012

A Time for Change

Ever had the feeling of standing on the edge of a precipice? The precipice I'm standing on is called "change."

I'm not that fond of change - actually, I have to be dragged out of my comfort zone kicking and screaming.

Even writing this blogpost differently (first time on my iPad, I'm away from home, it's an unplanned, off-the-cuff post) is making me nervous!

Change, it seems, has taken up permanent residence in the backyard of my life this last year: starting with my dear father-in-law's death, my beloved Dad's strokes and final death to my adorable feline HRH Theodorable's death.

Not all the change has been sad: my niece got married, so I have a lovely new nephew, my second book A LAMP AT MIDDAY was published and I gave up sugar, sweets & cakes for a year to honor my Dad (and I've already lost nearly 20kgs!)

With all that, I thought Change had finished with me. Not so! My lovely mother-in-law is seriously ill and, instead of lolling about in the bush & blessed wilderness of the Kruger Park, we're here in Cape Town spending vitally important time with her.

All this has made me think deep & profound thoughts: why am I afraid of change? Change often sweeps out the old ways and habits, and makes way for the new - a spring clean of the soul. Spring cleans are good, aren't they? They're a lot of work and sometimes we can't see for the dust that's raised (unless you're a better housewife than I am!!)By the time one gets to the last room in the house, one is exhausted and wishing it were all over...but in the end everything is left clean and sparkly, with a great sense of achievement.

Despite my emotional exhaustion at the moment, and despite my anxiety about what the near future holds for my dear mom-in-law (and, by the commonality of their recent widowhood, my own Mom who is still grieving the loss of her soul mate after nearly 60 years together), there is an underlying sense of anticipation.

What will come into my life to fill up all these new shiny spaces in my life? How will I grow and evolve through them? Will I rise to the new challenges that all this change will bring with it?

There is a time for everything...and now is the time for change.

What changes are you experiencing in your life?

Monday 2 July 2012

Baking a Book in Botswana

Ever wanted to know what it takes to bake, er, write a book? Award winning Botswana author LAURI KUBUITSILE gives us her recipe:

Award-winning author Lauri Kubuitsile
My name is Lauri Kubuitsile. I’m a writer living in Botswana. Botswana is a lovely place, as long as you’re not a writer. If you’re a writer it may very well be one of the most hostile places on earth. We have no trade publishers, and you can count our proper bookshops on one hand, and that handful are full of international titles leaving only dark, dusty corners for books by writers from Botswana, corners never visited by customers.  In this harsh environment, one might wonder how someone might become a writer. To illustrate, here is my recipe ...
Recipe: How to be a Writer in Botswana
1 x laptop with a battery that lasts 48- 378 hours (power cuts)
200 kg determination. The unflinching kind
1 x map with no roads or signs
At least 2 cups madness, this will depend on taste, likely to need more
500 gm cotton wool
1500 L bravery
5000 L of whiskey, more likely to be required

1. Add one cup of madness. Wait for it to settle. Begin when you are sure it has taken root. Use laptop for writing. If needed because of ample amounts of naysayers in your immediate environment, block ears with 100 gm of cotton wool. Add 200 L bravery and 50 kg of determination. Add more of each if needed. In some cases, whiskey may be required at this stage. You’ll know if you need it.
2. When finished with manuscript, add another 20 kg of determination. Use 200 gm of the cotton wool to re-plug ears. It is very important that you hear no “sense” at this stage. Send manuscript to publishers. Swallow 200 L bravery. Go slow with the madness, this is a tricky time.
3. Wait.
4. Wait some more. Add 200 L bravery and 300 kg determination. Whip to a froth. Keep whipping every time froth goes down. Froth is very important at this stage.
5. Upon receiving acceptance, remove all cotton from ears. Add a ½ cup of madness. Clear room of furniture. Dance. Nothing else is required.
6. The next section requires a lot of determination, prepare in advance. Assess the editing process, depending on the levels of editor manhandling, adjust the amount of determination from between 200 to 500 gm. Don’t go over 500 gm though, can lead to loss of publishing deal. Bravery will be required as well, at least 300 ml. A full cup of madness should be added just at the end. Too soon can ruin the process. Just at the end. Be careful there.
7. Manuscript is now a book. Nothing required. If needed, add whiskey. This depends entirely on the number of newly found editing mistakes and just general bits of shit writing now recorded for posterity – forever.
8. Wait.
9. When royalty statement arrives, swallow the rest of the bravery BEFORE opening.  
10. Hide the rest of the madness where you can’t find it (VERY IMPORTANT!!). Sit down. Open royalty statement. Drink the rest of the whiskey. Cry if you must.
11. Wait.
12. Wait some more, at least until you’ve forgotten a lot of what has happened previously.
13. Add 200 gm of cotton wool to ears. Add the rest of the determination. Find more bravery, add it. Throw in ALL of the madness.
14. Begin next manuscript.
15. Repeat above steps.
Lauri , thanks for sharing that recipe with us. You had me at the 5000l of whiskey!  If you want to try out more of Lauri's recipes for baking the perfect book, you'll find Lauri on her social media sites:
Lauri's blog: Thoughts fromBotswana 
Lauri's Twitter: @LauriKubu  
Continuing the fun of Lauri's recipe, I'm giving away 2 free copies of Lauri's eBooks to 2 lucky readers. So, if you want to be in the draw to win one of these great books to read, please tweet or facebook this recipe. Leave a FB link in the comments or tweet using @judy_croome @LauriKubu so that I can pick up your tweet/FB and know to enter you in the draw. You have plenty of time to enter - the draw closes on July 31, 2012 THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED - see comments for winner.

Lauri's is a prolific writer in multiple genres and many of her books are available on Kindle: 

If you liked Alexander McCall Smith's detective series, you'll love Lauri's  Detective KatGomolemo series:
If you want to read a compelling anthology of short stories which, as I say in my 5* review on Amazon, "transcend the bounds of this harsh, dramatic continent we live in and touch the world's collective imagination through the deep humanity of the characters" buy Lauri's anthology "In The Spirit of McPhineas Lata and Other Stories"
Lauri, wishing you the best of luck with Detective Kate Gomolemo and your future writing projects! Thanks for being with us today.

Sunday 24 June 2012

A Writer's Privilege

We, as writers, have the power to change our world for the better. I pin my colours to the mast in my blog biography, when I explain why I write:

I write because I believe that words have great power: they can bring comfort, joy and hope. They can reveal secrets and lies. And, while they may not change the world, they can - at their best - change people's lives, even if only for a moment.

I've long made it clear that I believe writers must use their creative gifts with thought and care for the impact those words have on the world they are released into. 

 Elaine Scarry discusses the ethical power of literature in her brilliant Boston Review article "Injury and the Ethics of Reading"

And I've had a lot to say about the power of words in the following articles:

The Prerogative of the Harlot

What responsibility does a writer have?

Why are movies so depressing these days?

If I've said so much about it, why am I repeating myself?

A while ago I came across a blog (can't remember where, sorry!), which had a link to the great William Faulkner's Nobel Banquet Speech in 1949. Today I was tidying out my desk drawers and found the printed speech. I wept at the beauty of the words. And I realised that, all those years ago, Faulkner put into the most beautiful words what I've been struggling to say for years (that's why he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, I suppose!) 

 The whole speech on the Nobel Prize website is worth reading, but here are my favourite excerpts:

"... the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

... He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands.
... I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. 
... the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."
I rest my case.  And I'll continue to strive to write stories that, I hope, uplift and inspire people to change their inner worlds and, through that sea change, make the external world a better place.