Sunday 8 December 2013

A White South African Reflects on the Death of Nelson Mandela

On June 12, 1964, I was five-and-a-half years old. On that day, Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment for civil disobedience against the then ruling government of South Africa, the oppressive white regime of the Nationalist Party.

Nearly fifty years later, on December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela died peacefully in his bed, surrounded by his family, and the world has gone into a frenzy of mourning.

I watch the worldwide television news with a sense of both unreality and immense national pride.  Who would have thought, after the secret shame of having to defend myself throughout all my formative years for being born a South African of the wrong colour, today I would be proudly South African, knowing that, despite its tragic past, this land has become one of hope and inspiration, because of this one man?

But, other than his private and political circle, who of these mourners, from every corner of the globe, really knew Nelson Mandela?
My sister Iona's husband, 
Ian Cockerill (far right, in blue tie)
meets Madiba at Goldfields listing on NY Stock Exchange
And what did he mean to me personally, a white middle class child of apartheid South Africa?

There are three Mandela moments that had a major impact on my life:

A few years ago, after he had retired from political life in South Africa, I read a story about Nelson Mandela meeting an ordinary family walking on the beach. I can’t remember the details – Was it an American or a South African family? Where and when did this incident occur? – but I do remember the impact this story had on me for, this most famous of men, this extraordinary, world-famous man, humbly introduced himself to the family, spent a few moments chatting to them and then continued his beach walk. 

He did not, as so many famous (and not so famous!) people do, make the egotistical assumption that this family would automatically know who he was.  He met them as his equals. Who, really, can be equal to Nelson Mandela, the man, the legend? In his eyes, this ordinary family was his equal and he met them as one ordinary human being meeting another. In doing so, he became to me a symbol of what true human dignity and grace should be.

With a gifted sportsman and a white Afrikaaner for my Father, how could the 1995 World Rugby Cup final not be another defining Mandela moment for me? I’ll never forget the surge of emotion, the overwhelming sense of hope and pride that filled me when Mandela walked out onto the Ellis Park pitch wearing the No 6 jersey of the Springbok Captain, Francois Pienaar.

Who knows what strength of will it must have taken, what inner emotional struggle Mandela had to battle with to pull on that green-and-gold jersey that symbolised so much of what he had hated and fought against his whole life?  But he did it and, in that simple act before the whole world, he proved that he practised what he preached: peace, tolerance and understanding of a culture very different to his own.

History has already proved that Mandela had right, justice and the world on his side during his fight for freedom. But, arguably, Mandela’s greatest legacy to the ages, his greatest achievement which raised him so far above the many ordinary men and women who suffer physically every day, in jail or out, is that, once he was released from prison, Mandela rose to his highest potential as a human being by conquering his inner demons.

How will we ever know which struggle was greater for him: enduring the harsh physical conditions of  prison life on Robben Island or that moment he pulled on that green-and-gold jersey representing everything he had fought against for so long?

Mandela himself would be the first to remind us that making peace, like making love, requires two people to achieve a satisfactory end. Even as we mourn the loss of this great man Mandela, let the world not forget that another man had to walk that same long road with him to bring a new democratic order to this country of ours. And, without that man, Mandela would not have risen above his past to become a living legend and an inspiration to all people, he would have remained a prisoner, both physical and spiritual.

Former President FW de Klerk, the last white President of the apartheid government of South Africa and, together with Mandela, the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, had to turn his back on his whole personal and political history and voluntarily give away his power when he stood alone and made the momentous decision to free Nelson Mandela, unban the ANC and enter negotiations for a peaceful transference of power from minority white political rule to majority black political rule.  What other politician, holding all the power, has had the ability to do that?  What ordinary person gives up their own power to another for an unknown future?

As we South Africans go forward into 2014, the most important critical election year in our young democracy, an election year when we have a corrupt and power-bloated ANC government in power and when Mandela’s vision for South Africa is in real danger of slipping onto the road of tyranny so many African democracies have walked before us – we, and the world, can learn from both these men.

From Mandela, the victim of an unjust society, we can learn endurance, forgiveness, tolerance, overcoming anger and bitterness, and the right use of power: that great men serve their people with humility, grace and sacrifice.

From FW de Klerk, the last titular head of that unjust society, we can learn to face and accept our inner darkness, that shadow self that lurks within all of us, and we can learn to make new choices irrespective of our personal, ancestral and racial histories.

For, if we do not learn from both these great peacemakers, from the powerful black freedom fighter and the courageous white Afrikaans leader, we face a future in which our past will only change colour and the huge potential of this most beloved country will be shackled forever in repeating the human tragedies of the past rather than living up to the ideals Nelson Mandela sacrificed so much for.

During my lifetime ... I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
 – Nelson Mandela, Rivonia Trial Speech
Another of South Africa’s four Nobel Peace Prize winners, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, once spoke of South Africa as a “rainbow nation,” a delightful image of all the different colours living in harmony in our newly democratic country.

But the different colours in a rainbow’s arc, as beautiful as they are, are still separated from one another by invisible borders.

I prefer to think of a future South Africa that is an exquisite quartz crystal: a colourless gem that when held up to the light, glitters and shines with all the beauty of the rainbow contained within it.

We go forward into 2014, into our future as an evolving democracy, without the living Nelson Mandela.

Let us honour his ideals, his life and his legacy by leaving the past where it belongs: behind us.

Let us look within our own hearts and strive to walk the same path of inner struggle and personal change that both Mandela and de Klerk walked, so that we can make South Africa a country known not only for its natural beauty, but also a place of integrity, tolerance and good governance.

And, in Nelson Mandela’s own words, "let it never be said by future generations that indifference, cynicism or selfishness made us fail to live up to the ideals” which the great man himself lived and fought for throughout his long and fruitful life.

Hamba kahle, tata Madiba. You showed us the way and we must continue the journey.

We can change the world and make it a better place. 
It is in your hands to make a difference. 
~ Nelson Mandela

Friday 1 November 2013

Looking Inward for Peace: Blog Blast 4 Peace 2013

When I read Mimi Lennox’s words about the theme for the 2013 BLOGBLAST4PEACE, they resonated deeply with me for their essence is woven through the last twenty-plus years of my life, as well as through the text of my novel Dancing in the Shadows of Love.

Mimi asks how we can advocate peace in the world if, deep within our hearts and souls, we carry even a modicum of hatred or malice towards another person. I agree.

Continuous wars, changing only battlefields, justifications and eras, appear to be humankind’s destiny.  These unending wars, and the resultant suffering of humanity, are the constant backdrop of our lives today. 

In the aftermath of 9/11, it’s clear that the ironic decision to go to war for world peace can only bring more suffering, not only to humans, but to all sentient beings. The aggressive choice of going to war for peace does not bring an end to war, because war is never about peace or justice, but about fighting for power and control over others.

If neither diplomacy nor aggression brings global peace, one has to ask: what can?

Wars are not limited to nations. How often in our lives do we hear of family feuds where sibling rivalry borders on hatred or divorces create emotional war zones? These "wars" too, are about jostling for power and control in the family hierarchy.
Image from Birdie's blog
Global, even universal, peace has to begin with the choices made by the smallest unit of a greater society, the individual living an ordinary life.

When people hurt or harm us personally we have to make a conscious choice about how we will live our ordinary lives. Do we steep ourselves in anger and hatred, or can we find a way to make peace?  

The next time you have an argument with your in-laws or with your wife; when your neighbour spreads nasty gossip about you or you lose a much wanted promotion to a colleague, try not to get angry and blame the other person for the pain you're feeling. Choose to look inward and ask yourself what you could have done to change the outcome of the situation.

We all (as individuals) choose how we write our personal history, as much as the governments we vote into power choose how to write our collective history. What we see as our "suffering" can, with a shift of perception, become our saving grace. If we choose, we can accept that when we hook into seeing ourselves as the victims of other people's hatred or mean actions, that choice separates us from what we most long for: love and peace.

When we accept that we can't change other people’s attitudes; that the only thing we can change is how we choose to act and react, that is when we define how we will live the rest of our life. 

It’s a brave soul who can look inward with clear eyes and unbiased thoughts and see how his/her own flaws and fears created a personal war-zone instead of an oasis of inner peace. And then, instead of trying to make the other person change, accepts them as they are and rather chooses to change his/her own behaviour in the interests of making peace.

The theme of both 2013 BlogBlast4Peace and my novel Dancing in the Shadows of Love is a reflection of the words spoken by Indian politician and pacifist, Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948): “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.  As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him ... we need not wait to see what others do.”  

There is a chance that that inward journey will bring you face-to-face with the shadows that slink in your soul. Do not be afraid ... bring those shadows into the light of your awareness and they will change into a roadmap to the most rewarding journey of your life.

I have walked that shadowed road for over twenty years and through it all I have clung to one fact: no matter what it cost me emotionally, physically and spiritually, I gathered my courage and turned my gaze inward to stare down my inner shadows. In doing so, I found that this sad and painful road I've travelled has also brought me immeasurable gifts.
Image from Anne Ortelee's blog, 5 August, 2013
One of these gifts is the realisation that, in our ordinary every day lives, peace comes in many guises.  

The face of peace can mean everyone walks the same road into the dark attics of their minds and comes out on the other side fully aware of just how much their own actions caused their own pain. Then the beautiful, but sentimental, portrayal of peace and forgiveness as being a miraculous cure that results in a happy-ever-after for all has a chance of becoming a reality. 

Or, the face of peace can mean that only one half of the conflict has the courage to walk this dark and dangerous road while the other party remains safe in the fortress of her angry ego, blinded by her fears, shoring up the fragments of her pain by embracing a gang mentality: if you are not with me, you are against me. 
When this happens, the road to peace requires the brave soul to tread one more difficult path. 

Inner peace can't come from outside oneself; it can only come from a place of soul-deep integrity. There comes a time when the only way to keep that soul integrity is to choose to walk away.

On the day when the other person repeats an oft-repeated behaviour pattern showing that despite their words, despite their superficial changes, despite their good intentions, deep in the shadowed attics of their mind, their attitude towards you hasn’t really changed and is highly unlikely to change, that is the day you must choose a realistic peace for your situation. 

What the other person does that brings you to this major crossroad on the path to inner peace could be an act so trivial, so minor, in relation to the daily tragedies of the world, that you wonder why it hurt so much, when year after year, day after day, you've tolerated more serious things from the person in order to keep the (external) peace. 

It's in a time of crisis when one's true character is revealed and, no matter how charmingly she (once again) apologises for her actions, it's how a person instinctively reacts towards you when a crisis happens that reveals that she feels no real love or respect for you as a unique individual. And don't we all deserve to be, if not loved, at least respected for what we are, no matter how different we may be from the norms and values of the other person?

This, then, is the summit of the mountainous road to inner peace that must yet be conquered.  Despite your dreams of a mutually happy-ever-after, despite your hopes that all the effort you’ve put into “keeping the peace” will be both recognised and reciprocated, it is now that you have to accept that, no matter what the other person says or how she justifies what she’s done, nothing will ever change her perceptions or actions. 
If you can, with ruthless self-honesty, look inward into your shadows and know that you've done everything you can to encourage peace and tolerance in your particular circumstances, and the answer is "yes", well then, it’s time to end the journey into your shadow self and walk away into the light of a new kind of peace: that mysterious serenity that wells up from within your very centre and which can only be felt, not explained or understood.

The foundation of this peace can only be sustained if one walks away knowing, with utter self-honesty, that one has done one's best to make an external peace and, more importantly, if you wish those whom you have chosen to walk away from the same kind of peace for themselves. 

As Mimi said, the successful road to inner peace on a personal level encompasses the acknowledgement that we cannot as individuals advocate peace in the world if, deep within our hearts and souls, we carry even a modicum of hatred or malice towards another person.

By changing how we act; by changing our perceptions of others; or by finding the strength to look inwards, we can eventually carve out a secret, inner peace for ourselves in a world in which sustainable peace is as yet an unreachable ideal.

Once we are all able to look in at ourselves and, as Carl Jung so memorably said, see that our greatest enemy is the enemy which lies within us, we can begin to create a peace within our inner worlds that will spiral ever outward to embrace the world in which we live.

Perhaps then, the wars that never end … will end.
On 29 September 2013, my husband  and I attended the 2013 Festival of Light and Peace at the Nan Hua Temple in Bronkhorstspruit. A beautiful pocket of peace and serenity, we lit candles for global peace and lanterns for all our family members. Christian, Buddhist and New Age musicians shared their songs with us, we held a silent meditation and said a prayer for peace in our hearts, in our families and in our world.  

Master Hsing Yun ended with a prayer for world peace, 
and I have included an edited excerpt of his prayer: 

"Oh great compassionate Buddha
We are sincerely in front of you
Please listen to these words from our heart:
The rumbling of war between nations,
The clamour of discord between people,
The growl of hatred amongst races,
These sounds are tidal waves storming against our hearts
... so much chaos and upheaval, living in this kind of world. 
Everyday we live in fear, with no ease. 
Let us realise that all human suffering 
originates from our self-conceit, prejudice and delusion.
Oh great compassionate Buddha, 
please listen to our sincerest prayer:
Let different people of  live in harmony, 
Let different people have mutual respect,
Let all people see others with compassion.
Please bestow peace on this world
and bless all sentient beings with love and harmony.
Na mo Sakyamuni Buddha"

See more photos of 
2013 Ceremony of Light and Peace at the Nan Hua Temple
by clicking here


Thursday 17 October 2013

Ethical Book Reviewing

Long before I was A Writer I was A Reader.  After writing a story, there’s nothing I like better than to read a book and share my thoughts about it. So, when on-line book stores such as Amazon and Kalahari, or on-line book clubs such as Goodreads and LibraryThing, offered me the chance to air my views on the books I’d read, I was excited and started posting reviews in which I expressed my honest (if subjective) reviews.

As a writer, I was equally delighted that there was a platform in which I could directly reach out to readers and offer my books in giveaways in the hopes of receiving fair (if subjective) reviews.

In my innocence, I didn’t anticipate the problems that come with an on-line society:

(a) SOCK PUPPET REVIEWS – although strictly referring to reviews written under false names by either the authors or their representatives, it can also include reviews written by authors in exchange for a review of their own book

(b) CYBERBULLYING – it seems that readers and authors alike are unable to respect other readers' reviews or different opinions and abuse/manipulate the system for their own purposes. The anonymity encouraged by the 'Net appears to bring out the worst of people; too often, the nastier comments are written by Ms Anonymous or Mr RageHead.

(c) CENSORSHIP – in an effort to control the above, Amazon and other on-line companies have taken to censoring reviews to make the review process more trustworthy for book buyers.

These and other problems associated with the evolving world of reading, writing and publishing, give rise to a myriad of questions: when does a negative reviews cross the line into cyber bullying? Should authors review other authors books? And when a reader wants to buy a book, can on-line reviews be considered trustworthy?

More questions than answers are raised and, recently, I’ve found my joy in both reading and writing has been sucked dry by the dangers that lurk out there in cyberspace.  I’ve considered stopping both writing books for others to review and writing reviews of books I’ve read.  While I won’t bore you with the detail of my painful mental ruminations, I will share my conclusions with you.

I’ll say it again: I was reader before I was a writer and I love sharing my thoughts on books. Why should I stop doing what I love (both writing and reading) because other people have abused the system? Readers who abuse their power by attacking authors’ star ratings; authors who cheat on getting reviews for their own books or who write bad reviews on their competitors books; reviewers who attack reviews that disagree with their opinion of a book – all of these actions suggest an emotional immaturity based in a combative mind set fostered by the importance placed on winning in today’s society.

Other readers/authors/reviewers can make their own choices as to how they will contribute to this burgeoning new world of independent publishing.

My choice is to continue to read books that appeal to me and to post reviews that reflect my reading experience. I’ll also continue to write stories and I’ll put my books “out there” for review, in good faith that they’ll receive a trustworthy review. When they don’t I’ll hold onto the belief that most readers are intelligent, decent people who are able to tell the difference between a spiteful review and a trustworthy opinion.

As I see it, whether you’re a reader-reader, or an author-reader, there are three essentials to writing a trustworthy book review:

1. ETHICS – Never sell your soul for a review and never post an anonymous review. Yes, I read fellow authors’/publishers’ books and I review them under my own name, even if I ‘know’ the author from social media. If the book is truly awful, I’ll not post a review.  But usually, no matter how much I did not enjoy a book, if one looks hard enough one can find a way of being honest without being hurtful. Here is an example of the most difficult book review I’ve written (because I didn’t enjoy the book) and here is an example of the easiest book review I’ve written (because I loved the novel.) 

2. OPINION – A review is only one person’s opinion. Always respect other people’s opinion about a book, whether you are the reader or the author of a particular book. Whatever I think of a book is only my subjective opinion and others may hold a different opinion, which is as valid to them as mine is to me. When some cyber bully attacks my review or my book, I stand up to them by walking away. The natural instinct to engage with them in anger or defence would be easy … and the easy road to perdition. To walk away, both physically and mentally, takes a special kind of inner strength and courage, because it’s far too easy to be sucked into a flame war that destroys all in its path, including my reputation as a responsible reviewer and as a professional Author.

3. OBJECTIVITY - When writing my review, I focus on the book content and not the author.  A reviewer, even one who reviews books for fun, holds great power and to use that power wisely and well, a responsible reviewer must underpin any subjective opinion with quotes and references. In addition, attacking an author or a well-written book because one dislikes the content is abusing one’s power as a reviewer. Being objective about the book, even if one disagrees with the content, is the mark of a wise reviewer. Here is my review of a book where I disagreed with the content, but thought the book well-written.  

There are plenty of “how-to-write-a book-review” posts on-line and I’ll include a list of links at the end of this post.  These articles provide a plethora of excellent advice on writing good book reviews. All that advice can be overwhelming when, like me, one is a “hobbyist” book reviewer. Over time, I’ve reduced all the advice I’ve received on writing book reviews to the Three Whats

1. What was the book about? Summarise it in a sentence or two without giving spoilers. Or, if your review hangs off a spoiler, warn the reader that your review will reveal important plot points right at the start.

2. What did the book look like? How technically good is the book? Look at the structure, plot, characterisation, writing, cover and editing of the book. Are they of a high standard? Is the book well written?

3. What did the book make me feel and why? As a book-a-holic I read for many reasons, depending on my mood and purpose. If I read a novel for relaxation I’ll need to feel different emotions to when I read a book for research. Often, in my writing research, I’ll read a book that under normal circumstances I would never read. Naturally, I don’t enjoy it as much I would a book I buy for pure reading pleasure. I try to reflect that limitation in my review.

Ultimately, everyone reads books for different reasons. With blogs and vlogs, youtube and Goodreads, to name but a few, today’s readers and writers have a more powerful voice than at any other time in publishing history. Writing ethical reviews is a way of using that power wisely.

Join me on GOODREADS or LIBRARYTHING or AMAZON to follow my reviews.

If you’re looking for a book to read and review, watch out for my new collection of short stories THE WEIGHT OF A FEATHER AND OTHER STORIES. Here’s the book trailer to whet your appetite:

And here’s the links to those “how to write a good book review” articles:

Monday 23 September 2013

Upcoming Release and Book Trailer

Here's the book trailer I designed and created for my latest release
"THE WEIGHT OF A FEATHER and Other Stories,
an anthology of short stories 
Paperback now available
eBook due in December 2013

Multi-talented and ever-patient author 
once again designed and created another fantastic cover

Sunday 25 August 2013

Art and the Transformative Vision

I'm on my favourite soapbox again: if one is blessed with artistic talent, should our art (by that I mean writing, movies, paintings, anything creative) offer a vision of something greater than ourselves, or - under the name of creative freedom - does "anything go"?
I've covered this topic in various guises in the following blogposts:

What Good is a Book?
Today I came across a beautiful article from Odyssey Magazine which provides an interesting take on the subject. The author is Andrew Dilks, who writes on culture and politics at and is the author of "Goliath" and "Flow."  Here is Art and the Transformative Vision by Andrew Dilks:
It’s hard not to look at the contemporary art market and see it as superficial and transitory – much of it comes across as the self-indulgent product of egotism; self-conscious attempts at irony that degenerate into meaningless banalities; a smug postmodern sensibility obsessed with its own cleverness without saying anything insightful. “Art” – however debased and misapplied the word has become in today’s materialistic world – is no longer interested in offering a transcendent vision of something innate and timeless. Instead, at best it serves as a loud, demanding punctuation mark, as immediate as the latest Google trends – a reflection of the short-term memory of the digital age more concerned with what is “in” than what is “within”.
Art, in this sense, can be seen as the culmination of mankind’s regression away from a unified psychological attitude in which reason and emotion – left and right hemisphere thinking – are fully integrated, towards the complete domination of the cold rationality of the scientific age, with no room for unfettered creativity, only the sanctioned “art” of the marketplace where the artist themselves have become commodities, personalities every bit as disposable as TV celebrities and pop stars.
José Argüelles refers to this duality in the history of human artistic expression as “techne” and “psyche” in what is perhaps one of the most radical and significant books on the subject: TheTransformative Vision: Reflections on the Nature and History of HumanExpression. It is an ambitious work, to say the least, spanning the course of history and examining the changing role of art in the context of history, culture, psychobiology, Jungian psychology and the sciences. For Argüelles, the forces which have defined the development of the Western world are responsible for nothing less than the near-total detachment from our ability to make contact with the “transformative vision”; a world where mankind has become trapped by the ideologies of reason and science which limit consciousness and thereby the ability to express that which stirs beneath the rational mind.
An illustrative example of this process is the introduction of the single-point perspective in painting and its proliferation during the Renaissance, coinciding with the rise of the “Great Artist”. As perspective-based art stands for the growing perception of mastery and domination of the world by mankind, so too does the rise of the artist as commodity – those with the wealthy and influential patrons in the church or, more tellingly, bankers and merchants such as the Medici family – mark the beginnings of what was to become an almost complete rejection of the archaic, psychic forms which came before. As the artist began to master nature through painting and sculpture (albeit it in a subjective sense in which the position of the viewer was paramount) so too did Western society seek to dominate and exploit the environment under the guise of progressive humanism as it moved towards the industrial age.
At the same time, the subject became mired in the human experience – the “great men” of the ages – be it the grand portraits of men of influence or the neoclassicism which characterized the Age of Enlightenment. This drive towards historicism – dictated by the linearity of time and the causal nature of human history – further embedded the Western mindset in a tradition at odds with ancient modes of thinking and was consolidated by the establishment of academic artistic institutions, rendering “art” the preserve of elite intellectuals and depriving the masses of legitimate access to their own creativity. These academies, as Argüelles puts it, were “the basic conditioning factor of visual perception in the Western world” – not until the Impressionists was art reluctantly and somewhat tentatively dragged in new and bold directions.
There were notable exceptions throughout this period – men who achieved something of the transcendental in their art and could be called visionary: William Blake’s mystical prophecies and cosmological visions in response to the deadening effects of the Leviathan that is the technocratic state; Goethe’s alchemical works inspiring a reunification of the feminine and the masculine (just as Blake created his Illuminated Works, so too did Goethe end his life with the words, “more light!”). But these visionaries were the exception, destined to live on the margins of a world dominated by materialism. Some, such as Vincent Van Gogh, would be perceived as so radical by the forces of artistic reaction as to be “suicided by society”, which subsequently, without a trace of irony, decides to worship them posthumously, almost apologetically for failing to appreciate their vision while they were alive.
Ultimately, The Transformative Vision is about a final return to the archaic in which the transcendent, spiritual goal of art and its function in the process of individuation comes full circle; where techne and psyche are reintegrated in a process of complete unification. As Argüelles puts it,
“[the] modern techno-historical society abolished the right to vision as well as the ritual for gaining it with a fearful and self-righteous vengeance, thus ensuring its own fantastic rise to power but also sealing its own doom. In denying the validity of the vision and the vision-quest, modern society denied itself any rebirth short of the apocalypse – an event its own shamans and visionary prophets, exiled to the sidelines, have continually foretold and prepared for.”
This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.

Friday 12 July 2013

What Good is a Book?

The real world is often a violent and ugly place. One only has to watch the television news or read the daily papers to know just how destructive humanity can be to each other and to the other species that share our world with us.

Euripides, (c. 480 – 406 BC) one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens,  said that great writers don't flinch from reality. I agree, but do today’s writers have to absolutely deny the possibility that humanity has the potential to create a better reality?

Instead of reflecting a cruel world without hope, why can't we reflect the real world – as harsh as it is – but reflect it through a more positive lens that offers ordinary people the hope that, despite their flawed humanity, they’re able to make a difference?  

So many brilliant writers show things exactly as they are, through a collective vision of a dystopia where crime and murder is rampant, and sex and money are the only gods worth worshipping. And there are writers who only show a perfect ShangriLa, where there is no pain and suffering.

I want to be the kind of writer who shows the world as it can be: very harsh and cruel indeed, but a world in which we can use our free will to make different choices and make it a better place.

As writers we have the divine gift of imagination. Can we use that gift to create worlds that inspire humanity to reach for a different outcome? Every person, on a small scale, can be a Mandela or a de Klerk – two Nobel Peace Prize winners who could both have stayed stuck in their pasts, but who each made a conscious choice to  walk a different path and, in so doing,  made a better world.

Quincy Jones on his classic album "I Heard That" asks “What Good is a Song?” …   "What good all the lyrics if they can't soothe you, if they can't ease a troubled mind. What good is a song if it can't inspire, if it has no message to bring? If a song cannot send you higher, then it's not good enough to sing."

I say: if a book cannot send you higher, then it’s not good enough to write.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Short Story Day Africa 2013 Celebrates: 21 Questions about Writing in Africa

As part of the Short Story Day Africa 2013 celebrations, @shortstoryAFR has compiled twenty-one interview questions their followers want to know about writers in Africa. 

Short Story Day Africa brings together writers, readers, booksellers, publishers, teachers and school children from all over the globe to write, submit, read, workshop and discuss stories – and to foster the love of reading and writing African fiction. Global support for the project is growing. Participate. 

RACHEL ZADOK author of the phenomenal SISTER SISTER invited me along to join the fun

The Interview 

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. 

What are you reading right now? And are you enjoying it? (No cheating and saying something that makes you sound like the intelligensia).

AS IF, by Blake Morrison. It's about the Bulger murder case in England in the 1994's. Gruesome, horribletopic but raises some interesting questions about innocence versus evil.

Have you ever killed off a character and regretted it?

No.The only character I've killed off had to die. His death was a critical lesson to one of the main characters.

If you could have any of your characters over for dinner, which would it be and why?

I'd rather not invite them over, thanks. I had enough of them when I was writing the story. I'd rather spend time with my new characters.

Which one of your characters would you never invite into your home and why?

Oops. I pre-empted this question in my answer above! See above.

Ernest Hemingway said: write drunk, edit sober. For or against?

Definitely FOR. 

If against, are you for any other mind altering drug?

I use mind altering music, so what ever floats your Muse is okay with me.

Our adult competition theme if Feast, Famine and Potluck. Have you ever put food in your fiction? If so, what part did it play in the story?

No. Because of my eating disorder, I have a love/hate relationship with food, so I'll never give food a starring role in anything I write. I hate movies with food scenes in as well.

What’s the most annoying question anyone’s ever asked you in an interview?

Political questions. I'm not a political writer, I write about human nature, not politics.

If you could be any author other than yourself, who would you be?

The brilliant, the magical Louise Erdrich. The Painted Drum and The Last Miracle at Little No Horse are two of the best books I've ever read. 

If you could go back in time and erase one thing you had written from your writing history, what would it be and why?

My Masters thesis. It was a wasted two years of my life and did my confidence in myself and in my writing extreme damage that I'm still struggling to overcome today

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

I lost weight this week. Really. I did.

If someone reviews you badly, do you write them into your next book/story and kill them?

Nope. I'll leave their fate to Karma.

What’s your favourite bad reviewer revenge fantasy?

Having them in the front row as I climb the stage to collect the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Or having them waiting outside the bank manager's office to ask for a loan, when he tells me the balance in my bank account after my latest best seller (this is a fantasy, right?)

What’s the most frustrating thing about being a writer in Africa?

My writing style is too Western for African audiences and too African for Western audiences.

Have you ever written naked?

And have to look at my naked reflection in my computer screen? Uh huh, NO THANKS!!

Does writing sex scenes make you blush?

Nope. Thinking about my mother reading them does.

Who would play you in the film of your life?

I would hope a talented unknown.

If you won the Caine Prize for African Fiction, what would you do with the money?

Pay my husband back for all the money I've borrowed from him to pay for writing courses.

What do you consider your best piece of work to date?

My short story THE LAST SACRIFICE which was published in THE FALL: Tales from the Apocalypse (Elephant Press, 2012). Mainly because it's really really dark and completely unlike anything else I've written, but it worked. I based the main character Rax-ul-Can on The Duke in Robert Browning's brilliant poem "My Last Duchess" written in 1842.; a poem that's always fascinated me since I first had to study it in English class in High School (too many years ago to count!) If you read between the lines, though, my character Rax is, though, not as callous and arrogant as Browning's chilling Duke - Rax's choices, as bad as they are, are based on a deep faith in his gods, while Browning's Duke is just plain evil. This story will also be included in the upcoming Aztar Press publication of a collection of my short stories, "THE WEIGHT OF A FEATHER and Other Stories

What are you doing on 21 June 2013, to celebrate Short Story Day Africa?

If I'm lucky I'll finish the short story I'm currently working on which is driving me crazy!

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