Friday, January 29, 2016

Imagine Africa 500: Speculative Fiction from Africa edited by Billy Kahora

I was so excited to receive my copies of this anthology yesterday because I have my first every published sci-fi story included in its pages! My story is called, When We Had Faith. The anthology is published by Pan African Publishers in Lilongwe Malawi and the project was instigated by Shadreck Chikoti, well known Malawian writer and social activist.  He has a clear vision about the role of fiction, in particular speculative fiction, in discussions about Africa's future. He speaks about this at the front of the book.

"It was this realisation that art can actually contribute to the discourse on Africa's future that birthed the initiative Imagine Africa 500," writes Chikoti .

The stories in the collection started from a workshop held in Malawi facilitated by Billy Kahora, Beatrice Lamwaka, Jackee Batanda and Chikoti. The last assignment for the particpants was to write a story on the subject of what Africa would be like 500 years from now. Those stories were the seed for the anthology. After that, they sent out a call for stories on the same theme from writers across Africa.

"The stories in this anthology show some exciting prospects about Africa's future but some also show us our darkest nightmares and make us aware of roads not taken," says Chikoti.

Writers included in the anthology are: Muthi Nhlema, Dilman Dila, Chinelo Onwualu, Hagai Magai , Frances Naiga Muwonge, Aubrey Chinguwo, Wole Talabi, Tuntufye Simwimba, Musinguzi Ray Robert, Derek Lubangakene, Hannah Onoguwe, Stephen Embleton, Catherine Shepherd, and Tiseke Chilima.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Watch Videos of Me Talking About The Second Worst Thing!!

My book The Second Worst Thing, a book about divorce- with a happy ending- is read in classrooms in South Africa, in grade 7. As I mentioned a few posts ago, when I was in Cape Town in December, I went to Oxford University Press, the publisher of this book and also my newest book, Thato Lekoko: Superhero (See videos HERE), and we made some marketing videos.

The first video is me explaining why I decided to write The Second Worst Thing. You can find out more HERE!

Perhaps you want to get a taste of the story? Here is me reading an excerpt at the beginning of the book. Despite what you might think- trying to read your own book without a single mistake is quite difficult.

Hope you enjoy them!!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Cultural Appropriation and Writers

A recent social media storm brought to the fore the discussion of writers and film-makers and cultural appropriation of certain people’s stories. It was started by the rumour (which later was shown to be false) that Beyoncé was planning to write and star in a film about Saartje (Sarah)  Bartmann, the “Hottentot Venus”. Bartmann was a Khoi woman who was taken from South Africa in the early 1800s to be shown in circus acts and other such places and eventually died in France. Her remains were put on show in a museum there until Nelson Mandela demanded they be returned. Eventually they were, and she was given a proper burial in South Africa.

Many people were angry that Beyoncé would think of “stealing” this story, they feared she would not give it the proper research and respect. They labelled it another instance of cultural appropriation. A Khoikhoi chief, Jean Burgess, said that Beyoncé lacked “the basic human dignity to be worthy of writing Sarah’s story let alone playing the part”.  This view was countered by South African Guild of Actors member, Jack Devnarian on the BBC website who said film-makers had the “right to tell stories of people you find fascinating and that’s what we must be careful not to object to”.

What is cultural appropriation? It is the adoption or use of elements of one culture by a different culture often in an exploitive manner with little understanding of the history, experience, or traditions of the first culture.

I accept that cultural appropriation in various sectors of the arts has been and still is a problem. But I think people were jumping the gun with Beyoncé. Who can say she was not going to take the time to do her research and understand the politics, emotions and nuances of Saartje’s story? I thought that having a high profile person such as Beyoncé take up this story would bring a horrible part of the past to light, to let everyone see the crimes that took place. I would think that would be something South Africa and the Khoi people would want.

But then what about writers and cultural appropriation? Who do stories belong to? Should writers feel free to write about anything under the sun? Or are some stories off limits because of the tribe you belong to or the colour of your skin, your religion, your sex? Is it okay for a man to write as a woman? A black person to write as a Chinese person? Can a person in Australia write a novel about President Masire? Can a Motswana write a story about Queen Elizabeth?

I have asked myself these questions. I’m always interested in how other writers approach the answers to these problems. One of my favourite writers, Aminatta Forna’s most recent novel, The Hired Man is set in Croatia and is about the effects of the war there. Some questioned if it was okay for a writer from Sierra Leone to be writing about Croatia, that it was not her story to tell. She thought otherwise.

I’ve never accepted the adage: write what you know. I think it is write what you can imagine. Write about places you’ve researched that have caught your imagination. I have never limited my stories to my one small and quite boring life. I would have stopped writing long ago if I had been forced to do that. What is the fun in writing fiction if you cannot imagine another person’s life? If you cannot walk in those shoes, feel those pains, and that happiness?

I am of the opinion that all stories belong to everyone. The story will be judged on its own merit. Does it hold human truth? Was it told well? That's all for me. The categories society slots me in for their social experiment is irrelevant. All that matters is: was I honest to the story and the people in it, and did I tell the story well. Full stop.

As Forna says in her excellent piece in The Guardian (“Don’t Judge a Book By Its Author”, 13 February, 2015) : “The writer of fiction says to the reader only this: come with me on a journey of the imagination and I will try to show you something you have not seen before. This is the gift of the writer to the reader.”  And this is what she tells her writing students: “write what you want” and then adds “write it well”. I agree completely. 

(This first appeared in my column It's All Write in Mmegi newspaper,  15 January 2016)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Bessie Head Short Story Awards

For those in Gaborone on Saturday, 23 January, you might think of attending the Bessie Head Short Story Competition awards ceremony. It will be at 2 pm at the National Museum. It is free and everyone is welcome.

The winners this time are:

First place:  Mr. Donald Molosi
“The Biggest Continent”

Second place:  Ms. Siyanda Mohutsiwa
“And Then We Disappeared into Some Guy’s Car”

Third place:  Ms. Vamika Sinha
“Love and Other Almosts”

I will be giving the keynote speech and a representative from Diamond Educational Publishers, the sponsors of this year's award, will be speaking too.

CONGRATULATIONS to the winners! I hope to see everyone on Saturday.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Videos about Thato Lekoko: Superhero!!

In December when I was in Cape Town, I went to the Oxford University Press offices to meet people there- but mostly to make marketing videos for my two books with them.

The first videos are about Thato Lekoko: Superhero.

Here is me reading an excerpt of the book.

And this is me talking about why I wrote the book.

Let me know what you think!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Book Covers

We all know the adage that a book is judged by its cover and,for me at least, initially that is true. When I'm browsing in a bookstore, if I am not in search of a particular book, often I'll pick up a book with a cover I like. I prefer simple covers. But just because I'm an author doesn't mean I know anything about book covers, at least in a marketing and sales sense.

My book that came out last month with Oxford University Press SA, Thato Lekoko: Superhero has a cover I didn't like at all at first, it was too busy for my liking.  Now that it is out I've grown to like it. It's quite colourful and I hope it will attract kids, the folks I hope will be reading it. We'll have to see how it goes in the long run.

This article at Huffington Post gives great advice to authors about how to look at their book covers. In most cases, publishers will give authors a chance to have a look at the proposed covers and it's good for the author to have a bit of knowledge beforehand to limit the emotion-factor. For example, in the article they make a good point about not undermining your reader by being too literal.

One of my favourite book covers from my own books is this one:

It violated one of the points in the article since it uses a photo taken by a blogging friend, but still I think it's a lovely cover. 

I think the most important point from the article is this: "...what matters most is not that it (the book cover) tell the story of your whole book, but that it evoke an emotion that's pure and on point with your message or story."

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Story of Lorato and Stanley

(Today is World AIDS Day and I thought this might be appropriate) 

Lorato came over today with her new baby, Stanley. I’ve hardly seen her since her wedding. We used to work together and we became quite close. She’s younger than me and I often thought of her as a daughter. But as people do, we’ve drifted apart. She’s now a chicken farmer up north and I’m a writer and our busy lives have dwindled down to SMSs on holidays.

She was in Mahalapye with her new baby, Stanley. Such a middle-aged man sort of name for a tiny baby. I supposed it matched his calm demeanour, fat stomach, and the contemplative look he gave me.

“Is he okay then?” I ask Lorato.

“So far.”

Some years ago Lorato dated a policeman. She loved him at first, but then problems arose. She found he’d been cheating on her. Worst still, she found that the woman he’d been cheating on her with was HIV positive. She confronted him, he denied it. She went for a test. She was positive.

The evening she told me, I felt like I’d been hit with a brick. I wanted to find a way to make this man pay for what he’d done to my friend. Her brother had died from AIDS four years previously, just before the government made ARVs free to all who needed them. She knew about AIDS. She’d been careful. This man did this to her.

But time passed and she met a new man and life went on. She got married. They wanted children and now here was Stanley, the wise little man-baby.

Lorato has been lucky so far and has avoided ARVs.  She changed how she ate, eating more vegetables and fruits, and drinking lots of water. “The biggest thing is I avoid stress,” she said. “I know stress, it will kill me.”

She told me how during the preparations for her wedding, a strife ridden affair in the best cases, but with her mother, who I know too well, it was a nightmare. Her CD4 count had gone down to 247. The ARV programme in Botswana advises HIV positive people to start taking ARVs when their CD4 count goes below 250. But Lorato refused. She knew it was the stress of the wedding. She just needed to get through it and she’d be fine. And she was right. Her CD4 count is at 412 now, even after giving birth. She’ll take ARVs when she needs them, but wants to put it off for as long as possible.

She took ARVs during pregnancy, though. Botswana’s Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) programme is one of the most successful in the world. 95% of HIV positive mothers in the country are in the programme. Less than 3% of these mothers’ babies are born with HIV. She started taking the ARVs during the 29th week of pregnancy, three pills, two times per day. Once labour started she took the pills every three hours until Stanley was born.

“He was tested at six weeks, he’s okay,” she assures me. I look down at Stanley who seems to want to tell me something important, wagging his fists at me. “One more test at a year and half and we’ll know he’s safe and clear.”

He looks healthy and Lorato says he’s never been sick. The nurses advised her that it’s okay to breastfeed, but she’s taking no chances. She’s bottle feeding. “They told me it’s okay, but I don’t think so. Anything could go wrong.”

I hold Stanley who nods off reluctantly. “You know this is not all bad,” Lorato says. “There’s a good side to this HIV. I’m careful now; I pay attention to things… for him and for me. I don’t let stress get me down any more. I manage it. I have to.”

There is so much doom and gloom around HIV. The scourge. There was a time in the 1990’s when it felt like the entire country was in mourning. Every weekend was for funerals. If you didn’t see someone for awhile, you didn’t ask. If a woman was pregnant and then never spoke about a baby, you didn’t either. During that time was when Lorato’s brother died. Sick and sick and then dead, at 22.

I look at Stanley and at Lorato and think about what a difference just a few years has made in Botswana and I’m very thankful. 

(This essay was first published in New Internationalist)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

10 Bumps on the Writing Roller Coaster

If you're a writer you know all about the Writing Roller Coaster, unfortunately.

1. Short story finished. Time for a nap. Yay.

2. Can't find a market for your experimental romance novella about a vampire and a repressed accountant/stuntman who find themselves heading to the apocalypse but take a detour for a jolly cruise-ship holiday. No lit mags are looking for that sort of stuff at the moment. Apparently.  :(

3. Your beta-reader likes the premise for your new novel. You've finished 125 1/2 words of it. It took you all week but they're good words. Really good. Yay.

4. Your short story called  Hamster: It Was Not About the Carrot  did not make the Fancy Literature Only contest's shortlist. :(

5. Publisher likes the manuscript you sent them,  :) but they don't quite think it's right for them. :( You suspect letter was written by a robot. :(  :( A jealous robot who is going to steal your idea. :( :( :(

6. You are invited to a fancy foo-foo literary festival.Yay!

7. At the fancy foo-foo literary festival, no one knows you, including the person who invited you. :(

8. Your book gets a good review on Amazon. 5 stars even. Yay! and Yay!

9. Your mother lets it slip that she wrote the review at Amazon. And that she hasn't finished your book yet. She only read the acknowledgements that mentioned her. "But it was very well written, Dear." :(

10. You have a new idea for a novel just when you were positive the well had run dry. It's a good one, maybe the best one ever.  Ever ever, like in the history of ideas for novels.  Best not to tell the robot.  :)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thato Lekoko: Superhero!!!

Yay!! This is the cover of my book Thato Lekoko: Superhero, coming out next month with Oxford University Press. This is my second book with this publisher, the first was The Second Worst Thing, which has done quite well.

The blurb at the back of Thato Lekoko says:

   Tseke flies through the skies fixing the country’s problems with
her superhero powers. But when she’s not in her lime-green
suit, she is Thato Lekoko, just an ordinary teenager … and
she’s late for school.

   While dealing with the school bully, caring for her younger
sister and doing her chores, she also needs to find time to
finish an environmental project without letting down her
best friend Wanda.

   But when strange things start happening in the village, Thato
decides to investigate what’s really going on at Siane Gold
Mine. And for this job there are no superpowers; just the
power of being Thato Lekoko.

Wishing my Thato a successful flight!!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

My MIAF Poem

So I'm back from the Maun International Arts Festival 2015. Still recovering. One of the things I did  was attend the poetry workshop run by Ugandan poet Rashida Namulondo. I don't usually write poetry, only occasionally, and I like to learn more about it whenever I can get a chance.

It was an interesting workshop where I discovered different ways to look at things, different ways to find inspiration outside of yourself. One of the exercises was to try to use words in a new way defined by you but so that the reader/listener can get the meaning. I chose to use colours. Here's my poem, worked on a bit after the workshop.

The Colourful Coward

He’s like orange in that fake way,
Like the way orange looks bouncy and smells sickeningly-happy
But it really isn’t.
He likes to speak about African princesses and stars
Though he only touches them with grey.
That cold, unattached, slippery, non-committed side of grey,
Not the killer side
The side with passion.
I would have welcomed the killer side.
Even just a sliver to know he had it somewhere under everything the world saw of him.
Blue is where he likes hiding
When I insist he cut the bullshit.
When his orange and too-slick grey does my head in.
Blue, all stout and round and sturdy
Rolling, rolling— pretending as if my eyes are immune to blue.
But I see it.
I see him thinking he’s safe there.
I know all about these things.
Blue is part of it- isn’t it?
Part of the problem.
Blue, she lets him hide there
And she makes everything worse.